THE LEGENDARY MASTER JABBAR (PART ONE)

master jabbar 3

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.

 

 

 

 

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MY FIRST SCHOOL, SEKOLAH BANDAR MAHARANI

sekolah bandar maharani

In December 1955 I was five years and nine months old and never bothered about going to school. I would only be going to school in 1957 and that would be a very long time to go. In the meantime I was enjoying life of a very young boy running around the house, playing with my cousins and the neighbouring boys of my age. We would play hide and seek and many other games where toys were not needed. We would climb trees that had branches within our reach and we would catch grasshoppers wherever and whenever we saw them. We would only return home for lunch when our stomach gave the signal. We kept on playing under the hot sun and when it rained we played in the rain even more happily. There wasn’t a moment we wasted and by dusk we would be at home ready for dinner. So obviously I had no worries not until one night when grandma broke the bad news.

While having dinner, grandma told everyone that next year I would be going to school and next year would be in a month’s time. I was shocked to hear the news and asked grandma why? She said I must learn how to read and write in Jawi because there would not be a lesson conducted in Jawi when I would begin my Standard One in 1957. Immediately my appetite eroded and the good food in front of me looked tasteless. Grandpa and the others (my uncles and aunties) did not say a word and kept on eating while I just played with my rice with a broken heart. That night before going to sleep I cried silently thinking what a waste having to go to school and missing all the fun the others my age would be enjoying.

A few days later grandma said tomorrow morning grandpa would be bringing me to the new school I would be attending for one year and to have my name registered. As the days grew nearer, I began to suffer insomnia and would toss around left and right at least for an hour before I could sleep.

Our maid-servant Mak Yang had prepared breakfast the following morning and grandpa was still in his room putting on his clothes ready to bring me to my school. It was a fine morning with the eastern sun rising steadily and the morning clouds moving gracefully. I was already fully dressed and my hair of center parting combed by grandma and Mak Yang smiled when she saw me with my stockings on. Our daily breakfast would always be boiled tapioca eaten with grated coconut mixed with white sugar but that day it was special; we had toasted bread spread with butter and sugar on top. Those days we toasted the bread on top of a wire mesh and underneath a bunch of very hot arang until we could see the white bread turning brownish in colour. After having my breakfast, grandma brought me outside the house where grandpa was waiting holding both handles of his bicycle. She carried me on to the steel bar of the bicycle and grandpa began peddling. I was on my way to my new school.

At five plus, I had never ventured outside the territory of our playing ground and so this morning many scenes that we passed by were alien to my eyes. I sat silently gazing at the new environment and noticed one or two cars in black colour passing our way in both directions. We passed Jalan Ibrahim leading towards Simpang Lima, the only junction in Muar town that connected to five roads. Grandpa kept on peddling without saying a word but being grandpa, he seldom talked even when at home. Grandma would be the one doing the talking. All my uncles and aunties would communicate with grandma first if they needed something (like asking for some money) from grandpa.

It wasn’t too long to reach the school situated along Jalan Arab. This school was known as “Sekolah Bandar Maharani” with a very typical English facade. Grandpa stopped at the front gate and I jumped down. He then parked his bicycle and locked it and walked straight into the building while I followed from behind. When we reached the office, there were only two people sitting on their respective tables. When one of them saw grandpa, he rose and went straight to see grandpa. Then grandpa took out my birth certificate which grandma gave to him earlier at home and he pointed at me and the office worker looked at me too. He nodded and began to write something while holding to my birth certificate. Grandpa asked me to sit down on a chair not far away and I did as told, sitting quietly looking at the surroundings inside the office. After a few minutes the office worker stood up and gave grandpa a piece of paper together with my birth certificate. I guess business was over because grandpa asked me to follow him to his bicycle.

Upon reaching the bicycle he carried me to the steel bar and I sat on it and again holding the center of the bicycle’s handle and he began to peddle. Grandpa did not go home and instead he cycled into town which was nearby the school. I was amazed to see so many tall concrete buildings  (only two storeys) in rows and there were quite a number of people around. Around this place I noticed a number of cars all black in colours moving in both directions.

Then grandpa stopped at a shop selling satay. He carried me down, parked his bicycle and walked straight into the shop and I walked behind him. He went to a round table made of marble and sat down and showed me a chair beside him for me to sit down. An old Chinese man came and asked whether he could take our orders. Grandpa asked for a black coffee and asked me what would be my drink. I replied with a grin that I would like a cup of ‘Ovaltine’ because it tasted like chocolate. My head was slightly above the table and when my drink came, I could not drink properly and so I stood up to have my drink. Grandpa poured some onto the cup’s plate and gave it to me to drink while he kept on holding the plate. Then he asked the satay man to wrap some satay to bring home for grandma and the rest. When it was ready, the satay man came with some wrapped satay while the gravy was put inside a used condensed milk tin properly tied with a rope so that grandpa could carry it together with the wrapped satay. When we both finished our drinks we went straight home.

At home after we had our lunch grandma did the talking. She told me the building I went to with grandpa was the building of the school I would be attending to in two weeks’ time. In a day or two she said she would be going to town to buy my school uniform, a new rubber shoes and two pairs of white socks. After this she would tell me every day that I must learn as much as I could. I must learn how to write and read both in Jawi an Rumi. I must learn how to calculate numbers by heart. She would even tell me every night before I went to sleep and I could not escape her lecture because I slept with her.

A few days before school begun, a man came to our house looking for grandpa. His name was Malek. Grandpa then invited him in and asked grandma to look for me. I was running all over the house with my female cousins when grandma called me. As I entered I saw the man talking to grandpa and grandma introduced me to him. Pak Malek would be my beca (trishaw) man, ferrying me to school and to fetch me after school.

The first Sunday of January 1956 I started my first school day crying non-stop. From the moment I woke up, in the bathroom and while grandma was dressing me, I cried and cried. I would only stop crying when grandpa starred at me but he could not stare at me all the time and so every time he was not around I would resume my crying. Grandma gave me ten cents for me to spend at the tuck-shop.

It was almost 7.15am when Pak Malek arrived and I was still crying. Grandma brought me out of the house and we both went straight to the beca where Pak Malek was waiting. Inside the beca I saw another boy my age already seated inside the beca. I was still crying when I sat beside him and Pak Malek began peddling on my first journey to school. Along the way my crying began to subside and the new boy kept looking at me. When we arrived at the school I noticed there were many school children and some of them were bigger than me. Then I saw grandpa waiting at the entrance of the school. He had gone to the school earlier to check which class I would be attending to. Then he brought me to the classroom which was situated at the back of the building. Many boys of my age were already seated and some were wearing their songkok. Two or three boys were crying but by now I was not crying any more. Grandpa then told me to go to the entrance after the end of the school session and to look for Pak Malek and he left for home.

