ME AND MY MUSIC WORLD (PART ONE)

(The Dreamers of Muar 1966. From left: Alias (Rhythm guitar), Yours truly (Bass guitar), Shukur (Lead guitar) and Shaari (Drums).

I had always enjoyed music since I was very small. Most of my uncles were music lovers and I grew listening to their kind of songs. I knew the names of Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Tony Benette, Doris Day as well as the name of the songs they sang when I was as young as seven years old. Most of these songs have such wonderful melodies that listening to these songs now would bring me back to those wonderful years. My grandfather too loved music but he always sang Japanese songs. Perhaps he learned to sing these Japanese songs while Malaya was under the Japanese occupation. Every evening he would sit in one corner of his bedroom and sang these songs with his eyes closed and I could see that he really enjoyed those few moments.

At the same time, I loved listening to the Malay songs aired over the radio. We had two radios, one was a Grundig and the other was a Philips. During those early years, Indonesian songs too were frequently aired over the radio. We had names such as Bing Selamat, S. Effendy and their women singers such as Titeik Puspa. Our local Malay singers of that time were names such as P. Ramlee, R. Azmi, Jasni while the women singers were Momok Latif, Noormadiah and of course the legendary Saloma.

My first appearance singing in “public” was in 1956 and I sang in front of our class a beautiful song of P. Ramlee’s Berkorban Apa Saja. I learned singing this song after watching his movie “Hang Tuah” in Singapore. Every minute of my time I would sing this song. When my class teacher discovered that I always sang this song in school, he invited me to sing in front of my classmates. It was on one occasion when he brought us to the school field and invited some of the students to show their talents. Some students showed off their “silat” skill pretending to be Hang Tuah. When my turn came, I sang this beautiful P. Ramlee’s song and at the same time showing off my missing two front teeth. At the end of the song, my classmates clapped their hands and I thought my voice was quite like that of P. Ramlee’s. I was so proud that I told everyone I met, even to the Kacang Putih seller and the Rojak seller. I guessed they were not amused because they just nodded without smiling.

Not far away from where I lived, was the house of my paternal grandmother. It was situated within the vicinity of Tanjung. Every Thursday evening, my uncle Wak Chad (Arshad Ali) would come and take me to this house and I would be spending my time here until Saturday. My unmarried paternal uncles and aunties lived in this house together with three children; my elder brother Farouk who was three years my senior, my cousin Atek (Afrizah Abu Bakar) who was two years my senior and my cousin Ajis (Aziz Abu Bakar) who was a year older than me. During the day we would be running around the house with our antics and return for lunch to “recharge our batteries”. Before dusk, we would return home to take our bath and ready to fill our stomach during dinner time. After dinner, we would play some inhouse games and sometimes we would play ‘teacher and students’.

Being the eldest, Farouk would be the ‘teacher’ and the three of us his ‘students’. There was once a ‘maths class’ and being so stupid in arithmetic, I would always blink when asked. Atek and Ajis were always quick to answer any question asked while I would be pretending to think, which was not necessary as I did not know the answer. But the ‘teacher’ was always kind to me and he would teach me the answer. When Ajis could not answer a question, the ‘teacher’ was quick to shout at him and called him ‘bodoh’ (stupid). Sometime the ‘teacher’ would ask the three of us to sing a song and he would be the judge. We were asked to sing only one song; Hitam Manis. It was like a singing competition and I would always end up being the winner. If we were to have this kind of ‘teacher’ in all the schools today, I am sure all the students will be very dumb.

My passion in music grew even more when a close relative formed a musical band called ‘The Teenage Blues’ and apparently he stayed at the house of my paternal grandmother. Uncle Bakar Salim was a student at the Day Training Center (DTC) and was good in playing the acoustic guitar (refer to my article Bobby Cliff and The Teenage Blues). My cousin Ajis was fortunate to be able to learn playing the guitar from him and it was Ajis who then taught me. I was able to strum the guitar with some simple chords and by the time I was twelve years old, I could strum while singing some songs. I was very influenced by my British singing idol Cliff Richard and knew all of his latest hits. Somehow, I was not crazy about Elvis Presley who later became known as The King of Rock n Roll.

Ajis and me would always sing together emulating the style of The Everly Brothers of the USA. Then came The Blue Diamonds, two dutch brothers who came out with their famous song “Ramona”. We would bring our acoustic guitars to Tanjung and sang these lovely songs by the river-side throwing our voices with the highest pitch. When some schoolgirls passed by, we sang even louder.

