The above is the picture of the house I was born, grew and raised until I reached the age of seventeen.
Across the road where I lived, there were four houses and behind these houses was a small plot of land where the Majlis Bandaran Muar (Muar Town Council) had created a playground for kids my age to play. The first two houses belonged to a family whose head of the family came from the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan and who could only speak Urdu and very little of the Malay language. His name was Bardin. I remember him very vividly, tall and always with a white turban. His son whose name was Lamdin stayed besides his house. Uncle Lamdin was a very quiet man, tall like his father and had many children all of whom were very close to my family. We were really very close and three of his children were within my age group. One of his sons named Zakaria, nicknamed ‘Mene’ is my close friend until today. During my growing days in Muar town, neighbours were truly closely knitted and we always visited each other and quite often we exchanged delicacies cooked by our parents. Immediately behind Uncle Lamdin’s house was the Police barracks. Bardin had a daughter we called ‘Ngah’ and her husband Pak Mat Kodong whose left leg had to be amputated because he was caught in a booby trap during his army days. To earn a decent living, the couple sold ‘kuih bakar’ for ten cents per piece and I must insist that their ‘kuih bakar’ was truly tasty.
Next to Bardin’s house on the left was a house stayed by a sikh family. I can’t remember the name of the elderly couple. They had four children, three girls and a boy. The eldest girl was of Kak Shidah’s age and I remember her name as Birah Kaur. They used to invite us for some chapati and it was from this family that I tasted my first chapati. I grew and was raised in an environment of a multi-racial society.
On this small plot of land stood a see-saw, two swings and a slide. In the evening, this place would be quite full as the children from the Police barracks would be playing and mixing together. Besides this small playground was the football field facing the Police barracks. Fronting the road of Jalan Ibrahim from this football field stood rows of very big trees with the branches covering almost half of the road. During the night, especially close to midnight, we would always avoid using this road and wouldn’t mind taking a longer route because the scene would be so spooky. Sometimes during the late evening, we could see some owls taking their positions among the branches ready to lend their voices to make the place more eerie.
At the far left from this playground was a house belonging to Mak Jah Taring and we called her by that name because of her two teeth at the front resembling that of a ‘taring’ (fengs). One of her sons was a very famous gay named Ismail Pondan who was a close friend of my cousin Jaafar who was also a gay. Muar of my time had quite a number of gays. I remember one of her grandson was a retarded boy we called ‘Tetet’ who was about seven or eights years my junior. Tetet would come to my house almost everyday and played with us. We all liked him because he was such a cute boy. Grandma would always gave him food to eat. Few years later, his parents brought him to Johor Bahru and since then I have lost contact with cute Tetet.
One day while I was playing with my three ‘sisters’ at the front portion of our grandparents’ house, we noticed dark clouds began to loom and from afar we could hear the muttering of thunder and we became excited because we liked to play in the rain very much but we only played in the rain when there was a heavy downpour. When we noticed some raindrops, I went running looking for grandma in the house seeking her permission to play in the rain and my three ‘sisters’ went to their mother for the same purpose as well. Grandma had better grant me the permission otherwise I would be crying the whole day and that would be disastrous and so most of the time she said ok and my uncle Wak Jis would sigh a great relief because he could never tolerate my crying.
I took off my shirt leaving me only with my short pants and ran straight outside the house. The rain began to drop heavier and the four of us began our fun running everywhere around the compound. My three ‘sisters’ wore their normal blouse and skirts for although they were still small, it would be very unfeminine for girls to run around with their tops unclothed. By now they had another younger sister named Kamal (Kamariah) and a younger brother named Ghani. He was the first boy after five girls. The two of them joined in the crowd and the six of us played under the heavy rain.Everytime we played in the rain we never wore any slippers and ran around bare footed. Then we saw Uncle Lamdin’s two daughters also playing in the rain at the compound of their house. We called them Arah and Che Aah.
Then Che Aah shouted to us, “Let’s play at the playground’. I looked at Kak Shidah whether she approved the suggestion and after some thinking she said, “Ok let’s go”. So all of us ran across the road and headed for the playground and the two neighbours ran toward the playground as well. All of us were soaking wet and we liked it very much. The rain kept pouring and more heavier and that made our plan more exciting.
All of us played the see-saw, the swings and the slide and we took turn to do the sliding. While playing we saw Birah Kaur and her two sisters looking at us from their kitchen and they were very tempted to join us but their parents forbade them. We shouted and ran around enjoying every moment of the pouring rain. While running, I stepped onto a broken bottle and suddenly I felt the pain and blood began to flow profusely. Everyone was worried and Kak Shidah suggested that we stopped playing and to return home. I was not too worried about the cut although the pain was beginning to feel more but it was the wrath of grandma and grandpa that worried me more, particularly grandma’s nagging that could last for hours. If possible I would like to keep it a secret. I took out my handkerchief and tied the cut and walked home limping along with the rest. The rain was still heavy and we all felt sad to end our happy moment too soon. When I reached home, Kamal and Ghani went home while my three ‘sisters’ accompanied me to my house. When we reached the front gate, we saw Mak Nyah standing and she was not too pleased to see us.
Mak Nyah was a Chinese lady and she was a Baba. For the benefit of my readers, Babas are Chinese one hundred per cent but their culture is very Malay and they speak not a word of the Chinese language. They adopt a Chinese name but speak only the Malay language. It is widely believed that their ancestors came to the state of Malacca after the arrival of Admiral Cheng Ho from China and most of them did not return to China but stayed in Malacca. That is why we can only find a lot of Babas in Malacca. Mak Nyah had been a very close family friend even before I was born.
“Apa kena budak budak ni dengan basah kuyup?” (What happen to you all kids and soaking?), asked Mak Nyah as we entered the house. “Tak baik mandi dalam hujan tau” (Its not good to play in the rain). Then she saw my leg tied with a handkerchief with blood visible to the eyes. Immediately she inspected my leg, untied the handkerchief and inspected the wound. Apparently Mak Nyah was very good in herbal medicine and she took something from her small bag. It was a small bottle of lotion and she poured it at the wound. I screamed as it was really painful and tried to release my leg but she held my leg very tightly and within a minute or two I did not feel the pain any longer and the wound too became dry. Then she told me to take my bath and not to tell grandma otherwise the nagging would begin. My three ‘sisters’ too went home and was very relief that I was alright.
The playground gave me many memories but there is one memory that I cannot erase from my mind. One evening as we were playing the see-saw, little Ghani wanted to try and play with it. So I asked him to sit at one end while I sat at the other end. Since he was much younger than me, obviously his weight would be lighter and so I asked Kamal to sit along with Ghani so that both their weight could balance with mine. While we were playing, suddenly I wanted to stop and I can’t remember why? Without cautioning Ghani and Kamal, I just walked out and as I did, their weight gravitated to the ground and Ghani could not balance his body and his head knocked the pole. Not only was his head knocked, it broke his front tooth as well. When I saw what happened, I was dumbfounded and Ghani began to cry. I felt so guilty and it took quite a while before I could feel more at ease.
Sometime my three male cousins from Jalan Khalidi would come and played together at the playground as well. We would challenge who could swing as high as we could and sometime we would play double on the swing. One would stand up holding the chains while another would sit at the center. The one sitting at the center would use his legs to push from the ground. Playing the see-saw too was fun. Sometime, we would play double or triple at both sides and when one side reached the ground, we would knock the wood at the ground so that the other side would be unbalanced and could even fall.
These are some of the many memories I had during my growing days and they are all so wonderful. We always had plans what to do everyday, what to do tomorrow and even what to do the day after tomorrow. We were never in a hurry to grow older.