Caught between Adele and Obama in a mamak shop


There is a pakcik who is a regular at my breakfast place. Every day without fail, he sits at his usual table with his newspaper and small sling bag. The first thing he does is clean the table with a piece of tissue, then he takes out his handphone and a packed sandwich from his bag, placing it on the table.

The moment the waiter brings his Kopi C, he begins his morning ritual – reads his newspaper while enjoying his sandwich and sipping his coffee.

A must in his morning ritual is his music. You see, the pakcik loves his music. He plays it on his phone without wearing earphones. When the place is teeming with people, he turns-up the volume.

I remember my first encounter with the pakcik. I was irritated – his music was too loud. I also thought it was quite rude of him to ignore the comfort of others and do what suited him in a public space.

However, after encountering the same pakcik over and over again, I couldn’t help but observe certain things that endeared me to him. Although his morning ritual was the same, I began to notice things I had not seen before.

For starters, I saw how he moved his head to the beat of the music. I noticed a smirk on his face, and the way he tapped his fingers on the newspaper as his feet followed suit. The pakcik was truly living in the moment even when he was surrounded by strangers and that, I felt was worthy of mention.

I realised soon enough that I had ceased to be irritated by him. Instead I found myself listening to the pakcik’s music and enjoying it myself – it made my morning coffee taste sweeter. Plus, watching a senior citizen of seventy (or thereabouts) getting all groovy listening to the songs of Adele and Maroon 5 was amusing.

And then, a couple of days ago, something out of the ordinary happened.

I reached my breakfast place as usual, around seven-ish in the morning, only to realise that there was an uncle already seated with his coffee, capati and iPad. While enjoying his breakfast, this uncle was catching up on Barack Obama’s speech on YouTube – in case you were wondering how I knew this – well, this uncle too was not wearing any earphones.

Anyway, having gotten used to the pakcik’s loud music, Obama’s speech despite the early morning did not matter much to me – like the other customers, I ignored it and enjoyed my breakfast.

Not too long after I arrived, the usual pakcik came by with his usual newspaper, sandwich and sling bag. He took his seat, wiped the table, placed his phone and sandwich on it, ordered his Kopi C and began playing his music.

Realising Obama’s speech was being interrupted by a song, the uncle increased the volume. And the pakcik upon hearing Obama speak too loudly, decided to do the same so he could enjoy his song.

There I was, ‘Rolling in the Deep’ with Adele on my right and Obama on my left, in a mamak shop. Like me, many other customers began staring at both men, who seemed to be competing for the right to listen to their gadgets in a public space. Some customers shook their heads, others grumbled and frowns formed on the faces of many – but as usual, no one told either to stop destroying everyone else’s peaceful morning.

Very often in our society today, we see people like the pakcik and the uncle, fighting for their own freedom – freedom to practice their faith, freedom to wear their choice of attire, freedom to listen to music in a public space. However, while we stress on the need to embrace our rights and freedom, some of us sometimes step on the toes of others.

How is it right to enjoy our sense of freedom when we fail to respect the rights and freedom of others?

Where do we draw the line between fulfilling our rights and respecting that of others?

Sadly, while most of us choose to ignore the rights of others, it hits us right between the eyes when we have our own rights rudely stripped away.

But then again, some people never do acknowledge the rights of others to begin with.

At a quarter to eight that morning, I left the mamak shop with a slight headache – thanks to the pakcik and the uncle who failed to respect not only each other, but also the people around them.

And all because they were too absorbed in their own world.

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