Along the stretch of Jalan Salleh towards the west where the present Muar General Hospital stands is Parit Stongkat and next to it is Parit Tiram. In the early fifties, Parit Tiram was a fishing village where most of the Malay fishermen lived. Among them there was a man named Laham. Unlike most of his fishermen friends who would go out in the open sea of the Straits of Malacca to earn their living, Laham worked along the coastal shores at the river mouth near Tanjung. While most came home with various kind of fishes, Laham would bring home oysters and some other shell living creatures of the same breed such as the ‘lokam’, ‘tiram’, ‘senteng’, ‘kupang’, etc. He would sell them to his regular Chinese middle-men with a good reasonable price. These sea shell creatures could only be found along the muddy coastal areas where many mangroves could be found. Catching these sea shell creatures in the fifties was no easy feat. One must be extremely good in deep sea diving and be able to stay underwater for a long time without any modern aid like the snorkel. Although Laham was not involved in any deep sea diving and fishing, he was able to stay underwater looking for his catch for a long time. According to some old folks I met, Laham could stay underwater for half an hour with only a bamboo to his aid. This was indeed an amazing skill. Laham was also known as ‘Laham Pendekar’ because of his skill in the art of silat.
It was November 1960 and the last day of school. All schools closed for half a day during every last days. Some school children would flock to Tanjung immediately when the school bell rang and on that morning many did the same to enjoy the beginning of a very long holiday. They were still clad in their school uniforms cycling along the stretch of Tanjung, both boys and girls. Among them was an eleven year old Jaafar bin Yahaya.
Beside the house of my grandmother Mak Enggor lived my father’s cousin named Yahaya we all called Pak Aya. He was a Dresser working at the Muar General Hospital. Pak Aya was a good man and a chain smoker. He would always be seen with a cigarette in his mouth and most of the time when he spoke, the cigarette would be at his lips without his hand holding the cigarette. Whenever he spoke, the cigarette would be just hanging freely at his lips without falling. Pak Aya had only one child and that child was Jaafar, my second cousin. Jaafar was close to my cousin Ajis Mak Enggor (Hj. Abdul Aziz bin Abu Bakar) as they both lived side by side along Jalan Mariam. On every weekend whenever I stayed with my grandmother, Jaafar, Ajis and another cousin Othman would be playing with me and we would run around the house playing all sorts of games we invented. Sometime the three of them would come over to my house and play. The four of us were of the same age group.
The late fifties was a period when many things began to change and Muar youth of my time took every opportunity to transform ourselves by emulating the western ways. When Elvis Presley rocked the USA, the tremor reached Muar town almost quite immediately. When Cliff Richard sang “Don’t Be Mad At Me”, Muar girls went mad over everything Cliff Richard and so many Muar boys began to do and act everything like Cliff Richard. One of my very close friends became known as Mustaffa Cliff Richard until his death. Another friend of mine by the nick name of Din Kucing (who later adopted the nom de plume of Shah de Bunt) won first place in a Talent Time show when he sang a cliff number and became known among Muarians of my time as the Cliff Richard of Muar town. Many western female stars too were greatly admired by the local youth but the jewel of the late fifties was none other than Sandra Dee. She was the perfect dream girl as far as Muar boys were concerned and so every girl in Muar town wore their skirts just like the one worn by Sandra Dee. Even their hair looked like the style of Sandra Dee, of course with the intention of attracting some boys.
Zainal (Hj. Zainalabidin Hj. Sarajuddin) was among these boys and was the most notable. In fact, Tanjung during the late fifties was never a scene without Zainal having a role. In almost every corner of Tanjung from the small ‘lagoon’ besides the District Officer’s Residence to the Muar Tanjung Club, Zainal would always be seen riding his Vespa with style. He was a ‘playboy’ of his time. He would dominate in all house parties within the vicinity of Tanjung and was the most respected. But he was not alone, together with him dominating the Tanjung scene was his close buddy named Farouk Abdullah (Dato Seri). They were inseparable just like the Malay term of ‘macam belangkas’ and were about fourteen to fifteen years of age. Together they had many memorable and fond ‘adventures’ of their own and were very creative and innovative. They would go all around town to ‘paint the town red’ and once they stole a big picture of Cliff Richard displayed on the advertisement board of the Rex cinema of the movie “Expresso Bongo”. They created many things to please themselves and one of their creations was the construction of a sailing boat.
