Reaching the age of sixteen in the year 1966 was about the most interesting and exciting period of my life. It was exciting because like all other boys my age, I was beginning to have interest in girls my age and in those days a year or two younger were considered a bit too young to be mixing with me. I was schooling at the Muar High School attending the Form Four class and there would not be any important examination to be worried about. Even if I failed miserably at the end of the year, I would still move to Form Five. It was a year when I had adjusted myself pretty well at the school and just a year below to be known as a senior.
We had three school term holidays and every time the holidays approached, we would have planned few interesting events where meeting with girls would be most apparent. We would meet at the cinema for a good movie, or cycling in groups along the coastal route of Tanjung, spending the evening at the Kim Leng restaurant and the Chuan Lee Cafe. But the most interesting of all was organizing a house party. However, organizing a house party in Muar town in the year 1966 was most difficult because the venue would be a house whose parents were quite sociable and we could hardly find one. So chances were whenever we attended a house party, the house owner could be outstation visiting some relatives.
Learning to communicate with girls my age started as early as I was in primary school of Standard Six but there wasn’t any form of personal contact. Most of us had no phones at home and even if we had one, we could only make calls to those having phones at home. And that wasn’t easy to find; in fact most of my friends had no house phones. Messages were sent through words of mouth, cycling from destination to destination. That was not too tedious as Muar town of my days was free from any form of traffic congestion. It would take slightly further to peddle if we had sweethearts staying in the remote areas of town such as Parit Bakar. But when you were head over heels in love, cycling to Parit Bakar with your girlfriend was too short a journey; you’d wish she had stayed somewhere in Semerah or even in Sungei Mati across the Muar River. However, boys and girls of my town of the early and mid sixties fell in love only when they had reached the age of sixteen. Once the two became an item, we call this in the Muar Malay language berendut.
There was though an innocent way of communication between boys and girls before they reached sixteen; and that was by way of exchanging autograph books. The size of this autograph book was about six inches in length and four inches in width. I had mine when I was in Standard Five. The front cover was nicely decorated with ribbons and beautiful designs drawn on the first page. Since my primary school was for boys only, I had mine exchanged with my classmates. I would write a simple poem on my friend’s autograph book such as:
“Roses are red, violets are blue. Sugar is sweet but not as sweet as you.”
Then on the same page, I would draw some flowers and even butterflies. It was only when I was in Form One that I began exchanging my autograph book with girls from other schools. It was through my female cousin Fuzi that I became friends with these girls who were mostly schooling at the Sekolah Abu Bakar Girls School (SABGS). When I reached Form Three, my circle of female friends grew and I even had friends from the Convent School along Jalan Daud.
My first female friend was a sweet kampung girl named Saleha Hassan. She was a close friend of my cousin Fuzi and would always dropped by her house after school. As the house was just a few steps from mine, I could always see Saleha whenever she came by. She had a small bicycle with an unevenly large size carrier at the rear of her bicycle. She would always has some of her books placed on this carrier. Although quite shy, Saleha who had quite a husky voice for a young girl, was comfortable with me around maybe because I was her good friend’s cousin. We would talk about some school subjects, about her kampung which was somewhere near Parit Korma and many other interesting subject. In spite of being a sweet and pretty girl, I was never infatuated by her sweetness but we were really close. She was more like a sister to me. After her Form Three examination, she left Muar Town to pursue her higher education. Since then, I had no clue of her where about. Sometime in 1998, while working in my office, I received a call from her. I was uncertain who she was until she said to me, “Din, ni Saleha lah, anak Pak Hassan”. (Din, this is Saleha, Pak Hassan’s daughter). She got my number through my cousin Fuzi. We talked for hours, laughing about those good old days in Muar town. From then on, we contacted each other through the phone quite a number of times. Later I found out that she was a “Datin” but sadly her husband had since passed away. When I moved to another office in 2000, I lost her contact number and was told that she had moved to a new home and so we were both lost to each other. Sometime in 2013, I received news from my cousin that Saleha had passed away of cancer. Receiving such a sad news made me speechless for a few minutes and when I recovered, the sadness of losing such a good friend was still truly unbearable. It made me even more sad when recounting those friendship days between me and a young, sweet and pretty kampung girl who could easily be mistaken as my sweetheart.
Muar town girls of my growing years were innocent in many ways; their mixing attitude, the dress they wore and the friends they kept. We could hardly find a group of girls sitting at a public place during the night. By dusk, they would be at home helping their mothers and after dinner doing their home works and reading their history books. Some had televisions at their homes watching “Peyton Place” and “Perry Mason”. By 11.30pm when the transmission ended, they would be in bed. And the night environment became silent except for the chilling chirping sound of the crickets.
The time was almost 5.00pm when I cycled to Tanjung to meet my friends. It was the last day of the school term and we would be enjoying a two weeks holiday. All school books would be left untouched for the whole duration except if we had some home works to be done, which we would normally do on the last night of the two weeks holidays. It was quite windy when I reached Tanjung with the trees swaying gracefully and the waves pushing gently by the shore. One or two black Morris Minor were passing by with the drivers grinning unnecessarily. Some older lads were on their Vespa and Lambretta scooters riding by the shore emulating the way Troy Donahue rode in a movie “A Summer Place”. Few with their dark glasses which they would still wear even when the sun bade farewell. The striking colours of the shirts they wore were carefully chosen to attract attention and their drain-piped trousers tightly tailored to their choice. I had mine tailored by my favourite tailor, an elderly Chinese man with a front tooth missing.