A few minutes later our class teacher arrived. His name was Cikgu Rahman Mahmood. He was wearing a white long sleeve shirt with a white trousers and a songkok. After introducing himself, he gave a very short speech about the importance of learning and the advantages of knowing how to read and write. Then he asked each of us to stand up one by one and to give our names after which he would write our names in a book that was on top of his table. I noticed a boy whom I used to see at our family functions named Shahroldin and later I found out that we were related.

Our first lesson was to know the Jawi alphabets which the teacher wrote down on the blackboard. He would recite these alphabet and requested us to repeat them after him. It went on until the bell rang for a short recess. All of us then went to the tuck-shop to have our meal. I bought a plate of mi goreng and a glass of rose syrup that cost five cents. After my meal I walked around alone looking at the new environment I be must accustomed to for the next eleven months. The bell rang again and we all went back to our class to resume our learning. This time Cikgu Rahman taught us the Rumi alphabets. The class ended at around twelve thirty and I ran straight to the school entrance looking for Pak Malek. When he saw me he waved at me and I ran straight to his beca. The boy who was in the same beca this morning came running towards us. We then went back home sending me first.

At home I was like a celebrity. Everyone was looking for me to find out how was school. I told them that the building of the school was taller than the coconut trees. I told them that I now knew the alphabets of both the Jawi and Rumi and when they asked me to recite the alphabets, I told them that they had to go to the school to find out when actually I had forgotten. After school my life became vibrant running around the house with my female cousins of my age only to be sad again the next morning.

For the next few days or more I would cry every day before going to school and was a real nuisance. The boy who sat beside me in the beca must have thought the same about me. I would cry even inside the beca and this boy would just stare at me. A few days later a girl joined us and the three of us became friends. I stopped crying because I was shy to cry in front of a girl. The three of us would talked and laughed  inside Pak Malek’s beca while he kept on peddling the beca happily. The boy’s name was Murad bin Hassan but I can’t remember the girl’s name.

Although I would cry every day before going to school, I was a different person at school. In fact I began to like many things while in school. In the beginning we did not have exercise books to write but were given writing tablets made of wood and a small blackboard for us to write on and we wrote by using white chalks. Only after one month we began writing on our exercise books.

Although we have quite a number of teachers, I can only remember one. Cikgu Rahman Mahmood was a good man who taught us with great patient and never scolded any of us. In later years, Cikgu Rahman became a politician and craved a name for himself in the history of Muar Umno. He stood as an Umno candidate in few general elections and became an assemblyman for his constituency. He was made a Dato by the Sultan of Johor and sometimes in the late 70s he became an Executive Committee (EXCO) of the State Government of Johor. I had the opportunity to meet him one night at an Umno function in Johor Bahru sometime in 1985. When I told him that he was my class teacher in 1956 at the Sekolah Bandar Maharani, he exclaimed, “Yes I was but you can still remember me after so many years?” I replied, “Teachers normally can’t remember their past students, but a student can remember a teacher particularly a good and kind teacher”.

As for Murad the boy who sat beside me in the beca, he was not long with the school as he had to follow his parents who moved to Johor Bahru. Later I was informed that Murad left for Australia to pursue his studies. His father became the first elected Menteri Besar of the State of Johor. He was Tan Sri Hassan bin Hj. Yunos and the state government honoured him by naming the Larkin Stadium of Johor Bahru as “Stadium Tan Sri Hassan Yunos”. Murad had a colourful life travelling around the world until finally he met his old JB sweetheart and they tied the knot.

My classmate in the class Shahroldin bin Ali who is related to me excelled extremely well in his later years and was made a Dato.

My beca man Pak Malek continued to ferry me to school and later in 1957 to my new primary school which was about four miles from home. When I was in Standard Four Pak Malek retired and after that I cycled to school.

Both Murad and Shahroldin are still among my best friends today. Whenever we meet, we will always remember those wonderful years when we had no worries and life was so simple. As we grow older, we realize how precious life was then but we had no regrets; we spent those wonderful years with great happiness.

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PUBLICATION OF PAGES FROM MY PAST 2

My book Pages From My Past was published on the 24th November 2013. It was well received and many have expressed their satisfaction after reading it. We hope to have our third printing soon.

We are now preparing to publish the sequel Pages From My Past 2. We are making every effort to have the second book much better than the first. We are targeting to have the book launched before the year end.

Hope to receive your continued support.

Thank you.

 

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THE HARI RAYA HAJI

Selamat Hari Raya Haji

Young kids of my growing years knew not the significance of celebrating another day known to us then as Hari Raya Haji. We only knew a number of things about our religion and the celebration that went along with it. We knew because we heard all these from the elders of our family but we knew not the significance of celebrating them. We knew why we celebrated the Hari Raya Puasa because God said you could now celebrate after having fasted for one whole month. We also knew that the Hari Raya Haji was meant for people who had gone to Mecca and they became a “Haji” upon their return. But others especially young kids could celebrate as well. What became even more interesting about this celebration was our town mosque would be slaughtering some cows and the meat of these cows would be given away for free. On the morning of this day, they would cook a special dish called Nasi Briyani Gam served on a dulang to be shared with four persons. And now the Hari Raya Haji was approaching and we all looked forward to celebrate this day.

The atmosphere of this special day in my hometown of Muar during the fifties was as enjoyable as celebrating the Hari Raya Puasa. The most best part of the Hari Raya Haji was we need not fast like the one month of Ramadan. So whenever my grandma baked some cookies, we could eat some of them immediately after they had been baked and it was truly delicious. In a few days time we would be celebrating the Hari Raya Haji and kids like me looked forward for another special day in our life.

Grandpa had by now mowed the lawn surrounding our house while grandma was busy washing and cleaning the curtains hung at most windows of the house. Believe it, we had eighteen windows on the upper floor of the house not counting those on the ground floor. Most Malay houses of my growing years would be a two storey wooden bungalow that stood on a concrete beam and at the front would be concrete stairs of semi spiral in design. Depending on the height of the ground concrete beam, some houses would have a room or two at the front ground floor and a small living room. For Hari Raya Haji we need not change a new curtain because it was recently changed during the last Hari Raya Puasa. Every part of the house would be clean, even the drains would be free from any debris.

The food to be prepared was quite like those we had during the last Hari Raya Puasa and so a bullock cart would soon arrive to deliver the chopped rubber woods. During every festivals, we needed lots of chopped rubber woods for cooking purposes like boiling the ketupat, cooking the beef rendang and the main gravy for the Laksa Johor. The area around our kitchen would be like a mini carnival with the womenfolk moving about doing the necessary responsibilities. The only difference was they could eat and drink while executing their roles.

Grandpa was not a Haji but he had many friends who were Hajis and they would be referred to as Tuan Haji before their names while the women would be Puan Hajjah. But kids like me would call them Pak Aji and Mak Aji respectively.

