There are so many questions that have no answers. How do I find the answers? I can ask and hope that someone will read this and give me the answers that I have been seeking for so many years now.
In the early 1950s my family lived in two rented rooms in a house that I believe belonged to a Chinese family, in Jalan Lumba Kuda. It was one of the houses in a row of link houses, facing the main road. There were no fences. There was a five-foot path when you stepped out of the front door and gravel beyond that until the road.
When you entered the front dooor, there was a huge Chinese altar. There was a gigantic brass urn filled with sand and stuck into the sand were tall joss sticks emitting a pungent fragrance that I forever associate with the Chinese. I have always believed it to be a temple. I am not sure who lived on the first floor. We lived on the second floor.
I have no recollections of having seen the owner but there was always an elderly matriach seated on a wooden armshair, with an ornate pin in her hair which had been fashioned into a bun. She wore black silk trousers and an embroidered top. She looked ancient and scanned us with a very domineering, sullen look at all times, her narrow eyes darting from left to right to let us know that she never missed anything. She never smiled and never acknowledged us. Perhaps to her we were not people.
Many people rented rooms on the second floor. We knew the Master Family. Mr Kunju Kannan Master who lived there with his wife and sons Narendran and Chandrahasan had been a French teacher in India, hence the title. To us, he was the chief tenant and everyone was in awe of him. But he did not merit a smile from the matriach and somehow that made him drop a bit in my esteem.
The rooms were dark and dingy. Mum and Dad converted the rooms into a home for us. Today, that row of houses is no more. Who owned that house? Who was the old lady who presided in such an unfriendly but majestic manner from her chair, on the ground floor? What was the story of her life?
We moved from the two rooms into the newly built No 100, Jalan Lumba Kuda Lama. Our house was the first house in a row that comprised two similar houses and four shops, all linked. Our neighbours were all Chinese. In front of our house was a five-foot path and a drain.
That drain came from the top of the road on the left and was a pretty shallow drain when it reached our house. After the second house, we had to go down two steps to pass the first shop house and two steps to pass the second shop house and two steps to pass the third shop house and a final two steps to come to the last shop house. The shallow drain became deeper and deeper as it went down and left our house to finally end somewhere.
Quite often, from somewhere, someone would send down a torrent of water that would sweep all debris out the drain. The fast flowing water was clean and we would hear it coming before it reached our house. We would then run outside and sit with our feet in the drain and let the water flow with force over our feet. The feel of the flowing water made us all laugh aloud gleefully. Our laughter would bring my mother out of the house and she would join in our joy with big, wide smiles. Where did the water come from and for what reason? When did they stop that and why?
In 1955, in front of our house there was a palatial mansion with a big, beautifully kept lawn. That is what I remember. At the end of the lawn stood a large, brick house. The house was occupied by an important Chinese family. They had a beautiful black German Shepherd. The dog was trained to pick up and take back to the thrower whatever was thrown. Whenever he came to our side of the road, we would throw a stick or a stone and it would bring it back to us. This would go on until someone from the house whistled for the dog to return home. Who lived in that house? Where are they now? What are their names?
Our immediate neighours were Chinese. The main tenant of the house was a lady in her forties who had come from China. She was a very thin lady and she sold eggs in the market. She had three children. The eldest a daughter, Sau Siah, followed by two boys, Sau Meng and Sau Leng. They all attended the Foon Yew Chinese School in Jalan Trus. We called her simply Sau Siah's mother and when we spoke to her, called her Aunty. Her husband was a very thin man and I do not recall him working.
She introduced us to ancestor worship. She would make cakes to be placed by the roadside in front of her house. She would burn joss sticks and paper money. We would go and sit by the road side at times. My parents had come from India and were conservative Indians. Soon Mum began to notice that they served their ancestors a day before or after we served our ancestors. We served in the privacy of a closed room. Theirs was a public affair. We began to notice many common religious ceremonies and customs too.
Where are the three children now? Does anyone know the people I am talking about? Sau Siah was about fifteen then.
Sau Siah's mother sold eggs in the wet market. I have seen her squatting in a corner of the market, with a wire basket filled with eggs for sale. I am not sure if she sold anything else. She would leave early in the morning and return when the market closed in the evening, with some wilted vegetables, a small fish or a piece of fatty pork. I am not sure how much money she made and how she ran her household.
That house had two rooms. She rented out one to a Teow Chew family.
Once a year there used to be a grand market festival that attracted lots of people. Sau Siah's mother would tell us about it. We would wait eagerly for my father to take all of us to the market in the evening. The wet market would be so clean and dry. We would walk from decorated stall to decorated stall but not buy anything except some fruit perhaps.
Whole roasted pigs, chickens,ducks, fruits and vegetables were offered to the Market God . There would be the fragrance of joss sticks. The fruit stalls would be laden with imported and local fruits, so would the vegetable stalls. I recall seeing not just Chinese stall keepers but also stalls of other races. What was the significance of the market festival? When did that stop and why?
In 1957, my parents enrolled me at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus in Jalan Yahya Awal. They also found a Malay trishaw man to ferry me and Abhi to school. He was a very kind man and the journey from Jalan Lumba Kuda Lama to the Convent was a most leisurely and enjoyable ride with the wind blowing on our faces. He sometimes shared his food with me. Is there anyway anyone can remember a trishaw rider ferrying two young Indian children to school in January 1957? Unlikely. But miracles never cease.
In the middle of 1957 after Uncle Anandan found Abhi and me pushing the trishaw up the hill in front of Cathay cinema in the evening after school, the trishaw man's services were terminated and a Chinese driver in a black car took us to school. That driver gave me my first ang pow in 1958. There was a 20 cent coin in the red packet. I was so thrilled and till today the sight of a red packet fills me with joy. Who is that Chinese driver? And what was the name of the kind, fatherly man who took good care of us young children?
The other students in that car included two Eurasian brothers Albert Scully who was ten and Dennis who was 8. The brothers were mischievous and they would bully me. I kept quiet and was scared of them. They had a younger sister, Patricia who was five. The boys studied in St Joseph's School. Where are the Scully boys now? They used to live in Majidee. Sometimes when the car dropped them off first I had seen their father in his army uniform, he would be carrying Patricia on his shoulders!
Down the road leading to the railway station, there was a big wooden house on the left. An Indian family lived there and they kept cows and had a big curry leaf plant. Mum would send me with a tumbler to get some yoghurt and curry leaves. The lady would pat my head and speak to me in Tamil which I did not understand and give me lots of smiles and a feeling of love and safety.
She was older than my mother. She charged a few cents for the yoghurt. She was a slim lady, very tanned and had curly hair. We simply called her the 'milk lady'. I would run to her place with the tumbler once I got back from school. Sometimes Mum would ask me to get some curry leaves as well. When I returned with the yoghurt, I would have lunch with my mother. Where is that family and what are their names?