In this second part of his three-parter posting, Raja Chulan Raja Dato’ Ahmad Tajuddin fondly describes his childhood at Bukit Chandan.
My earliest memories of school were those when I was attending the Sekolah Rendah Melayu Bukit Chandan. It was located adjacent to the Istana Iskandariah, my childhood sanctuary. I vividly remember the male teachers most of whom that wore the songkok. Some of my classmates did too but none the more outstanding than Daud who wore a velvet brown songkok! Rather a reticent chap was Daud, and I remembered an unforgettable habit of his – he chewed kulit kayu manis (cinnamon sticks) in class and he was even kind enough to let me chew on it once.
Being a school in the Royal ‘compound’ (which covers the area from the Sungai Kangsar bridge right up to Istana Iskandariah), most of my classmates were cousins of mine, among whom were YM Raja Nasron (who now resides in Selangor), Ku Hassan and Ku Tetik (as he is fondly called). It was a time when the gates of the Istana Iskandariah were always open for us and the whole palace compound was virtually our playground. Our favorite haunting grounds were the domes of the istana (there were a few – small and big ones) and the ‘cookie’ (favourite chef of Almarhumah Raja Perempuan Taayah) would not bat an eyelid when we raided the kitchen!
By the grace of Allah, we were lucky to have a good ustaz. He would lead us for congregational Friday prayers at the palace surau. The surau, despite its small size, was neat and fully utilised with readings of surah Yaasin every Thursday night organised by Almarhumah Raja Perempuan Taayah herself. My lovable grand auntie was all heart when it came to remembering late relatives.
One embarrassing incident that remains etched in my memories occurred in this very surau at the istana. It happened on one Friday prayer when we were in the middle of performing the actual solat. As on any Friday, I would wear my baju melayu, with my trousers tied at the waist with a string. Belts did not last long with me for they were put to ‘practical use’ by my late father whenever I went missing playing truant! All seemed well as we followed the imam until the string around my trouser waist come loose, which led to inadvertent giggles from the jemaah!
There were no school buses then. The only bus that plied the narrow road seemed to take hours to come by. And about the only cars were Tuanku’s Rolls Royce and Tok Raja Shoran’s Morris Minor. Most of us would walk to school whilst others were privileged to be chauffeured, riding on their fathers’ Raleigh bicycles which was then popularly known as basikal benggali for its sheer size. I did not have to walk far to school but I was always late home, not that the traffic was heavy on the road but I had my daily detours.
First stop along the way home would be the small mamak stall for a ball of ais kepal, a favourite of all school-going children then, despite it being merely a ball of shaved ice flavoured with sugar syrup. And more often than not the mamak has to slice the ais kepal into halves so that a serving can be shared with a few friends. This road side stall, which was just by the front gates of the palace, had by it another attraction, a tamarind (assam jawa) tree which never seemed short of fruit. To satisfy our craving for fruit, another must stop was the home of Tok Setia where fruit trees were aplenty – ciku trees, rambutan, mangosteen and most tempting of all, the mata kucing. The mata kucing tree was huge and climbing it was never an option to us kids. Thankfully the broken branches did come in handy in helping us reach for the ones high up! I also didn’t mind treading through thick bushes, I would make my way to the Madrasah Idrisiah. Not the real destination though, for here was this wild guava (jambu batu) tree. By the time I would reach home, lunch could be skipped!
Home for me was the rumah berek located on a high rise fronting the only road, lied by shady trees, by the Masjid Ubudiah. They were called rumah berek because they were in essence wooden houses almost identical in size and shape. Almost all these houses have a pangkin each, handy when the weather was hot. The flame of the forest and saga trees brought colours to the tranquil neighbourhood of rumah berek when their flowers bloomed. And the red saga seeds provided the essential items for congkak games which were played on the pangkins.
Most of our neighbours were relatives but it was Tok Teh’s (Allahyarhamah was YM Raja Balkish’s affable grand mother) that I remembered most. Her house had the highest slope where we perfected the art of hill sliding on the pelepah daun kelapa!
And there were unforgettable memories too of rumah berek. One was when a python came a-visiting to our house! Amidst the tension came a knight with his rifle, Allahyarham Yong Namad (YM Raja Mariam’s late father) who brought down the uninvited guest with just one shot. And I am sure that during his lifetime, my late brother Jaa (Allahyarham Raja Zaharuddin) would not forget the rumah berek too. It was here that he learnt not to get close when cats were fighting, especially when you’re not attired at all. He had to be rushed to the hospital and ‘earned’ some stitches.
It was here that I had my first pillion ride on the basikal benggali, when my beloved father took me on his fishing trip, for he was a fishing enthusiast and net-casting was his favourite. The bicycle ride went on quite some distance because he liked to fish at the river Kangsar and it was always after sundown. I was tasked to take charge of the torchlight, for street lights were only a few and far between. The torch was also handy when fishing along the dark river bank, but I had another use for it too. We were the only ones on the dark and spooky road which had old mansions to its left and right, and I just had to shine the torch light left and right too!
Though the river Kangsar was just a tributary to the Perak river, it was then clean and had plenty of fish. I learnt net casting on this fishing trip, which was rather tricky for one had to have the right balance holding the net with its weight equally parted three ways in both hands. I had blamed my small size and the weight of the nets when my father commented on my first throw, “Macam kucen terojon ayor!” I also learnt that fishing along the river bank meant potential encounters with blood-sucking leeches! That night we had fresh fish for dinner, nevertheless.
I just loved the rumah berek. It was ‘home sweet home’, especially during Hari Raya. Rows of houses would be beautifully decorated and lit with panjut of various sizes and shapes. The takbir Raya from Masjid Ubudiah, which was a walking distance away, could barely be heard over the cries and shouts of children blasting away their fire crackers.
[To be concluded]
Almarhumah Raja Perempuan Taayah is the author’s paternal grandaunt.
pangkin: a traditional well-aerated Malay patio, in the form of a raised wooden platform resembling a large bed.
Raja Chulan Raja Dato’ Ahmad Tajuddin is one of the editors of SembangKuala when he is not travelling around the country giving motivational talks. He read economics at the University Malaya and unlike most Perak royal sons, including his co-editorial board colleague and second cousin, he was educated at Sekolah Dato’ Abdul Razak.