Remembering Kampung Melayu - October 2 2007
After Bapak was detained under ISA in 1976, the Singapore Government declared him persona non grata or an unwelcome person, for an indefinite period.
I think that was the first time I actually ever used the words.
To us, his status, in the eyes of the Singapore Government, did not quite matter because he could not have entered Singapore anyway while he was being incarcerated.
But we know that it represented a statement by Lee Kuan Yew.
After his release in 1981, he remained persona non grata for the next 10 years.
In 1990 (or 1991), he was recipient of the Asean Communication Award for Journalism.
However, he was unable to attend the award ceremony because of his "unwelcome status".
I believe the hosts were informed about this.
The following year, the Singapore Government withdrew his status. Perhaps, they were embarrassed. Perhaps not.
Coincidentally, around that time, Bapak was invited to attend a Writers' Week at the National University of Singapore.
He accepted the invitation.
Finally, after 16 years, he was allowed to set foot in Singapore.
He was now persona grata.
Naturally, news of his imminent visit to his land of birth drew excitement and joy.
His sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews, grandnieces grandnephews -- heck...maybe the entire Singapore Malay/Javanese community, possibly -- were abuzz.
Plans were being drawn up to welcome him at the airport, at Cik Ah's. There was going to be a grand reunion of family and old friends (and foes).
The prospect of going to Singapore and visiting his family and old friends was a personal celebration for Bapak.
While everyone was excited about this, we had to gently remind him that his siblings, close relatives and childhood and old friends were no longer living in Kampung Melayu but were scattered in the Bedok and neighbouring areas.
Kampung Melayu where his family home stood and where he grew up, was no more.
"Ya-kah?", was his response.
I cannot remember whether we ever discussed with Bapak the relocation of our relatives from Kampung Melayu to the new housing areas.
Perhaps Mak did when Cik Ah, Bapak's younger sister, informed her some time in the late 70s about the relocation of residents and the compensation for the land by the Singapore Government.
Kampung Melayu was de-gazetted for urban renewal to make way for the construction of the Pan-Island expressway.
But there was no expressway where Jalan Yahya, Jalan Abdullah, Jalan Embok Solok and Jalan Sudin stood. What I saw there years later were high-end apartment blocks.
Cik Ah and her family built their home on Mak's piece of land at Jalan Abdullah in Kampung Melayu.
Her house was a short distance from nenek's (Bapak's mother) house which was the family home at Jalan Yahya.
Nenek's house was a typical traditional "family" home where extended families lived under one large, really large roof.
I remember Nenek's house. It would be the first stop whenever we visited.
It seemed huge to me. My uncles and aunts ( except for Bapak's two older sisters Wak Mah and Wak Lah) all lived there, until more children came and there was just not enough room.
Wak Aichon, Cik Din, Cik Jid and Cik Ah and their families lived there. Cik Jid moved out first, I think, to the house next door which was linked to Nenek's house via a passage near the kitchen.
And then Cik Ah moved out to the Jalan Abdullah house which Cik Din helped build.
Cik Ah's house had a huge compound-cum-badminton court beside it.
Aaah.... there was also that huge mango tree from which many spooky stories emanated.
That badminton court was necessary because Cik Salleh (Cik Ah's husband) and the children were terror badminton players. They might even have played for Singapore at some level.
If Nenek's house could talk, it would regale us with stories -- happy, sad and yes, gripping ones too.
I never always stayed at Jalan Yahya, preferring instead, to be with Ompong, my grandfather (Mak's dad) at Jalan Sudin.
This, I think, quite saddened Nenek. Of course, as a child I never understood why.
Kak Olin who was Wak Aichon's favourite, would be at Jalan Yahya because our cousin, Ana (Cik Ah's eldest daughter) was her best pal and playmate whenever we visited.
Mak would be at Nenek's and then later, at Ompong's.
But Kak Eda and I would always want to be at Jalan Sudin because we always had fun and could do almost anything we liked with our cousins, Yati and Ana and the neighbourhood kids.
Somehow, it was a little more formal at Nenek's. Perhaps, because Nenek exuded that aura of a no-nonsense matriarch.
Oh, she loved us a lot (and we loved her too) and she doted on us but I think, we felt we had to be on our best behaviour for her.
Later, when Cik Ah moved to Jalan Abdullah and after Ompong passed away, it would be at her house that we stayed during our visits.
Kampung Melayu was a Malay settlement and it was the Malay heartland of Singapore.
*A 240 hectare land area, it was off Jalan Eunos right from Geylang Serai and down to Kaki Bukit.
According to records, up until 1965, there were 1,300 houses there.
Kampung Melayu was Bapak's playground, his turf, his territory. He walked the paths and roads there, as a young boy and in adulthood.
Many Malay nationalists and literary figures lived there.
Budding actors and actresses from Malaya visited our Jalan Yahya home. And yes.... those British intelligence officers too. Later the Japanese army officers, and Lee Kuan Yew who was like a brother to Bapak in those days fighting the British.
In the 50s and early 60s, during the golden era of Jalan Ampas Studio, Kaki Bukit was a favourite film location because of its landscape -- hilly, rocky -- a very harsh appearance so perfect for "purba" movies.
I remember several showing familiar sights of Kaki Bukit. One had the late Nordin Ahmad in a silat duel scene.
Bapak never visited the site where Kampung Melayu once stood. He never asked to.
I think it would have been an emotional journey for him, as it was for me.
I know I silently wept when I saw what was once Kampung Melayu.
During one of our visits, Cik Jid took me for a drive to Jalan Eunos, years after Kampung Melayu was torn down. It had remained undeveloped for quite sometime after all the houses were demolished.
I sat in the car, and for some reason, I felt so acutely desolate. A throbbing ache in my heart. Tears streamed down my face.
I saw a part of my childhood completely wiped out.
There in front of me, was a huge vastness of land filled with nothing but lallang as far as the eyes could see,
I could not make out where Jalan Yahya was....
I couldn't stay there for much longer. As the car moved away, I turned around, imagining the houses, the neighbourhood shops, the road signs...
Bapak last visited Singapore in 2005 . He went there by car driven by Nina's husband, Mazlen. Mak Cik and Nina were also with him.
As always, he stayed at Cik Ah's place in Bedok Reservoir.
And that's where we all congregate whenever we're in Singapore which is usually a week or two after the Eid.
And Kampung Melayu? We'll always remember Kampung Melayu as anyone would their kampung halaman.
*For a little history, click here.