Rain has started pouring in Kuala Lumpur. Winds are shaking the trees with all their power. It is night. Sky speaks of the absence of moons and stars. It rains every day in this city, sometimes a blessing from the blistering heat. And sometimes a punishment for those who forget their umbrellas.
In a university nestled in forests and a river that flows mud with itself. Famously known as ‘teh tarik river’ as it resembles the local Tea in colour. The mosque minaret has a nest of pigeons who fly every morning to eat bread-crumbs from generous students at a coffee shop. The monitor lizards who look like their distant cousins in Indonesia, the Komodo Dragons are having their last swim in the teh tarik river. The fishes are sleeping thus become easy hunt for baby monitor lizards. The senior lizards wait by the bridge near the school of Management and Economics for the dinner to be set up.
Somewhere in a hostel room, Faris is sipping his black coffee for dinner. He comes from the Mountains in far away lands. His father a cloth merchant sent him with all his savings to Kuala Lumpur to study for a brighter future. Faris elated at the prospect of studying beyond the mountains, grabbed the opportunity and bid farewell to his Parents.
After a year into studying, making new friends from different valleys, seas and deserts. Faris had recently finished his final exams. He was waiting for his results to be declared at midnight. His mouse hovered between the University result page and on the repeat button of the Egyptian singer Oum Kalthoom’s song, Ana Fe Intazarak.
The clock struck midnight.
“Your result has been blocked due to unpaid tution fees. Please pay your dues to Finance Division. “
” You have compound(s). Please clear it at the Legal Unit.”
He checked his bank balance, it was 2000 Ringitts. He need 7000 more to clear his dues. He wondered why his father hadn’t sent him the money as usual. He called home. It rang and rang. Nobody picked up. He collapsed on to his bed, calculating the grades he would have got this semester.
“I will get 3 As, 1 C and possibly fail that racist bitch’s paper”.
Thinking of unpaid dues, he wondered for how long will his father pay for his fees. He remembers once in his first semester he wrote an email to his father stating;
“I will feel guilty when I ask money from you. I feel like I am burdening you further. This is not the right. I will do a job and support my studies.”
His mother called him in the early morning waking him up from his slumber. Crying and choking.
“Son, our lives are for you. Money is not even close to our love for you. I prayed in nights to Allah that he bestow me with you. And then you tell your father that you are a burden for him. You broke my heart yesterday when you wrote that you will support your own studies. Does it mean we are nothing to you?”
“No, Mother. I didn’t mean that”
His mother hung-up.
Tonight in the rainy night, Faris remembers the voice of his mother crying. He recalled the number of times that she had cried. The day when Faris was beaten up bullies in the neighbourhood and he came home with bandaged head. The day when Faris fell down from a tree while trying to grab apples. The day when Faris’s fever wouldn’t go down and she cried on the prayer mat with her hands held high reaching to Almighty.
She never cried except when Faris was hurt and in pain.
A tear had broken through the mist in his eyes. He remember how his father would bring him fruits and chocolates. Cricket bats and Footballs. Expensive clothes and shoes. Faris would never ask for these but his father pampered him like he was the centre of his world.
“Allah U Akbar” the Muezzin had called for Fajr prayers. Faris thinking that he should be grateful that Allah bestowed him with such parents wanted to pray Fajr. But it was raining harder, and the path between his block and the mussala was uncovered. So he prayed in his tiny compartment.
Alarm started ringing, Faris woke up. He looked through the window, the grass was greener and sky was bright blue. He did his morning choirs, praying again and promising to establish prayers more regularly.
“Ten Minutes to the Debating club class” He quickly wore anything that was in the mess at his compartment. He wore slippers thinking wearing shoes will take time.
He went to the Hostel office (which was on the way) to see what compounds he was given. He asked the fat malay guy at the counter to find his details.
“Oh, you have seven compounds” said the fat malay guy
“What the hell? Can you print them” in rage Faris asked.
He got the printed copies and shunted the door of the office. He looked at his phone, he was already late to his class. He quickly browsed through the copies while running to his class.
“Wallah, this is Zulm.”
As he reached the class, huffing and puffing. He quietly entered trying not to gather attention.
“Oh look who’s here”. The Lecture mocking Faris while he sat down at the last bench.
“This shit is boring”
Faris took out the compound notices from his hand. “damn, how the hell is this possible”
1. For keeping the fan open
“Come on you can’t be serious, the room gets suffocatingly humid in this weather. It is just a fan not an Air-conditioner”
Compound = RM 50
“Faris, do you have a question?” the lecture pointing to Faris.
“Why are you hissing in the class?”
“Just some stuff that happened”
“Get your stuff and go out.”
Faris took his bag and left the class as fast as he could.
Sitting at a lonely table in the cafeteria. He opened the next compound.