Sometime in 1962, a young boy of Ajis’ age named Daiman Mat Nor came to Muar town following his parents where his father was posted as the district’s Labour Officer. They lived in a two-storey bungalow which was a walking distance to the house of my paternal grandmother. Daiman eventually became very close to Ajis as he was a fine young guitarist. When I first met him, he was playing his guitar with the song ‘Walk Don’t Run’ made famous by the four piece from USA, The Ventures. For a young boy of thirteen, playing that kind of song would obviously fascinate me. Daiman did not stay long in Muar town and two years later he moved to Kuala Lumpur following his parents but his relationship with us remained for a very long until he passed away sometime in the late 90s.

Ajis at the age of fifteen had joined a band called ‘The Dreamers’ as the bass guitarist. The band became the most famous Muar band of that time. The lead guitarist was a Javanese descent whose parents sold satay around Muar town. His name was Tukur but we called him Shukur. He could play the lead guitar like Hank Marvin of The Shadows. The rhythm guitarist was a shy boy named Alias while the drummer was Sha’ari. The Dreamers was the most sought band for weddings and other musical functions. Sometime I would follow Ajis to observe the group performed at weddings.

As I did not wish to be left behind in the Muar musical scene, together with my cousin Ungku Tik (Tik), we both form a band called The Kool Kats. We invited Hamzah Bachik as the rhythm guitarist and Sheikh Ibrahim (Yem) as the drummer. After school, we would practice at Yem’s house until evening.

One day we heard there was going to be a Talent Time show at the Cathay cinema and we all thought to give our new band a try. But Tik had an idea nobody ever thought. He suggested that our band should be accompanied by our own dancers. It was something like the ‘Shindiq Dancers’ that we watched on television. I can’t remember who was responsible in getting the girls to dance but surprisingly we managed to get eight schoolgirls from the Sultan Abu Bakar Girls School. The girls created their own dancing style as at that time we had never heard of a choreographer and obviously there would never be one in Muar town of 1966. They practiced while we boys played the song of our choice for the Talent Time. I remember the names of only four girls; Nazli, Aishah, Sofiah and Jenny Chong. The song was ‘Galloping’ by The Quest of Singapore.

On the night of the Talent Time, we arrived early and had our dinner at the ‘Kedai Siang Malam’ while the girls came later. Many good Muar bands participated and The Dreamers was among them.

The Kool Kats and their dancers. I played the bass guitar standing on a stool.

Cathay cinema was crowded on that night. This was most obvious as we seldom had this kind of entertainment in Muar town. The Dreamers did a number of The Shadows called ‘Geronimo’ and they played extremely well. The other bands that I remember participating in the show were The White Devils, The Jumping Jewels, Hell’s Angels and The Waves. When our turn came, we all thought our performance was good. The girls danced very well too. When the result came out, we were not even considered for the third place. We were very disappointed and consoled the girls and thanked them so much for their great efforts. However, one of the judges came looking for me after the show. I remember he was a teacher at the Ismail School I whose name was Mr. Edward Steven. Mr. Steven told me that we should not have entered the Talent Time show but should have taken part as a guest artiste. He then suggested that we took part in a future musical show as a guest artiste. I had to turn down the offer because these girls were schoolgirls and we never had any intention of having dancing girls for our band. We did it that night just to entertain ourselves.

The next day in the evening, we heard that the girls were called by their Headmistress and were given a stern warning not to ever participate again. We felt so sorry for them. Today some of these girls had become grandmothers and I am sure whenever they reminisce about their wonderful years of growing up, they would surely remember this event.

On the same year in 1966, Ajis left for Kuala Lumpur to study in a boarding school. Before he left for Kuala Lumpur, he suggested to his band members to take me as his replacement. I was introduced to all the three band members and we played a few songs with me as their new bass guitarist. I was finally accepted as their new bass guitarist.

TO BE CONTINUED…PART TWO.

 

 

 

 

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THE NIGHT GRANDMA DIED

It was around 5.00am in the morning when I heard voices and I immediately woke up from bed to find out who could they be? It was my auntie Mak Ram (Ramlah) and her husband Pak Ngah (Master Ghafar Ali) together with my auntie Mak Pon (Rahmah) and they were upstairs opening all the windows of the house. I knew immediately that grandma must have died in the hospital but I prayed hard that my feeling was wrong. I rushed upstairs and Mak Ram saw me and spoke to me “Din, Mak dah tak ada” (Din, Mak has passed away). I stood vigil and didn’t know what to do. I didn’t cry but I could feel my heart was ‘crushed to pieces’ and my mind began to ponder aimlessly what to do next? I went back to my room and sat on my bed quietly until I suddenly burst with tears flowing down freely. It was still dark and the recital of the Quran could be heard from the town mosque. The silence of the dawn was broken with the crows of our roosters echoed by the neighbouring roosters until they reached a crescendo. That morning I didn’t perform my dawn prayer but instead kept on crying until Mak Ram came to my room to console me. I wiped my tears and went outside to my bicycle and cycled to the house of my paternal grandma situated at Tanjung to inform my two aunties Nah (Hasnah Ali) and Pong (Siti Hawa Ali). It was six in the morning and the house of my paternal grandma was already opened to begin the day. Pong was sweeping the kitchen floor and was obviously surprised to see me inside the house at the wee hours of the morning. She just stood looking at me and asked, “Din, ada apa apa tak kena?” (Din, is there something wrong). I broke the sad news to her and she immediately shouted at her sister who was upstairs Konah, Abang Ara dah meninggal” (Konah, Abang Ara had died).