I had the opportunity of meeting Zainal on the 2nd day of Hari Raya this year (2013) at his house in Johor Baru and requested that he relate the mishap written in the history of our past.
The boat was built by him together with my elder brother Farouk and neighbour Ungku Hasnan. They were never craftsmen and built the boat out of passion using plywood and it was just about four feet in length. The bottom section was placed with stronger woods with every measures taken to avoid any linkages. They had it coloured pink and decided to name the boat after their female idol Sandra Dee. Theirs was not the only boat built by the Tanjung boys, in fact two or three other boats were already sailing along the coastal bank of the Muar river along Tanjung. Never wishing to play second fiddle to these boys considered ‘rivals’ of the same area, “Sandra Dee” became the center of attraction and they both felt very proud with their masterpiece. When “Sandra Dee” was transported to the sea and anchored by the small ‘lagoon’ besides the D.O’s Residence, many friends were invited to take a sailing trip along the coastal bank of the Muar river but within the limit set by Zainal. I wonder what were the authorities doing with these unlicensed boats sailing to at least check whether these boats were sea worthy.
When the school bell rang on that last day of school, Jaafar Yahaya began cycling to Tanjung to join some friends. Tanjung was already filled with many school children with most still in their school uniforms. They wanted to have fun and to enjoy the moment of celebrating the coming long school holiday. It was at Tanjung that Jaafar Yahaya met his friend also named Jaafar (for the purpose of this story, this Jaafar would be referred without his surname).
While enjoying their moment together, Jaafar Yahaya remembered the boat “Sandra Dee” and he suggested to Jaafar that they both take a sailing trip along the coastal waters. Although it was during the monsoon season, it was a bright sunny day and no sign of rain was in store. The sea was calm rendering it ideal to have that short sailing trip. When they reached the site where “Sandra Dee” was anchored, Zainal had just returned from a short sailing trip and was heading home to have his bath. Zainal’s buddy Farouk was somewhere on the other side of Tanjung maybe admiring some pretty schoolgirls passing by.
The two boys went on board “Sandra Dee” and began their sailing trip. Weather condition during the monsoon season is always unpredictable even until today. While they were enjoying their moment, little did they realize that dark clouds had begun looming over the eastern horizon. As they peddled “Sandra Dee” into the waters, without noticing, the boat drifted further and further towards the river mouth . By then the waves that had been built from the east began pushing “Sandra Dee” further towards the western side leading straight into the river mouth closed to the Straits of Malacca. Jaafar knew they were in trouble and took every effort to navigate “Sandra Dee” back to the coastal line. It was such a tedious effort with both boys peddling the waters using their hands with great determination. Suddenly the boat began to sway above the waters to the tune of the raging waves but they somehow managed to bring back “Sandra Dee” nearer to the coastal shore. As they reached nearer, the boat hit some rocks and capsized. Both boys unfortunately could not swim and Jaafar Yahaya struggled to stay afloat by trying to hold some parts of the boat while Jaafar managed to catch hold on some branches of the mangroves. Days later, Jaafar recalled how sadly he tried to catch hold of Jaafar Yahaya’s hand but could not do so due to the unstable condition he was in. He further recalled that seconds later, Jaafar Yahaya simply disappeared and he could only watch with frantic.
On the shore some people saw the tragedy and words began to spread like wild fire that someone had been drowned. Jaafar managed to get himself quite safe resting on some rocks. Within minutes, many people had gathered at the shore trying to get any latest news of the mishap. Suddenly heavy rain began pouring the whole of Muar town and visibility above the waters of the Muar river impeded. It was raining cats and dogs and those on the shore scrambled for shelters.
The news reached the ears of both owners of “Sandra Dee”. Zainal and Farouk returned home and were traumatized by the news. While Zainal stayed vigil and scared at his house, Farouk reported to those near him. Uncle Bakar Salim was at home and upon hearing the news, he cycled to the site in the midst of the heavy rain trying whatever he could to assist the two boys.
