We played all sorts of games to keep ourselves occupied. From 8.00 am till dusk was a very long time in the late 50s. It was as if the sun felt so happy looking at young children running around and playing so many games without needing any toy that it took it longer to set at the western horizon. Every time the monsoon season bade farewell, the sun gladly shone brightly to compensate for the few wet months when we had to stay indoor most of the time. Even then we still played other games inside our homes when the rain kept pouring. We were so creative, innovative and always came out with new ideas. Every minute that time gave us was never put to waste that made some of us even forget to take our bath. Playing was our only agenda but no matter how much time we had playing around, we never miss our breakfast, lunch and tea. We stopped during these times to restore the energies needed to restore our stamina.
There were some games when we needed toys and so we made them. We were kids with not much money to spend. We received ten cents a day during school days but we hardly get paid during the weekends unless we did some errands for our parents. So any games that had to be played with toys were those that we made them. When the marble season came, we would look for round pebbles along the shore of the Muar River often encountering with other kids with the same thoughts from the neighbouring areas. Our catapults were made from the tree branches and our rifles from the bamboo trees. Even the ball that we played it was made of coconut husks stuffed with old newspapers compacted to a round figure. The only toy we had to buy was the spinning top because we knew not how to make it.
Some of these games were seasonal such as the marble game and the top spinning game. There was however one game that we played yearly before the approach of the Monsoon season. It was the season of the flying kites. Most of the kites that we flew were those that we made them. This game had to be seasonal because we need the wind to fly them. Although we had winds throughout the year, the wind of the approaching Monsoon season was available throughout the month and we could feel the windy period.
Across the road where I lived was a small playground where kids my age would play in the evening. There was a swing, a see-saw and a slide. Immediately after our tea time, we would run to this place to enjoy our evening entertainment. Some older kids would come out to meet their ‘sweethearts’ and we would tease them only to be chased running all over the playground.
Besides this playground was a football field that faced the frontage of the police barracks. In the evening many youths would exhibit their tackling and scoring skills and most of them would be bare footed. They would arrive at the scene in style, well combed and would begin running around the field with great speed. If there were some female spectators, their speed would be double; never mind if they would suffer from serious panting later. At the end of the game, their hair would seem as though it had been electrocuted. Some would walk limping, while few others had to lay down to stabilize their breathing. This field was the only suitable place for us to fly our kites; because it was an open field.
It was now the season of the flying kites. All it needed was to have just one person flying his kite and the next thing you know the whole neighbourhood would be flying their kites; with most being boys.
First I needed a kite and as a kite would cost fifty cents, I knew I could not afford it and so I need to make one. The first task was to look for bamboo stems. Every time I needed bamboo stems I had to walk a short distance to my grandaunt’s house situated at the junction of Jalan Mariam/Jalan Mahmoodiah and apparently at the end of the Muar High School.
My grandaunt Yang Chik was a stern looking lady who hardly smiled. Even the best jokes that could send everyone rolling down the floor laughing would not make her smile. Nothing was funny to her. In spite of having a grim looking face, she was blessed with a wonderful heart. Besides her house was a ciku tree that bore fruits throughout the year and I was a frequent climber. On most occasions whenever I felt like eating the fruits, I would walk to her house and would immediately climb the tree without even seeking permission. Whenever she noticed someone on the tree, she would adjust her glasses and gaze at the moving branch and would just stare until she could recognize who the climber was. I would shout at her to notify my presence, after which she would just nod. After I had finished my business, I would look for her and extend my gratitude and she would not only nod without saying a word, she would also give me ten cents and tell me to extend her salam to her elder brother, my grandpa.
There were many bamboo trees behind her house and I could easily choose the suitable trunk to make the skeleton for my kite and just one trunk would do. Back home I would use a razor blade to trim the bamboo to its right size. It would finally look like a “T” sign with the center slightly curved downward; the reason I needed to use a bamboo for my kite. Then I would need one page of an old newspaper to fit onto the skeleton. Before fitting it I would paint the newspaper with a water colour with the colour of my choice. Once dried, I would draw some designs to my liking and finally I would glue some frills at both ends of the center skeleton and at the bottom as a decorative supplement. Now I had myself a kite but to fly it I needed a long and strong thread. This would be the only thing I had to buy and in those days it was not costly. It would be charged according to the length that I wanted. While I was absorbed with my creation, others in the neighbourhood would be doing the same thing and by the evening, the football field would be filled with kids and their kites.
And of course we needed the wind and if the wind was absent, there would not be any kites flying.
