While having my morning walk this morning, my mind began to rewind those days when I was seven years old and used to run to the nearby mamak sundry shop to buy some ingredients grandma had asked for. It was routine for me to do this everyday. I would run pretending to be the fastest boy in the world but the moment I reached the front portion of our Chinese neighbour, I would immediately stop for a while to check whether that ferocious looking bull dog was unleashed. When it was absent from sight, I began to run again until I reached the mamak shop. The owner was an Indian Muslim we all called Kadir hence his little shop was known as Kedai Kadir. This was the only shop nearest to home where kids my age would spend our time buying our sweets and other junk food like the buah kana, kuih kelapa, mi siput, sagun, etc. Having bought the necessary ingredients for grandma, I began my run again only to stop for a while to inspect the whereabouts of that naughty dog that liked to chase small kids like me.
As I continued my walk, my memory began to display some wonderful moments I used to spend with my immediate neighbours during my growing up days, something we hardly notice these days. The values of yesteryears are slowly diminishing from our society. 1957 was the year we gained our independence from the British but young kids like me were oblivious on the significance of this historical year. We were too absorbed with our own world of kids. Let me bring you back in time during those days when time was ticking very slowly and it took the sun its own sweet time to set at the western horizon. The morning blue clouds that would move silently while the breezy wind would blow the branches of every tree to a lively swaying tempo providing the birds to chirp cheerfully in a wonderful environment. And neighbours were such a wonderful bunch of closely knitted friends.
The break of dawn was always charming, attracting and holding the interest of kids who were looking forward for another adventure of the day. It would be even delightful if waking up on a Friday morning, the first two days of the school weekend break. Hearing the continuous crows of roosters reaching a crescendo would brighten up every moment of the broken morning. It was such a breathtaking moment of time and dozing back to slumber would mean to missing a great opportunity of nature’s wonderful and splendid moment . Soon the voices of nasi lemak sellers would take their turn and that would simply meant it was time to jump out from bed and straight to the bathroom.
It was a Friday and the first day of our school weekend holidays. Muar town had awoken since the call of azan, clearly heard from the town mosque situated along the Muar river. Mak Yang, our adorable maid-servant was already at the kitchen preparing breakfast while grandma was making up the bed, folding the kelambu; a knitted cloth canvass to protect us from the mosquitoes during our sleep, and straightening the bed sheets. Grandpa was still on his prayer mat offering praises to the Almighty. It was almost 7.00 in the morning and the voices of the nasi lemak sellers became more audible. We had two bathrooms; one was inside the house and with no roof while the other was outside. I would normally have my bath with the one inside the house and while bathing I would look up at the clouds moving above my head. The water gushing from the tap was very cold filling the half-filled tempayan chilled by the cool night. At every flow of water over my body would make me shiver to the bone and the reason I hardly spent a minute in the bathroom. After washing my body with the towel, I ran straight to the bedroom looking for my day’s attire grandma had placed beside the bed. The aroma from the kitchen tempted my empty stomach and I was raring to have my first meal of the day.
Breakfast would be toasted bread; placed on top of a wire mesh with a small fire underneath. It would be spread with Planta margarine with white sugar sprinkled on top. We could not afford butter as it was a luxury then and more expensive than the margarine. It was always the 434 Muar coffee for breakfast. We never had tea for breakfast as tea would only be served during tea time around 5.00pm. Most of the time, we would buy few packets of nasi lemak wrapped with banana leaves that would cost between 5cents to 10cents depending on the size. In most cases, we bought the 10cent ones as it could last us until lunch time.
This morning I had my day’s agendas quite full and the first was to look for my new friend Maniam who stayed three doors away. We had become friends two months ago. Although we hardly play together, we exchanged comics quite frequently and this morning he had promise to bring some Topper comics in his collection while I would hand over to him my Beano collections. Maniam was of my age and we went to the same primary school; the Ismail School, a distance of approximately four miles from our homes. The difference was he attended the morning classes while mine was in the afternoon, and so we could only meet on every Fridays and Saturdays. His father operated a laundry service but most his customers were Indians; like the Indian priests in the temple. In front of his house was a cherry tree (not the English cherry) and I would frequently climb it to pick the ripe cherries while his father would be washing some of the clothes right beside the tree. Maniam was in fact a Chinese; when his father passed away, his mother known to us as Auntie Kamala, married this Indian man we all called Aya. He treated Maniam like his very own son and Maniam’s siblings looked very Malay because of the mixed parentage. Uncle Aya did the washing while auntie Kamala did the ironing.
After breakfast, I had my Beano collections ready to be exchanged with Maniam’s Topper comics. I told grandma that I would be paying Maniam a visit and it would not be too long as by 9.00am, my other neighbours would be coming to begin our many games which we had planned yesterday evening. Uncle Aya was already washing the clothes and most of them were white in colour. As he saw me coming, he shouted to Maniam and within seconds Maniam was on the stairs of the house holding the comics.
“Kau dah minum pagi ke?” (Have you taken your breakfast?), Maniam asked as I neared him. Maniam and me conversed in the Malay language as we were still too young to understand the English language. In our later years, in spite of being able to converse in the English language quite proficiently, we somehow felt convenient to speak in the Malay language.
“Dah” (Yes), I answered him as I showed him my stomach.
We were both seven years old and had fostered good neighbourly relationship that would soon blossomed into a strongly knitted friendship. We were not at all bothered about our different ethnic background with our own different cultures; in fact we were too glad to share each of our own ethnic values.