Two houses away from our house was a house belonging to Mak Aji Yang, an elderly widow whose granddaughter named Nora lived with her. Being a Mak Aji, she would be celebrating the Hari Raya Haji and so many of her grown up children would be returning home to celebrate with her. They would bring along their children too and one of them of my age I remember was Ghazali Abu Bakar. His parents stayed in Batu Pahat and every time his parents came to visit Mak Aji Yang, Ghazali would come along too and he would look for me and we became good friends for a short while.

On the morning of Hari Raya Haji in 1957 when I was seven years old, I woke up very early and headed straight to the bath room. Grandma was already dressed while grandpa was ready with his baju Melayu to go to the town mosque for the morning congregation prayer. It was still dark but the rickshaw man named Pak Malek had already arrived to bring grandma and me to the ‘Bakri Batu Satu’ Muslim burial ground. She had been bringing me to this place ever since I was as young as three years old. Later I found out that grandma was not my mother and my real mother had died and she was buried at this burial ground. Since I never knew her, I have always treated grandma as my mother.

Upon our return to the burial ground, I had a small breakfast of Ketupat Lodeh and saved my empty stomach for the nasi briyani gam that would be served at the town mosque. By now the radio could be heard the chanting of the praises of God throughout our neighbourhood. This morning I would take a walk to the town mosque together with my neighbour Othman, a boy my age. It was almost 9.00am when we started walking. We used the back lane of my house passing through the house of my granduncle Talib bin Haji Taib. As we passed the house, some of my relatives noticed me and they all asked the same question; Din, nak pegi masjid ke? (Din, are you going to the mosque). I just grinned and nodded at the same time showing off my baju Melayu of sparkling green in colour. I had my polished pair of shoes on which grandma bought for me during the last Hari Raya Puasa. The house was fronting ‘Jalan Ibrahim’ and from here we walked towards the junction of ‘Jalan Khatib’. Many people were seen walking towards the town mosque and we assumed that all had the same idea; to have a great taste of the nasi briyani gam. From ‘Jalan Khatib’ we walked straight to the town mosque. By now the compound of the mosque was already filled with people with their colourful baju Melayu and of course with their songkok on. The congregation prayer had just ended and so it was time to fill their empty stomachs.

Few cows and goats were seen tied on a field behind the mosque. Othman and me went straight to where the nasi briyani gam was served. There was a long queue of about five to six lanes leading to the big burning pots filled with nasi briyani gam.

Nasi Briyani Gam has its origin in Pakistan as many believed. It must be cooked using a special rice called Beras Briyani in those days which is Beras Basmati today. First they would put in the special rempah to the boiling oil inside the big metal pot. After a few minutes, the meat would be thrown inside the boiling rempah and in most cases they would use mutton. After a while, boiled eggs would join in and finally the rice. When it was about to be cooked, the fire would have to be put off leaving only the burnt charcoal to provide the heat. They would then place a white cloth on top of the big pot to let the aroma stay inside the pot. So Nasi Briyani Gam is cooked together with the rice, meat and eggs.

Before joining the queue, we got ourselves a dulang and headed straight to the end of the line. Some people including kids had already enjoying their meal sitting cross-legged under the big trees surrounding the mosque. The women had theirs at the other section of the mosque. When our turn finally arrived, we just held on to our big dulang and the nasi briyani gam was poured onto it together with some portions of the cooked mutton and four eggs. They were very generous by giving us many big portions of the mutton. As a dulang was meant for four persons, we invited two other boys to join us and the four of us had a great feast.

While enjoying our indulgence, I noticed the slaughtering of the cows and goats had already begun. As I was too sacred to see the slaughtering process, we only went nearer when it was time to collect our free meat.

Walking home after such a great feast was tedious. We walked very slowly and had to stop for a while to catch our breath. When we passed my granduncle’s house, it was already filled with so many of my relatives and some noticed me and called out, Wah Din dah kenyang makan nasi briyani kat masjid (Wah, Din is already full having nasi briyani at the mosque). Again I just grinned and nodded and at the same time showing off the free meat I carried in my hand. They invited me to come later for lunch and I would go together with grandma.

Othman bade farewell when we reached his house and I proceeded home alone, a walking distance of hardly a minute. Upon reaching home I went straight onto the ambin and laid down messaging my bulging stomach after which I dozed off.

Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Adha to all my Muslim readers.

 

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PICKING UP THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

English languageI was brought up in a Malay society and obviously the Malay language was the only language I spoke and understood. Although at seven years old I started to learn the English language and began to write and speak the language, it was only done in school. The Sekolah Ismail School Two was an English medium situated about four miles from where I lived. My Standard One teacher was a young Chinese lady I remember only as Miss Lim. It was only after a week when things began to fall into place that we only begun to write and speak in the English language. There were very few subjects; Nature Study, Arithmetic, Geography, English, Malay, Art and Singing. The year was 1957.

When Miss Lim started her class, she conducted everything in the English language and that made all of us hardly understood every word she spoke. So whenever she asked any one of us in the English language, we could only smile with some showing off their missing front teeth. She needed to translate some of her questions in the Malay language for us to understand. Most of the students were Malays, some Chinese and very few Indian students. Because of the breakdown in communication, we mingled around only with our kind. But most Chinese and Indian students could speak in the Malay language and they would talk to the Malay students in Malay. By the middle of the year, we began to understand some simple English words and we would communicate with our Chinese and Indian friends in English but we still spoke the Malay language among our Malay friends.

The subject I liked most was Nature Study. It would always begin with Today is Sunday. (The first day for the state of Johor). The sun is shining. It is a sunny day. Then we had to draw that sunny day. In most cases, there would be a mountain at the background and the sun just above the mountain. There would be two or three coconut trees and some birds with a V signs. Beneath the mountain would be the river. The sun would be a round ball with orange colour and surrounded by its rays. The next day we learned another sentence; Today is Monday.

Obviously if it was raining, it would be Today is a rainy day. And if we noticed the sun was blocked by the clouds it would be Today is a cloudy day. Of course we had to draw a rainy and a cloudy day. At home I would tell grandma and our maid-servant what I learned in school.

Counting numbers wasn’t that difficult but when we had to do it in the English language, that made the Arithmetic a difficult subject. First we had to count the numbers from one to ten followed by the “teens’ up to twenty. Adding, subtracting, multiplication and division sometimes confused us. Those days we used the phrase “take away” and not “minus” for subtracting, perhaps it was descriptive. And for multiplication we used the word “times”. The most difficult was dividing numbers making most of us blinked for few seconds. Miss Lim was a very patient teacher and she would always give us a helping hand whenever we got stuck somewhere.

