Wednesday, March 30, 2011

“Selamat Tinggal, Singapuraku” (Farewell, my Singapore)

“God does not forbid that you do good and make justice for those who do not fight you in the religion or drive you out from your homes. Indeed, God loves those who do justice. God only forbids your friendship with those who fight you in the religion and drive you out from your homes and back those who drive you out. And who befriends them, such are wrongdoers.”
 - Surah al-Mumtahana verses 8-9
Tanjong Pagar and Tanjong Katong, December 1965
Tanjong Pagar Railway Station

In December 1965, after much persuasion from Siddi, Mak agreed to move and start a new life in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city about 20 miles from Klang, where my grandfather worked as a Mufti.
The last few days before the departure were a blur of sorting and shoving our belongings into a few old trunks and boxes.  Welcoming and saying goodbyes to neighbours and relatives who could not send us off at the railway station.  And the last minute bookings for the train tickets and the 'teksi pa'wan chah', the local cab, to take us to the train station.  
Just like a scene from a P. Ramlee movie, it was suddenly time to step off the concrete platform and onto the low, steel stairs into the belly of the winding Senandong Malam.  The station master blew his whistle for the third time and flagged down the red triangle cloth as a signal of departure.  I stood and held Mak's sarong, with my sisters and second brother peering over my mother's shoulder to wave with one hand and wipe their tears with the other on that narrow aisle between those thinly cushioned seats in the third class coach.  My eldest brother stayed behind.  He was 22, already a constable in the police force, and a Singapore citizen. 
I could see the edges of Mak’s eyes brimming with tears as she said her customary words of advice:
Jagalah diri baik-baik.  Rajin-rajin tulis surat.  Kalau sunyi carilah Aim ke Razak
(Take good care of your self.  Do write often.  If you’re lonely, look for Aim or Razak). 
Leaving him alone in Singapore was one of the hardest decisions in Mak’s life, one that she regretted until her dying day.  But recent events which unfolded in the young nation's life and our personal life left her with no choice but to leave the island where she was born and had spent the first 42 years of her life.          
My vision was a bleary image when the coach started to sway from to side to side.  We held the back of the seats to steady our stance and sat down.  I pressed my face against the thick window pane and lifted my hand to wave goodbye to all my mother’s brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces - Wak Som, Wak Enah, Wak Yok, Wak Aman, Mak Munah, Wak Aeng, Pak Cik Pom, Abang Aim, Abang Razak, Abang Omar, Abang Amzah, Kak Pet, Kak Imah, Tutut, Tenah - and our neighbours – Mak Cik Mani, Mamat, Enchah and Yon - who had sent us off.  As the dusty row of brown and yellow carriages snaked its way out of the station and headed north, I bade a silent farewell to my childhood in Singapore.  
Mak’s family was large – four boys and three girls.  Wak Asan (Hasan) passed away before I was born, so I only knew Wak Aman (Rahman), Wak Aeng (Rahim) and Pak Cik Pom (Said).  Wak Enah (Zainah) was the eldest sister and Wak Yok (Sa’adiah) was the second. 
They all had big families – Wak Asan and Wak Som had 10 children (Abang Sed, Abang Tep, Abang Ajis, Kak Azizah, Kak Kamariah, Abang Razak, Wahab, Wahid, Manan and Dadeh. 
Wak Enah and Wak Sirat had seven – Abang Osman, Abang Ali, Kak Bulat, Kak Jamilah, Abang Omar, Kak Halimah and Maimon. 
Wak Yok and Wak Said had eight – Abang Imat, Kak Imah, Abang Sani, Kak Pet, Kak Milah, Jamil, Tutut and Tenah. 
Wak Aman and Mak Munah with six of their own – Kak Bibah, Abang Amzah, Kak Alimah, Anapi (who died in an accident when he was pre-adolescent), Alim and Achim. 
I was quite certain that Wak Aeng and Wak Jarah had more than five but Mak rarely visited his home so I hardly knew their children. 
And the five of us (the other five had died in the womb or were stillborn) and Pak Cik Pom who did not marry ‘til he was his forties when we had already moved to KL. 
And just a few weeks ago, they had gathered - easily 200, 300 of them - and spent a whole Sunday by the sea side.  Every year, the more active members of the Kerabat – the Clan - had organised the large gathering at Kampong Wa' Asan on Tanjong Katong, one of the sun-soaked beaches along the East Coast of Singapore.
Katong Beach 1965

The musical talents among the Kerabat sang:
      Di Tanjong Katong, airnya biru
      Di situlah tempat, dara jelita   
      Duduk sekampong, lagi kan rindu
      Ini kan lah pula, jauh di mata
      (In Tanjong Katong, the water is blue
      That is where you’ll find pretty damsels
      Missing you, even when you’re here
      What more when you’re out of sight)
      But the rugged coastal kampongs of Katong were a far cry from smoothly paved boulevards that led to the palatial mansions with manicured lawns and wrought iron gates which dotted the shoreline.  Those 'Katong Girls', the creme de la creme of high society, were sought after marriage partners, not only for their upper-class pedigree but also for their morally-upright English education at the convents ran by the prim and proper Christian nuns. 
A couple of our cousins - Wak Aman's daughters, Kak Bibah and Kak Alimah - had attended the prestigious single-sex Tanjong Katong Girls School, known for its simple uniform of white shirt and dark green skirt. 
Our eldest aunt, Wak Enah, had somehow befriended some genteel Nyonya ladies of Katong.  She and Mak were proud to share their trade mark – starched batik sarong from Pekalongan, matching embroidered kebaya from the finest kasa rubiah, moonstone kerongsang (brooches) daintily decorating the bodice, matching star-shaped studs and rings, the stiff linen handkerchiefs with their tiny pastel floral embroidery, the twin gold hairpins to secure the sanggul tinggi (high, tight notch which was Wak Enah’s signature) or siput kuih keria (the low, doughnut style bun that Mak would not be seen out without) - and signature dishes – asam pedas, pai tee (tophats), kuih talams (a variety of coconut-based cakes steamed in small and large round containers and cut into diamond-shaped pieces before they were served).  
Unfortunately, their association with the Peranakans (Straits-born, English-educated Chinese, whose ancestors arrived in the Nusantara in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, married local women and absorbed their language, culture and cuisine) had somehow jaundiced their views of the Sin Kehs (the newcomers, Chinese immigrants who came later in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as traders and coolies, who maintained their own dialects, costumes and cuisine).  
Be that as it may, the Kerabat gathering was full of activities for the kids and grown-ups – there were greasy pole, tug-of-war, gasing spinning, kite flying and cooking contests – but the high point of the event was the Kebaya Queen contest. 
Kak Pet and Kak Eka, along with two other second cousins, had dolled themselves up in tight batik sarongs, coquettish corsets and delicate lace kebayas filed into the hall in their best posture, swiveled and turned in front of the panel of judges who tried to remain calm.  We sensed that Kak Eka was the audience favourite in her demure beige sarong and pink kebaya by the roar of applause but Kak Pet in her black sarong and blood red kebaya was the jury's choice.  All the way home and the following days, we debated on the choice but finally agreed that it must be Kak Pet’s buxom figure (36-24-36) and sensual moves that nailed her that coverted title of 'Ratu Kebaya Kerabat 1965'. 