Some say that when a person’s life on earth is about to end, he/she may have a premonition. While cycling home alone, I remember a few incidents when I spent her few last days with me. Nobody knew that she was by then suffering from chronic constipation. She had trouble to ease herself and like all women of my growing years, she kept this to herself to avoid being sent to the hospital. At best, she applied all kinds of lotions onto her stomach to lessen her pain. When her pain was unbearable, they called for the ambulance but by then it was too late.

A week earlier on one evening as I was sitting on a long bench at the front of our house, grandma came by and sat beside me. She asked me a very peculiar question and asked whether I was the one looking at her from an upstairs’ window that linked to the bathroom while she was bathing. I answered by telling her that I would not do such a foolish thing. She said she saw a figure looking at her and every time she looked back, she could see the figure shying away and that happened about three times after which she immediately stopped bathing. Our house was full of mysteries of paranormal in nature. Most of us believed that there was a spirit that lived in one of the rooms. I have related this story in my earlier posting “The Yellow Room”. My mind immediately thought of this spirit that could be the one bothering her and I could sense that she felt the same after receiving my answer. I asked her whether she was alright and she assured me that she was okay except that she felt a bit dizzy at times. I reminded her that I could always accompany her to go to the clinic or the hospital but she reiterated her stand that she was alright.

We sat together for a few minutes in silence until she broke the silence by saying, “Mak rindukan anak anak Mak” (I longed for all my children). I didn’t say a word and thought that it was normal for a mother to be longing for her children. Then she continued by telling me some stories about some of her children (my uncles and aunties). How she was so delighted to have her first baby (my aunt Mak Pon) and so very delighted when she delivered her second child, a son (my uncle Wak Tan- Mohd. Noah). It gave her satisfaction to have a pair; a girl and a boy. I kept my silence and listened to her reminiscing her past. According to her, my mother was a very strict disciplinarian that when she grew older with a few younger siblings down the line, she was so strict with them and more often these younger siblings would complain to her (grandma). But she (my mother) loved her younger brother Othman (my uncle) more than others perhaps Othman was immediately after her, just like my auntie Mak Pon and my uncle Wak Tan. Her son Omar was the quietest of the lot and seldom talked. In fact uncle Omar didn’t talk until he was about four years old which obviously worried grandpa and grandma. It happened one day when she brought uncle Omar to Parit Bakar to visit my great grandmother. While she was talking with my great grandmother, uncle Omar went outside and played alone.A few minutes later he came back crying by saying “Atit atit” (Sakit sakit) (I am in pain). Grandma was horrified to see a few red ants all over his body. She immediately shoved all the red ants and held uncle Omar tightly and she kissed him continuously because although horrified, she was extremely happy that her son had finally talked. They made a small kenduri a week later offering prayers and thanking God that uncle Omar could now talk. At this juncture, I smiled at her and told her that uncle Omar seldom talked even now. Uncle Mahmood was the adventurous one as well as very creative. He was very good in making ‘pistols, riffles’ and other wooden toys. Uncle Aziz was very much like his brother uncle Omar but she added that uncle Aziz was too shy a person. Why would she tell me all these past tales?

It was on one Saturday afternoon, while she was cooking at the kitchen, I heard her voice calling for me. I ran towards her and asked if she was alright? She told me to look for my little cousin Raha who was running around the house with a knife in her hand. After I managed to settle with Raha, I went back to the kitchen and I saw her looking fatigue. She told me to have my lunch with grandpa as she needed to lie down and rest. I thought it would be good to let her rest as she had been working very hard alone since morning.

