Fond memories are always good to reminisce, particular of many things that are slowly being flown into oblivion. Our past had taught us many valuable lessons; the games we used to play, the music we listened to, the food we crazed most, the movies we would always remember, the places we used to visit but above all is the people whom to a certain extent had an influence over us.
Like all places in this world, my hometown Muar produced many unforgettable person whose characters have left me with so many fond memories. In this article, I would like to bring back some of the characters of these wonderful people who would never leave my memory bank. Let me introduce to you the kacang puteh sellers of my growing years.
“Kacang” in the Englis language is “bean” but as for the kacang puteh sellers, they normally sell groundnuts and other nuts such as cashew nuts and other variety of nuts. Not many can verify why it is called kacang puteh which literally is white bean or white nut since there isn’t any white nut available in this country. Chances are the actual name is ‘kacang butir’ but was incorrectly pronounced.
Most of these kacang puteh sellers would be selling their products at the cinemas where most movie goers would be looking for something to munch while watch the movie. Before the arrival of pop corn, kacang puteh was the thing. Most of these sellers were of Indian descents. According to some people, selling kacang puteh has its origin way back in the early twenties when many Indians from India were brought in by the British to work in rubber estates. While their menfolks worked in the estates, the womenfolks decided to do something to earn extra. It started in Ipoh, it seems, because there were abundant of ground nuts in Ipoh. Their small trade prospered and encouraged by their success, few others followed suit and by and by the whole of Perak could seen kacang puteh sellers carrying along their products on the streets.
So obviously by the time I was born and growing up, the kacang puteh sellers had reached to all parts of Malaya. In my hometown of Muar, there were quite a number of them. One that I remember most was Raju because he would be passing by my house around 2.30pm to 3.00pm daily.
Raju was a medium size person with a thick black hair. Unlike most Indian men who would be spotted with a moustache, he was clean shaven. I would assume that he was in his late twenties when I knew him. I was around ten years old and among his favourite customers. Every time after my morning school, I would wait for my kacang puteh seller. I could hear his voice from afar calling for customers and normally he would shout..”kacang puteh, kacang rebus”. I would then run to the front stairs waiting for him. Sometime when he noticed I was not at the stairs, he would stop for a while waiting for me to walk out of the house.
Raju was such an adorable person and would smile when talking to his customers. He spoke perfect Malay. If one listened to him talking without looking at his face, he could easily be mistaken for a Malay. His attire would always be a short sleeve brown coloured shirt tucked in to his brown coloured short trousers. Believe it or not, Raju was never seen wearing a pair of shoes or sleepers. So you can imagine how poor he was. How dreadful to see him walking along the road on a hot day. But for Raju, life had to move on and this was the only way he could earn a small honest living.
When I first knew him, he was selling his kacang in four tin containers stick together. The ends of the containers was a long cloth that he would place it onto his shoulder. To wrap his sold kacang he would use a paper the size of an exercise book. He would make a small round with the paper that would look like a paper cup. For five cents, the paper cup would be small and bigger for ten cents.
One day Raju was missing. Everyone in the neighbourhood kept asking where on earth was Raju. He did not appear in our neighbourhood for almsot a week. Many were worried with all kinds of speculation; he could be in hospital, maybe he had gone back to India or maybe he could have died. But all these guessing proved wrong when one afternoon his voice could be heard for afar. Few of us who heard his voice came out of the house waiting for him. Then his figure appeared at the junction about few yards away from my house. He was walking towards us while shouting the products of his trade. But this time he was carrying his kacang puteh on top of his head. It was like a small table with four wooden legs and on top were six varieties of his kacang. He would hold the front two wooden legs of the table and walked towards our direction shouting with that same voice…kacang puteh, kacang rebus.
In spite of knowing his name, we were still calling “kacang puteh, kacang puteh, mari sini” (kacang puteh, come here). Raju grinned as he neared us and all of us started asking where on earth had he been? He grinned even wider and slowly told us that he had been married to an Indian girl, a relative who came all the way from India. Then all of us began to tease him and he would just smiled. There had been some progress in his variety of nuts and he introduced us the one specially prepared by his new wife. And this time he was seen wearing a pair of sleepers because his wife forbade him to walk barefooted.
Most of these kacang puteh sellers were Malayan of Indian descents. I guess this trade must be common among their community. There would be at least one kacang puteh seller plying in every cinema. There were also those using a bicycle selling their products and using the bicycle bell to attract customers instead of shouting.
As time passed, these kacang puteh sellers slowly began to disappear although we could still buy these products in some supermarkets. But nothing could be more merrier than waiting for the kacang puteh passing by your house and getting to know them personally and the lives they led. Had Raju lived, he could well be over ninety years old but I am sure he would have left this world by now. Raju had always been a part of my growing years and no matter how many stories I can remember of my growing days, he would surely be a part of my conversation whenever I turned to the pages of my past.