·    Tanjong: cape
*    Katong: the rippling effect of a sea mirage when looking at a shoreline.                         
·    The were a few significant events which pushed the Malays in Singapore to move to Kuala Lumpur in droves between 1957 and 1965.  One of them was the Maulid-ur-rasul riots of July 21 1964.  It also paved the way for Singapore’s tumultous relationship with Malaysia and its exit on August 9 1965.  The Malay exodus from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, which began after Independence in 1957, gained momentum in 1965. 
      Fleeing the political dominance of the Chinese majority in Singapore, Malay journalists, literary writers, intellectuals, professionals and artistes left to take up posts in Kuala Lumpur, which had become the centre for the cultural industry in Malaysia. 
      Since most of the journalists and literary writers were also political activists, their departure created a vacuum which were filled by UMNO defectors such as Haji Ya’acob Mohammad (Member of Legislative Assembly for Bukit Timah 1959-1964, MP for Kampong Ubi 1968-1980, Parliamentary Secretary for Minister of National Development 1965, Minister of State, Senior Minister and Ambassador) and Rahmat Kenap (Member of Legislative Assembly and MP for Geylang Serai 1963-1980) to represent the interests of the Malay community.  It took much persuasion for Malay graduates such as Cikgu Sha’ari Tadin (MP for Kampong Chai Chee 1968-1976, Senior Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Culture 1972-1976, MP for Bedok 1976-1980) to be MPs under the PAP ticket since it was seen as a betrayal to align themselves to the political party which had challenged Malay Special Position and Malay leadership.  Other PAP leaders such as Othman Wook (MP for Pasir Panjang 1963-1977, Minister for Social Affairs 1963-1977) and Abdul Rahim Ishak (MP for Siglap, Minister of Education 1965-1968, Senior Minister for Foreign Affairs 1972-1981) were seen as Malay leaders who have “sold out” on the Malay cause in Singapore.
Singapore, the epicentre of Malay journalism, literature, education, film industry and finance since the 1930s was gradually abandoned in the 1960s.  From 1930s to the 1960s, Malay journalism, literature and political activitism had been inextricably bound.  Journalists and literary writers such as Pak Sako, Rahim Kajai and Samad Ismail were also political activists fighting for the independence of the nation from British colonialists. 
Although Yusoff Ishak, the founder of Utusan Melayu and an ardent champion of Malay nationalism, was made the first President of Singapore in 1959, the headquarters of the publication was moved to Jalan Chan Sow Lin in Sungei Besi, Kuala Lumpur.  His successor, Said Zahari, who led the workers’ strike on July 21 1961(to protest against UMNO’s take-over of the newspaper) was barred from entering Malaya on August 30 of that year and banished to Pulau Ubin for 17 years. 
When Tunku succeeded in acquiring Utusan Melayu, Ibrahim Fikri took over as the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper.  Usman Awang left Utusan Melayu to join Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka, while Samad Ismail, one of the founding members of the PAP and a leading political activist in the 1950s and 1960s, took up the Editorship of the Berita Harian in Kuala Lumpur after his release from detention at Changi Jail. 
Pioneers of ASAS 50 (Angkatan Sasterawan ’50 or the Singapore Writers' Movement '50) such as Asraf, Keris Mas and Awam-il-Sirkam also moved up to take up posts in Utusan Melayu and Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka in Kuala Lumpur.
Asas '50, founded on August 6 1950, claimed to be the first and oldest literary association in post-war Malaya and the Malay region, had members who comprised of journalists, teachers and lecturers. Besides the Malay Teachers Union, the Malay Youth Literary Association (4PM), and Sriwana, it was the voice of the Malay community, using literature as a platform in the fight for independence.
Driven by its philosophy of “Arts for Society”, instead of “Arts for Arts’ Sake” (championed by Hamzah Hussein of Majalah Hiburan), ASAS 50 shaped the development of modern Malay literature.  Masuri S.N., among the members who opted to stay in Singapore, later won the Public Service star in 1963.
Many of the story lines in P.Ramlee’s movies were also influenced by the ideology of Asas '50.  Since his wife, Fatimah Murad, was the editor of P.Ramlee's film magazine Majalah Bintang, Asraf had ample opportunities to trade views and opinions with P.Ramlee. These views on society were reflected in films such as “Bujang Lapok”, which were regarded as social satires of the Malay community in the 1950s. 
In 1963, P. Ramlee left the Malay Film Production (MFP) studio at Jalan Ampas to join the Merdeka Studios in Hulu Kelang, Kuala Lumpur.  Jamil Sulong, Rosnani, Latiffah Omar, Ahmad Mahmood, Sarimah, Sa’adiah, Ahmad Daud, Normadiah, Aziz Jaa’far and Jins Shamsuddin were other film makers and movie stars who moved north in the 1960s.
The shipping, gold, diamond, and textile trading which were once controlled by the Malays from the Malay Peninsula (Johor), Borneo (Kalimantan) and Indonesia fell to the control of the Chinese and Arab traders.  Malay millionaires such as Mohd Eunos Abdullah and Ambok Soloh who made their fortune from real estate, diamond trading and shipping had passed away and their wealth divided among their offspring, who were unknown. 
·    In 1965, the PAP initiated the establishment of an opposition pact as a counterfactual to the Alliance.  The PAP had joined United Democratic Party (UDP) under the leadership of Dr. Lim Chong Eu, PPP and Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) and formed the Malaysian Solidarity Convention. This opposition pact had pledged to implement the policy of “Malaysian Malaysia”.  The concept of “Malaysian Malaysia” which was the basis of their struggle had raised the objection from the ‘ultra’ Malay faction.  They pressured the Alliance leaders to arrest and detain Lee Kuan Yew under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for inciting racial hatred by questioning the Malays’ control over the country’s administration.
The Malays also regarded the formation of the PAP-led opposition front as a confirmation of Lee Kuan Yew’s political ambition to spread his influence throughout Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak.  There were slogans and posters which criticised and demanded Lee Kuan Yew’s arrest. The pressure finally culminated in mid May 1965 during the UMNO General Assembly. In the meantime, the Malay press especially Utusan Melayu and Berita Harian published statements condemning Lee Kuan Yew and PAP, which were countered by the supporters of PAP in Singapore. The Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) urged Tunku Abdul Rahman and the government to be firm towards Lee Kuan Yew and his supporters, as he had been with the Malay opposition parties which had attacked the formation of Malaysia. The Alliance cabinet ministers stood firm by their decision to counter Lee in a democratic, not draconian manner.
During the Parlimentary session in May 1965, an open debate occurred between the Malaysia Solidarity Convention with the Alliance government. Lee Kuan Yew condemned the Alliance government for its failure in implementing the policy of ‘Malaysian Malaysia’ and sounding the death knell for democractic system in Malaysia. This compelled the Alliance government to launch an information campaign against “Malaysian Malaysia” by publishing and distributing a booklet on the Alliance position on the concept. 
Lee Kuan Yew’s provocative views and statements such as, “if we must have trouble, let us have it now instead of waiting for another 5 or 10 years” and “if we find Malaysia cannot work now, we can make alternative arrangements” led to escalation in racial tensions.  Lee’s statements also hinted to the proposed partial break-up discussed in secret meetings between him and Tunku in January 1965. 