Later in the evening after I had my dinner alone, I sat at the tembok thinking about grandma and prayed that she would soon be back to normal. Then my good friend Yem (Sheikh Ibrahim) came and we sat together talking and a few minutes later my cousin Ajis (Aziz Abu Bakar) arrived and joined in the conversation. The three of us were not aware that grandma’s sickness had turned for the worst. Apparently my uncle Wak Mat (Ahamd Hj Ariffin) had called the ambulance and when it arrived in front of our house, I was in a state of shock and ran towards grandma’s bedroom. There she was lying with grandpa on her side and my auntie Mak Pon holding her hand. All she said to us was ‘”sakit, tak boleh nak cakap” (Its painful. I can’t describe it). Two hospital attendants came in with a stretcher and they carried grandma into the ambulance. I decided to follow her inside the ambulance and both Yem and Ajis decided to accompany me and so the three of us sat inside the ambulance until we reached the hospital. Throughout the journey, grandma didn’t say a word and she just closed her eyes. I held her hand and prayed hard for her recovery. When we arrived at the hospital, my auntie Mak Ram and her husband were already there waiting for the ambulance. Grandma was immediately rushed to the Intensive Unit Care  where a doctor was waiting. Grandma just lied on the stretcher with her eyes closed. When they had settled down, I approached grandma and bade her farewell but she didn’t respond. That was the last time I gazed at the face of a woman of raised me. The three of us were sent back home by the same ambulance.

Much as I can remember, she had never suffered any serious illness except for the normal sickness like having a cold or a slight dizziness which were curable in just a few hours by just taking some pills.

All her grand children called her Encik instead of nenek while grandpa was Encik Jantan. However, those from my paternal grandmother’s side called her Encik Mee. The name Encik Mee was taught to my brother Farouk by my paternal grandmother whom we all called Encik as well. Perhaps it was to differentiate between Encik (paternal grandmother) and Encik Mee (maternal grandmother).

Grandma had many visitors during the day and she always welcomed them with open arms. Some would come as early as 9.00am and would volunteer to assist grandma with all the house works including cooking. During her free time, she would sit with them on the ambin while enjoying their sireh pinang. 

There was one day and night when grandma entertained three of her most best friends; her own mother (my great grandmother), Tok Enggor (my paternal grandmother, her aunt) and her sister-in-law Mak Chah (wife of grandma’s brother Hamidon). The four of them seemed to enjoy everyone moment of their time together. All the three of them slept in our house and the next morning during breakfast they would talk and talk in such a happy mood.

Grandma’s body reached home by 9.00am and by then so many who had been informed of her death were in the house with some in a state of shock. We now had a problem of informing this sad news to grandpa and we needed someone close to him.They called his youngest brother Tok Aziz and it was him that informed grandpa of the sad news. All he did after receiving the sad news was to bow his head and cried silently for a few minutes. Every one is the house was shedding their tears silently. Before noon, almost all of grandma’s siblings had arrived and the house was so crowded with everyone expressing their shock at the sudden death of grandma. Mak Wor, the maid-servant couldn’t control herself and cried like a baby unashamedly.

Grandma’s children too by now had arrived and everyone just could not believe that the mother they loved so much was longer in this world. But the most tear jerking moment was when grandma’s body was about to be sent for burial. Grandpa was already seated beside her body crying silently. Then my great grandmother was brought to grandma’s body and as she sat beside grandma, she said, ‘Ara anak mak. Kenapa pergi dulu. Tunggu mak ye, nanti mak datang jumpa Ara’ (Ara my child. Why must you go first? Wait for me, I will be joining you soon). Everyone couldn’t control themselves and most were seen wiping their tears.

Grandma was sent for burial at the 6th mile of Jalan Bakri’s Muslim cemetary. Her younger brother Taib supervised the burial ceremony and was always seen wiping his tears.

Many bade farewell to a soul loved by all who knew her. Rest in peace my dear grandmother, my mother.

 

 

 

 

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MY GRANDMOTHER, MY MOTHER

Most of us would have someone very close to our hearts,  someone whom we adore and love and will always be remembered throughout our lives. For me there is one person that will remain in my heart for as long as I live. Naturally, my own family (wife and children) belongs to my heart too but every time when I reminisce over the glory years of my growing up, I cannot escape to forget the woman who raised me. That woman was my grandmother, my ‘mother’.

My grandmother, Hamidah binti Hj. Andak was born in 1901 in Parit Bakar, Muar and was the second child of Hj. Andak bin Jamak and Hjh Marjillah. Nevertheless, she was regarded as the first child because her elder sister Fatimah died during infancy. As the eldest girl in the family, she was referred to by all her younger siblings as ‘Abang’. Since her home name was Ara, she was known among family members and kampung contemporaries as Abang Ara. It was most common among Johoreans of that period that the first woman of a family was referred as ‘Abang’. Her father (my maternal great grandfather) was a respectable school teacher and was known to be a disciplinarian.

Grandma was a small size woman, perhaps not taller than 5′ 3” and was a very shy person. Even when speaking, she would speak in a soft tone that one needed to be very near her to understand what she was talking about. She was married to Abdul Hamid Bin Hj. Taib (my grandfather) who was then a clerk at the local government office of Muar town. They were blessed with fourteen children, the third child was my mother, Kamariah.

