For more than six decades, the familiar ice-cream man had been bringing smiles and joy to thousands of Michaelians with his varieties of goodies. That man of few words and his knack for orderliness in arranging the ice-cream, has stopped selling two months ago. His absence has raised many questions among us. What has happened to him? Why did he stop selling? Is he still in Malaysia? Will be be back?
We will return with his story...
At the foodcourt, SMI ice-cream man always cuts a lonely figure. He is also a man of few words and because of that, not many people know that his name is Mohd Ali. That lonely man of 82 is not lonely anymore. He is now back in India, a country where he came from when he was a very young man. His wife and two daughters are still there.
SMI kacang putih man Solaiappan (right), who is Mohd Ali's very close confidante said Mohd Ali was already selling ice-cream in the 40s, even before the arrival of the Japanese.
Solaiappan, who operates the kacang putih stall, took over the stall from his father.
"My father took over the trade from my grandfather. That means the selling of kacang putih in SMI has run for three generations", he said.
Solaiappan said when he was in primary school, helping his grandfather at the stall, the ice-cream man was already operating a stall selling "ais kerim potong" which he made himself.
That time, he said, the stalls were operating behind the Masjid India mosque. It was called tuck shop then.
All the years of selling ice-cream, Mohd Ali had not used any motorised vehicles to transport his weighty metal container to and from school to his Kinta Height flat - a distance of at least a km. For five days a week, Mohd Ali (imagine his age) would cycle on his trishaw(beca), struggling on his pedal power when he encountered the slopes and patiently enduring the blaring horns from vehicles when he moved too slow. He had to cycle from the school to the French Bakery every two days to get fresh stock of bread as "he knew pupils and teachers alike like it".
All the years of hardship had somehow weakened him and that contributed to his frequent bouts of asthmatic attacks. "It was getting very serious early this year, rendering him very fragile and weak. Still he wanted to come to school to sell. The noodle man, Ah Fatt, helped him greatly by carrying his goods to school," Solaiappan said, adding that Mohd Ali would just sit at his stall and attending to his young and eager customers.
His health deteriorated further in June 2007. Mohd Ali decided to vacate his humble abode at the flat and to return to India. He was also advised by his sons-in-law who are working in Johor and KL to stop working for good. At last, he relented.
SMI ice cream man left behind only two items in St Michael's. One is his faithful trishaw, the other is our sweet memory of this faithful old man, one who has spent virtually his entire life in St Michael's.
Mohd Ali had to go without saying goodbye to all Michaelians. Deep down, Mohd Ali considers himself a son of St Michael's and he left with a very heavy heart.
"He spoke highly of the school, the Brothers and the old boys. He remembers Brother Paul and Brother Vincent vividly and always spoke on the ways they managed the school. His greatest joy was being able to serve here in St Michael's," Solaiappan said.
Mohd Ali now resides in Southern India. Those who want to say hello to him, call 00914567-259993.
From St Michael's, thank you Master Mohd Ali. We hope that you will have a fruitful and happy retirement with your family.
Signing off, Peter Khiew.