Mr Tharmulingam s/o Palanisamy, 54 years old, is a truck and tractor driver, who has worked with JKR for 25 years. His specialty was building roads and highways, including cutting hills to make roads. His passion is evident from the way he describes and details his work. He tells me he has the special H licence, which he obtained when he was 21, that allows him to drive big machineries.
“I saw people driving big tractors when I started working with JKR, so I said to myself I want to drive one of those as well. I asked them what it took to be allowed to drive the tractors and they told me I needed certain licences. It has significantly shaped my work life until today,” he reveals, in between operating a truck filled with tree pruning that are meant to be discarded. It’s something I see him do daily and it has been his job for three years now, after he was promoted and switched to a different department.
This is a man whose sweat and energy were behind some of the convenient roads and highways that connect people like me in Kuantan to our intended destinations. Jalan Sg Lembing and Panching are among the roads he has contributed to – coincidentally, those are on the route I usually take when I go and visit my grandma.
“I prefer my old job; I love doing roads. I feel that I learnt so much doing that and gained new skills at work every single day,” says Mr Tharmulingam, and goes on to tell me how roads are built. “You need different layers. First, you have to put sand, and then you have to put stones and gravel. Then you add water to every other layer, and some soil and tar… it’s quite an interesting process!”
His H licence and ability to drive lorries have also come in useful outside of work. During the big flood that hit Kuantan in 2013, Mr Tharmulingan delivered food to victims who were trapped in the worst-hit areas such as Sg Isap. He also helped evacuate them by lorry. “Everyone was helping out at the time, even the Sultan of Pahang came down by boat to assist the flood victims,” he recalls.
By comparison, he feels that his current job doesn’t offer much challenges. “I don’t feel like I’ve grown much. Every day, my routine is the same: Drive truck to pick up grass or branches and tree cuttings. Sometimes I have to transfer garbage and that’s about it. But I will retire in two years, so never mind.”
I note with interest that his previous job was more demanding, involved very physical labour and paid less than what he’s earning now. Yet he speaks of his old job with such affection – clearly, he is someone who puts his heart and soul into his work, and it’s not always about the money.
So after a quarter of a century with JKR, what will he miss the most after he retires? He names his former supervisor of about six years, Encik Lamil. “He was very strict but he taught me a lot of things about this profession, and helped me pick up new skills and knowledge on road buildings. He also taught me the importance and advantages of having high work ethics and discipline. I will always be thankful to him.”
Mr Tharmulingam is one of just three non-Malays in his department, but that has never been an issue. “No problem at all. As a Hindu devotee, I don’t eat beef whereas the Muslims do. But during Raya, there are many other food that don’t contain beef so I still get to enjoy to my heart’s content,” he tells me. “During Deepavali every year, the three of us – Kak Vanitha (the clerk) and Mr Mano (another truck driver) – will chip in to buy some Indian food and share it with our colleagues. It’s always fun.”
He adds that Kak Vanitha’s husband is a good friend of his. “We are like brothers but he’s already retired from JKR and now he’s a spiritual leader. I will hang out with him for a cup of tea after work today before he leaves for India on a religious trip, on Malaysia Day. That’s all the social life I have these days because at night, I work part-time as a security guard at a factory. Come back also, what to do? My wife is no more…”
His wife passed away in 2011 after losing her battle with stomach cancer, leaving him and their two children, now in their 20s.
“Mr. Lingam tak nak kahwin lagi ke? You’re still quite young!” I say to him on jest.
“ No lahh…” he replies with a laugh, then says cheerfully: “But my daughter is getting engaged this weekend so I am very excited!”
Looks like it’s going to be a great Malaysia Day for him! – BY NIK IZNI RAHIM