In those trysts, Singapore was to be granted full autonomy except in the areas of foreign policy and defence on condition Lee Kuan Yew withdrew from the politics of the Federation. Tunku finally lost his patience while on a month-long medical treatment in London in June 1965 when he uttered: “The more pain I got the more I directed my anger on him (Lee Kuan Yew) and pitied Singapore for all its self-imposed problems”. 
And June 29 1965, he made the sole decision to expel Singapore from Malaysia. Tunku then wrote a letter to Tun Abdul Razak, the Deputy Prime Minister, to discuss the separation of Singapore with the senior cabinet ministers. Tun was also asked to meet Lee Kuan Yew to resolve the dispute. Tun met Lee Kuan Yew on July 20 1965, but the meeting ended in a stalemate. 
Singapore’s separation from Malaysia became a reality when the Malaysian Parliament convened on August 9 1965 to pass the amendment to the 1965 Constitution to expel Singapore from Malaysia. While presenting the proposed amendment, Tunku explained that the decision was unfortunate but there were many problems between Singapore and Malaysia, especially in 1965, chief among them the communal issue raised by Singapore and the dissemination of the propaganda on the ‘Malaysian Malaysia’ concept.
The amendment received the support of PAS leaders.  In a telegram by Lord Head (British High Commissioner to Malaysia) to the Commonwealth Relation Office dated August 9 1965, he cited the deep concern among the Malays on the probable political progress achieved by Lee Kuan Yew in Malaya and Tan Siew Sin’s concern over MCA’s future.
* Revised version of earlier draft on 'Kerabat, Katong & Kebaya Queens'

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Maulid Riots*

“Some day, Malaysia” (Eduardo L. Martelino)
The main part of the house was bare except for a couple of hideous green vinyl arm chairs and a round wooden table with a glass top on the far right and a couple of pandan mats on the far left of the spacious living room.  In the two bedrooms, there were bug-infested kapok mattresses, faded mosquito nets and rickety closets to put our clothes in.  I usually slept in the main bedroom with Mak, my sisters in the smaller bedroom and my brothers in the living room. 
Spartan as it was, the living room had welcomed many interesting guests, from endearing male cousins - Abang Aim (Rahim), Abang Razak, Abang Omar - to Kak Eka’s gallery of suitors – Ariff, Hamdan, Yusuf - and Bapak’s rowdy Indonesian hantus (informants).  I used to gape at the sleek scooters and shiny metal contraptions that they parked in front of our compound. 
Fair-skinned, well-built and dashing, Abang Aim normally turned up grinning in his gleaming Triumph Trophy, either to drop off or pick Abang Hatta up.  Even though he was a second cousin, Abang Aim and Abang Hatta were the best of buddies, serenading innocent love songs like ‘Jeanie Come Lately’ to Kak Eka’s friend Jenny (Zainab) from the veranda, or gallivanting at Central (the closest commercial area with several rows of pre-war shops, restaurants, photo studios and a cinema) or picnic-ing at Ponggol, Katong or the many beautiful beaches on their off days.  Abang Razak (Wak Som’s second son) was tall, lanky and funny.  He usually arrived on foot but would entertain us for hours with his hilarious gags about family scandals and skeletons in the closets.  Abang Omar (Wak Enah’s youngest son) was medium built and subdued, and usually arrived on a modest Vespa, to match his amiable personality.  He was close to both Abang Hatta and Kak Eka and, once in a while, would even show up with Kak Pet (Wak Nyok’s daughter) riding pillion. 
Ariff, Kak Eka’s ardent admirer, was lean, tall and sweet in both demeanour and character, like most decent Javanese boys.  He used to pick up and drop Kak Eka off in a Norton motorbike until his marriage proposal was flatly turned down.  Heartbroken, he confided to Mak what Bapak had told him: 
“Kalau kail panjang sejengkal, lautan dalam jangan diduga.”
(If the hook is short, don’t try the deep sea) 
Hamdan, the son of the shop owner of a textile shop on Arab Street where Kak Eka worked, was of Yemeni Arab descent, dark-skinned and small frame with bushy hair and thick moustache like a Mexican character in a Western movie.  Kak Eka was smitten by his flamboyant style and marketing savvy, and regarded him as her knight in shining armour on his modish Vespa.  Aware of his father’s disapproval of his relationship with an employee, he dared not arrange for an entourage to ask for Kak Eka’s hand.  About mid 1964, they decided to elope but were intercepted by a cousin’s husband, who worked for the Central Intelligence Unit (CID).  Kak Eka was directly despatched to a ‘Girls’ Home’, operated by the Young Women Muslim Association (YWMA)* and located in one of the streets near Central.  It was after she was admitted there that Hamdan sent a school teacher as a family representative to our house.  Bapak took that as an insult and rejected his marriage proposal.  Kak Eka spent several months at the Home, where she was made to undergo courses in sewing, cooking and floral arrangements.  But whenever Mak and I visted, she would be sitting on the iron swing, looking miserable. 
A few of Bapak’s hantus too tried to attract Kak Eka’s attention by revving up the engines of their sleek Triumphs and Nortons but they knew that they would never fit into Bapak’s notion of a suitable son-in-law.  Kak Eka's childhood sweetheart, Yusuf, used to spend his term holidays from his residential college in the northern part of the peninsula at our house but he had left for further studies in the United Kingdom in September 1961.  They met when Kak Eka stayed with our grandparents in Klang when Bapak was detained in 1956.  Yusuf’s father worked in the same Religious Department as our grandfather, so they were neighbours.  Kak Eka’s budding beauty had caught his eye and he started sending love notes through his sister to her.  Their romance blossomed and continued even after she escaped to Singapore from the daily bullying of one of our aunts.  Mak wondered aloud who these louts were:
“Who are these characters littering our compound and lying around in our living area?”
Bapak bragged: 
“They’re my hantus!  They provide me with the latest information on the ground.  They told me that Sukarno will fight the British imperialist til the end.  They said Macapagal has also initiated a summit in Manila this coming June to get Malaya to agree on this matter!” 
Mak agreed that nationalist leaders who have struggled for their countries’ independence would have the region’s best interest at heart.  As a third generation Javanese-Bugis in Singapore, Mak thought that it was only natural for the Malay Archipelago to return to its pre-colonial state.  Besides, she was simply thankful whenever Bapak focused his energy on this nebulous concept or some other business venture, instead of channelling his frustrations towards his family. 
