Within the vicinity of Tanjung along Jalan Joned, there was once a two-storey bungalow with a typical colonial English façade. It was gated and the compound was spacious. From the front gate to its front door was a narrow road of tar with both sides stood rows of palm trees. This was once a school and one of its kind because only young and unmarried women were the students. It was known as “Sekolah Rumah Tangga”. Literally it means ‘School for would be housewives’.
When I was a very young boy of six, I had the opportunity of spending one night in this huge house. My auntie (my father’s elder sister) was a teacher at the Sekolah Abu Bakar Girls School in the late fifties and she had many friends of the same profession, one of them was the principal of the Sekolah Rumah Tangga we called Cikgu Fatimah. My auntie’s name was Hjh Hasnah Bte Ali, known among her friends as Cikgu Konah. Unlike all my aunties from my mother’s side whom we all referred as ‘Mak’ before their names, all my aunties from my father’s side were referred by their house names and thus all the nephews and nieces called her ‘Nah’. She had two other females siblings whom we called ‘Pong’ (Hjh Siti Hawa Bte Ali) and ‘Latit’ (Hjh Maimunah Bte Ali).
Nah had three children, the first is a girl named Afrizah followed by two boys Abdul Aziz and Mohammad Ali. I was so very close to both Afrizah and Aziz during my younger days, spending almost every weekend with them. Afrizah later went to the Tunku Kursiah Girls College in Seremban. Mohammad Ali however did not stay with them as he was raised by his grandfather. My brother Farouk, three years my senior was raised by my paternal grandmother Mak Enggor and later by my auntie Pong and so the three of them Farouk, Afrizah and Aziz grew up in the house of my grandmother Mak Enggor. It was upon my grandmother’s insistence that I be fetched almost every Thursday evening to spend the weekend with them.
It was on one Thursday night when I arrived at the house after being fetched by my uncle ‘Wak Chad the whister’ that I was told Afrizah, Aziz and me were going to the Sekolah Rumah Tangga and to spent the night. Every time when Wak Chad arrived at my house to take me to my grandmother’s house, I would have one worry. If he came with a ‘basikal jantan’ (a bicycle with the center steel) that would make me feel at ease but if he came with a ‘basikal betina’ (a bicycle without the center steel), that would make me a worried person. That’s because I had to sit at the center of the bicycle’s handle with my face facing his. Every time when he must brake, he would first caution me to lift my buttock failing which the brake’s clutch could hurt me. And while cycling, Wak Chad would whistle and liked it or not I had to listen to whatever songs he whistled.
After our dinner, my auntie Nah brought Atek, Aziz and me to the Sekolah Rumah Tangga which was a walking distance. My brother Farouk was not with us as he had gone to India to be with my father who was serving as a junior diplomat in New Dehli. By now my father had remarried to a close relative and they were blessed with two daughters; Rosie and Nora.
The bungalow in question was once belonged to Haji Noah Omar (Tan Sri), the father of Tun Raha. Haji Noah was known among his contemporaries as Haji Noh Berut, not because there was anything ‘berut’ about him, he was once studying at a university in Beirut. This was the house that Tun Raha grew and raised together with her two sisters, Datin Fakhriah (known as Datin Teh) and Tun Suhaila. Haji Noah was kind enough to let his house to be used for such a good purpose.
The school was started sometime in the early fifties catering for young women to be good housewives when they get married. I remember there were four teachers namely Cikgu Dorah, Cikgu Fatimah, Cikgu Mon and Cikgu Minah. The lessons were mainly of domestic and household guidance for young women and in particular those who would be married soon. This school was first started in Muar town and later followed by Johor Bahru and some other districts.
They taught young women how to be a good wife, a good cook, able to sew, doing the gardening and even how to iron the clothes. Maybe those days they thought women were only suitable to be housewives and therefore there wasn’t any need to pursue for higher education.
When they first started, it was not funded by the government and the only revenue was through some donation. Most of the teachers were volunteers and in spite of not getting any remuneration, they put in their effort with full dedication.
When we arrived at the school, Cikgu Fatimah and Cikgu Dorah were at the doorsteps waiting for us. Then they showed us the kitchen, a room with two sewing machines, another room with two irons together with the stands and a prayer room. Then they brought us upstairs and showed us the bedrooms. It was so clean and in great contrast to my bedroom. I would have my ‘bantal busuk’ besides me always and two long pillows that I would place besides my right and left to protect me from any ‘ghost’. My ‘bantal busuk’ was my sleeping pill because without that I would not be able to sleep. So every time when I slept away from home, it would take some time before I could doze off. And tonight I would not be able to sleep well plus with some fear of seeing some ‘ghosts’ on top of the ceiling.
