Wedding bells and tears – then screws and hinges
Tales of the Dark Days – VIII
Recollections by some Star journalists of Shutdown days
By Dorairaj Nadason
• The day of the dictator
• Those black days when the Star was shut down
• The game of Risk in journalism
• Tunku’s lament, then off in search of jobs
• A personal silver lining
• How the Star newsroom culture changed
• The voice of silence. . .
• Dreading the late-night knock on the door
• When the Sunday Star almost defied KDN
I was almost broke, just a little over six months after getting married in April and days after holding a Deepavali bash on Oct 22. But there was talk of the company paying two months’ bonus at the end of the year – the first time we were to be receive such largesse.
Then came heartbreak. I had gone to bed in the wee hours thinking that Michael Aeria had produced one of the finest front pages I had ever seen. It would turn out to be the last Star front page in months.
The wife came home at 11am. In tears. She works in The Star, too. "They have closed us down, we have no jobs," she said.
That woke me up in a hurry. We rushed back to the office together. It was chaos. No one knew if the suspension was for real or if we would get our jobs back soon. But after days of waiting, reality sank in. We needed to find some way to earn money.
In KL, many were being called by other firms to work. It was different in Penang. Interview after interview – and the guys were saying: "You will quit when The Star reopens. So why should we hire you?"
No one wanted anyone from The Star. They were sure it would reopen very soon. Penangites had faith in the paper.
So while the likes of Ch’ng Hock Lai started selling pizzas, I finally found work – as a carpenter’s assistant. RM30 a day, less than what they used to pay for subbing one supplement page.
We were building a snooker centre in Wisma Chocolate. I had to saw wood and carry timber up five floors, and not allowed to use the lift. What I remember most are the rows and rows of cue cabinets: each with five hinges, each hinge with 10 screw-holes — 50 screws that needed to be turned per cabinet. By hand (no battery-powered screwdrivers then). And there were hundreds of them.Every day, I would gaze longingly at the door at Wisma Chocolate, hoping someone would walk in and say: "Raj, they’ve given us back the licence." It didn’t happen. What did happen were scoldings in half-Hokkien and half-English for slacking off.
The wife found a job selling lottery tickets at a shop at the junction of Chulia Street and Pitt Street. She got lucky once: she sold a first-prize winning ticket and earned a princely bonus of RM120.
There was little money, but we made it through. I learnt about friendship — of real friends and fair-weather ones.
In March, news came that the licence would be restored. Every day, we had a small party at home after work – the beer bill duly recorded in the little 555 book of the sundry-shop owner. When The Star reopened and paid the balance of unpaid salaries over the five months, that bill was finally paid.
But there is another bill, one that all Malaysian newspaper journalists still pay to this day.
ND Raj, sub-editor at the Penang office, is now deputy executive editor in PJ.