[This concept of Maphilindo (an acronym for Malaya-Philippines-Indonesia) was supposed to be a regional association which would broach on “issues of common concern in the spirit of consensus”.* This notion of non-political confederation of Malay nations and Malay race had been envisioned by early Filipino revolutionary leaders such as Jose Rizal, Apolinario Mabini, Wenceslao Vinzons and Manuel L. Quezon.  As early as the 1890s, Rizal and Mabini had raised the issue of liberation and unification of the Malays, whom they believed had been divided by artificial colonial boundaries.  In the 1930s, during the Commonwealth government, Vinzons promoted the ideal of Malaya Irrendenta - the notion of a United Malay race.  And in 1959, Eduardo L. Martelino cited Quezon’s vision of an integrated Malay nationhood in the region in Someday, Malaysia.  In Indonesia and Malaya, Muhammad Yamin and Ibrahim Haji Yaakob (IBHY) had talked about the concept of Indonesia Raya and Melayu Raya since the 1930s.  The early nationalist leaders had planned for simultaneous declaration of Indonesian and Malayan Independence in 1945 but the Malayan leaders’ plan was foiled when they were incarcerated and their political parties were banned.  In the 1960s, Alliance leaders perceived the concept of Maphilindo as a tactic on the parts of Jakarta and Manila to delay, or even prevent, the formation of the Federation of Malaysia.  Manila had its claim on Sabah (formerly British North Borneo) and Jakarta might have disguised interests in Borneo as legitimate protests against the formation of Malaysia as a British imperialist plot.* For Sukarno, the establishment of Malaysia would be an act of betrayal to this ideal of united Malay nations.  He then launched an anti-colonialist campaign known as Konfrontasi (Confrontation) and “Ganyang Malaysia” (Crush Malaysia) in 1962.  On July 31, 1963, the leaders of the Philippines, Federation of Malaya and Indonesia signed the Manila Accord, the Manila Declaration and a Joint Statement, agreeing to the wishes of the people of Sabah (North Borneo) and Sarawak to self-determination.  The Accord listed a series of Manila Declaration (August 5, 1963) between Federation of Malaya, the Republic of Indonesia and the Republic of the Philippines and Joint Statement (August 5, 1963) by Federation of Malaya, the Republic of Indonesia and the Republic of the Philippines.* Inspite of the Accord, Malaysia was established through the amalgamation of the Federation of Malaya, Singapore and the states of Sabah and Sarawak, on September 16 1963.  Meanwhile, internally in Indonesia, Sukarno was accused of being an instrument of Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI) and implicated in their campaigns by pro-Suharto military faction, who overthrew him in 1965.  In the Philippines, Macapagal had promised not to seek a second term and had thrown his support for Ferdinand Marcos, who became the Liberal Presidency candidate but won the Presidency on the Nationalist platform in 1965.  The signing of the ASEAN Declaration on August 8 1967 by the five founding members nailed the final coffin to any effort at reviving the Maphilindo project].
Meanwhile Singapore’s entry into Malaysia turned out to be ‘thorn in the flesh’ for the Alliance leaders of the federal government.  There were mutual distrust and ideological differences which resulted in frequent disagreements in political, economic, financial and social policies.  In the 1950s and 1960s, Lee Kuan Yew, or Harry Lee as he was known then, was a Fabian Socialist who believed in incremental social transformation, instead of a revolution.  His rallying cries of “Malayan race”, multiculturalism and meritocracy, advocated a unitary Malayan national consciousness, a sense of belonging which transcends race and religion and an equal opportunity program regardless of race.  According to Lee Kuan Yew, it was not Communism but communalism which “makes a direct primitive appeal to emotional loyalties whose response can be immediate and spontaneous”.*  
Since 1958, PAP led by Lee Kuan Yew had objected to the proposed merger with the Federation of Malaya.  The PAP Constitution had upheld the end of colonialism and the construction of an independent, national Malayan state comprised of the Federation of Malay States and the colony of Singapore.  Since its inception in 1954, PAP had envisioned Malaya and Singapura as a single, interdependent entity, in spite of being divided into two political formations.  However, Singapore had to agree to the merger with Malaysia in order to be granted Independence from the British.  UMNO had initially objected to the inclusion of Singapore into the Federation of Malaya on account of the numerical majority of the Chinese (70 percent) and the Communist stranglehold over the Chinese-educated in the island.  However, in May 1962, Tunku Abdul Rahman had a change of heart when he began to speak on the establishment of Malaysia which not only included Singapore but also Sabah, Sarawak dan Brunei.  Tunku’s announcement was said to be an outcome of a meeting with Lord Selkirk (the Governor-General of Borneo) in 1960 (Ramlah Adam).* The Brits had to protect their economic interests in North Borneo by countering the Indonesian offer for Sabah and Sarawak to merge with the Republic. 
 Singapore’s merger with Malaysia (1963-1965) was seen as the first serious challenge to the Alliance’s “historic bargain” (Cheah Boon Kheng).  PAP’s challenge of the Social Contract (the respect for the Malay’s Special Position within the Constitution in exchange for automatic citizenship for the Chinese and Indians who were British-protected subjects, not the subjects of the Malay Rulers) was evident in the 1964 Malaysian General Elections.  Although Lee Kuan Yew did not openly attack the Special Malay Rights in terms of Bahasa Melayu as the national language, but he questioned the basis of Malay governance or “Ketuanan Melayu”.  He had fought for the equal status of Malays and non-Malays via his slogan, “Malaysian Malaysia”.  Lee Kuan Yew had unequivocally rejected the “historic agreement” which placed Malay leadership in the government and administration as a counterpoint to Chinese dominance in economy and business.
To him, the Malays were not the natives of the land, thus they were not eligible for special positions.   He said, “Malays began to migrate to Malaysia in noticeable numbers only about 700 years ago. Of the 39 per cent Malays in Malaysia today, about one third are comparatively new immigrants like the secretary-general of UMNO, Dato’ Syed Ja’afar Albar, who come to Malay from Indonesia just before the war at the age of more than 30. Therefore it is wrong and illogical for the particular racial group to think that they are more justified to be called Malaysian and the others can become Malaysian only through their favour”*.  Lee Kuan Yew also demonstrated that the non-Malays had outnumbered the Malays in Malaysia.  Although PAP had fielded only 11 candidates to contest the parliamentary seats in the 1964 General Elections, he boasted that “we want to show the MCA that even if the PAP keeps out of the elections on the mainland, the MCA will still lose”.  PAP’s involvement in the 1964 General Elections was at the request of Lee Kuan Yew and agreed by Tunku although it was against Lee’s statement in 1963 not to contest in elections in the Federation (D.K. Mauzy).  PAP’s participation had caused problems not only to MCA, but also to UMNO.  PAP had criticized MCA’s leadership which was described as corrupt and championed only the interests of the urban Chinese.  PAP claimed that MCA had lost the support of the Chinese community and tried to persuade Tunku and UMNO to accept PAP as the alternative to MCA in the Alliance.
The ‘ultra Malays’ in UMNO realised the PAP threat and launched a propaganda campaign to oppose PAP’s concept of “Malaysian Malaysia”.  This campaign was seen by certain quarters as the main factor that caused the riots in July 1964, which was known as either 1964 Racial Riots, 1964 Maulidur Rasul Procession Riots, or 1964 Chinese-Malay Riots.  Lee Kuan Yew and several foreign observers had blamed UMNO as the main culprit that had incited the riots.  According to them, racial sentiments which were sparked by the Conference which was attended by representatives from about 150 Malay associations in Singapore on July 12 1964 had caused the riots.  The Conference was chaired by Syed Ja’afar Albar, the Secretary-General of UMNO.  He concluded that the Malays in Singapore had not received equal treatment by PAP and urged them to unite against the discrimination.  On July 19 1964, more than 1000 leaders of non-governmental Malay associations had a meeting with Lee Kuan Yew to get an explanation from Lee about the Special Malay Rights which were denied.  In that meeting, although Lee Kuan Yew promised that the Singapore government had taken efforts at training Malays to be appointed as senior government officers, but the government will not allow a quota system to be implemented in employment, conferment of business licences and Malay Reserve Land.   He asserted that all Singapore citizens have equal rights, regardless of race.  Discontent over the denial of Malay Special Rights by the Lee’s administration had strained the relationship which was further exerbated on July 21 1964.  The conflict started during the procession celebrating the birthday of Prophet Muhammad which was attended by about 25,000 Muslims.  When the procession passed by Lorong 12, Geylang (some sources stated that it was in front of the Kallang Gasworks Building), an unidentified agent provocateur had hurled a bottle which hit the Silat afficianados who were on the front row.  It was taken as a challenge by the Silat disciples who took it as an affront to their faith.  Tempers flared, disorder and fighting broke out among the Malays and the Chinese which lasted for five days, with 22 deaths and 461 injured.
