Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mr Nair, The X-Ray Man

Nanupillay Sivarajan Nair, well known as Mr Nair turns 88 this year. He has spent decades planting roots in the country shares insights on attitude and adaptability.

When Mr Nair’s daughter, Sheela Nair told him they were going on a road trip three months ago, little did he know that it would take him on a journey down memory lane.

The octogenarian, Kerala-born but now a proud Malaysian residing in Negeri Sembilan, did not imagine that they would be visiting Kota Bharu Kelantan, the town where he spent a large part of his life after he arrived in Malaya in 1938 as a 15-year-old.

They headed to Kota Bharu Kelantan, where Mr Nair served as a certified radiographer after receiving radiography training in England.

Splashing time: Mr Nair keeps 
active to maintain his health

There, it was Sheela’s turn to be surprised when countless nurses appeared seemingly from nowhere and swarmed around her father, hugging him and calling him “Encik Nair, orang lama!”

Back at her home in Subang Jaya, Selangor (where this interview took place), Sheela recalls the experience with awestruck enthusiasm. “It was an indescribable feeling, like a moment of truth. Suddenly it struck me that all my father’s stories about his heyday in Kota Bharu were all true.”

Comfortably seated and dressed in a cool cotton shirt, Mr Nair grins from ear to ear like a school boy. The strapping grandfather of three is still sharp and energetic despite his 88 years.

“I used to teach the nurses English when they first started working at the hospital decades ago,” he recalls. “They are grateful now because their command of English got them promoted over the years and they now hold senior positions.”

Mr Nair tells me about his memoir, a slim compilation of key events in his life, which serves as an archival record of his chequered journey. He has printed six copies of it and distributed them to his children and grandchildren, for keeps, “so that my grandchildren and great-great grandchildren will know the story of how we used to live in India and how we came to be here in this country.”

Mr Nair’s love for self-expression is apparent in his memoir, in which he describes how he lost his father, the headmaster of a high school, at the age of six, and was brought up single-handedly by his mother and extended family in Varkala, Kerala.

Although all the 20 members were financially supported by only one relative who worked as a teacher, they led a happy life. He had to walk 10km to and from school daily and his mother was the designated cook, preparing large meals to feed the entire family every day.

Mr Nair decided to come to Malaya with his youngest uncle after his grandfather’s death in 1937, to seek a better life. Upon his arrival, he went through various ups and downs, including being infected with malaria and being ostracised by the Indian community after joining the Indian National Army (INA) during the Japanese Occupation in 1942. For the first five years, he had no contact with his mother.

But after a decade of hardship, things picked up when he got better jobs, married Kluang-born Leela Kumari in 1952, and settled down in Kota Bharu for the next 20 years. He was then transferred to hospitals in Seremban, Port Dickson and Petaling Jaya before returning to Kota Bharu for the 10 years prior to his retirement. The couple now live in Rasah, Negeri Sembilan, close to two of their three children.

In front of his house at Rasah, Negeri Sembilan

My advantage is that I spoke many languages well,” said Mr Nair proudly. His command of English, Malayalam, Hindi and eventually Malay put him in good stead with his employers and his Malaysian friends. Being conscientious and helpful also made him popular wherever he went.

His command of English also won him a scholarship from the Kelantan State Government to pursue a radiography course at the Royal Sheffield Hospital in South Yorkshire, England. Upon his return, he was promoted to senior radiographer and was even appointed Royal Radiographer for the Sultan of Kelantan and his wife, for which he was honoured with the Pingat Taat in 1970.

Mr Nair still has fond memories of his visits to the palace, where four people would carry in a portable, foldable X-ray machine. “The carpets were so thick we had to take care not to damage them,” he recalls.

Another indelible memory is of his visits to remote villages in his early years to provide medical services.
The villagers would be waiting when we arrived, with naked and bloated children in tow. It was very satisfying to return a few weeks later and be greeted by happy parents who would thank us with fruits and vegetables because their children’s condition had improved after taking our deworming medicine,” he adds then laughing.

Mr Nair catching up with some old friends at Radiology Department in September 2011. It was his first visit back since he retired in 1995:


When I asked, after being in Malaysia for over seven decades, do your heart still in India or do you feel Malaysian?

I feel 200% Malaysian!” he shoots back. Mr Nair honestly feels that Malaysia is one of the best countries to live in with its good climate, foods, housing, education, infrastructure and medical facilities.

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