At the tip of the cape were some girls with their skirts worn modestly below their knees and their hair styled to that of Sandra Dee and Lulu. They would always be seen giggling maybe talking about some boys who had tried to date some among them. At the roadside leading to the tip of the cape where stood Kamal the rojak seller, parked bicycles lined up taking the space reserved for cars. Tanjung Muar during the evening was a beacon for young lovers, enjoying every moment that time could spare. In the midst of great tranquility created at the scene, there was Nazali Yusoff and her group of close friends chatting about the sad part of “Peyton Place”, a tale of a lonely and repressed Constance MacKenzie and her illegitimate daughter Allison. About a town full of hypocrisy, social inequalities and class privilege in a recurring themes of a tale that includes incest, abortion, lust and murder. But Muar town was no Peyton Place although the setting was almost identical. Muar town was a lively place, with birds singing by the tree tops and social inequalities were never heard of. So when the script of Peyton Place revealed to the people of Muar town, they moaned with bitter grievances and Nazali Yusof could not kept it by herself. “Nali” as she was fondly known was a lively person and easy to get along with and there would be no wonder when many girls her age would gravitate to her side. Among those close to her were Sophia Omar, Maimunah Ismail, Aishah Mohammad, Zaleha, Zakiah Mansor and Rogayah Omar and few others.
Some older girls too were at the scene. They were the Form Five and Form Six students, considered senior to us. Midah Mata Sepet had dark glasses well fitted to hide her sleepy looking eyes and Zamrah the party-goer was strolling along the shore waving at some young lads with their cheeky smile on their scooters. Chinese girls from the Convent school were on the other side towards the Muar Tanjung Club being wooed by boys from the Saint Andrew school. Indian girls were scarce in Muar town but the beauty of one or two could give full satisfaction to some wandering eyes.
I stopped and parked my bicycle slightly away from where stood the rojak seller. The queue was building up pleasing Kamal who was so absorbed cutting some cucumbers faster than any machine we could find in town. His sharp knife was so worn out the center looked like a U-turn sign. The early birds were enjoying their rojak standing under the tall causarina while the cendol man was equally busy to satisfy one’s thirst. When my turn came, Kamal poured the gravy slightly more without me asking for he knew his regular customers very well. As I was enjoying my indulgence standing behind the busy entrepreneur, my eyes were more focused on the surrounding scene than the rojak. I needed to be on the look out for my two buddies; Halim and Yem.
“Where are these two guys?”, my mind kept telling me. The girls we had wanted to see were now here and this was one great opportunity to approach them without much hassle. It wasn’t easy to encounter a group of girls in town and when that moment appeared we had better take the chance quickly. The house party that we had planned was a week away and that would give the girls sometime to think about before accepting the invitation. These girls needed to formulate their strategy in order to receive approval from their parents. Like smiling all the time at home while helping their mothers at the kitchen. Or sweeping around the house even in places where sweeping wasn’t needed. Read a lot of books pleasing their fathers who had just returned from work. And at night before going to bed, they would try to write anything for as long as the parents thought they were writing some home works. So after being such good girls for the past few days, surely a night out among close female friends deserved the reward.
Yem finally arrived cycling on his sister’s bicycle. The front tyre of the bicycle was punctured and had just had it pumped and so the reason why he was a little bit late. Halim was still not at sight but never mind because Yem could do it. I pointed to Yem at the direction where the girls were and still giggling amongst them. I was always very poor when asked to approach a girl and so Yem had to do the job. Without hesitaion, he walked towards them while I stood at the very spot I had my rojak. The Tanjung scene became more lively with cyclists filling every part of the road fronting the shore. Some young women with their baju Melayu were walking in small groups maybe planning to watch a Hindustani movie currently shown at the Asiatic cinema. The kids had their wonderful moments running around the small field watched by their parents. Tanjung was so alive like it had always been. Few minutes later Yem came back with a slight smile on his face.
“Most of them will consider”, Yem said as he approached me. Girls those days would never give a straight answer whenever invited to a house party. Could never blame them as most fathers were always skeptical to give their approvals. “We need the numbers before we can fix the actual date”, I told Yem. So far we had six girls considering the invitation and being considered was very good enough to proceed with our planning. We needed at least ten girls to have a wonderful time of chatting, eating and a little bit of dancing. “Let’s meet up with Ajis tonight”, I continued. Ajis’ mum and his auntie would be leaving for Kuala Lumpur in a few days and that the house would be available to organize this party.
While the town girls were always be a part of the Tanjung scene, those living at the outskirt of town would not wish to be left behind. Tanjung would invite many pretty girls staying across the Muar River along the stretch of Tanjung Agas in the north. Towards the south the girls were from Parit Keroma, Parit Raja and Parit Bakar and to the west those from Jalan Bakri and Parit Stongkat. While modern in their outlook, they were conservative and moderate in their thinking. My good friend Saleha Hassan was considered as one. One girl who had me crushed almost to pieces was a quiet girl staying along Jalan Salleh towards Parit Stongkat whose name was the feminine of mine; Kamariah Abdullah. Because I never managed to build my guts, admiring her was left to waste until one day I saw her cycling with a boy from my school.
That night we met Ajis Mak Enggor who came cycling to my house after having his dinner. As usual, he had with him a packet of Gold Leaf cigarettes to be shared with the three of us. The night was chilly and he had a muffler around his neck. We told him the progress and added a white lie that we had already ten girls confirmed coming. The white lie was necessary to enhance our progress and subsequently his approval to use his house. When he asked us the number of boys who would be coming, we told him that would not be necessary because they would gladly come even if not invited.
“So the party is on”, I said while the rest were enjoying their free puff. “Now we have plenty of things to do”, Yem continued. “Lets start our planning; the car needed to fetch some girls, the menu for the party and the turn-table to fill the air with music”, cautioned Ajis. “Can we ask Mat Shah to use one of his father’s car?” Halim asked.
To be continued…..