Then he showed me some of his collections that I had not read. In exchange I gave him my collections. We promised to return these comics the next Friday morning. We talked for a few minutes showing each other the cartoons which we both liked. We liked to read about “Desperate Dan” the strong built guy who loved eating cow pie; about “Lord Snooty” who was from the royal family; about “Dennis the Menace”, the naughty boy and few other characters. After we both exchanged our comics, we both bade each other good-bye and promised to meet again next Friday morning. However, during the evening after my school was over, he would sometime come to my house and we both sat at the tembok talking about our comics.
Right in front of my house was the house of Lamdin bin Bardin, whose father was once working as a Policeman with the British Police Forces. His father Bardin came from the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan and spoke Urdu at home although he could speak in the Malay language which he did every time when talking to his neighbours. He must be in his 70s as he looked really old to me. Few years later, Bardin passed away leaving his son Uncle Lamdin and his children the two houses he had bought. Like his father, Uncle Lamdin was a very quiet man but very friendly and always seem smiling. He was my uncles’ best neighbour as they were in the same age group. His eldest daughter Zainah ( Kak Nah) was my aunties’ good friend and they would meet each other very frequently. The second child was Zainal who later worked in Brunei with the Malayan Banking. The third was a second daughter named Zaiton (Kak Eton) who was close to our youngest auntie Fatimah (Mak Chu). Three of his children were within my age group and they were my daily playing mates; Zakaria (Mene), Zaharah (Arah) and Zaleha (Che Aah).
Unfortunately, their mother passed away after Che Aah was born and Uncle Lamdin brought them up as a single father until he passed away.
Besides their house was one belonging to a Sikh family whose head was called Sarop Singh. The family had four children, three girls and the youngest a boy whom I remember as Darby Singh. Of the three girls I remember only two names; Birah Kaur and Surinder Kaur. Darby Singh was still very young and so he hardly play with us. It was from this family that I tasted my first chapati.
To the left of the housee where I lived in was the house of my auntie and her husband together with their seven children all of whom were my immediate playmates except for their eldest daughter who was about six years my senior and therefore too old to be playing with us. Next to their house was the house of an elderly widow we called Mak Yang. Most of his children were no longer staying with her but there were three of her grandchildren staying with her; Yem Potet, Mat Dude and their youngest sister Nora. To the right of my house was a vacant land with two big durian trees and next to this land was the house of the Chinese family with the ferocious looking dog. Two of their daughters were my playmates as well; Swee Lin and Gek Swee.
Right behind our house was the house of Pak Sa’id, whose wife was once my muqaddam teacher. They had six children; three girls and three boys within my age group.
These neighbours were my playmates of the 50s. Immediately after their breakfast at their respective homes, they would be at my house to begin our many adventures for the day. Apparently the compound of my house was the most spacious, enough space for us to play many games. We had no toys so we invented our own toys; chaptey, made of chicken feathers; main getah, using rubber bands with many variation. We collected used cigarette boxes and placed them standing at a distance and we would shoot these boxes using our school rulers and rubber bands. We could create many toys even using old newspapers like making boats, balls, caps as well as ‘animals’ like the elephant, a bird and a cat. From these old newspapers too we would build our own ‘airplanes’ and would throw them into the air and these ‘planes’ would fly gracefully toward the ground.
There was a monsoon drain with flowing waters in front of my house most ideal to create a ‘boating’ competition with these ‘boats’ made of old newspapers as well.
When the fruit season came, it was a ‘carnival’ for us. Most of the rambutan trees we had were not too tall and we would spend our time looking for the ripe ones up in the tree and enjoying the fruits while sitting at some of the strong branches. We had a ciku tree that grew fruits throughout the year. We had many fruit trees like pokok delima, pokok bacang, pokok rambai, pokok kundang, pokok cermai, pokok asam but there was one tree we could never climb because it was so big and very tall. It was pokok sentul with the fruits that looked like a baseball and yellow in colour.
By lunch time, we would automatically return to our homes and to come back later for few more rounds of games. In the evening the games differed from the ones we played in the morning. We played main galah, teng teng and koknai (police and theives).
We were not too bothered with our sex status and would run around the house compound like boys; all of us. However, as we grew older, we became more reserved and the games we played too began to change. Boys of ten would play football while the girls would play the congkak. But we still played the main galah among the sexes.
We celebrated our festivals together too and very much encouraged by our parents. My non-Malay neighbours would be among the first to treat themselves with the Malay delights of Ketupat and Lodeh during our Hari Raya. They would come with their best clothes and in the afternoon they would come again for the cakes and cookies. Likewise when the Chinese New Year came, we would pay our Chinese neighbours a visit and would return with the red packet, mostly stuffed with a twenty cent coin. For Depavali, our treat would be at Maniam’s house. Sikhs of my time celebrated the Depavali too and so after Maniam’s house, we would all flock to Uncle Sarop’s house. Her wife would treat us with so many chapatis and some other delicacies.
Where have all these values gone to? I don’t seem to see this anymore in our society. What has happened to those moments of time when we were so close to one another. When we could just drop by our neighbour’s house without needing a reason to be there. We could even walke inside their kitchen and asked our neighbours ‘what’s cooking’ and could even end up being a guest for lunch. In the evening we would be busy exchanging delicacies prepared by our parents. These values seem to slowly disappear from our society.
Memories are sometime painful; it becomes even more painful when the memories that keep coming into our mind are just memories. Would it not be so wonderful if today’s children would live up to the memories that I once experienced?