Our English teacher was a middle-aged Chinese man I remember only as Mr. Yap. A very tolerant person, he would always give us time to think before giving any answer. Whenever we gave wrong answers, he would encourage us to think again saying the answer was not right and requested that we took our time before answering. In most cases we never managed to correct our wrong answers simply because we knew not. So Mr. Yap would correct it for us.

Suleiman was a frail boy with such an innocent face. Timid and very quiet, he would only talk when asked. One day in one of our English classes, he was asked by Mr. Yap about his father, his occupation and how old was he? Suleiman was suffering from speech impediment and would remain silent whenever he found so difficult to begin a sentence. Another of his problem was the pronunciation; he could not pronounce words that began with “F” and words that used “th“.

“Suleiman, what is your father’s name, and what is his occupation?” asked Mr. Yap pointing his index finger at Suleiman giving him a shock like a thunderbolt passing through his nervous system.

Suleiman stood and looked at Mr. Yap meekly, then slowly answered, “My pader name Mahmood.” Mr. Yap smiled at Suleiman and walked slowly towards him and said, “Father, not Pader”. Can you try now?”

“Pader”, answered Suleiman again and this time he was visibly shaken. It was very natural for boys of seven years old to tremble whenever faced with an English teacher. He looked at his teacher with fright but Mr. Yap being such a nice person consoled him amicably and finally said it was alright for Suleiman to pronounce father as pader, but emphasized on the apostrophe “s” after the word father.  At seven years old, the word occupation was very alien to us and so Mr. Yap had to explain what it meant. Suleiman told the class that his father was working in a very big building situated right besides the Muar River..My pader go opes…opes besar kat laut.

Chinese students too found difficulty to grasp the language at an early age. While Malay students could not pronounce any word beginning with an “F” replacing with a “P”, most Chinese students pronounced any word beginning with an “R” glaringly different replacing it with an “L”.  So Muar River would be Muar Liber.

“Kok Chai”, where is the central market of our town?”, Mr. Yap had once asked Chong Kok Chai in one of our English classes. Lanky and quite tall for a seven year old boy, Kok Chai stood up confidently and answered, “Near de liber”(Near the river). No matter how glaringly wronged was the pronunciation, we never laughed because we were no better.

Indian students somehow had a better grip of the English language. Some say because the Tamil language is quite difficult that learning other languages is easier. But most Indian students of my early schooling days had their share of different pronunciation; they could not pronounce “V” which they would pronounce as “W”. Thus ‘vehicle‘ became ‘wehicle‘.

By the time we were in Standard Three, our English improved but not tremendously. In class we would converse in English only with our non-Malay friends and maintained talking with our mother tongue with those of our kind. We spoke broken English but understood pretty well by our listeners. Our vocabulary improved and we learned new words everyday.

It was in 1959 when I was in Standard Three that I joined a group of students to watch a religious epic movie called “The Ten Commandments”. It was organized by our school and the movie was screened at the newly built cinema called The Cathay Cinema. Each one of us had to pay sixty cents and not many students could afford it at that time. When I told grandpa about it, he encouraged me to watch the movie because it was about a prophet named Musa (Moses) and so he gladly gave me the money. We watched the movie on a Saturday morning and was attended by some other students from other schools as well. In spite of watching a movie on a Saturday morning which was a holiday, our school insisted that we wore our school uniform and likewise we noticed other students from other schools wore their own school uniform too.

We were so excited to watch an English movie because most of the movies we watched were Malay movies where we could understand every word spoken. And it was more interesting because it was a coloured movie while most Malay movies were in black and white. Going to a movie was a real treat in those days. We had no television then, in fact we had never heard of anything like a television. It was unthinkable for a square box to produce pictures that could move like in a movie.

The show started at around 9am and when the credits were rolling, all of us watched the screen with great excitement. We knew not a word what they were talking about but we enjoyed watching how Moses built the pyramid and the most intriguing part was when Moses parted the Red Sea. All of us had our mouth wide open enjoying many exciting scenes and when the Pharoah’s men were drowned, all of us were so happy because these bad people were finally defeated.

At home I told the story to my cousins of my own version and with so many exaggeration. The next day at school during our English lesson, Mr. Yap questioned us about the movie.

“Tan Swee Kang, tell us which part of the movie you liked best?” asked Mr. Yap to Tan who sat at the front row. Confidently he stood up and said, “I like the one when he make the sea open”. Then he continued, “I think he got magic one because he can also make the liber red colour.” And all of us agreed.

When we were in Standard Six, we could converse quite well although still used  some broken English but our listeners always understood what we said. We could even write short essays and our grammar was much better. Although our written grammar was quite alright, we still spoke the English language with many wrong grammar. When we watched English movies at the cinema, we still could not grasp what they were talking about and after the show we would always speculate what the movie was all about and how the hero ended being victorious.

For me I was beginning to learn more of the language. At home I would read the daily newspaper The Straits Times. As I liked reading stories, I spent quite sometime at home reading all the readable books and many were those written by Enid Blyton especially about the Famous Five.

It was in Standard Six that I befriended a Chinese boy my age who became my close friend. Eddie lived along Jalan Majidee quite near the Muar High School and he would cycle to my house everyday and from here we both cycled to our school of approximately four miles. We conversed in the English language and perhaps this made my spoken English quite fluent as months passed by. Apparently he was my classmate and we would go to the tuck shop together and sometime when I brought some food from home, I would share the food with him eating under a tall tree besides the football field of our school. So every moment I was with him, I would speak in the English language and whether some of our spoken English had some grammatical error was not much of a concern to both of us for as long as we understood each other. Eddie is still my very close friend till today.

In 1963 I was admitted to Form One of the Muar High School. Our class teacher was a chubby Chinese man I remember only as Mr. Quek. Whenever he was not around, I would always invite some friends to sing a famous P. Ramlee’s song Quek Mambo. One day as I was singing the song, Mr. Quek suddenly entered the class as he had forgotten something. As he entered the class, he saw me dancing and singing the song and just stood and observed me. When I turned towards him, I was shocked to see Mr. Quek smiling at me and requested me to go to the front of the class. Then he asked me, “I heard my name being mentioned in the song. Are you making fun of my name?” All the students in the class laughed at me. I explained to him I was only singing a famous P. Ramlee’s song that happened to have his name…Quek Mambo. Then he asked the class whether I was telling the truth and the whole class said, “yes”. He just smiled at me and said, “I never knew my name would be in a P.Ramlee’s song.

