Along the road of Jalan Suleiman of Muar town leading towards Tangga Batu on the left side was once a kopitiam that would serve its customers as early as 6.30am. A few distance from this famous restaurant was the site of the ferry services where commercial activities were always bustling. Office workers and school children from the other side of the Muar River would arrive to proceed to their working places and schools respectively. Fishermen with their catch could be seen along some parts of the shore negotiating with wholesalers from the town’s wet market. Buses would begin to ferry passengers and the trishaws had by then positioned themselves to receive their passengers to carry them to their respective destinations. As the eastern sun began to rise, the Tangga Batu of Muar Town would repeat yesterdays’ activities and the lively scenario would continue to gain momentum as the clock ticked. This kopitiam thus played a very important role to complement the early hours of the broken morning.
Filled with round tables made of marble and chairs of high quality wood, customers would flock to have their first meal of toasted bread spread with butter and kaya, half-boiled eggs and black coffee. The owner known simply as Ah Pong to the locals would be serving his home made drinks of hot and cold barley. By 7.30am, more customers would flock into the kopitiam and this time it was the grilling smell of satay that caused them to gravitate. Owned by one of the Muar cartel satay families, Wak Santano had one of his outlets in this famous restaurant. This setting of the mid-sixties was a typical scene of Muar town and as the clock ticked further reaching to 10.00am, more customers would fill the kopitiam, some craving for the satay and lodeh, others would be enjoying their toasted bread but there were few others who came with a different agenda. They came to this place in search of one man; a tall, chubby and bespectacled elderly gentleman known affectionately by Muarians of my early years as Master Jabbar.
Muar town during my growing years had quite a number of English teachers whom we referred to as “Master”. We had Master Nasir, Master Daud, Master Ghafar, Master Khaled but the most outstanding was none other than Master Jabbar. Once a proud owner of an English medium school known as the Muar Hana English School, Master Jabbar was regarded by many as a man of great vision adhering to the flow of development in parallel with the needs of the western world. My contemporaries looked upon him with great respect extending him the honour like all other humans of great wisdom. Always hardworking and alert, he kept on pursuing tirelessly the good values of society to justify the time bestowed by God. Now in his twilight years when some of his contemporaries would succumb to old age and spending more of their time at home, Master Jabbar refused to kick the bucket and kept on charging his energy to the fullest that could shame his younger generations. At the left side inside this kopitiam was a table with a typewriter on it and some documents. This table was reserved only for him. Refusing to accept his declining stamina that time had taken much of it, Master Jabbar made himself to be a Petition Writer, after all he was qualified to be one; he was bestowed Justice of the Peace (JP) by the Sultan of Johor in 1957 at the recommendation of the Bar Council. Reaching the zenith of his life and wisdom, he spent his last years using his mental skill more than his physical ability bowing gracefully accepting the fact that age had finally caught up with him.
This article is dedicated to a man Muar town of his era owed so much.
Abdul Jabbar was born on the 4th of January 1921 to Abdul Majid bin Ahmad and Aishah Hj. Taib. His father Abdul Majid was a Javanese descent tracing his roots to the monarchs of central Java, Indonesia where Kings and Queens were next to gods and goddess. His mother Aishah on the hand was a thick blooded Bugis whose ancestors were sea warriors who hailed from the Celebes providing excellent services to the Johor Sultanate in driving away pirates over the South China Sea borders. The blended characters of both husband and wife produced children of strict discipline, articulate in characters, good morals and Abdul Jabbar lived up to these expectations and disciplines.
His early education started at the Sekolah Bandar Maharani situated along the same spot where stood the central wet market. The young Abdul Jabbar exhibited his early intelligence with his fast learning skills and went on to proceed his education at the Muar High School. Among his classmates were Abdullah bin Ali whom in later years became our country’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and Talib bin Darwish who became Brunei’s head of the Public Works Department (PWD). Abdullah’s relationship with Abdul Jabbar became even closer when Abdullah married his first cousin Kamariah Abdul Hamid. Both Abdul Jabbar and Abdullah went on to pursue their education at the Raffles College in Singapore and it was here that he became friends with students from other states most notable was Malaysia’s second Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak.
Abdul Jabbar excelled in his education and dreamed of becoming an architect but that dream was vetoed when he received a scholarship to study Law in London. Destiny and fate are written, so they say. While waiting for the date of his departure to London, the Japaness attacked Malaya and it was in that year of 1942 the Japanese Imperial Army landed at Kota Bahru, Kelantan to begin its rule over British Malaya. The good life began to change and the administration became everything Japanese. Abdul Jabbar had to abort his plan and worked temporarily at a rice warehouse situated on the same area where once stood the Muar Daimond Jubilee along Jalan Sultan Ibrahim. He worked as a Clerk and because of his proficiency in the English language, the Japanese Commander who could speak the language well became close to him. Impressed with the Commander’s command of the English language, Abdul Jabbar lend him some of his books much to the delight of the Japanese master. At times he would relate stories to the Commander in English and over the time their relationship grew.