It was in 1949 when I was three months old that my mother passed away due to breast cancer. She died at a young age of 25 when my father was serving as an Assistant District Officer in Kluang, Johor. It must be the saddest moment for the family because she died on the dawn of the first day of the Muslim month of Syawal. When all the mosques in the country began to sing the praises of God as a mark of triumph enduring the fasting month of Ramadan, my mother slumbered through eternity. They brought her body back to Muar town the same day and buried her at the 1st mile of Jalan Bakri where the Muslim cemetery was situated. Both my elder brother, Farouk and me were taken into custody by my paternal grandmother. A week later, grandma met my paternal grandmother and pleaded with her that I be given to her to be under her care while Farouk to be under the wings of my paternal grandmother and they both agreed. Since then, grandma took care of me and raised me until the day she died.

To me she was my mother and much as I can remember, throughout my sixteen years under her care, she treated me just like any mother would treat her own child. After all she had taken care of fourteen children and with me as her latest addition was an easy feat, or was it?

It is truly amazing that I have a good memory of my early lives, something that many of us may not be able to remember. I remember being a baby crying for my bottle of milk. I remember both my grandparents teaching me how to walk with both of them with wide open arms on both ends while I struggled happily to stand on my two feet. I remember when grandma carried me around the house while she swept the floor. I remember how my grandfather taught me to recognize the alphabet and I even remember the day grandma taught me to eat rice when she noticed my teeth had grown. Mind you, these were the period when I could not talk properly. I was not even two years old. Although I may not remember every details of my life as a toddler, these bits and pieces are enough to justify the good memory that I have.

Grandma’s youngest child was a boy five years my senior, someone I looked upon as my elder brother. Uncle Aziz was always supportive towards me and he contributed in guiding me greatly during my learning curve. We both slept with grandma on the same bed.

Grandma liked to adopt orphans. There was one young girl she adopted named Khatijah and we all called her “Jah Piji (Fiji)”. During her teens, Jah Piji eloped with her English boyfriend and they got married in London. Many years later, Jah Piji returned home and by then she insisted to be called ‘Jah London’. Another young lad that grandma adopted was one named Arshad and we called him ‘Wak Resad’. He was of the same age group with some of my uncles and was treated by them as one of their brothers. Wak Resad always sleepwalk during his sleep. There was one incident during his sleep, he suddenly stood up and carried a pillow like carrying a baby and he went straight to the window. He opened the window and threw the pillow out saying, “Mati kau (You die)”. Later we told him about the incident and he then remembered that he had a dream and in the dream he killed someone. Wak Resad later got married and settled down in Johor Bahru. During the Hari Raya festival, Wak Resad never failed to return home bringing his family to meet his adopted parents. Another young lad that grandma adopted was one named Ibrahim. Because he walked ratherly slowly, we called him ‘Wak Yem Slow’. But there was one Indonesia lady she adopted that eventually became a part of our family until she died.

Her name was just Wor, a very typical Indonesian way of using just one name and kids like me called her Mak Wor. Mak Wor came to Muar town as a ‘slave’ woman and in order to get her freedom, she must be adopted and it was grandma who adopted her. Mak Wor later got married and followed her husband to Tangkak. They were blessed with two daughters, Nina and Rafeah. Because of her great respect for grandma, Mak Wor never failed to bring her two daughters practically every week to stay with us. Until today, Nina and Rafeah have become a part of our family.

When I was twelve years old,grandma adopted her grand daughter (my cousin) Kursiah Johar. She was still a baby when she took her under her wings and I was the one who was assigned to carry her around the house whenever grandma was busy. However, grandma called her ‘Raha’ as she liked the wife of our second Prime Minister whose name was Raha and apparently she is a Muarian too.

One of grandma’s speciality was cooking and she was indeed a fantastic cook. Almost every thing that she cooked became my favourite dish. You name any authentic Johor dishes, and she could cook them with ease. Imagine, she learned all these from her mother without having to refer to any recipe books. Her sotong masak hitam was second to none and her asam pedas was truly the way it should be cooked. When she prepared the ikan terutub for lunch, I would be the first to be at the dining table waiting anxiously to enjoy my  indulgence.  Another of my favourite dish was daging masak kormak and she made sure to cook this dish for me every week.

For tea, grandma always had her list ready every afternoon and this would include pengat pulut hitam, bubur kacang, som som, pengat pisang, pengat jagung and many more. Sometime she would fry the most sought jemput jemput (cekodok) pisang and cucur udang. There were many other dishes that she had once cooked that I can’t find these dishes any more.