Our English teacher was an Indian man named Mr. Subramaniam. He wore a very thick glasses and taught us the English language until we reached Form Three. He taught us how to use the correct grammar and how to construct a good sentence. One day he asked us to read any book as long as it was in English as he had to go to the toilet for a while. I read my history book while some others read the geography books and some other English books. There was one boy whose name was Othman Sinapon who read a dictionary. When Mr. Subramaniam returned, he was quite pleased to notice all of us reading until he noticed Othman reading a dictionary. He went besides Othman and said to all of us, “Boys, our friend here is reading a dictionary.” Othman was shocked and closed the dictionary immediately. Mr. Subramaniam took the dictionary only to find a comic in the middle of the dictionary and Othman had to pay a price attending a detention class the following Saturday.

Mr. Subramaniam was a fine English teacher who taught us many English phrases and how to use them in our essay. He encouraged us to read a lot of English novels, literature books and suggested that we get all these books from the town library. I took heed of his encouragement and began to read a few English books that I borrowed from the town library. From these books I learned many words by referring to the dictionary. By and by my English improved tremendously and since then I never failed in my English examination.

When I was in Form Four our English teacher was a Chinese lady I remember only as Miss Wong. She was another teacher that contributed greatly to my improvement and I began to read more books recommended by her. Once she suggested that we read books written by William Shakespear and when I caught hold of some of the books written by him, I was not too keen to continue. It was like reading a poem, something that I did not quite like. So I continued reading novels and by this time I read novels about love, intriguing tales of mysterious happenings and even some ghost stories. My favourite author was Harold Robbins.

Miss Wong continued teaching us in Form Five and by then my spoken English was considered good and she always commended on some of my essays to the other students and I was extremely proud. But I did not do well in other subjects especially Physics simply because our teacher was an American Peace Corp who spoke like John Wayne. His American accent was too deep that at the end of every Physics lesson I understood not a word of what he had been talking about. As a result I failed miserably in this subject.

Looking back, I am grateful to all these teachers who had contributed greatly to my achievement. All these teachers taught me one common factor that I follow till this day. Do not write to impress others, write to entertain your readers and in doing so your readers will eventually appreciate your works. There is no point in using difficult words just to show off because there may be some of these words used do not fit in correctly to the sentence.

I am glad I took heed of their advice. My first book “Pages From My Past” published in 2013 was well received and most of the readers that I met told me how much they loved reading my book; so simple and easy to understand. Learning is never an ending story, for as long as we live, we have to keep on learning. But my book would not have been better if not because of my editor who happened to be my cousin; Zuraidah Omar. She has a better grasp of the English language and in fact I learned quite a lot as a result of her editing.

Memories are always wonderful moments to be shared as we grow older. I have so many wonderful memories and I thank God for giving me such a good memory because from all these memories stored in my mind, it gives me great pleasure to share them with you.

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THE MUAR TANJUNG BOYS

Muar boys during my growing years were quite cliquish and only flocked among their own sets of friends. It was only after our Form Four of our schooling years that we began to have more friends outside our fraternity. We were identified according to the housing areas where we stayed; thus we had the Jalan Daud Boys, the Jalan Bakri Boys, the Jalan Salleh Boys, the Jalan Suleiman Boys and of course the Tanjung Boys one of whom was me. The Tanjung area was quite a big area stretching from Jalan Joned towards the west coast up to the whole stretch of Jalan Khalidi. Even within our own area of Tanjung, we were fragmented into smaller groups and would only mixed with those we thought would be our suitable friends. In this article I would like to introduce my close friends many among them were the Tanjung Boys.

“Din, its almost time. Let’s go to my house”, Mohd. Shah said to me while we were singing some Beatles songs inside my bedroom. Sometimes he would borrow his brother’s scooter just to fetch me and we would rendezvous around Tanjung before stopping at his house for a short conversation before the approach of dusk. Mohammad Shah is the second son of the late Tun Suleiman Ninam Shah and was among my best friends during our growing years in Muar town. His elder brother Kadar Shah (Dato) was close to my elder brother Farouk as they were of the same age.

Mohd. Shah was a good looking young lad and always smartly dressed but quite mischievous in his own ways. Once I was in bed during a fasting month feeling like as though the world was about to crumble anytime, Mohd. Shah came and asked me whether I was fasting? Having received a weak answer from me, he disappeared for a while until half an hour later he came back with two packets of mi bandung and two bottles of sarsi. “Are you still fasting?” asked Mohd, Shah as he opened the packet right in front of my eyes. I just nodded looking at the other packet like a hungry dog that had not eaten for days. “Well, in that case let me just eat. Help yourself with the other packet in case you change your mind”, sneered Mohd. Shah as he began to enjoy his indulgence. Before he could gulp the first helping, I had already reached the other packet. “What the heck, I might as well join you”, I said to him and we both had such a wonderful treat. That’s how mischievous he was during our growing years.

It was almost late evening and the best time to be sitting at the front portion of his house. We would always do this every time there was a sport rehearsal at the Sekolah Abu Bakar Girls School (SABGS) because when the girls returned from their training, the wandering eyes of the boys nearby would be like the eyes of wolves gazing at the sheep in the open field. These girls would be in their shorts, cycling in every direction towards their homes. By then many boys had taken their respective positions to enjoy a good view. Mohd. Shah’s house was right in front of the SABGS and that was such a good ‘prime’ location to watch the girls passing by. When we arrived at his house, there were already some other boys who obviously had the same idea as we did. Sahak Doktor, Ajis Mak Enggor, Yem Seh Samin, Man Tobing and of course Mohd. Shah’s younger brother Zainal (Known in Muar town of my time as Zenal Datuk). They had already taken the best position to view the passing of these girls when the time came. Of course some of them would be smoking, and we would normally share a stick of cigarette with one another. Cigarettes those days would cost forty cents for a packet of ten sticks and our favourite brand was Players Gold Leaf.

It was 1965 and we were in our early teens and had already begun to emulate our western idols of Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard and now the Beatles. The way we dressed changed  drastically from those worn by our parents and it was suddenly a new element creeping into our society. The hair style was first followed the way Elvis and Cliff combed their hair  but now many youths preferred the Beatles mop hairstyle because that was the latest trend. Those with curly hair cursed the day they were born. In spite of the Beatles crazed championed by our fraternity, Mohd. Shah never seemed to prefer that mop hair style and stick to his own style of clean right side parting. However, he was quite adaptable to the way the Beatles dressed themselves; very neat compared to the other pop British stars like the Rolling Stone, that was what he thought. So he would wear the boots of the Beatles and would boast to whomever he met about how John Lennon’s boots looked exactly like the ones he was wearing.

