The Old Playground - November 20, 2007
Just the other day, I took a drive to Petaling Jaya, and cruised around Jalan Sentosa in Kawasan Melayu and Jalan Lembah in Section 5.
We lived in Jalan Sentosa from 1959 when we arrived in Malaya from Singapore until around 1963/4 after which we moved to Jalan Lembah (until early 1969).
Then we moved to Section 16 where Bapak now lives with his wife, Habibah and my youngest sibling, Nina and her family -- hubby Mack and their kids Sara Hamidah, 10, Shufiyan Haikal, 7 and eight month-old Sharmaine Hana.
I do this a couple of times every year. I don't know why. Perhaps because I don't want to forget my old playground.
Every time I drive around the old neighbourhood, I'd watch in amazement the changing landscape, the new areas being developed. I'd see spanking new bungalows in place of old dilapidated ones. Or old bungalows given a new renovated look.
These are very old areas whose residents are either very very old, long-gone or very very young.
A few years ago, Section 5 was a haven for burglars who must have been very familiar with the demographics of the area -- that 80 per cent of the residents were senior citizens.
They'd burgle the homes in broad daylight while the occupants were asleep or sometimes, were blissfully unaware, until too late.
These days, I do see younger residents, most of whom are presumably successful businessmen or working professionals who prefer the quiet and charm of these old neighbourhoods.
Kawasan Melayu, a very old part of Petaling Jaya (hence, it is referred to by PJayrians as old PJ) was a very new area when we first moved there.
It was where Malays from outside Kuala Lumpur settled. However, just outside Kawasan Melayu were shops and a housing area, mostly occupied by the Chinese community.
Most of my Chinese schoolfriends were from the area.
I remember Bapak's friend, Dr Hooi, who had a clinic in one of the shophouses. I think he also lived there with his family.
His daughter, Wai May, was my classmate.
Kak Ton's best friend, Joyce Lam, also lived in the area. So did most of Abang Med's friends.
Actually, going around the shops was something I always looked forward to. Mak would stop by one of the shops that sold toys and invariably, she would end up buying me something.
In Kawasan Melayu, I remember many journalists, literary figures and a minister-turned-diplomat who lived there.
Several Malaysian glitteratis, socialites and pop artistes were bred in Kawasan Melayu.
Our next-door neighbour was a young minister named Ismail Yusoff who was later appointed Malaysian envoy to the United Nations.
I remember him because he later got married to a beautiful film star from Hong Kong.
Kak Piah and Kak Ton were bridesmaids.
I still remember the black-and-white wedding photo. I remember how beautiful the bride was in her lacey veil and stunning wedding dress.
I think weekends with Bapak were most defining in that part of my childhood in Jalan Sentosa.
I remember vividly the singing sesssions we had.
There were times when Pak Cik Tongkat (Usman Awang) would drop by with his wife Cik Senah and their children, Lina and Iskandar.
Bapak would play the guitar and sing some songs including his favourites -- "Bangawan Solo" and "Semalam di Malaya".
Then, us kids, would sing all the songs we learnt in school.
Those days, music lessons were part of the curicullum.
My all-time favourite -- I can't remember the title -- started with the line, "I love to go a -wandering, along the mountain top, and as I go, I love to sing, my knapsack on my back..."
I think I must have been so cute because I remember Kak Ton always asking me to sing the pantun part of "Rasa Sayang".
That pantun was dedicated to Abang Kassim (Kassim Ahmad) and his (then) bride, Kak Fauziah.
They held their wedding at our house in Jalan Sentosa some time in the 60s.
Abang Med taught me the verse.
It goes : "Cik Kassim dengan Cik Fauziah
Sudah kahwin bersuka ria
Cik Kassim asyik ketawa
Cik Fauziah tersenyum pula"
I used to "serenade" them, singing this verse.
So, during our weekend singing sessions, Bapak would have this humongous Akai tape recorder where you needed to install two wheels of tape. I think the now generation of young people have probably never seen contraptions like this.
Bapak would record our singing and then, play back the tape.
I remember singing the verse so fast I sounded like a chipmunk.
When Lina visited, she would also sing. But she would sing ever so softly and gently that, next to her, I sounded like a neurotic.
Sometime during our stay in Jalan Sentosa, Encik Ismail left for his overseas posting so the house next-door was vacant.
One day, Mak told us that her relatives from Medan would be moving in.
We were thrilled.
Those were really wonderful years, growing up in Kawasan Melayu.
My mom's relative (now deceased) was called Mak Cik Mon and she (and her husband Pak Cik Majid) had seven children.
Their youngest daughter, Magda, was and still is very close to me, although we hardly see each other these days. Their other daughters are Lindawati and Suslita. Another daughter, Ristina passed away in Jakarta a few years ago.
Their sons are Amrin (Ucok), Imran (Agam) and Aldin.
Of all their kids, it was Agam who would faithfully join us. He was a good musician. He must have been 12 or 13 then, and he was already playing the guitar so well.
I think, some people may know him as Odie Agam who wrote "Antara Anyir dan Jakarta", made popular by Sheila Majid.
Agam was very close to us, and especially to Abang Med because of their passsion for music.
He took part in "Bintang RTM" in the 70s-- singing and playing the piano.
He performed in Malaysia for some time but then left for Jakarta to pursue his musical career.
Eventually, he settled in Jakarta.
I could well understand why. I think he found the music industry in Malaysia neither conducive nor inspiring.
I think he was so talented that, perhaps, Malaysia was not ready for him.
For a very long time after that, Agam would make a point of visiting Bapak during Hari Raya everytime he was back home.
He'd usually come late evening and would stay on for quite a bit.
I was just in our old Jalan Sentosa neighbourhood the other day, and passed by our old house. Ours was the middle of three linked units. There was no fence between the three units and we had a common compound.
Well, there is a fence now, between each unit, just like other houses.
As always. Everytime I see the house, it would look different, somehow. And it would often look smaller than the last time.
I know that one day, I'd be passing by and the house will no longer be there.
Until that happens, I'll continue to "drive down memory lane" along Jalan Sentosa and Jalan Lembah, although I am still wondering why I get a thrill doing it.