Apart from all these dishes, she could cook superbly the authentic laksa Johor. She would not compromise on the type of fish for its gravy and it had to be ikan parang. In those days, laksa Johor was eaten using our bare hands and the laksa was made from rice. Another famous dish she used to cook was Halwa Maskat, a dish believed that has its origin from the Middle East. Another dish believed to originate from the Middle East is the Arissa. Of course, she could also cook the family’s favourite of lempuk durian, dodol and wajik.

Most women of my growing years knew how to sew and tailored their own dresses and grandma was definitely in the list. She even made the curtains for all our house windows. Every time when she made the curtain, the extra cloth would be my shirt but I would only wear them when the the curtains were sent for washing. Muarian of my time called the sewing machine as enjin jahit. So, if one were to use the sewing machine to make a shirt or dress, we called this as enjin kain/baju.

At the back of our house was a plot of unused land. It was full of wild undergrowth and small jungle plants. One day grandma thought of turning this plot of land into something useful and she thought it would be good if we planted tapioca. A few days later, we began with our project.

Grandpa took the lead with uncle Aziz and me as his ‘assistants’. First we cleared all the wild undergrowth using parang and cangkul.  It took us three to four days to clear the land as it was quite a big piece. Once it was cleared, we dug the land and while doing so, grandma planted the tapioca shoot in rows. This final phase took us about three days or a little more. By and by, we had a nice plot of tapioca ‘plantation’. When the all the leaves started to grow from the shoots, it was a nice scenery of greens. By the sixth month, the tapioca would have grown to as high as seven feet. By then it was ready to be consumed. Pulling the tapioca tree was quite tedious sometime as the roots would have been firmly grown inside the ground.

From then on we had a variety of dishes made out of tapioca. For breakfast, we had boiled tapioca eaten with grated coconut mixed with sugar. Sometime we ate it with sambal ikan bilis and for tea we had pengat ubi. 

As we had abundant of tapioca at our disposal, we often gave some to our neighbours and thanks to grandma’s idea of turning that plot of unused land into a mini tapioca plantation.

Grandma was very close to all her siblings and would often pay them a visit. Her younger sister, Rafeah (Mak Kintan) was the closest to her perhaps she was the only one living in Muar town. Another of her younger sister was Besar (Mak Chah) who stayed in Johor Bahru. I remember going to Johor Bahru with grandpa and grandma with someone else driving the car. It was such a long journey that I vomited maybe more than a hundred times. I was a bad long distance traveller when I was a small kid. Every time when we travelled a long distance, grandma made sure that we brought along an empty tin for me to vomit. Mak Chah was a very talkative person and she was seen to be a disciplinarian like her father (my great grandfather). I remember that she was a good ‘apam’ maker and she would sell her ‘apam’ to the various food outlets in town and her famous ‘apam’ became known as ‘Apam Mak Chah’. When Mak Chah passed away, her daughter Zaharah inherited her mother’s skill and continued the legacy of ‘Apam Mak Chah’.

Her youngest sister was a sweet lady named Zaharah (Puan Sri) and since she was the youngest of the family, we called her Mak Chu. She was such an adorable woman and would always be seen smiling.

Grandma had three younger brothers named Hamidon, Jaafar and Taib (Tan Sri). However, sadly Hamidon was killed by a communist in the late 40s and Jaafar (Wak Chik) died at a young age. Taib then became the only boy in the family and I guess that was why grandma loved him so much. When Taib studied at the Muar High School, he stayed with grandma as Parit Bakar was four miles away from the school while our house was a walking distance of hardly five minutes. Taib later went to London to study law and became successful in his career. He was the first Chairman of Felda and sat in the board of a few public listed companies.

Grandma was like my shepherd in many ways. She taught me many good values that will always be my guide in my life. She always told me to be honest and fair, to keep up with my promises and to always respect my elders. It is not easy to keep up with her advices but every time when I am faced with such a situation, I will always remember her and try to follow her advice. She always encouraged me to read because she said reading will increase my knowledge and this is one advice that I have taken seriously.

She died in 1966 at the age of 63 and that was the day my world began to crumble. I was 16 years old, still a young lad and was very much in need of a mother’s love. She was my grandmother, my mother.

 

 

 

 

 

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GIVING A TALK AT UTM PAGOH.

On the 27th February 2019, I was invited by Ungku Omar Polytechnic, Ipoh, Perak, to give an inspirational speech to some 1,000 over audience. The theme was “Artificial intelligence” and I presented some insights how people of my generations cope with life without the present advance technology. After my talk, there was a Q n A session and two questions took me a few seconds to reply.

  1. The first question: Sir, my parents always scold me whenever I switch on my laptop. They said I should learn how to cope with life without the computer like children of their era. They said children of their time were more creative and innovative. Do you agree with my parents?
  2. The second question: Sir, if there is a time machine, would you like to travel back to your past?

