Every week without fail, A Arullapan brings his wife to a physiotherapy centre for treatment.
At 74, this is no mean feat, but she suffered a stroke six years ago and depends on her weekly sessions in order to maintain the small steps in progress she has made.
In order to do so, though, Arullapan must leave their son, Pius, alone at home. He is often torn inside as Pius, 51, is disabled and requires constant care.
Things were not always like this for Arullapan. Once upon a time, he and his wife Annamary Sokkan lived a happy and relatively normal life.
Now, though, he spends his days taking care of wife and son, both of whom are debilitated.
A retired veteran, Arullapan is no stranger to hard work and stress. He served with the Semboyan Regiment of the armed forces for 22 years and saw action during the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation of 1969.
“I almost died on a mission in Taiping because we were ambushed,” he told MalaysiaNow. “I and eight others had climbed up a hill to deliver a generator. We were ambushed at the peak.”
For his service, he was awarded the Malaysian Service Medal in 2019.
But while he once saw active conflict for his country, his struggle is now at home where he strives to take care of his wife and son.
“Every morning after I wake up, I help my wife bathe,” he said. “Then I go to the shop to buy thosai or mi goreng.
“At noon, I cook rice and buy some curry from the shop. At night, I bathe my wife again.”
Arullapan and Annamary have four other children but they all live far away. This leaves just the three of them in their small house in Taman Sri Nanding, Hulu Langat, Selangor.
Pius, their oldest son, is unable to speak. “He can’t speak,” Arullapan said. “If he is in pain, he doesn’t know how to tell me. If he cries, I don’t understand why. That’s the big problem for me.”
Annamary meanwhile is wheelchair-bound. Speaking to MalaysiaNow, she said she had been unable to walk since suffering the stroke in 2015.
“I was cooking. I felt dizzy and I fell down. When I awoke, the doctor said I had experienced a stroke.
“I don’t remember anything,” she added. “In my head, everything is empty.”
Arullapan himself, although once active, is slowing down.
In his youth, he was hailed as a sportsmans. He led his regiment’s football and basketball teams to victory and frequently represented the armed forces in hockey and athletics.
He even played on the same field as sports legends Mokhtar Dahari and Zainal Abidin Hassan.
“If you say my name to Zainal, he will remember me,” Arullapan said. “I represented Semboyan against the other teams in the Kajang League. At that time, Mokhtar and Zainal were there with their teams from the fire brigade.
“That’s how I came to know them,” he said, smiling at the memory.
After retiring from the military, Arullapan worked for a while as a supervisor at Universiti Perdana in Cheras. But after Annamary suffered her stroke, she was unable to take care of Pius by herself. Arullapan was forced to stop working in order to care for his family.
The three of them depend on his monthly pension of RM1,300. Of this, RM460 goes towards repaying the study loan of Arullapan’s youngest son, James, who received a scholarship from SEGi College.
James graduated in 2014 but has been unable to find a job that matches his degree as an engineer. Instead, he works at the People’s Volunteer Corps or Rela in order to make ends meet.
“I depend on my pension,” Arullapan said, adding that he also receives some assistance as he and his wife are senior citizens and their son is disabled.
“But that is not enough to live on. I spent over RM1,000 on my wife’s treatment, and I have no car.
“If we need to go to the hospital, we take a Grab. Altogether it costs more than RM100 each time we go out.”
Last year, Arullapan himself met with an accident, the consequences of which make it difficult for him to move about.
He had been fixing a door in his house when he slipped and the machine he was using to saw fell on top of him.
“There was no one to help me at that time,” he said. “I had to crawl to the front of the house and telephone my son.
“I received eight stitches on my head and 16 on my leg. About 80% of my veins were damaged,” he said, indicating the bandage which until now remains around his right leg.
Now, he can no longer walk or stand for long periods.
“I can still stand but sometimes I am unstable,” he said. “But what can I do – this is my fate.”