23:00h, 30th June 2011
I have heard and read the news about Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM, or Malayan Railways) ceasing its operations at the Tanjong Pagar Station for more than a year now. The Utusan Melayu, that journalistic relic from 1939 that my mother’s father and his colleagues had shed tears, sweat and blood for, has tried to make the incident its cause celebre. But, what can a Malay language newspaper with a rapidly declining readership and advertising revenue do in the face of the modernity juggernaut?
With that defeated mindset, I switch on the television set and surrender myself to the dispassionate coverage of that moment when crass capitalism triumphs over history, legacy and sovereignty.
The screen captures the motley crowd as it swarms the narrow platform of the railway station. Clueless youth pressed against seasoned, nostalgia junkies with their smart phone cameras on standby. It is a ‘happening’ event that any ‘cool’ dude would be wont to miss.
As the seconds ticked and the temperature rises, they work themselves into frenzy as they wait for the night's event to reach its climax. It seems more like a jubilant celebration to welcome the dawn of a new era than a sad farewell to a remnant of the link between the Johor Sultanate and its former territory.
The mob stirs as they catch a glimpse of the monarch and his men appearing from the belly of the night train that HRH has personally driven from the Woodlands station. The royal entourage humours the pulsating crowd as the Sultan and his bodyguards pose against the banner which hangs on one of the passenger coaches' shells. Video-cams, manual and digital cameras rolled, clicked and flashed to capture the historic moment.
The Ruler raises his hands for the customary do'a, prayers asking the Almighty for a safe journey (perhaps). Then he leads the royal entourage back into the waiting carriage. All aboard the Rhythm of the Night as it wakes up from its idle stupor. He takes over control of the rail car from its designated driver. The Station Master takes a seat in the front coach and feigns a weak smile, relieved of the authority to blow the whistle and flag down the departing locomotive. Instead, someone in KTM uniform rang a cast metal bell that strangely resembles that of the Sun Sun ice cream seller. The other uniformed staff members press their lips as they scan the crowd through the carriage window. The Sultan waves to the excited crowd and press the levers that set the carriage’s wheels in motion.