It was the ‘Euphoria’…the year I set out looking for freedom. Leaving school my classmates gone different ways, some chose to continue with higher studies. Actually, our batch was in school until the end of 1983 and we sat London GCE O’ Level papers of January 1984, that’s why we call the Batch of 1984 or the 1984 Batch. We still hold get-togethers once or twice a year. This picture was taken on 8th August 2012. Some are top class businessmen, some are doctors, some executives, CEOs, one of them is even a professor still working in the UK and one (not in the picture) is a diplomat. Generally, they are top guys but I’m here to talk about the guy who set to look for freedom and turned into a Mr Nobody.
My brother is a year older and my sister a year younger. My brother is a talented guitarist and an architect. My sister mastered piano in classical music. When we were young our poor house listened to music and read books. If they read three books a day, I read one in three days. If they were extremely talented in music, I just picked the fingering and played chords. There is a black sheep in every family.
I wasn’t good in studies. That didn’t mean I obtained bad results. In the national Junior School Examination, I passed all ten subjects among the ten who did so. I got pass marks in all six subjects I set in the O’ Level with a couple of distinctions. My worst subject was mathematics, I got C grade and the teacher took a treat on me. In the last years at school I had been quitting classes and not paying attention to studies. When exams come I go to the cinemas watching movies.
December 8th, 1980, (for us in the following day) I read about John Lennon’s death on the school notice board. (These are the things that matter…and how much things changed.) Those days at school we were involved in music with a handful of rock bands practising all day. I played bass in a three-piece band called ‘Triotones’ and about the music I wish to write in another chapter.
Family conditions deteriorated since my mother was sacked from government job in 1973. There was no source of income, a single mother with four kids to look after and grandparents confined to their beds. She barely made money giving tuition to kids and running a typing class with one ROYAL typewriter. Then in 1980, my father, who visited us twice a year, converted a section of our house to a to-let and gradually things turned better, still mother could hardly find ends meet without borrowing. This decade we were extremely poor.
The house in shape was kind of stumbling down. We used a backdoor by the kitchen side to enter. Inside it was hot and no place to sit properly, no desk, no space…crowded of old furniture. We didn’t have food on the table, no notebooks, no proper clothes…but the worst bit was that our mother had taken this burden to look after bedridden old parents. She was shrunk and in very poor health.
Here I’m focusing on the years between 1980 and 1984. Otherwise, our world was a heavenly place – peaceful and free. Not crowded, not too much traffic, we could play football on the narrow streets. There were stage shows, discoes, parties, route marches, exhibitions, carnivals, festivals and 24 hours we stayed away from home. Of these enchants we never felt we were so poor. Freedom is not the few coins in your hands.
The new headmaster was Mr Abjee (everyone knows him – a legendary football coach – all of these guys graduated from the same old Majeediyya School). In his first day lecture he compelled us to wear shoes as part of the school uniform. I wasn’t paying any attention until I had to climb the stage to play music wearing an orange and blue pair of shoes and in corduroy jeans. He caught me, “From now on you’re not going to come to school without shoes.” In 1982, we watched the World Cup recordings of ’78 and ’82 on a television set at the school hall and those great names of footballers prompted into our lives…Diego Maradona, Paulo Rossi, Michel Platini…
Besides, we watched several other documentaries at the school library…the Holocaust, Battle for Falkland and Wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana. That Diana hairstyle was huge fashion in the country. I chose the Arts Stream (whatever that means) and in the history classes each student had to listen to an international radio, BBC or VOA, and write down ten minutes of bulletin as homework. We would read the news first thing in the morning. I found an ad and posted a draft to a Singapore company subscribing the TIME magazine. I was so lucky to have a TIME copy each Wednesday before the Monday and everyone would like to take a glance. Those stories…Reagan shot, Pope shot…the cover of Brook Shields…tennis greats…all were there.
At one point we found a competition in publishing magazines, cut stencils and make prints. Those articles were heating and targeted on the girls’ school of Aminiya. We came up with Pygmalion stage drama and impersonated a boy as a flower girl. At the girls’ school they wear moustaches to mimic men. I did some artwork and painting in decorating the Pygmalion stage and the magazine stuff. Talking of stage dramas, the best school is a mixed school of EPS…quite entertaining to watch their mixed shows.
The Sports Meets, football, volleyball, the gymnastics and the Table Tennis which I liked most. I take no part in sports for certain reason. Table Tennis takes place in the night and into the midnight. My school is few blocks from my home. I spend whole night watching the tournament. Our Triotones drummer, Andu, was an all-time great table tennis player…he became the Champion four times in a row.
We probably got a TV in 1983, certainly after the World Cup ’82, my father bought it. He had difficult times since the new government came to power in 1978. In the early half of the 80s he was in prison and banished. My father was a senior police with sergeant stripes and always involved in some sleuthing. From outside sources I heard, at this point he was imprisoned because he helped the wife of one of the coup leaders in custody to send a letter inside a breakfast bun. Everything I know about him I heard from the outside world.