Ajis Mak Enggore and Yem Seh Samin were playing their guitars while Sahak Doktor sang “Yesterday” and he would always be seen standing whenever lending his voice. They were killing their time while waiting for the girls to pass by from their sporting rehearsal. When both Mohd. Shah and I approached them, Sahak Doktor had just finished the last line of “Yesterday”. Yem Seh Samin handed me the acoustic girl which we called gitar tong requesting me to play alongside Ajis. I started to strum the song “I saw her standing there” and the rest sang wildly with their out of tune voices. Quite a few were tone deaf but we always enjoyed whenever we sang together. Some danced like the way Paul McCartney did and obviously shaking their heads and shouting yeah yeah yeah. It was just to attract attention to some girls who had begun cycling home. When the hour arrived, we sang even louder with our hands waving at these girls who would just giggled as they cycled passed the area. Of course there could also be heard the whistling tunes of various melody. However, few girls were unfazed at our antics and would just pass by showing off their grim faces cycling straight faced like as though a steam-roller was heading towards their direction.

Another spot where we would gather in the evening to watch the girls passing by was at the tembok of my house and the most familiar faces would be again Sahak Doktor, Salleh Uzir, my close two buddies Halim Bond and Yem, Ajis Mak Enggor, Mene (Zakariah Lamdin) my neighbour and Mohammad Adib. During our growing years, Mohd. Adib was the quietest of the lot and would seldom talk unless when asked. He is a relative of mine whose mother was well known in Muar town as Mak Gayah Robensen. In his later years, Mohd. Adib transformed himself into a great “casanova” with many girlfriends to his list.

Sometime we would sit at the tembok of Halim’s house quite a near distance from mine. Halim was of a different breed and never showed any interest in girls. Like Mohd. Shah, Halim too was not too excited about the latest trend of the mop hair style. He would still prefer the hair style of James Bond his most impeccable idol earning him the title of Halim Bond. Even when he began to learn more about girls, Halim would not take any initiative to attract attention until finally he met a Chinese girl from Johor Bahru and made her his wedded wife. They had one girl named Nurul Huda and she became the only female in his life.

No matter how good these spots were to watch the girls passing by, nothing could match the area around Tanjung. Muar town of my days could not offer much exciting places other than the cinemas and some famous restaurants and so in the evening, Tanjung was the beacon. With tall causarinas standing stoutly by the roadside, these trees would always provide the best shade at every hour of the day. In the evening when the wind began to blow, the branches would dance gracefully to the breezy tune. When the sun began to slowly set at the western horizon, Muar youths would flock to the tip of the cape and enjoy every moment time could spare. Girls would cycle in groups passing by the narrow lane along the shores and the boys would not waste a moment to please their wandering eyes. The famous Tanjung boy of my days was none other than Jaafar Beatle. He earned the nickname simply because of his Beatles hairdo resembling that of Ringo Starr. There would not be a day at Tanjung without Jaafar Beatle strolling along. Because of his craze and trying very much to emulate Ringo, he learned enthusiastically to beat the drums and eventually became a drummer in one of the bands in Muar town. Jaafar had a good friend who would always be seen walking with him and because he was so smartly dressed, we called him “Yem Smart”.

Salleh Uzir was one name Muar boys of my time will never forget. He was the only boy who wore glasses and in those days when young boys wore glasses, we would always think they were very bright and studious. But Salleh made us changed that perception. Born to a well-to-do parents, it was unfortunate for him that they were divorced and he was looked after by his grandparents who were apparently quite a rich couple with few rented properties in town. He was perhaps the only boy in town who would always have himself a girlfriend and he kept changing them. At the same time, Salleh was the richest of the lot who would always have with him no less than fifty dollars whenever we went outing. Fifty dollars of my time would make you a King. Once I asked him how he could get such a big allowance from his grandparents, he answered saying that he stole it from his grandma’s coffer. Salleh was a good dancer and perhaps the reason why he could always get himself a girlfriend. Whenever we went to the Chuan Lee restaurant situated at the front of the Victory Cinema, we would flocked at the jute-box and played the latest of Chubby Checker’s the Limbo Rock. Immediately as the song began, Salleh would exhibit his skill of the Limbo Rock going lower and lower while all of us would form a circle clapping our hands much to his delight. He was a good singer too and would always lend his voice in any function we had and his favourite song would be “Don’t Play that Song” by Keith Locke and the Quest.

Another great character was my close friend Amir, known in Muar town of my growing years as Amir Maksom, Muar’s Chubby Checker. He was another great dancer and would always compete with Salleh Uzir. As his nickname suggested, he was obviously the best when it came to the twist dance. But what intrigued us all was his near resemblance of Chubby Checker, the creator of the Twist and the Limbo Rock.

Sahak Doktor was in fact technically my uncle (He was my mum’s first cousin). His father the late Dr, Hamzah Hj. Taib was the first Malay Doctor in the state of Johor. Sadly his father passed away at a fairly young age when Sahak was about eight or nine years old. It was on one Talent Time show held at the hall of the Muar High School that he wore his father’s overcoat earning him the title of Sahak Doktor. Another good singer within our group, he was frequently in my room singing while strumming my acoustic guitar.

Sahak was madly in love with a Tanjung girl whose name I would not mention. When she got married to someone else, Sahak was deeply depressed and decided to leave town. Indeed he did. With just a few hundred dollars in his pocket, he landed himself on a ship going to India and from there he hitch-hiked and miraculously reached Zurich. He stayed in Switzerland for a long time working for a fairly small cafe and later learned himself how to bake cakes. Upon returning home, he worked with the MAS catering in the early eighties. So if any of you were in a MAS flight during that period, the bread or cakes you were served could be those baked by Sahak Doktor.

Mustaffa Cliff Richard was another close friend of mine. One would wonder how did he earn the nickname knowing that he could not sing and not a single feature of his face resembled that of Cliff Richard. It was apparently he idolized Cliff so much and even had a small picture of Cliff Richard stick to his bicycle license’ frame that we decided to call him by that name.

It would be a long list if I were to include every single friend of mine who resided within the Tanjung vicinity. Every one of them had their own ways of growing up and some made it greatly in their later lives. Those wonderful days are gone but what stay with me are those many memories of living among the many Tanjung Boys of my growing days. Some of them have left this world while few others are still living only to remind themselves of how wonderful life was in the sixties.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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OBSERVING THE FASTING MONTH #1

“I am going to complete my fasting at least for fifteen days”, I told Kak Fuzi as we were sitting at the tembok of our house but she was more adamant than me and telling me she was going to complete the whole month. I was seven years old and she was eight, ready to embark on a tedious journey of refraining ourselves from eating and drinking during the day. The Muslim month of Ramadan was just a day or two away and we had many plans for this important month. We even had bigger plans for the coming festival of Hari Raya, which would be immediately after the completion of the month of Ramadan.

The fasting month of Ramadan in Muar town was such a happy month for many of us and it was a happy month because we looked forward for the approach of the Hari Raya festival. And ten days before Hari Raya, the whole neighbourhood would be lighted with the oil lamps we called lampu likur. But the best part was all the ghosts would be chained and we would be very free walking around the neighbourhood without having any fear of encountering with any ghostly figure; that was what the elders among us had told us.