Before retiring to bed, they gave us our pyjamas and this was awkward because I was so used sleeping with my old baju melayu but I wore it anyway. The bed was big and I slept with Aziz while Afriza slept with her mother. When they switched off the bedroom light, I began to have insomnia.
It was dark and we could only hear the sound of the ceiling fan. Before we slept, both Aziz and me conversed for a while and we talked about what to play and with who for tomorrow. Then suddenly Aziz was silent and I was still wide awake. It was around 9.30pm and considered quite late for young boys to sleep. I was as still as a log, too scared even to move an inch and my eyes were wide open looking at the ceiling. My imagination began to grow wilder, with images of various form of ghosts. Any sound I heard would send shivers down my spine, even the sound of the lizard wagging its tail could frighten me to the bone. When the sound of the woodpecker boring holes to look for insects could be heard, I thought the ghosts were now nearer to the house and could reach the bedroom any moment. I wanted to cry but I should not do that because if Aziz found out, then I would be called a ‘pondan’ (sissy). I hated it very much when others called me ‘pondan’ and would always challenge for a fight. I was never scared of fighting with boys my age but I was extremely scared of ghosts because I could see the boys but I could not see the ghosts and furthermore the faces of these ghosts as I imagined were always horrible and ugly.
I began to be more restless and then I thought of reciting the ‘tabatyadah’ as much as I could maybe it could scare the ghosts away. Then I remembered the recitation of ‘tabatyadah’ could only scare the dogs and wondered if it could also keep the ghosts away from me. I kept on reciting it continuously anyway and by and by I went into a deep slumber.
When I woke up it was still dark and I began to feel more frightened. Then a great relief came when I heard the ‘azan’ from the nearby town mosque. Now the ghosts must return home and I was beginning to feel more at ease and I hope last night these ghosts did not enter our room.
By 7am, everyone was up and we were told to take our bath and Aziz bathed first. When my turn was up, I went straight to the bathroom with a very clean white towel given by the teacher. Inside the bathroom I was dumb and did not know what to do. I was naked but I knew during the day there wasn’t any ghost and so I felt quite okay being naked with no ghost looking at me. And now how to take my bath? There wasn’t any ‘gayong’ and not even a ‘tempayan’. Then I saw the bathtub and it was wet. Aziz must have bathed inside the bathtub but how did he do it? Then slowly I opened the door and shouted at Aziz from where he got the water? Aziz then told me to open the tap just above the bathtub and he knew it because he had slept in this house earlier. When I opened the tap, suddenly I felt like it was raining inside the bathroom. I moved away from the ‘rain’ and watched as the water kept coming from the big round head above the bathtub. Then slowly I went nearer and felt the gushing water with my hand. It was very cold but somehow I liked it and went straight into the ‘rain’ and had a good shower.
When I dressed myself, I went straight to the stairs to join the others for breakfast. Everyone was seated and the three of us young kids were given a cup of hot ovaltine. All of us had a bowl of hot ‘quacker oats’. I called it kueh kak oat. We were then given two toasted bread to be spread with butter and jam and I felt quite uneasy. Back home I used to have boiled tapioca eaten with grated coconut mixed with white sugar. We never had butter and had only the ‘Planta’ margarine because butter those days was a luxury and grandpa was not rich enough to give us butter everyday. It was a good breakfast anyway.
The Sekolah Rumah Tangga became very well known among Muarians of my time. Cikgu Dorah and Cikgu Fatimah taught everything about daily household activities while Cikgu Mon and Cikgu Minah taught the Quran lessons. My grandmother Mak Enggor sometime taught the students how a Malay wedding should be observed and the things the bride must do and she was definitely qualified as she herself was a ‘Mak Andam’.
Inspired by the success of the Sekolah Rumah Tangga, a respected religious teacher from Muar called Cikgu Mohd.Yassin set up his own school catering only for young men and the school became famously known as the Sekolah Cikgu Mohd. Yassin. He was the father of our former Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Mohd. Yassin.
Later the Sekolah Rumah Tangga taught even elderly women who were illiterates (buta huruf) to learn the English alphabet and eventually to read and write. Years later the Muar UMNO helped to fund the school and many Sekolah Rumah Tangga came into existence and almost every district in the state of Johore had one.
Today we don’t have any Sekolah Rumah Tangga around anymore and has become a part of the history of Muar town. Thanks to the late Tan Sri Haji Noah Omar. I was privileged to have spent a night at this first extraordinary Sekolah Rumah Tangga, but during that one night I did not see any ghost.