Among those who worked at the warehouse were Mat Indera and Margono and because they were anti-Japanese to the core, they soon joined the underground unit of the Malayan Peoples’ Anti Japanese Army (MPAJA). However, they did not look back and continued their struggle for an independent Malaya after the Japanese surrendered and joined the the Communist Party of Malaya.
A year later in 1943, Abdul Jabbar got himself a wife. As a matter of fact, he had been engaged with this girl even before the Japanese invasion. His father had a relative named Shamsuddin staying in Batu Pahat and was a very influential person of that district. It happened one night while having dinner with his family that his father told his children how he’d wish to see one of his sons to marry one of Shamsuddin’s daughter. Without hesitation Abdul Jabbar was too happy to fulfill his father’s wish and so he was officially engaged to Zaharah, one of the daughters of Shamsuddin. He was 18 years old then and his fiancee was still schooling.
They were both pronounced man and wife when he was 21 years old and it was held at Sungei Ayam, Batu Pahat where the bride’s parents stayed and a few days later another ceremony was held at his parents’ house along Jalan Omri, Muar. Awkward it may seem, Abdul Jabbar had never met his wife in person even when they were both engaged. That was a risky venture he took, not knowing how pretty or ugly his future wife could be. Some of his friends would tease him but he was never perturbed and instead would answer resolutely “no money can buy the thrill”. His first sighting of his wife was on the day they both sat side by side during the bersanding ceremony and he must have sighed a great relief to see for the first time the pretty face of his dear wife. (Malay weddings during the Japanese occupation could only be done during the day). Deep in his heart he vowed to be a good husband and a good father to their children. Now his dream to pursue higher education had turned into a distant dream It was however a good marriage and they were blessed with three children; Mihrimah the first child and a girl followed by two boys Mohammad Ali and Shamsuddin. The happy marriage life turned tragic when his wife passed away in 1948 after giving birth to their third child due to some complications but life had to go on and the single father weathered through the stormy life raising his three little children with great care.
When the Japanese surrendered and Malaya was again under British rule, Abdul Jabbar became an English teacher teaching at the St. Victoria School which was then situated next to the Christian church along Jalan Salleh. It was in this school that he taught one student who later became the head of MCA and a Federal Minister. That student was Dato’ Neo Yee Pan. When the school was closed he went on teaching English at KK English School and later at the Maharani English School. The same school where St. Victoria was later became known as St. Andrews School.
Abdul Jabbar was the seventh child in a family of eleven siblings. The first four were girls followed by seven boys of which he was the third boy. Although unable to pursue his dream for higher education abroad, he received a number of good working offers but outside Muar town. Among the few offers he received were to be a Police Inspector and a District Officer of other district. His two elder brothers Ibrahim and Ismail had made their grades and were on their way to their exciting careers and so Abdul Jabbar decided to accept these offers to enhance his own destiny. Again fate had it written that he must stay put in his hometown. His mother forbade him to leave town and was asked to take care of his younger brothers who were still in their schooling years. Furthermore his mother’s health was deteriorating and being dedicated and loyal to the family, Abdul Jabbar agreed to sacrifice.
In 1954 he was appointed as Ahli Majlis Mesyuarat Kerajaan for a one year term which was extended for another year in 1955 and it was in this year that the British government decided to have a local council election. Now Abdul Jabbar was beginning to taste the bitter side of politics. He decided to stand as a candidate but not under the wings of the established UMNO party, he was adamant to stand as an independent candidate. That was one big risk and which also meant that he had to fork out all expenses on his own. Some friends advised him to think twice but Abdul Jabbar was unperturbed and knew he could sail pretty well. He had many friends of all races and his two year term as Ahli Majlis had gained him worthy experiences that could be used during the campaigning period. The race was set and the whistle blown. Abdul Jabbar began his political battle with an UMNO candidate under the Alliance Party.
Almost all family members, close and distant relatives gave their undivided support and Abdul Jabar went around the constituency which was along the road of Jalan Salleh towards Parit Stongkat with his fierce rhetoric. Words began to spread among the UMNO members that he was a force to be reckoned with and should be treated as a heavyweight and treating him otherwise was a great mistake. They sent their best orator to counter Abdul Jabar’s excellent public speeches. A young lawyer by the name of Saadon Zubir arrived in Muar town and was invited to speak for the UMNO candidate during one night at the Padang Muar Club. When he received the news, Abdul Jabbar went to the police station and applied for a permit to speak at the same time and venue where Saadon Zubir would be speaking. Apparently his permit was approved but later when it was discovered that the same permit had been given to the Alliance party, the OCPD went around Muar town looking for him. When they met, the OCPD requested that Abdul Jabbar cancelled his intention so as to avoid any undesirable incident. He flatly refused and told the English Officer of his rights to keep up to his schedule.