The four of us were sitting at the tembok of our grandparents’ house and it was almost 8.30pm. Kak Shidah and her two younger sisters were my best friends during our growing years. She was ten years old and I was seven while the other two younger sisters Kak Arah and Kak Fuzi were eight and nine years old respectively. Tonight we were given an important assignment; to wait for the sound of the siren from the town mosque which was situated along the Muar River. Our house was along Jalan Omri, not too far from the town mosque and we could hear clearly every time the azan was called. Everybody had speculated that tomorrow would be the beginning of the fasting month and it would be confirmed upon hearing the sound of the siren.

Grandma had cooked extra tonight in anticipation if tomorrow would begin the beginning of the fasting month. If the siren was heard, then we had to have our predawn meal before we began fasting, the reason she had cooked extra. We were so excited, planning what to eat for the first day of our buka puasa (breaking of fast) and the type of drinks we would wish to drink. And not forgetting the various kind of Malay delicacies.

While we were absorbed in our ‘serious’ conversation, the siren from the town mosque was heard. Without looking at each other, we ran straight home and so fast that we could easily be qualified to participate in the school’s hundred meters sprint. The sisters ran to their house which was just a few steps away while I ran straight home to inform grandma. The whole neighbourhood was so excited that we could hear their shouts, the din slightly lesser than the shouts when our team scorer scored a goal against our competitor. The kids our age were dancing and shouting yeah besok puasa, besok puasa (Yeah, tomorrow is a fasting day).

It was now almost 9.00pm and we decided to retire to bed early because by 4.00am, we needed to wake up for our predawn meal.

At seven years old, I no longer slept with grandma. I was now a room mate to my uncle Wak Jis who was five years my senior. He was still not home when I was in bed because he had gone to the mosque to perform the terawih prayer. On normal night after dinner, he would meet his friends around the neighbourhood and would return home by 10.00pm. Every time when he was away with his friends, I would sleep alone and would always find difficulty to sleep because my mind was absorbed with few ghosts looking at me. But tonight I had no worries because these ghosts had by now being chained and the whole town was free from ghosts. What a wonderful month this Ramadan was.

THE FIRST DAY

“Din, bangun sahur”. (Din, wake up for sahur). It was Wak Jis waking me up but I thought it was only a dream and so I continued my sleep. Then I heard it again and this time I could even feel someone shaking my body. This time it was grandma and Wak Jis and the rest of the family were on the dining table having their sahur. “Lekas bangun, waktu sahur nak habis” (Wake up now, the sahur time is about to end), grandma said to me perhaps already more than ten times. I woke up and went straight to the bathroom to wash my fash and then to the kitchen where the dining table was where everyone was almost finished. I was half asleep and could not even sit straight. It was only after we heard some recitation of the Quranic verses from the town mosque that I began to eat.

Back on my bed and my mind was beginning to worry about tomorrow. I had never tried fasting the whole day and this time at seven years old, grandma insisted that I have to complete the whole day. In the past I fasted only for half a day, breaking my fast at twelve noon. That wasn’t too bad because I could spend most of my time sleeping and waking up at twelve noon to break my half day of fasting. But tomorrow I couldn’t do that because I had to refrain from eating and drinking for the whole day. All the excitement just last evening had by now turned into a terrible problem.

It was almost 9.00am when I woke up. It was a school holiday and like any normal day, waking up was full of thrilling and interesting events I normally would have planned before retiring to bed. But this morning it was so quiet and nothing seemed to be moving. Suddenly my stomach began to feel so hungry but I knew there wasn’t anything much I could do and so I just lay down and killed some time before taking my bath. What a dull day this was going to be.

It was almost 11.00am when I finally woke up from bed and I went straight to the bathroom. My stomach was beginning to make some noise and longing for food. When I turned on the pipe, the water flowing from its mouth looked so fresh and pure tempting me to break my fast. The joyful spirit that had been built since yesterday evening suddenly turned pale and lifeless. But somehow I managed to fight the terrible temptation and showered me with the cool water from the tempayan. What a good feeling. I spent about twenty minutes in the bathroom spoiling myself with the cool tempayan water. On normal days, it would take me hardly five minutes in the bathroom.

I was now fully dressed and not knowing what to do. The wall clock hung near the staircase was showing almost twelve in the afternoon. I sat down at the dinning table, placed my two hands on it and adjusted my head onto my two arms and tried to sleep. Every time when grandma passed by, I pretended to be like I was almost dead hoping that she might suggest that I break my fast but she never did. My eyes kept watching the wall clock but somehow I thought it was not functioning at all; its two hands did not seem to move, not a bit. Perhaps it would be good if I looked for my Beano and Dandy comics to pass the time.

I went to my room walking so slowly looking for my comics collection and took three or four from the collection which was stacked at the corner of my bed. I never read my school books before retiring but instead I would always enjoy reading my comics. As I browsed through the pages, I noticed the cartoon of Desperate Dan eating a huge Cow Pie and the way he was enjoying his meal made my saliva dripped from my mouth like a mini waterfall. On the next page was another cartoon eating a piece of chocolate cake and I thought that was it. I threw the comics on to the bed and walked back to the dining table. The wall clock surely must not be functioning because it was still showing twelve noon. By now my stomach was making bigger noise like as though something inside was about to crumble. Mak Yang the maid-servant noticed the frailness in me and consoled me to endure this task as the hour of breaking the fast was now near. She must be blind, I thought to myself. It was only twelve o’clock and I had to endure another seven more hours to break my fast. My eyelids began to move lower and lower but yet I could not sleep. I went to the bathroom and washed my face and every time I watched the water running from the tap built up my urge to break my fast. Every one in the house was moving around like nothing bad was happening and here I was feeling almost dead.

I looked at the cement floor and it looked so cooling, so I decided to lay down and perhaps this could cool off my temptation of breaking my fast. I was lying with my eyes facing the ceiling and with my two hands wide open when grandma passed by and so I pretended to be like I could die if I prolonged by fast. But she passed by pretending not to notice. It was now almost half past twelve and the situation was not getting any better. Somehow I managed to doze off sleeping soundly on the cement floor.

It was Kak Fuzi who woke me up. Immediately I looked at the wall clock and it was showing almost two in the afternoon. Bangunlah, kata nak panjat pokok cherry? (Wake up, aren’t we supposed to climb the cherry tree?) continued Kak Fuzi. Yesterday we had planned to climb the cherry tree and pluck as many as we could to supplement for our breaking of fast. Suddenly she was a nuisance to me and I told her off, Tak mau lah. Kau gila ke, kan aku puasa ni (No, I am not going. Are you mad, can’t you see I am fasting). “Habis, kau ingat aku tak puasa ke?” (So, you think I am not fasting?), Kak Fuzi said. I kept quiet and slowly went back to sleep.