During the duration of the riots, several families in our neighbourhood had gathered in selected homes, with their womenfolk and children huddled and shuddered in communal living rooms for days and nights while the men prepared for any eventuality amidst the not-too-distant sounds of war drums from the neighbouring village of Chai Chee.  We heard that Silat experts from as far as Batu Pahat had prepared to be deployed as reinforcement in the event of armed clashes.  Even after the tensions had subsided and the curfew hours reduced, there was a general feeling of unease between the Malays and the Chinese in Singapore. 

* Another revised version

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bury my heart in Kaki Bukit*

Kampong houses reminiscent of those in Kaki Bukit in 1960s
The years in Kampung Melayu Kaki Bukit (Malay Kampong at the Foothills) must have been the most cherished in Mak’s life, apart from the stints at Bukit Tinggi and Ipoh.  I must have been about five years old when we moved from Lorong K to No 38, Jalan Damai, Singapura 14.  Abang Hatta was in his final year at Victoria School, Kak Eka was enrolled in evening classes (in shorthand and typing) and working at the same tailoring shop as Mak, Jamal was in primary four at the Malay School in Still Road and Yat in primary one at the school in Jalan Eunos.            
(Bapak had enrolled Jamal in a Malay school, in spite of Mak’s objection.  Malay schools like Sang Nila Utama flourished and Malay language teachers were in high demand in the ‘50s and ‘60s.  It was compulsory then for all police and army officers to take National Language lessons.  Malay was rightly implemented as the National Language, according to the Constitution of Singapore, until the 1970s when its usage in official matters declined and Malay parents were dissuaded from sending their children to Malay schools)   
Compared to the debilitating communal houses and depressing atmosphere in Kebun Ubi, the environment in Kaki Bukit was scenic and refreshing.  And it was a huge relief from the crammed rented units near the Central area.  The simple, wooden house that we occupied was the fourth or fifth on the row of charming rumah panggongs (traditional Malay kampong houses built on posts) off the main road which slid down from the steep hill and ended at the bus terminal far into the horizon.  Ustaz Jalal had built or bought that house and agreed to rent it out to Bapak (at a very low rate, I presumed).     
That part of Jalan Damai, where our house was situated, faced the back of the hill which was overgrown with lush, green grass.  There was an air pancor (water spout) halfway up the hill, where the neighbourhood children and passing labourers scooped its gushing water to wash their sweaty faces on hot afternoons.  A shallow, dusty ditch separated our house from the orange dirt road which ran parallel to the padang.  Once in a while, we would catch a glimpse of Yusoff Latiff (a young, handsome movie star) who whizzed by on his scooter to or from movie locations, either at one of the big houses along the road or the stretch of barren, rocky terrain that served as a buffer between Kaki Bukit and Chai Chee.  On most days, we would hail the boy who sells epok-epok (vegetarian curry puffs), the mamak who sells different types of bubur (sweet porridge made from beans, barley or tubers) placed in a pile of baskets balanced by a plank which rested on his shoulders, the stout Benggali bread vendor or the grumpy Sun Sun ice cream seller, who shouted their wares, sounded their horns or bells in the afternoons and evenings.  On rare afternoons when we ran out of ideas for games, we would hitch a ride on the bullock cart of the Sikh cow herder, who would then stop and chase us with a stick.  One evening during the monsoon season, I slipped and fell into the dirt ditch.  Its water had overflowed and its currents swept and almost drowned me had Jamal not dived in and rescued me.  Not long after that, it was reinforced with a row of uniform V-shaped, concrete ducts.
Rough hedges of tea bushes hugged the edge of the wide dirt drain in front and the narrow one on the left, which marked the boundary between our plot and that of our affable neighbour.  Wak Seman Benjol (a permanent bump on his right forehead earned him that nick name) lived with his wife, Wak Limah, who used to sell cakar ayam (small, rounded, caramelised sweet potato hash browns) from home.  After Jamal was circumcised, Mak heeded Wak Seman’s advice to feed him two boiled eggs in the mornings but that proved disastrous, when the pus on his wound worsened. 
When Mak told him, “Wak, nananya makin teruk bila saya kasi makan telor.”
(Uncle, the pus got worse when I fed him eggs.)
“Siapa suruh kau kasi dia makan telor?”
(Who asked you to feed him eggs? he retorted.)   
There was no drain separating our piece of land with that of our neighbours’ on the right.  There were only scattered, waist-high hedges of hibiscus plants.  Mak Cik Mani and her family were originally from Melaka.  Her stern looks concealed a very kind heart.  She had to be the main breadwinner when her husband left the police force after he had a stroke.  Pak Cik Yasin was detached, spending most of his time praying or looking out the front window with a rosary in his right hand after the stroke had left his left side impaired.  Mak Cik Mani’s crinkled-faced, octogenarian mother, who we all called Nek, could not see eye to eye with her son-in-law, so she chose to spend most of her time chewing pounded betel leaves and telling ghost stories on the amben (wide, wooden bench) under their house.  They had six children - Kak Hasnah and Patong (or Doll) were already married and lived elsewhere, Pipit (a 17 year old, nicknamed ‘sparrow’ for her love of ‘chirping’), Mamat (Mohamed, a 16 year old, who filled his every waking moment with youthful pursuits such as gasing spinning and kite slicing with fierce intensity), Enchah (Habsah, their studious, sensible daughter who was my best pal) and Yon (Haron, their youngest son, whom Jamal loved to tease as my suitor).   
Enchah and I spent many hours climbing trees for their shade, their red round ‘cherries’ or their small, hard red saga seeds to be sewn into tiny pouches of batu selembat (which can be substituted with sand).  When our siblings and other neighbours’ children were around, we would break into groups and played teng-teng (hopscotch), Nenek-nenek (Old Grandmother), masak-masak (mock cooking) and kahwin-kahwin (mock wedding).  On quiet afternoons, we would lay on the amben under the tall jambu batu (guava) tree, listening to Pipit’s tales of romantic escapades.  The guava tree also provided shade for my mother’s makeshift warong (foodstall), where Mak occasionally sold her nasi sambal goreng (rice served with spicy mixed beans and offals), nasi rawon (rice with beef in black sauce made from buah keluak) and lontong (rice cubes with creamy mixed vegetables soup and topped with sambal, serunding and bergedil).  Mak Cik Mani was more steadfast in purveying her white and yellow steamed putu piring with gula melaka fillings, stacked on top of grated coconut and round pieces of banana leaf.  Whenever I needed to earn my own pocket money, I would take a basketful of those hot piping flour cakes wrapped in banana leaves and old newspapers and walked around the village with Enchah, shouting “Putu piring”.  With the 15 sen duit dalal (sales commission), I splurged on tikam-tikam (a mini wheel of fortune) which got me a pink cincin buah kana (a metal ring with a fake stone in the shape of an olive), pink cotton candies, gula tarik (hard, white candy sprinkled with sesame seeds) and ais krim potong (blocks of ice cream wafers).
