It is truly only when a group of people undergo common undesirable undertakings together that the fraternity of friendship and brotherhood would be felt most profoundly. Regardless of whatever background and religious orientations or racial color, the warm sense of camaraderie cross the most arduous boundaries of diversity and put all other immaterial differences aside to face the common odd.
I have always felt this going through my National Service (some 8 or 9 years ago). I remembered the cold sense of aloneness shattered immediately when the instructors screamed at the dawnest of morning: whole lot knock it down! or change parade! or akan melari cepat lari! The quiet groan in our hearts silent in the material domain but clearly resonate in unison though our collective virtual minds that follows after every single of these ordeals.
I remembered being able to sit down next to a self-declared ah beng that I have for a section-mate at every lunch queue talking about our “outside” lives. Never had I ever considered to do that in my civilian life: sitting and sharing life stories with an ah beng – the common laughs at each other’s joke within the section made up of diverse people: an American-bred Singaporean (our healthy supplier of playboys), a son of a wealthy businessman, a mat (not me), a nerd whom only purpose in life is computer games, a blur sotong ( the source of all our trouble during marches with his incompetent hand coordination – as well as the source of our delight after blanket party every night), a devout and innocent Christian, yes – the ah beng, a sejadah cladding me – bowing and prostrating every chance I get, amongst others. Yet we rough it together during the enduring road marches and field camps in the dark nights of the Tekong forest – motivating one another and urging each other to push on.
In Sispec, being the one of only 4 Malay boys in a platoon of 52 people where my initial reaction was: mann am I gonna have a quiet 5 months. Yet, those 5 months were the best 5 months I had ever experienced relative to my 2 and a half years serving in the Army. Never once had I felt like a Malay boy suffocated in a group of Chinese boys – but I felt 52 brothers slugging through the endless ordeals and trainings Sispec had thrown at us – with the abusive platoon commanders, weekly safety and manual exams, unendurable after-lunch lectures, long runs, crazy cold-mosquite infested jungles, sleepless nights and endless marches.
My recent RT stint that lasted the last 2 months was somewhat a reflection of this although with balding middle age men, tummied-bodies, rounded cheeks and growing white hairs. It was a complete waste of time and unpurposeful series of training as I had indicated in the survey at the end of yesterday. The only thing that kept me motivated for RT was the people that I had undergone it with.
I think we must have been the most mutinous bunch giving the PTI hell where ironically they should through default have that role.
PTI: ok jumping jacks 20 counts of 4
Us : ai yah . no need so on lah PTI . 5 counts of 4 lah
PTI : wah liau! Cannot like that!
Us : can lah can lah
PTI : ok ah but don’t tell anyone ah (with an uncomfortable look of compromise)
PTI : ok now we do push-ups . 20 counts
Us : ahhhh 20 ! old already you know not 18 years old anymore leh. 5 can lah
PTI : wah liau ! siao ah 5 !
Us : Can lah we do 5 good ones!
PTI : wah! Too much man . ok ah ok ah . just this once (if I had a dollar for everytime he says that)
The runs were even more interesting. Except for the few faithful whom would follow the PTI on his favorite camp runs – the rest of us simply walk and chat about EPL, Champions Leagues, Mas Selamat and many contemporary issues. I think this is one good source of market research to get thoughts from the ground – forget surveys!
We might not know each other’s names as we stroll along but the experience of NS and common ordeals made it all easy for us to just pick up a topic which most often ends up with long chats and hearty moments at times recollecting respective experiences in the Army.
The last stint was great and I am glad also that it’s finally over – I had enough of Khatib camp and trust me travelling from Boon Lay to Khatib is no joke. However I can't help to reflect that although we may curse, swear and vehemently express our critical rhetoric for NS and the Army – but to some extent there are, deep in all of us that little rendition that we don't express openly or admit yet lies within, gains which are most often intangible yet most precious.
Perhaps it is in this spirit that Allah has said in the Qur’an: "We have created you male and female, and appointed you nations and tribes, that you may come to know one another" (al Qur’an, 49: 13)
**and ouh yeah ! I pass my 2.4 !