Maybe some of you readers, particularly those of my generations can answer these two questions.

On the 13th March 2019, I have been invited by University Technology (UTM) Pagoh, Johor, to give a talk on life in the 50s and 60s and how the sacrifices of the older generations benefit the present generations.

All are invited to attend and listen to what I am going to say. So if any of you living in Muar town and happened to be free on this day, spare some time and perhaps share with us some of your thoughts.

Have a nice day.

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THE KACANG PUTEH SELLER

 

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.

 

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MY BEST WEEKEND EVER

It was the first weekend after my fist week in school and it was going to be the best weekend ever for me. It was a Friday morning and no school today and I was raring to make it the best day of my life. It was 1956 and I was six years old and was schooling at the Sekolah Bandar Maharani situated along Jalan Arab, Muar.

(Sekolah Bandar Maharani, Muar, 1956)

The past five days were the most traumatic moments of my life. The first Sunday of the year for the first time I had to go to school. When I woke up, suddenly the world was at its worst. The crows of our roosters began as early as 5.00am and echoed by our neighbouring roosters like as though they were in a singing competition. They were our alarm clocks and I would always cherish that wonderful moments especially when their crows reached the crescendo waking everyone in the neighbourhood. Minutes later the call of azan could be heard from the town mosque and that was the time I would pull my gebor (blanket) covering my whole body to continue my slumber. That Sunday morning I couldn’t do it. I had to wake up and get ready to go to school. I felt like shouting at those roosters to shut up. The soothing melody of the call of azan was dreadful that morning and how I’d wish the bilal had overslept.

Taking my bath at 6.00am in the morning was so torturous. The water inside the tempayan (large earthen jar for storing water) was so cold that I would shiver even minutes later while putting on my school uniform. Then I would start to cry refusing to go to school and would only stop when grandma increased my allowance from ten cents to twenty but I still cried while on the beca (rickshaw) and would only stop when reaching the school. These were my daily routine for the past five days of school.

But this morning I was totally a different boy. It was a Friday morning, the beginning of the weekend holidays to last until tomorrow. That dreadful sound of the morning crows was so calm and relaxing and when the call of azan was heard, I smiled from ear to ear pulling my gebor nicely over my whole body to continue my sweet dream in my golden slumber.

I was up by 7.00am and was planning my schedule. I jumped out of bed and ran toward my school shorts to determine how much money I had left. I would normally saved 5 cents to 10 cents a day to enjoy for the weekend holidays. I untied the rubber band that had kept my shillings intact in the pocket of my shorts and discovered I had saved 30 cents. I was beaming with great delight because I was going to have a great day ahead. The aroma from the kitchen began to fill the air, of toasted bread that our lovable maid-servant was preparing. I ran toward the bathroom and clean my face and without brushing my teeth I was already seated at the table. I was going to have a hearty breakfast of boiled tapioca mixed with grated coconut and white sugar, toasted bread with margarine and white sugar spread over the top, a packet of nasi lemak and black coffee manufactured locally by the famous 434 Muar coffee. I needed these calories to keep me energetic the whole day. Grandpa had gone to the wet market while grandma was busy sweeping the house compound that had been filled with the fallen leaves. I was having my breakfast like a King and how I’d wish there wasn’t any school in this world. If I were a magician, I would make my school disappear into thin air.

Immediately after my big breakfast, I ran straight to the back compound of the house to chase some butterflies and looked for grasshoppers. The smell of nature was wonderful and some leaves were still covered by the morning dew. How wonderful life would be if there was no school at all until the world ends.

Then my female cousin, Fuzi, who was a year older, came running towards me and said, “Lets play koknai”. (Koknai is game similar to Police and Thief). So the two of us went to look for our cousins and friends of our age to be able to form two teams. When we finally managed to gather enough to form the two teams, our antics began. The noise we created would reach a terrible crescendo that the elders would shout at us to lower down our volume. We heeded and lowered our voices as we ran around the house but only for a minute or two. The screaming and laughing would continue even louder that made our elders gave up trying. This havoc would continue until lunch time, the only call we would obediently obeyed.

Even at the lunch table we showed no manners. We ate like we had not been eating for days and the speed of our eating was like there was an urgent meeting we had to attend to shortly. Immediately after finishing our lunch, we would be back at the compound of the house to resume our antics. We would only stop playing when the call of azan was heard from the town mosque.

After having my bath and dinner, I would doze off like a log. No dreams, nothing.