Enchah and I were very close although we later attended different schools – I was at Telok Kurau West (Integrated) Primary School, an English medium school, while Enchah was a student at Sekolah Menengah Still Road, a Malay medium school.  I remembered we were not on talking terms only once, when Mak Cik Mani had accidentally given a toxic solution instead of vanilla essence, which caused Mak to be so upset that she hurled her red and green coconut candies to the ground just outside our kitchen for Mak Cik Mani to see.
Our kitchen, like most Malay kampong ones, was a half-concrete half-wooden part of the house built on the ground at the back of the plain wooden house on posts.  Welcoming the guests in front was the red-painted, concrete stairway and a small veranda with its smoothly finished wooden bench.  The kitchen was rather large, with ample space for a small cemented area to wash fish, meat and vegetables, a small aluminium-plated tungku (charcoal stove made from clay), steel and formica dining table and chairs, a beige pandan mat and kapok mattress to lie on for short naps or afternoon siestas on the far right next to the window.  At the end of the kitchen, a door led to a bathroom with a kolah (a concrete, waist-high pool to retain water for showering and ablution) and a tempayan (a medium size porcelain water vessel).  And I should not forget to mention the creepy bawah kolong (the cellar under the stairs).  One night when I was thirsty, Mak went down to get me a glass of water while I waited at the top of the stairs on the main house with its larger and smaller bedrooms on the right and left.  I thought I saw my second brother dashed out from the dark cellar, so I called, “Mal!” but the figure just vanished into thin air.  Since that incident, I dared not go down to the kitchen at night. 
The kitchen held both pleasant and unpleasant memories.  Jamal, Yat and I would wait with bated breath for Mak’s telor masak kicap (eggs in soya sauce), ikan masak tauco (fish in fermented soya), ikan masak singgang (fish soup), sambal goreng, daging masak rawon or lontong on better days or lempeng kelapa (coconut pancakes), sayur masak bening (watery vegetable soup), or bubur nasi (rice porridge) with anchovies on lean days.  There was a period of exceptionally lean days, when we just had bubur ragi (gruel with margarine and sugar) and water biscuits or unsalted cream crackers with chunks of Cheddar cheese donated by the USAID or the American Peace Corps.  Once in a blue moon, when Mak was invited to weddings, we would get to taste nasi minyak (ghee rice), chicken bamia (middle-eastern dish) and hard-boiled eggs which the hosts had packed for us.  Special treats such as murtabak (Middle-Eastern bread with mince meat fillings) or briyani from Islamic Restaurant in Arab Street were few and far between, such as during Siddi’s rare visits. 
Wak Enah, Mak’s eldest sister, was like a fairy godmother to us whenever she appeared at the kitchen door (womenfolk and children entered through the kitchen door then) bearing pricy imported fruits and delicious desserts – red and green globes of juicy grapes, shiny crunchy apples and tangy oranges, moist marble cakes and wobbly green and red jellies – which Mak could not afford to buy or prepare.  Whenever Mak craved for the Mi Rebus Jawa (noodles in thick mutton gravy) and Satay (skewered meat drowned in peanut sauce) at Joo Chiat Road, she would take one of us and an expensive piece of jewellery or batik sarong to hock at the pawn shop in front before tucking in at the back lane.  When Abang Hatta started work as a police constable, he would buy cake remnants from the bakery on his way home which we devoured in a jiffy. 
Bapak spent very little time with us at Kaki Bukit.  He was always away for some business ventures and, when they folded, he would return in a foul mood.  We had grown accustomed to his absence and felt awkward whenever he was around.  Mak had assumed the role of breadwinner and decision maker, laying down the house rules for us, which she forgot to relinquish whenever Bapak was home.  We dreaded mealtimes, whenever Bapak took his place at the head of the table.  Not only we were not supposed to help ourselves before him, but we had to be extremely careful not to ruffle his feathers.  One evening, when we were all seated and waiting at the dining table to tuck into Mak’s steaming fish ball soup, Mak said,
“Please use the ladle, not your own spoon, to scoop the soup to your plate.” 
That had Bapak all riled up.  He flew into a rage, got up and thumped the table: 
“I’m the head of the family! Why do you have to tell me what to do? Why can’t I use my own spoon if I want to?  Am I a leper that you’re all afraid that I’ll spread my germs?” 
We hung our heads, frozen in our seats and prayed silently for the storm to subside.  Bapak’s fury had become unpredictable.  It can be triggered by any slight from any one of us.  One day, when a hot water flask that he flung at Kak Eka’s direction missed her, some of the scalding water spilled on my thighs.  And I winced when he bent three copper coins with a pair of pliers and twisted Jamal’s arms behind his back for failing to buy him cigarettes with those three cents.  Whenever I heard Bapak’s footsteps on the wooden planks of the main house, my heart sank and I escaped to play outside.  

This is a revised version of the entry on 'Tanjong Pagar'.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Poverty in Kebun Ubi and Visits to Outram

Geylang Serai in the 1950s
(courtesy of
 Poverty in Kebun Ubi and Visits to Outram
“Ada ubi ada batas, ada budi ada balas”

“Geylang si Paku Geylang,
Geylang si Rama-rama,
Pulang Marilah Pulang
Marilah Pulang Bersama-sama”

When the printing press at Hale Street, Ipoh, was seized by the Brits, Bapak moved the family back to Singapore - to take up a sales job with Kodak (Singapore) Pte Ltd and to room in at Ustaz Jalal’s house in Geylang Serai, where he first sighted Mak in 1942.  A decade later, they returned with two children in tow and one due any time, to take up the spare room on the ground floor next to the kitchen.  Jamal, named after the Egyptian nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser, arrived at Wak Aman’s house on Lorong 37 in late January 1952 after Mak had gone through three days of intense labour.  Mak was already weak and had almost given up pushing the baby who was breeched.  It was only after Bapak had jumped several times over her stomach while she was lying on her back on the wooden bench in the cramped kitchen that the baby’s bottom shoved its way through her birth canal.  When she had gained strength a week later, they returned to Kampong Ubi.  Ustaz Jalal’s house, deep in the heart of Geylang Serai, had no supply of tap water so it could not double up as a labour/delivery room.  Abang Hatta had to help carry water from the old well in the backyard or the public tap by the main road that cut through the maze of houses before or after school.      
            Abang Hatta was already eight going on nine years old.  If I remembered correctly, he was enrolled at Telok Kurau English School, which was about one and a half miles from Geylang, if he cut through Joo Chiat Road.  Mak’s brothers – Wak Asan, Wak Aeng, Wak Aman and Pak cik Pom – were all English-educated and white-collar workers at government agencies or private companies.  In a few of the black and white photos in Mak’s collection, they were either dressed in Western office clothes – pressed long pants, white long-sleeve shirts, matching ties and smart jackets – or modern sports wear – white collared-shirt tucked into white culottes – with badminton or tennis racquets with their co-workers after work.  Mak, I was certain, must have wanted her eldest son to follow in her brothers’ foot steps. 