Across the river on the northern side of Muar town, Puan Habsah and Datin Aminah Abdul Majid were inside a car waiting for the ferry to transport them to Muar town. They had just returned from inspecting some schools around the areas of Sungei Mati and Tanjung Agas. They were both ‘guru pelawat’ and always seen together on duty. It was still raining heavily while they waited for their turn to board the ferry. When their turn was up, Puan Habsah took the wheel and drove slowly onto the ferry. On board when the car was stationary, she noticed someone with a raincoat knocking every windows of every cars and he was seen to be telling something to the car drivers. When he came knocking at Puan Habsah’s window, she unwind the window pane and was informed that a boy had been drowned while on a boating trip along the coastal river of Tanjung. Immediately she turned pale because she knew her son Zainal had a boat and was frequently sailing it. She was now praying hard that his son was not the one drowned.
Laham was at home resting during that fatal incident when minutes later someone knocked at his door. Soaking wet by the pouring rain, the caller informed him that a boy had been drowned near the coastal shore of Tanjung. By now almost everyone within the vicinity of Tanjung and the nearby housing areas had been informed of the incident. Laham knew that by now the victim could have died but at least he could offer some assistance to locate and find the body and he had the skill to do so. Without further hesitation, he took his bicycle and cycled as fast as he could to the scene.
It was almost two in the afternoon when I was talking with Kak Fuzi inside her house when Kak Shidah told me that Jaafar had been drowned. I could not go home as the rain was still heavy.
“Which Jaafar?” I asked Kak Shidah. I knew both Jaafar as they were both my friends.
Kak Shidah was oblivious which Jaafar was the one drowned. She heard it from her friend who happened to pass by while returning from Tanjung. At that juncture, I thought of looking for my cousin Ajis Mak Enggor and I knew he could have heard the bad news as well. But it was still raining and I thought of going to Tanjung immediately when the rain stopped.
At the scene there were few people gathering at the shore soaking wet and few boats were already stationed near the site where the incident took place. Some divers were already taking their positions with their diving skills. Uncle Bakar Salim threw some pillows onto the waters adhering to an old belief that such action could assist in their search for the body. The rain had begun to subside making it easier for the search party. When Laham arrived, an hour had passed and everyone was certain that Jaafar Yahaya could not have survived. But it was pertinent that the body be recovered and with Laham taking the lead, their confidence grew.
When the rain stopped, I spared no time and began cycling looking for my cousin Ajis Mak Enggor. I saw him in front of his house looking sombre. It was him that confirmed our second cousin Jaafar Yahaya who was drowned and the body was still not at sight. I was so aghast upon hearing the news and both of us were speechless for a few minutes.
The search party called it a day when night fell. Everyone was of the opinion that the body could have been swept further from the spot the incident took place due to bad weather. Laham had spent countless time under the sea bed where the body could easily be detected had it been there. While most agreed that the body was no longer around the spot, Laham disagreed. Before leaving, he chanted some form of mantra and offered some prayers.
Puan Habsah had been lecturing her son Zainal since she arrived home. Although she was extremely pleased to know of her son’s safety, the incident could be repeated and warned him not to swim at the sea any further. Since then, Zainal developed a phobia and had always stayed away from the sea until today.
I do not wish to include the traumatic moments Jaafar’s parents suffered throughout the ordeal. Although both parents had since passed away, it would be most unkind to relate their moment of anguish.
The next morning Laham and his search party came back to the scene but this time they dived further from the spot. Their efforts produced no result. Somehow Laham still believed that the body could not have been swept too far away.
At around the same time Jaafar Yahaya was drowned yesterday, his body appeared floating at the very same spot the mishap took place. Laham was right and it took a very experienced man like him to know.
They brought the body home and was later laid to rest at the Bakri burial ground.
A few days later, Farouk destroyed “Sandra Dee”. Although both he and Zainal felt guilty that the boat they built had claimed a life, nobody blamed them even Jaafar Yahaya’s parents. It was a destiny written but no matter how hard they try to forget, such a gruesome memory will surely develop a haunting stigma throughout their lives.
Fifty years had gone by but I can still remember some of the games I used to play with Jaafar Yahaya. He was such a fun loving cousin. May his soul be among the righteous.