It was a Saturday morning, the second day of the weekend school holiday. While in bed I would be planning for some adventures like going to the backyard of the house to look for grasshoppers or butterflies. Climbing trees and yelling like a Tarzan with one hand holding a wooden ‘knife’. In this case, I needed to take off my shirt as Tarzan never wears a shirt. I would imagine many things; like being a cowboy killing many ‘bad red Indians’, like a soldier killing some bad thieves and being a Hang Tuah fighting pirates alongside his four brothers. I would jump out of bed instantly when I heard grandma calling my name as breakfast would be ready very shortly.

Normal breakfast would be boiled tapioca eaten with grated coconut mixed with white sugar. Sometime we would have toasted bread spread with margarine and white sugar on top. Quite often we would have nasi lemak wrapped with banana leaves sold by the nasi lemak sellers who would make their round within our neighbourhood. I would eat these lovely food with all my heart and storing them as the energy I would need to start my adventures with my cousins and friends.

Since yesterday we played koknai, today we were thinking of another interesting game of ‘Hide and seek’. The same gang were called and they gladly obliged. Contrary to the game of koknai where irritating sound of our voices could be heard everywhere, this game would be silent all through. This would be the only game gladly approved by our parents. After losing a draw, the unlucky person would have to close his/her eyes and count to ten and the rest of us would scramble everywhere to find a place to hide. Some would hide under the bed, the stupid ones would hide under a table, some others would hide on some tree branches and there was one boy who dared to hide himself inside a jamban outside the house…what a horrible place to hide. After finishing his count to ten, he would start looking those in hiding. The first to get caught would then take his/her turn.

During the search there was total silence, much to the delight of our parents. The seeker would start looking everywhere like a dog sniffing for a hidden bone. Once I was hiding under the staircase when suddenly the cold blooded lizard appeared. I turned almost blue sending shivers down my spine.

We played many other games to spend the time until dusk. When that happened I began to feel dreadful because tomorrow morning I would have to wake up and go to school. At dinner time I would be very silent surprising everyone.

In bed I could hardly sleep thinking of tomorrow about going to school. Why must there  be schools? Who created this terrible thing called ‘school’?

The next two to three weeks I would be crying every morning. Sometime I would cry even in a trishaw and the trishaw man would try his best to console me.

The day I stopped crying going to school was when the trishaw man said to me, “Din, if you keep on crying going to school, when you grow old, you will be a trishaw man like me”.

Thank you Pak Malek. You are the best trishaw man to me.

 

 

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THE MARHABAN CHOIR OF THE SIXTIES

(Picture of Kumpulan Marhaban Tanjung, Muar (1963)

Another interesting feature in the lives of Muar  Malay youths of the sixties was the Marhaban Choir. This choir would only surface immediately after the first day of the Hari Raya festival and would continue for the whole month. In most cases they would perform at night after the Isyak prayer although there were cases where they performed during the day time.

This unique choir has its origin from the Arab settlers who came to the Malay Peninsular in the seventh and eighteenth centuries bringing with them their colourful traditions and customs. One of these is the Marhaban Choir. Most of the lines sung are praises of God and the prophet Muhammad and it has a unique melody but lively.

There were many Marhaban Choirs but for this subject I will highlight the ‘Kumpulan Marhaban Tanjung Muar’, the choir I was familiar with simply because I was a Tanjung boy.

My uncle Aziz Abdul Hamid (last row 5th from left) was a member of this choir and it was from him that I learned many things about the Marhaban choir. This picture was taken in 1963 and it was most obvious that the picture was taken at the once famous Lim Photo Studio situated along the busy road of Jalan Abdullah.

It must be an exciting event performing in the Marhaban choir in as much fun as watching the performers in action. They would be well dressed in their colourful ‘baju melayu’ complete with the ‘kain sampin’ and songkok. A choir normally consists of about thirty members (more or less) and they would do their round in almost every Malay houses within the vicinity of their neighbourhoood in the afternoon and at night. It was fun to watch them during the night. Most of these Marhaban choirs would begin their performances one week after the Hari Raya festival and as all of them had to cycle to every destination, their mere presence on the road would bring cheers to every onlooker. Sometime they would sing along while cycling on the road inviting the onlookers to sing along with them.

It would be a thrilling visit for a performer in the choir if the house they were about to visit lived his sweetheart. He would be grinning all the way to the house and often teased by his team mates. And his sweetheart would be wearing her best dress waiting for the arrival of her ‘romeo’ and his entourage.

The Kumpulan Marhaban Tanjung Muar (1963) consisted of dashing bachelors each with their own individual personalities. Most of them were from the vicinity of Tanjung although there were some from the neighbouring areas.

Now in their twilight years, some of these remaining members of the choir would not fail to keep on reminiscing those wonderful years whenever they get together.

I am sure there are still marhaban choirs around Muar town and in other districts in Johor state. But nothing can beat those wonderful years when life was so simple but full of excitement.

 

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