Kak Eka was seven then and was admitted into Primary One at Playfair School on Playfair Road, which was about a mile away from Geylang.  I could only recall a photograph of her with her hair split into two braids and dressed in sports uniform of white short-sleeve shirt and checked green shorts standing in front of a row of timid looking girls in the school field.  But I remembered well the faded photographs of Mak, Abang Hatta, Kak Eka and baby Jamal looking gloomy in grubby clothes in the bleak backyard of Ustaz Jalal’s house.  Mak gave birth to Yat (Noor Hayati – ‘the light of my life’ in Arabic) on November 14 1953.  Bapak must have been able to afford the hospital fees because she was delivered at Kandang Kerbau Maternity Hospital.  I was not sure if the family had moved out of Ustaz Jalal’s house by then. 
Mak was seven months pregnant with me when Bapak was arrested for smuggling firearms from Indonesia into Singapore and detained at Outram Jail.  Bapak’s arrest and court trial was another disappointment for Siddi, who had just returned from Makkah to accept the appointment as mufti (Head of religious affairs) of Selangor.  Bapak was sentenced to prison for collaborating with the enemy of the colonial state but Mak stood by his belief in the concept of ‘Maphilindo’ (Malaya-Philippines-Indonesia)*, a return to a pre-colonial Nusantara that would to be totally free of Western control. 
The years leading to the declaration of Malayan Independence in 1957 were very volatile.  There were frequent clashes between the different ethnic communities and the British colonial government.  In 1950, the Malays came to blows against the Europeans/Eurasians over the Singapore High Court ruling on the Natrah case.  Natrah was a young 13 year old Dutch girl who was adopted by a Malay family when her biological parents were taken as prisoners of war by Japanese troops who invaded Java in 1942.  A Malay woman, Mak Minah (Aminah binte Mohamed), adopted the five year old Maria Hertogh who was renamed Natrah binte Ma’arof when she embraced Islam the following year.  When her parents were released after the war, they searched and found her and Mak Minah, who refused to return Natrah to them since the girl had expressed her wish to be with adopted mother.  In 1950, the Hertoghs filed for the custody of their daughter.  The court case stretched into a long-winded legal drama, where the Hertoghs alternately won, lost, and won again.  Nadrah, at that time, was already legally married to a young Malay man, Mansor Adabi, since she had reached puberty a year earlier.  In spite of her consent to her marriage and her open display of attachment to Mak Minah and her husband, the High Court ruled that she be returned to her biological parents.  With the support of the Malay community and the Malay press, Mak Minah appealed against the ruling of the High Court but, on 11 December 1950, the colonial court threw out their appeal after less than five minutes’ deliberations.  This angered the crowd who thronged outside the court house.  To them, it was a blatant display of bias by the colonial government towards their fellow Europeans. “It was an unfair treatment of the locals by the colonial government” screamed the headline in the front page of the Utusan Melayu.* Anti-colonial sentiments ran high and the Muslims could not contain their anger when they attacked the gloating Europeans and Eurasians.  Eighteen people died and almost 200 were injured at the end of the three day riots, when the police finally clamped down on the protestors on 13 December 1950.  A few days later, Natrah was taken to the Netherlands by her parents.
Meanwhile, the struggle for self-governance was split between the leftist and the moderates.  The left-wing political parties such as Malayan Democratic Union believed in self-governance by overthrowing the capitalist/colonial powers but the moderates such as Singapore Progressive Party and Singapore Labour Party believed in talks and co-operation with the Brits.  The Labour Front led by David Marshall won the Municipal Elections in 1955, where they were granted limited self-government with the Brits maintaining control in areas such as internal security.  David Marshall became the first Chief Minister of Singapore but resigned the following year when he failed to negotiate for full self-government.  Lim Yew Hock, who took over from Marshall, cracked down on the Communists and their leftist affiliates to impress on the Brits of the local leaders’ ability to weed out “subversive elements”.  The Communists’ support base was mostly among the poor and the Chinese-educated, who were protective of Chinese education and culture.  The Brits had declared a state of Emergency in 1948, where they warned the people about the Communist threat and rewarded those who helped fight the Communist insurgents.  Left-leaning parties such as PKMM, API and AWAS were banned and their leaders detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA).  Although the Communist armed struggle had fizzled out by the mid 1950s, their influence was still present in trade unions and the Chinese school system which led to student protests, strikes, riots and clashes between them and the police in May 1954, May 1955 and October 1956.*                      
The People’s Action Party (PAP) was founded in November 1954.  After the Malayan Independence on August 31 1957, a municipal election was held in December of the same year, where the PAP won 13 seats making it the majority representation on the city council.  The party’s treasurer, Ong Eng Guan, was made the first mayor of Singapore.  People crowded outside City Hall to listen to his fiery speeches against colonialism.  And in the first General Elections in 1959, the PAP once again emerged as the victor when it won 43 out of 51 seats.  Singapore was granted internal self-government and Lee Kuan Yew became the first Prime Minister.  Yusoff Ishak became the first Malayan-born to be the Yang Di Pertuan Negara on December 3 1959.  The state flag and crest were created to evoke a sense of belonging to the new nation.  The national anthem, Majulah Singapura, was written by composer Zubir Said and aneka ragam ra’ayat (open air cultural concerts) which featured entertainment by all the major ethnic groups were staged to bring the masses together.        
Soon after I was born at Kandang Kerbau Maternity Hospital on December 2 1956, Siddi sent Ami Sahak down in his big maroon Mercedes to fetch Mak and all the five children to Klang.  Sitti consoled Mak by taking her to social functions and outstation trips.  Mak never tired of talking about her visit to the Governor Tun Uda’s residence in Penang when I was a few months old.  However, one of her sisters-in-law, who was at that time in between marriages and living under the same roof, was envious of her parents’ affection for her brother’s wife.  She would deliberately leave big loads of soiled clothes in the bathroom for Mak to wash, without her parents’ knowledge.  Mak decided to cut short her stay and took Yat and I back to Singapore, leaving Abang Hatta, Kak Eka and Jamal in Klang.  The reason she gave to her parents-in-law was to visit Bapak in prison.  During her visits to Outram, she would bring his favourite food and Players cigarettes in a can.  There was a photo of me when I was less than a year old in a short-sleeve ribbed singlet and cotton short pants, seated on the table in the prison’s visiting area between Mak and Bapak.  Mak would delight in relating the story of how she used to ask me,
“Where’s Bapak?”
And I would point to the sole of my foot, which is ‘tapak’ in Malay.  When Kak Eka packed her bags and return to Singapore from Klang, Mak was already taking other people’s clothes to wash at the public tap by the road side.  We were staying in one of those units that were part of an extension of the main house, which belonged to the landlord.  My childish antics and tantrums were their main source of entertainment to lighten the burden of their daily drudgery.  They would recount over and over about how I was such a control freak before I could even walk properly.  After Mak had done washing other people’s laundry late at night, she would take the short cut home by jumping over the ditch.  Every time she or Kak Eka jumped, I thought I would fall off from one of their waists, so I insisted that they take the long way and cross the small bridge over to our rented unit.  (Yat was about four years old, so she could jump over the ditch with a little hep from them).  They must be too drained after their late night chores to entertain my dictates that they put me outside and closed the door.  I was determined to show that I was not afraid until I saw a rat passed by.  I got up, hollered ‘Bintoyot’ (cincorot) and pounded on the door.  Those were hard times but Mak and Kak Eka managed to laugh over my antics and the idiosyncrasies of some of our visitors and neighbours.  There was one fellow named Najib who would push aside the wall calendar in his next door unit to peer through the hole that he had bored in the thin wall.  When queried, the student from Kelantan would respond: “Ini lube buak nginta-nginta” (This is a peep-hole that I made to see what the next door neighbours are up to).  Not long after, Mak got news of Abang Hatta’s fall from one of the big trees in the yard of the government quarters in Klang. She asked him to come home to our crammed unit, furnished with only kapok mattresses and mosquito nets, and he did. 