That night the Padang Muar Club received overwhelming response from the public all wanting to hear the speeches of two great orators from both sides of the fence. But Abdul Jabbar applied a witty and cunning strategy. Earlier during the day, he had summoned his close friends of various races and trades and told them he needed their cooperation for the night. The owner of the Grand Paradise cinema was to supply him the best movie they could find and another friend being a Quarry operator to get his lorry full of granite and pebbles. Although unknown to them what was in Abdul Jabbar’s mind, they gladly extended their full cooperation.
That night when the battle began, Saadon Zubir took the microphone and began to speak. There wasn’t any stage, both sides used lorries as platforms to speak. Just as the crowd began to fill the field where Saadon was speaking, Abdul Jabbar showed an exciting movie over his side. A free movie with so many fighting scenes was obviously more thrilling than listening to a political speech and so most of the crowd began to disperse from the UMNO area and turned their faces toward the screen. When most of the crowds were absorbed with the exciting scene, Abdul Jabbar killed the climax and stopped the movie as intermission and that was the opportune time for him to reach the crowds with his speech. Both sides began to hurl disparaging remarks at each other and the situation became almost chaotic with each side of the supporters almost engaged in a scuffle. That was the time the lorry full of granite and pebbles arrived at the site where Abdul Jabbar’s supporters were. The granite and pebbles served as their arsenal, just in case. However, there wasn’t any bad incidents and the OCPD sighed a great relief saying “This incident never occurs anywhere except Muar”. Later Saadon met Abdul Jabbar’s eldest brother Ibrahim and told him “Yem, adek engkau Jabbar hentam aku kiri kanan” (Yem, your younger brother Jabbar ‘bombarded’ me in his speech endlessly).
Another strategic plan employed by Abdul Jabbar was to write letters to all the voters in his constituency. When the polling was over, some of the voters confessed that they voted for Abdul Jabbar because the letters they received instructed them to do so. When the result was out, he won with a handsome margin and was declared as the new Ahli Majlis Daerah.
As a representative for his constituency, Abdul Jabbar executed his responsibilities well and introduced reforms beneficial to the people. It was during this period that he was appointed as a panel of Prison Inspectors, Johor State War Executive Committee, Commissioner of Oaths, Chairman of the Penarik Beca Association, Board of Governors Sekolah Ismail School Two and a panel of Jury of the High Court. His popularity was at its height but yet he knew no glory and he became even more closer to the ordinary masses.
1955 was a good year for him and it was even more exciting when he met a beautiful young woman who was destined to be his future wife.
Malaya was fighting for its independence from the British and UMNO played a leading role headed by its President Tunku Abdul Rahman. As a young political party, it lacks many things among which was finance. A delegation comprising the three major races of the country was invited by the British government to begin negotiation in London. They needed funds and UMNO members throughout the country were requested to raise the fund. In Muar town, some of the members likewise did the same and went around to collect donations and financial contributions from those who could afford. Among them was a young woman named Kalthum binti Anuar who hailed from Parit Keroma, a village quite near the town. She was a dedicated Wanita UMNO member who sacrificed much of her time going around the housing areas looking for donors. Every time when she came to Muar town, she would be staying with her cousin Arfah binti Abdul who stayed along Jalan Joned.
Kalthum had few close friends in Muar town and among them was a lady known as “Mak Jah Kucing”. What an amusing nickname but such peculiar nicknames were common among Muarians of that period. Mak Jah Kucing knew Abdul Jabbar as well and it was her who suggested to him to take Kalthum as his wife. He had never met Kalthum and had no idea how she looked like. But being Abdul Jabbar that was never a priority, after all he only saw for the first time the pretty face of his late wife on their wedding night. It was Mak Jah Kucing who kept telling him how beautiful Kalthum was.
One night there was a Fun Fair at the Padang Muar Club and that meant night outing for many Muarians. Muar town of that period had not much entertainment outlets and so when a Fun Fair came to town, nobody wished to be left behind. Abdul Jabbar was neatly dressed and ready to show his presence at the famous field. Likewise Kalthum was ever ready to spend the evening with her friends at the same place. Earlier during the day there was a heavy downpour and some parts of the field were muddy.
Like in a love story of a typical Hindustani movie, the hero Abdul Jabbar arrived at the Fun Fair with style and on the other side of the field was the heroine Kalthum mingling among the crowds with her friends. The hero waved tirelessly every time he bumped into some friends while the heroine kept giggling listening to some funny gossips. They both kept walking and as they were about to cross path, they both noticed a muddy area in front of them. As they both tried to avoid the muddy area, both of them almost skipped and when that happened their eyes met. When the hero saw her, he almost got himself electrocuted from the power supplied by the heroine. It was obviously love at first sight and Abdul Jabbar took no time to inform Mak Jah Kucing that he would obediently heed her kind suggestion. Arrangement was made for both of them to meet and they eventually tied the knot.
It was a happy marriage and they were blessed with four children; Abdul Majid, Mohammad Hanafi, Abdul Kadir and Shirazah.
To be continued….Part Two.