|No. 74, Main Street, Papan|
|Written by straits-mongrel|
|Tuesday, 18 December 2012 20:54|
SEVENTY-ONE years ago to the day, three cars from Ipoh fleeing from the sightlines of Japanese warplanes, did a harried detour into a settlement flanked by tin mines and rubber plantations.
In her book, No Dram of Mercy, Sybil Kathigasu described the beginnings of the tumultuous changes to her life when World War II reached the shores of Malaya. At Papan, Sybil and her husband Dr Abdon Clement Kathigasu realised they were urgently needed to help the wounded and the frightened. They had brought hardly any medical supplies in the cars.
Then a 42-year-old nurse and mother, Sybil went on to become a resistance operative against the Japanese occupiers, was arrested and mercilessly tortured right up to the end of the war for not revealing vital information on the resistance fighters. No Dram of Mercy, penned while she was receiving treatment after the war, provides details of the friendships, betrayal and pain the spirited woman experienced. She is the only Malayan woman to be awarded the George Medal for Gallantry.
Despite medical treatment in the UK, Sybil never saw Merdeka. She died in 1948 at the age of 49 from infection due to her fractured jaw. First buried in Scotland, her body now rests in the cemetery beside St Michael’s Church, Ipoh, a mere stone’s throw away from the clinic she and her husband once served before the war.
The dispensary at Papan stands weathered today. On the front right-hand corner of No. 74, Main Street - a solitary shophouse in Papan, Perak - a cherry tree has matured over the years. In an unplanned way, it is a living memorial of the Eurasian lady with Irish and French blood. See, just like the cherry kampung (Muntingia calaburia, native to Mexico), Sybil Kathigasu who was born in Medan, Sumatra, was a pendatang who felt at home with the land and its monsoon downpours. Like the cherry kampung, she thrived here.
A passage from the book recounts this affection:
“After completing the operation the surgeon came up to me and told me that the hospital staff had been ordered to leave Ipoh for the south with what equipment they could carry with them. ‘Are you coming with us, Mrs K?’ he asked.
“ ‘No,’ I answered, ‘I’m staying.’ ”
Three words. Together they tell of a conviction and love for a land and its people few among us can ever live up to.
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 December 2012 22:11|