When I was about four or five years old, we moved to a one-bedroom unit in the middle of those rows of wooden houses in Lorong K, a few yards from the shop lots which ran parallel to the Central cinema and a mere walking distance from Wak Asan’s house in Jalan Taugeh.  It was at the junction between Lorong K and Jalan Taugeh that I first encountered the Lok Tang (a Taoist monk) dancing in a trance and smoothing her cheeks with charcoal-heated iron.  On some nights, we could hear the high-pitch voices of the actors performing on stage in the Wayang Pek Ji (Chinese opera), with regular clanging of the cymbals, in the vacant lot next to the Central cinema.  The Lok Tang, the characters in the Wayang Pek Ji, the Benggali man who went around with a sickle and a sack supposedly to harvest children’s heads to appease the spirits of the bridges and the Benggali snake charmer who performed ‘magic’ tricks with the help of his son under the angsana tree on East Coast Road were ‘villains’ that Mak used to scare us from venturing away from home.                
Bapak must have been released from Outram by then since I remembered him humming to the tune of P. Ramlee’s ‘Tiada Kata Secantik Bahasa’ (No words as sweet as speech), which was a popular request by radio listeners at that time.  He seemed to be in a good mood most of the time, bringing home a miniature plastic snake curled in a plastic basket and a wooden bedroom and kitchen set for me to play with.  But as the need to provide for his family grew, he spent more time away from home, either in Klang to persuade Sitti (who always had a soft spot for her first born son) to sell his share of the family estate (the bulk of it was 114 acres of land in Perak and Selangor which belonged to her and Siddi) for him to start a business venture or at one of his project at that time, such as the paddy field in Kahang which he started in the early ‘60s.   
·         Kampong Ubi started as a tiny settlement in the nineteenth century when the Malays who lived in stilt houses at Kampong Busong along the Singapore River mouth had to make way for the Brits’ trading activities.  The Brits’ use of the sea lanes and immigrant Chinese and Indian labour pushed the coastal Malays inland, where they settled on the banks of the Geylang River.  There they formed the core of Kampong Melayu in Geylang, which in the nineteenth and early twentieth century was known as Geylang Kelapa (coconut).  The settlement was called Geylang Serai when lemon grass (citronella) was cultivated in place of coconuts and processed in a factory named the Citronella Press near the river bank.  The word "Geylang" was believed to be a distortion of the word kilang (factory).* Other than planting farm produce for their own sustenance, the Malays of Geylang also reared poultry for their meat supply.  In the early 1960s, you could find cockerels perched on branches, mother hens pecking for worms on the muddy ground followed by their tiny yellow broods, irate geese and ganders chasing strangers and crabby turkeys roaming around.  As the population grew, the area for farm land shrank.  After WWI, the settlement grew eastwards away from the river and, by late 1920s, more Malays from other parts of the island moved in and settled there.  In the early 1940s, Geylang fell to the Japanese forces which entered through the east coast via Tekong and Changi.  Food shortage and famine during the Japanese Occupation forced the people to grow ubi kayu (tapioca), instead of coconut and rubber, as a substitute for rice.  That part of Geylang where tapioca was grown was known as Kebun Ubi or Kampong Ubi.  Among the bushes on the tapioca farms, you could trip over tomb stones of fallen Japanese soldiers.  The post-War population explosion led to overcrowding and depressing living conditions.  The crammed ramshackle houses, the meandering dirt roads, the lack of water supply, proper drainage and sanitation - the overall sense of deprivation - manifested itself into rising social problems. Strained family relationships ended in domestic violence and divorces among married couples; gangsters and runaways among young men and women.  The social landscape beyond Geylang Serai was also changing rapidly.  The 1950s were the heydays for Malay political, economic and cultural consciousness in Singapore.  Angkatan Sasterawan 50 (ASAS 50) or Singapore Writers Movement, with its motto of “Seni untuk masyarakat” (Art for Society), was churning poems, short stories, essays and plays.  Masuri SN, Samad Ismail and Usman Awang were among the better known proponents of ASAS 50.  Since the early 1900s, journalists and literary writers had been active in social and political movements to improve the lot of the Malays in Singapore.  Among the pioneer journalists who championed Malay rights was Mohd Eunos Abdullah, a member of the Johor royal family who managed the first Utusan Melayu (1912–1914), a translated version of the Singapore Free Press.  He was the first Malay to serve in the Legislative Assembly and was conferred the prestigious Justice of Peace (JP) award.  In 1926, he founded the Kesatuan Melayu Singapura (Malay Union Singapore), which was the first quasi-political body in the Malay world.  Mohd Eunos also played a pivotal role in lobbying for the opening and expansion of settlements for the Malays.  Jalan Eunos which I passed by almost everyday to school, to Central or Gelang, was named after him.
·         Ahmad Ibrahim was another ‘big name’ that Mak loved to mention.  He was a lawyer and a member of the Municipal Commission, who played a crucial role in the appeal for Mak Minah’s custody of Natrah in 1950.  Ahmad Ibrahim studied law at St. John’s College, Cambridge, under the Queen's Scholarship in 1935.  He graduated 1st Class in Economics and Law in 1939.  A decade later, he contested as an independent in the Municipal Commission Election and won.  He was the Republic of Singapore's first Attorney General and later the Republic's ambassador to Egypt.  He was appointed as Professor of Legal Studies at the Faculty of Economics and Administration, University of Malaya (1969–1972), Dean of Faculty of Law, University of Malaya (1972–1983), Professor Emeritus, University of Malaya (1984) and the Shaikh and the Dean of the Kulliyyah of Laws, International Islamic University of Malaysia (1983–1999).  The Kulliyyah of Laws was later renamed Ahmad Ibrahim Kulliyyah of Laws (AIKOL).  His writings on civil law and Islamic jurisprudence are regarded as international references.  After his passing, AIKOL established the Ahmad Ibrahim Memorial Lecture.  IKIM later instituted an academic project on his works.
·         It was not all poverty and squalor, racial tensions and discontent, gloom and doom for the Malays in Singapore in the ‘50s.  There were educational, literary and cultural programs organised by Malay Youth Literary Association (4PM) and a cultural body known as Sriwana.  Sriwana was founded in 1955 by Nongchik Ghani, a writer and cultural activist who was also involved in the Anglo-Malay Evening School and 4PM.  He served as Sriwana’s secretary for 40 years, during which time he wrote several stage dramas and choreographed musicals such as Singapura Dilanggar Todak (Garfish Attack on Singapore).  Wak Nyok’s children – Abang Imat, Kak Imah, Kak Pet, Kak Lina and Tena were active as musicians, vocalists and dancers in Sriwana in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.