Across the road of Jalan Omri where I lived was the family of Uncle Lamdin. He was the son of a Pakistani/Afghanistan constable named Bardin who had served the British forces stationed in Malaya. After the war, he did not return to his homeland and chose to live in Malaya. He could easily be mistaken as a Sikh as he usually wore a white turban. The only thing that separated him from being a Sikh was the language he spoke which was Urdu. Uncle Lamdin had a son who was a year older than me and during my growing years he was among my playmates. Zakaria Lamdin was nicknamed Mene by his grandfather, a name perhaps having some meanings to his native country. Another of my playmate was a neighbour who lived behind my house. Othman Mohd. Said was of my age and had been my classmate in Standard One at the Ismail School Two. His father was in the Police Force and once I was so excited seeing him in his uniform that I told grandma I would like to be a policeman when I grew up. Othman had two younger brothers; Azman and Azmi who would sometime join us in some of our games.
After waiting for a few days, the wind began to blow at a speed suitable to fly our kites and this evening we were ready to show off our individual creations and talents. I had mine coloured in red supplemented with beautiful design of my own ideas. By 5.00 pm, the football field was filled with kite enthusiasts bringing along their colourful creations with great pride. That evening the wind was kind and it was about time to fly our kites. At the playground, younger kids were absorbed with their entertainments and would soon flock to the open field as spectators. On the stairs at the frontage of the police barracks were already seated some parents ready to watch the flying kites of their children most of whom were boys. During my growing days, there were hardly a girl flying a kite.
To fly these kites, strong wind were needed and it was usually during the months of August till October before the arrival of the monsoon season. In most cases, these winds would blow from the north-west towards the Muar River and as the town was beside the river, the nearby hinterland would feel the impact.
When I arrived with my kite at the football field, many boys already had their kites airborne and I could see some were flying gracefully. The wind was truly kind and it was such a wonderful sight. The sky above us was full of kites of various designs and colours.
It was time for me to show off my kite and I was grinning since arriving at the football field. I needed to know the direction of the blowing wind and once verified, I hurled the kite into the air and ran as fast as I could for my kite to begin flying. It wasn’t easy and sometime the kite would just drop to the ground. I kept on trying for a few times until finally it began to sway higher slightly above the ground until finally it began to fly. When it was high enough dancing to the tune of the windy wind, I navigated it and let it sway gracefully along with the other kites. Those on the ground holding their threads likewise navigated theirs and the field became the center of attraction to those passing by. Some cars would stop by letting their children waving at us as we kept navigating our kites. What a beautiful scene. From afar those around the neighbourhood could see the flying kites above the trees dancing with grace as the kind wind kept pushing them gently in the air.
Sometime as the wind became stronger, it could blow our kites higher and higher and if our thread was not long and strong enough, our kites would not be able to fly higher and we had to be contended with the limit. The thread too must be strong otherwise it could cut off easily and the kite would just fly on its own wildly in the air. In some housing areas where there was no open field like a football field, some kites could get stuck to some branches of tall trees and it could be a real hassle to get them flying again.
We had competitions too. Within the area of Tanjung, there was another football field dominated by those living around Jalan Joned, Jalan Majidee and the nearby surroundings. Likewise this field would be filled with boys of that area each with their beautiful kites. Along Jalan Sultan Ibrahim where stood the Daimond Jubilee Hall was another open space for boys of that area to show off their kites. The area around Jalan Daud too had an open field. Although it was not a football field, it was sufficient for boys to fly their kites during windy days.
During every competition, the best among each neighbourhood would represent their respective groups. I never represented my neighbourhood as there were few other boys who were much better than me but I would not fail to cheer for them.
Kite flying during my growing days was truly a wonderful event.
Now I don’t seem to find this game being played by boys of my hometown. Quite often when I returned to Muar town for a visit, I would never fail to drive to all these places where so many memories began but sadly I could not find any boys flying their kites during the windy season. Boys these days are very much absorbed with their smart phones where games are played by a mere touch of a finger. What a waste.
Good values of yesteryears are slowly fading from our society and soon it will just disappear into oblivion. There will come a time when today’s children will only be able to read from some books or articles about the wonderful period when most toys played by children of the past were those that they made them. They were always creative, inventing new ideas on how to keep them occupied from dawn to dusk.
I belong to those children of the past. As I watch today’s children playing games by a mere touch of a button, I feel sorry for them; for missing those wonderful period when the sun took so much longer to last and every minute that time gave us was used to its fullest.