2. For having a fridge
“That wasn’t even mine, It was Qasim’s when he was on a holiday. It wasn’t even plugged inside. How can you compound something that is not even consuming electricity”
Compound = RM 50
3. For wearing clothes against university policy
“I don’t wear a suicide vest. It is just jeans and round necked shirt. How the hell does it violate University rules. What about hundreds of others who do the same? Especially Malay students. That cold hearted woman doesn’t even like a thing about me. No wonder she would have failed me.”
Compound = RM 50
4. For having long hair
“Now this is getting ridiculous. I can’t say more”
Compound = RM 50
5. For not wearing Helmet
“I just rode the bike 50 meters and inside the hostel areas. Those security people have no business at all. If you speak Salaam, they will say ‘Compound’ Mother……”
Compound = RM 50
6. For Failing to Register at the Hostel
“These complicated rules are worse than shit.”
Compound = RM 50
7. For Unauthorized Laptop
“What the hell? Isn’t it obvious that a student in today’s world will have a laptop. What is unauthorized laptop?”
Compound = RM 50
Quickly folding the notices, Faris’ face spoke of the rage that he was feeling. He left to talk to the Student Affairs Unit.
A pretty Malay girl who looked in her early 20s was on the counter busy with the computer.
“Salaam, Can I see the Incharge of Student Affairs Unit”
The Malay girl looked towards Faris and then her eyes returned to the computer screen. Muttering something with herself.
“Excuse me, what did you say?”
“Wait for sometime, he will see you soon.”
Faris sat at the sofa reading last year magazines at the table.
Faris again asked the assistant, “where’s the incharge?”.
“Is he here?”
“”boleh sabar tak” the girl remarked in the low voice.
Faris couldn’t take it any longer. He went behind the counter. And caught this pretty lady chatting on Facebook while listening to some music with her headphones.
“I have been waiting for the past 30 minutes and you are busy with Facebook. Have you got no shame?” in a screaming loud voice.
The entire office gathered at the front. While this pretty lady started crying and telling something in Melayu to her collegues. The Incharge came at the counter and asked “What’s the matter?”
” I needed to talk about compounds, I have got seven compounds which is too much. I wanted to get them waived”
“Sorry, we cannot do that but we can reduce it by 50% that’s all”
“But that is still a big amount”
“Sorry, that’s your fault. Now I have to go”
Faris disappointed and shocked at what had happened. Left the office. It was Maghrib already. He left to eat at a cafeteria. He looked into his wallet and found the Seven Compounds plus five ringitt. He bought Lemon Ice Juce and a Roti Canai from the Indian stall. 3 RM
Eating while his heart was crying. The pain of all this was too much for him. He left the cafeteria while sipping on Ice Lemon Juice. He entered the University clinic complaining of headache. There was nobody at the clinic as many had left for home, University was like a ghost-town.
His name was called, he went to see the Doctor.
“Sir, I have a lot of stress and my head is aching now”
Doctor using his stethescope checked on his heartbeats looking at him through his glasses.
“It is normal. It happens. Here’s your presciption”.
Faris read ‘Panadol’ on it. Laughing “Panadol the cure for everything. From cancer to stomach acids”. He threw the prescription in to the bin.
He was walking towards home now. It had been a roller coaster of a day. The stars were up in the sky and moon was blazing its light. The Muezzin called for the Night prayers.
He thought of going home and not praying, “How can I turn my back to Allah’s call?” his inner voice gathered his conscience. He did his ablutions and prayed in a row. Black, brown, white; Arabs and Non Arabs praying together in unison. Bowing heads to One God. His heart felt easy. Like he was relieved of the burden.
He prayed his Sunnat and Vitr. He made his way out. The rain was falling again as usual. He looked for his shoes and he couldn’t find them. He looked in the boxes, and the shelves. Nothing.
Shoes were stolen, he couldn’t go back. He sat on the stairs of the mosque. Reflecting. He went inside the mosque as the rain hit a fiercer pace.
“Let me read Quran today, I haven’t done this for so long”.
He opened the quran and told himself “Whichever page I open will be the advice of Allah to me”
He closed his eyes “Bismillah”
Surah Al Baqarah, 286.
لَا يُكَلِّفُ اللَّهُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا ۚ
““Allah does not burden a soul with more than it can bear.”
His face had a smile. As he prayed again to seek Allah’s forgiveness and help. His heart felt relieved and he felt much better.
Our education has been tied with the knots of capitalism, which burden us. Our lecturers and professors are unaware of the hell that students like Faris and others go through. Instead of helping and empowering them, the education system punishes and weakens their spirit. Education was not meant to be a parasite for students but a way for students to bring a change. Alas, In today’s world, for students like Faris, Only Allah is their benefactor.