THERE is a feeling of guilt and sadness this Hari Raya when I met an old friend, Ismail Kusiron. In the kampung he is better known as Ismail Sampah. He collects trash. Lots of trash.
Many years ago he was working for a solid waste disposal company. A concessionaire for the southern region took over and the contract was terminated. Ismail was jobless. To make matters worse, his wife Siti Selamat suffered a stroke 12 years ago. He has to take care of her full time for there is very little that she can do herself.
Ismail continues to collect trash. Occasionally he will be called to clean up stores or rooms. The owners believed that Ismail can sell whatever was being thrown away, so he is paid a pittance.
He’s not complaining. Berapa nak bagi, bagilah, is his principle. (Whatever is given I’ll accept). He’s lucky if he gets more than RM200 a month.
His house is in a sorry state. Except for a TV set and a small refrigerator it has nothing else. The compound is never well kept. Whatever space available is filled with the trash he collects, strewn all over, some of which he hopes to sell. His wife spends her days in a chair by the door, surrounded by old mattresses and her ointments, waiting anxiously for Ismail to come home.
She speaks little because of the stroke and has become very sensitive of late. Ismail makes it a point to come home every two hours to make sure she’s all right.
Siti is 77 now. Ismail is 10 years her junior. They got married in 1970 after she was divorced by her first husband. Her two children did not approve of the marriage, and in fact largely ignored the couple. They have no children of their own.
I have known Ismail since my involvement with a sandiwara group in the village back in the late 60s and early 70s. Sandiwara is a transitional performing art after the bangsawan and before modern plays.
The sandiwara group was led by a teacher, Misdi Abu Bakar. He salvaged some of the wardrobe left by Bintang Timur Opera owned by Bakar M that went bust in my kampung in the 60s.
Ismail was in his 20s back then, a very reliable stage hand and a talented comedian. In a sandiwara routine, there will be moments of “extra-turns” in between scenes. While preparing for the next scene, there will be songs or sketches to keep the audience entertained.
Ismail would appear to play a clown or perform a comedy. But he acted, too, normally as a sidekick of a prince or a king, providing laughter to the audience, which he was exceptionally good at.
The sandiwara group disbanded soon after some of its key actors left the village. I left for further studies. But my experience with sandiwara was memorable as it was educational. I learned a lot from the troupe.
I haven’t seen Ismail for more than 40 years although we lived just a kilometre away. When TV3’s Malaysia Hari Ini (MHI) and TV9’s Nasi Lemak Kopi O (NLKO) were looking for stories of “little people” in my kampung, the village head recommended that we visit Ismail.
We admired his tenacity and resolve. Even the parliamentarian for Muar Datuk Razali Ibrahim was moved to tears. He wasn’t aware of Ismail’s plight before it was brought to his attention. There were many poor people in the enclave I grew up in, but Ismail’s story is exceptional.
Yes, we visited Ahmad Ismail or better known as Ahmad Sarawak, a victim of a hit and run incident two years ago that rendered him almost paralysed. And we met Sahidan Haji Jaafar, 48, but with a mind of a child who is cared for by his beloved brother.
People have forgotten Ismail, and that doesn’t bother him really. He has only his wife to care for, and the trash that brings him little money.
Unlike the colourful, playful and boisterous characters he played in thesandiwara troupe back in the 70s, his life now is one about daily survival. Perhaps a bit dull and monotonous but nevertheless fulfilling.
That is his world for now. (firstname.lastname@example.org) Twitter @Johan_Jaaffar) NST Columnist 2 AUGUST 2014 @ 8:07 AM