Saturday, September 13, 2014

A New Place To Call Home

The KL Railway Station in December '65

The National Mosque was unveiled on August 27, 1965,
about four months before our arrival

In the pitch black night
The shapes of trees, bushes and railway quarters blurred
As the train whooshed by
Speeding through straight stretches
And slowing down at dangerous bends
Going over iron bridges
Crossing over streams and rivers

As it skipped obscure stations
And stopped briefly at smaller ones
The darkness gradually retreated
As day light spread
Silhouettes of domes and minarets appeared  
The locomotive reduced speed
And put on its brakes
To let us know that we've arrived at KL Station
A mosque like edifice with a cavern
Where the night train finally heaved, stopped and spit out
Its bedraggled passengers who had survived the 10 hour ride

We straightened ourselves
Hauled our bags
Trudged towards the exit
Held on to the hand rail
Gingerly stepped out
Of the carriage
And onto the concrete
A giant billboard with a sketch of a woman
In kebaya standing in front of a winding train
Smiled and welcomed us to this new location

Cries of porters eager to relieve travellers
Of their baggage, shattered our reverie
Ma found two that she fancied
We handed over our heavy cases
Which the men carried to the curb
Where they hailed a black and yellow cab

Mal sat next to the driver
As Ma, Yat and I plopped onto the back seat
Ma told the driver: 
“Can you take us to Lorong Keramat 2?”
“Sure, I can!”
He nodded, glanced and smiled at us  
Revved up the engine
And steered the old taxi towards the main road
Followed the round-a-bout onto the other side
Where there was another structure in the shape of a mosque
Grey and barefaced
Trust Ma to blurt out what was on our mind:
“The train station and this other building have domes and arches,
But the national mosque has opened and closed umbrellas!”    

As the cab rattled along the broad boulevard
We got to know the landmarks
Federal House – that tall building on the left
Held the offices and studios of Radio and Television Malaysia  
The Selangor Padang was where the Malaysian flag was raised
On the eve of Merdeka Day
Globe Silk Store and Chortimall on Batu Road
Odeon cinema on the corner of Campbell Road
Kampung Baru’s Sunday Market on Perkins Road
The Chief Minister’s house on Princess Road
Circular Road was the longest road
And Gurney Road which turned into Kampong Datok Keramat

If the national mosque had no domes and minarets
This village named after a grand saint
Had no markers
Unlike the tomb of Habib Noh
Up on the mound by East Coast Road
Or the grave of Raden Mas
On the edge of a hill
Looking out to a healing stream 

The cab driver signalled and crossed over
Pulled up by the side of a long wooden house
A thin lady looked out of the door and smiled
We got off and claimed our bags
As Ma paid our taxi fare
The landlady invited us in
There were soda biscuits and black coffee
Then she handed Ma the key to the rented unit
The last one on that row of units stuck to the main house
The pale blue door opened to a vinyl-carpeted living room
A single bedroom, a small kitchen and an indoor bathroom
The outdoor lavatory was a shack at the end of the lane

There was a large drain by the kitchen
Beyond that, tall grass grew wild by a shallow stream
Across the stream, a football field led to a school building
And across the road, the wet market which stank to high heavens


Al-Manar said...

I am very pleased to have found my way here. In 1965 I was based in Jesselton (now called K Kinabalu) where we had our first baby. An email is following

BaitiBadarudin said...

As-Salam Sir,
My apologies for not checking your comment earlier. Been busy rewriting drafts for the book. I bet your 'baby' has a fine family of his/her own now. Thank you for visiting. Best wishes to you and your family. Wassalam