The nation introduced television in 1978 and we attended the ‘Godfather’ house to watch TV at night time. It’s a huge mansion in the neighbourhood and of the privileged class, close friend of my mother…helped in many ways and me in particular. Closely associated young crowd always spent weekends here, have fun and meals…lobster. Here we watched a lot of movies and documentaries on Betamax video; Harold Robbins’ ‘The Pirate’, ‘Papillion’, ‘The Wild Geese’, ‘The Sound of Music’, James Bond movies and those series…Hawaii Five-O, Charlie’s Angels, Starsky and Hutch, Six Million Dollar Man…so we knew some names like Richard Burton, Steve McQueen, Gregory Peck, Robert De Niro and the poster of Farrah Fawcett. Elvis Presley died on 16th August 1977 and we heard the news promptly. (Elvis is a household name and people even in the islands do know of him.) It was somewhere in 1979 we watched the show ‘Aloha from Hawaii’ (a broadcast live via satellite in 1973) on the Betamax and what’s more…the whole documentary caught on film in the aftermath of his death…the funeral, the crowd outside the Graceland mansion.
The Godfather’s son, ‘Sonny’, played a prank on us. He spent most of his lifetime in the UK and just arrived. He said a very popular singer was visiting the Maldives on holiday to his resort and he would be here in the capital to spend a day. I don’t want to bring up the names that came up on our lips that night…but let me put this shameful thing with just one name; Mick Jagger.
Next morning we were early at his second residence waiting for Jagger to show up. He came after hours with a blonde girl, of course, another movie star. What the hell do we know! We took pictures…I still got his signed autograph. It was later that evening we heard a huge crowd was chasing this couple…their car…those days on the bumpy and dusty roads. The very next day Sonny was called to attend the immigration authorities with the passports and explain what was going on. It was just a prank thrown on a home crowd that went viral and the whole island was caught in it.
My classmates did island picnics and fishing trips. I joined a few…one time I nearly drowned because I couldn’t swim. Down on the seaside, by the waves…I threw a rock and it hit the elbow of a classmate from the rear, accidentally. He had to wear plaster for a week. I have apologised as recently as in 2015 to him.
I’ve maintained my diary through these years. It’s basically keeping records of cassette tapes, books and of the events. On the loaded side it was all about girls. On 22nd March, Monday night, in 1982, I was chasing a girl. This was a very important subject to me those years. But I must admit on the murky side all of them were just names and blind dates.
In the 80s the new government did a lot of good to the country, eliminated illiteracy, brought new schools, infrastructure, water systems, communications, tourism, good health, etc. Its outcome of fruitful years we saw in the 90s, this nation leaped from a poorest country to a developing country. Such abundance turned him to a powerful man and a threat that we started to call him a dictator. I learnt much later working at an NGO how and why the government started studying issues and priorities hiring foreign aids that I wish to sum up in another chapter.
Some would argue poverty taught lessons and you end up becoming a social liberal. In my case it did not. I believe I’m conservative and not a patriot either. Conservatism for me is kind of a freedom, unbothered life. I don’t believe other people or governments could serve you, not even god. We have to live on our foundations and giving capitalism a valid practice in a just way we own ourselves. Some of course would grab opportunities as a clever liberal would do but the cry of demands is nonsensical to me, you deserve what you earn…nothing more. The good always helped because they have surplus…and be bold to save a few to do good. Generally speaking, it’s true based on how my mother had undergone ups and downs in her life with no opportunity, no luck and no choice. So I learnt to be independent.
In 1984, I joined my first job at Civil Aviation Authority. Leaving government school we had to serve a three year bond. Combined to my job I was called to play music in a band…I agreed quite unwillingly. So we started ‘The Blueprint’. The point is to say I never ran out of money since I started work. There were laidback times doing nothing for months and still make sure I don’t run out of money. I’m still confident if need be I’d be able to do a job. I wish to do a little bit more to keep a better reserve. As far as I’m concerned I’m doing fine, a small income and a simple life…that’s all I need.
Turning fifty I thought there’s good reason to write about the things that mattered most in my life. Because I was the one who set out looking for freedom and I’ve gone so far without really making anything or setting goals. And that’s about a life…I have not started a life. Even our professor said I was too late. When I look back I realise I have missed the very essences that means life and I should have hooked on. Sometimes wonder what the hell am I doing here? While others are married and raising kids, I’m still a bachelor. I don’t have a record to talk about.
Do I have to turn back and catch up…start a life, raise kids? Am I too late for that? But as far as I can tell, I’m the type of guy who’d head on and make the most of what I could get between life and death. Maybe I’m a fool…I don’t know. I could give less thought to bother about the past and worse the burden of starting a life. A life in a loser is what I’m talking here in this confession of the silent lamb.
Note: Opening ‘A Split In The Lifeline’ and uploading this article ‘1984’ on 19th April 2016 on 89th Anniversary of Majeediyya School – Nihil Labore Difficile