It was almost four in the afternoon when I woke up and the situation seemed to be improving. I could hear some noise coming from the kitchen and I stood up and went straight to the bathroom to wash my face. Once again the running water from the tap made me feel hungry even more. I splashed as much water as I could on my face to freshen up. In spite of having washed my face maybe more than ten times, the hunger in me became more serious. I was so weak that I felt I could not even walk another step.

In the past years I fasted for half a day. It began when I was five years old and grandma suggested that I should begin training myself before I could fast for one whole day. That wasn’t difficult and fasting for half a day, I could do it for the whole month. Now, the experience of fasting the whole day at the age of seven was such a torturous effort. Worse, the thought of having to fast for thirty days non-stop was something I could not accept. So I would fast only for fifteen days, at every alternate days. That was the agreement I had with grandma.

It was now 5.00pm and I had to go to the mamak shop just a junction away. Yesterday I had volunteered to grandma that I would always be available if she needed something at the mamak sundry shop. Well on this first day she needed quite a number of things; “A bottle of rose syrup, two tins of milk, a packet of paste dates (kurma), a small block of ice covered with saw dusts and some ingredients”. We had three bicycles at home but none belonged to me and every time when I needed to use one, I would just take the one nearest without asking from the owner; my uncles and an aunt.

Even cycling to the shop of just a junction away made me tire easily. The sun was shinning brightly heading slowly towards the western horizon. The evening was still and humid while no gush of wind was felt. They said on the first week of the fasting month it would always be very hot  and humid. God wanted to test the endurance of His servants, the elders among us had told us. It was now two hours away before I could break my fast and it was like waiting for another twelve hours.

At the mamak shop, some people had already lined up for their share of the small block of ice. To avoid the ice from melting, it had to be covered by lots of saw-dusts. We did not have any refrigerator at home what we Muarian Malays called gerobok air batu. While waiting for my turn for the ice, I bought the pasted dates and and all other items and ingredients required by grandma. This evening, grandma would be cooking bubur pulut hitam served as deserts after our dinner.

During the fasting month, most Malay houses would cook their choice of Malay delicacies more than they usually did. They would then distribute some to the neighbours and in return these neighbours would distribute theirs. Every time when we break our fast, the dining table would be filled with many delicacies cooked by the neighbours. We need not have the present day pasar ramadan to buy because the neighbours would be supplying us with all kinds of delicacies. The spirit of exchanging delicacies was an old tradition well preserved by the Malay community during the fasting month and the neighbours of my growing years adhered to this wonderful tradition.

By 6.00pm, although my whole body was so frail but my spirit improved because in just an hour away I would be breaking my fast. The three sisters came out from their house looking as frail as I was. The four of us sat at the tembok and discussed what would be our first choice of food when the hour approached. I had mine all lined up; three types of drinks…sirap bandung, air batu cincau, and air mata kucing. Then I would go for the delicacies followed by the usual rice. Grandpa and grandma would have a glass of water and some dates after which they would perform their maghrib prayers and would then have their rice for dinner. That was their routine during the fasting month. At seven years old, I was not required to perform my prayer, although grandma kept telling me to start my praying lesson.

It was now 6.45pm and just few more minutes to break our fast. I was the first to be at the dining table and kept looking at the wall clock situated near the dining area. The dining table would be filled one by one the cooking done for the day. The kitchen was busy with Mak Yang assisting grandma while aunt Mak Chu did some frying, the smell of the fishy aroma made my stomach quivered. While everyone was busy with their works, my eyes kept looking at the wall o’clock and I thought how slow the hands moved. By now my eyes were almost closed with my neck in a slanting position. Five more minutes to go and it was like five hours of waiting. I could not stand another minute and I thought I might die if it were another ten minutes. The nearer it got, the longer I thought it was and the hands of the wall clock did not seem to move at all. I looked at the three drinks in front of me and was ready to catch hold of one any moment now. Our Grundig radio was airing some Arabic songs while waiting for the announcement for the breaking of fast but our ears were more focused for the sound of the siren of the town mosque. It would be quite clear as the  distance from our house to the town mosque was not too far.

“Dah boleh buka dah” (You can now break your fast), grandma told me as the siren filled the air. Without hesitation I caught hold of the first glass of sirap bandung and gulped it within seconds followed by the second glass of air cincau. Grandma told me to have my drinks slowly but I couldn’t do that because I had been dreaming of these drinks since afternoon. When the third glass was due, I was already gasping for some air and managed to drink it slightly slower than the first two. When the three glasses were emptied, I could feel my bulging stomach and now I could not eat, even for a spoon of bubur pulut hitam.
My stomach was full of water and I could feel it. I took a rest and sat quietly at one corner while the rest of the family enjoyed their dinner after a long tiring day of fasting.

It was a good lesson though. I must learn to drink slowly after a long day of fasting. The older folks would tell you…nanti perut terperanjat.

The first night after I fasted was a happy night for two obvious reason. The first reason I completed my first day of fasting and that was a great achievement for boys my age; secondly the thought that tomorrow I would not be fasting. Grandma had agreed to my earlier suggestion that I would only fast every alternate days.

The first week of every bulan puasa was quite a dull week and as it began to gain momentum, the second week would become more lively. By now many of us would have had our baju melayu sent for sewing. In those days, we would normally sent our baju melayu for sewing. It would cost us Three to Five dollars per costume.

On the second day I did not fast and Kak Fuzi was not too happy and so together with Kak Arah, they would tease me with a simple poem…Puasa yang yok; Pagi pagi bukak periok. But I was not perturbed because I was going to enjoy my day of fasting eating as much as I could.

When the second week approached, many older boys ventured by playing meriam buloh (cannon made of bamboo). It was prohibited by the local police but these boys would always had their ways. Once Wak Jis and his friends played this meriam buloh behind our house. The bamboo was placed slanting like a cannon. At the bottom of the bamboo, they put some water and later some carbide after which the water with the carbide would be seen as though it was boiling. Then they used a long stick and at the end of the stick they had it lighted and placed the lighted end at the carbide. Immediately it would produce a sound…Booom. It could be very deafening and so before it was lighted, all of us would cover our ears. From afar, we could hear some other boys from the neighbouring areas also playing the meriam buloh. It was like as though we were in a combat with them. No later than five or six sound of the meriam buloh, suddenly we saw grandpa coming our way holding a long rattan. All of us scrambled to various directions finding our ways to escape the wrath of grandpa.

During the breaking of fast that evening, Wak Jis was missing and I was in my room too scared to face grandpa. He had told grandma that the next time he saw us playing the meriam buloh, he would call the police. From then on, we only played the meriam buloh somewhere else.

The fasting month was not just a month of trial of our faiths, but for the young boys and girls and the teenagers, it was a month of great fun.

Selamat Berpuasa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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