It was once virgin jungle that sandwiched another virgin jungle at the back of our house. Maxwell Drive is the name of the lane that seems to cut into the jungle and ends nowhere. Three government bungalows lined the lane. Ours was at the end of the lane, in the middle lived a Mat Salleh IGP and at the entrance of the lane lived a family which I’m sure Mum and Dad knows who. On top of the hill as we exit Maxwell Drive is a house we called the Bismillah house for Mum said the lady of the house never does anything without beginning with Bismillah i.e. in the name of Allah. I was then a primary schoolboy in a family of eleven.
Such memories the house brings. It was so full of character it exudes the stuff. Dad was a government servant and our home, housed no end of visiting and staying relatives. Two storied, perched on higher ground than the lane leading to it, it had a curved row of servant quarters to the right, a small field to the left ending with a lonely garage which had scary stories of its own to tell. Uphill covered steps leads to the front door and the edge of the compound hillock was perimetered by bamboo bushes. Behind the house I do believe was virgin jungle, on the other side of which was a Mat Salleh boys school. Days before every Hari Raya Dad would ask us to find bamboo in the jungle behind our house to hold the kerosene lamps that lights up the Ramadhan nights around our house. Me and my immediate elder brothers formed a group of four as the middling batch in our large family. We were brothers and as well as tight friends. One year we found more than bamboo in the jungle behind. Right in the thick of the jungle we found a well kept flowery garden. We didn’t see any house around and so we thought that might just be the right time to exit as we had found our share of bamboo.
Monkeys were another memory to hold. Except when there were guests the children of the family often had breakfast in the open air kitchen at the head of the servants row. We didn’t have too many servants just Makcik Hadisi the cook and Pakcik Tahrin, Dad’s driver who lived there with his family. The other two rooms at the servants quarters were occupied by temporary and permanent relatives. House rules say never to leave food unattended in the open air kitchen. We have lost countless loaves of bread, victims to the daring raids of monkeys to our kitchen table. One day I found a maniacal monkey screaming and jumping up and down the high ground looking down at our kitchen. I asked Mak Ngah what happened. She smirked and said that’s what happens when one steals. Apparently a monkey had snatched a piece of belacan (prawn paste) MakNgah did not have time to replace in the cupboard.
Padang Merbok was scary and awesome at night. My two eldest teen age brothers at the time used to boast they would return home from friends’ houses late at night lit by the light of the langsuir or banshee. I’m sure that was an exaggeration but they swear they did see the apparition. We did not have such experience but the ulat bulu (hairy caterpillars) attacks from the Jerai tree at the bottom of the steps leading to the house was something else. Swells will appear all over your body and funnily enough as warned by the elders the swells do seem to spread if you look at yourself in the mirror. Jerai trees are famous as homes of the unseen species but the less said about that the better.
Eventually tractors came to clear the virgin jungle that was to become Padang Merbok today. It was just laid bare for many years and became a sort of makeshift football field for us and the surrounding neighbourhood boys. Today our house is no longer there, replaced by a Cultural Centre, and Padang Merbok is a sports field and home to public carnivals and events. As they talked about Padang Merbok today flashes of memory would capture my mind as would flashes of hope true democracy would take root in my nation. Growing up in the UK in my young adult life I do admire the fairness and transparency of their democratic system. National newspapers are allowed to freely support political parties of their own choosing giving the British public a fair exposure to political views. A Permanent Parliamentary Commission measures and ensure equal exposure on TV and radio to all political parties, ruling and in opposition. That is why perhaps we hardly hear of any rumblings and complaints by losing political parties. Isn’t transparency and justice, demands of Islam?
Class of ’72, Sulaiman House