Raja Chulan Raja Ahmad Tajuddin returns with more tales from his early years as a boy living on Hill Road, the ‘third hill’ of Kuala. Today’s musings are of his days at the Sekolah Rendah Melayu Pusat, as well as the unforgettable characters that were his teachers and school friends!
Moving to the rumah batu (the government quarters we lived in as my mother puts it) meant changing schools. I entered the Central Malay School Kuala Kangsar (Sekolah Rendah Melayu Pusat) in Standard 3, as I had already spent two years at the Bukit Chandan Malay Primary School. The Central Malay School was located adjacent to The Malay College, and from the barrack we stayed, the school was about two kilometres away. To reach my new school, I would trespass the Hill Road church, enjoying the shades of the big ara and chenderai trees I remembered well. I am fond of the chenderai in particular because it provided the brats of Hill Road the ‘ammunition’ in the form of chenderai seeds for their senapang buluh, proving yet the ingenuity of kids of yesteryear. The body for the senapang buluh would of course come from the bamboo hedge fencing of the Hill Road church! The season of senapang buluh high noon duels was the most irked of by our mothers. The hits from the chenderai seeds would leave our shirts polka-dotted green! And it took our dear mothers some scrubbing to rid our shirts of these!
I never liked walking on the road so my next short cut would be cutting across the Clifford school field which then was quite bare. This would take me to the only stretch of road I cannot avoid walking on – the road separating the Malay College ‘Big School’ and its prep school. I always had to stop at the pedestrian crossing by the College, allowing the smug-looking whitely-clad Malay Collegians to cross. From here it was just about a hundred metre walk to the front gate of the Central Malay Primary School, the road leading to the school’s only building was then lined with small trees and was barely enough for two cars to manoeuvre.
I made a visit to the Central Malay School last year and saw the changes it had undergone. The school now has an additional building next to the main block and a new staff quarters with the district education office occupying a spot which was once a low lying flood-prone area whenever it rained heavily. What I felt missing mostly was the big rumbia tree not far from the main block, which bore fruits almost incessantly enough for my gang of brats. Rather unfortunate though for the school because we littered the area with firewood taken from the school canteen in our arduous effort to bring down the buah rumbia!
Etched in my memory during my short schooling stint at the Central Malay School were a few personalities. There was the stern-looking headmaster who was rather short of hearing and had to use a hearing aid. We took advantage of his impaired hearing, as we never needed to throw caution to the wind when we noisily assailed the rumbia tree for its fruits (as kids normally do!) but we have to keep our eyes open for he stayed at the Headmaster’s house within the school compound, a walking distance away from Istana Gahara, an immediate neighbour to the school.
The school’s bespectacled ustaz always wore a songkok and took great pains to educate us brats with the basic tenets of Islam. Learning the recitations of verses in the obligatory prayers would be followed by practising it in class. We were made to bring handkerchiefs to be used as prayer mats when we prayed on the cemented classroom floor. I now realised how much I owed him for his patience to make sure we can write and read the jawi scriptures. And he made sure of this with whips of ‘persuasion’ from the long, slim rattan cane he always carried! Alhamdulillah, I can now read and write jawi, thus, being able to read both the Quran and hadith in Arabic, which was immensely useful during my travels to the Middle East later in my life. Regrettably though I cannot recall his name but may Allah bless and reward him for being such a good teacher.
Our English teacher, Mr. Melvin, was my favourite. He was rather fair-skinned and good looking chap, being a Eurasian. Rather taciturn and soft spoken, he was good in teaching us the basics of the English language, both spoken and written. The morning recess time was ten o’clock and I would help peel his oranges before scooting off to the school canteen, a wooden building at the back of the school. The canteen food then was rather cheap and my daily pocket money of 30 sen was enough for a glass of drink, mee or bihun, and some Malay cookies. Sagun was everyone’s favourite at the canteen, which was a mixture of sweetened finely grounded coconut and rice flour, wrapped in old newspaper folded in a cone. One has to bite the tapered end of the cone to eat the sagun.
One must be careful when eating sagun because the finely powdered delicacy could smear half your face white and you would not want to enter class with a tepung goma-covered face like Aziz Sattar in Seniman Bujang Lapok!
An unforgettable character among my peers at school was a friend, Tahir. Stoutly built, he was the school bully. He always wanted to have his way in whatever we brats did, especially in games. I had my share of troubles from him when we played football. He displayed his tantrum when he was on the losing end of the game. Imagine playing football from noon till sundown! And I had to face the music from my mother when I reached home very late. God bless my mother for she then told thebully off, right at the door step of his home. I never had trouble with Tahir again, ever.
On my way home from the Central Malay School every day, I would take further detours. The detour I’d take was via the Iskandar Polo Club located quite near the Masjid Jamek Kuala Kangsar facing the town’s municipal football field. At the club, I enjoyed watching the elders play billiards and mahjong although I never really knew anything about both. The club room was, of course, out of bounds to minors but I was never shooed off as I have close and distant uncles who frequented the club. It was only later that I had the perfect excuse to always be at the club. After school, I would send kuih made by my mother for sale at the Club’s canteen. A famous landmark of the club was the Polo Club pavilion, a spiralled multi-storey building, which I think was the observation tower for polo games. I had fun scouring up and down the pavilion stairs, sliding down the lower end of the banister.
The pavilion is what is left of the Iskandar Polo Club today.
Central Malay Primary School was founded in 1880, making it the oldest school in Kuala Kangsar. The original building was at the Bukit Kerajaan courthouse. The school then moved to what is now known as Jalan Daeng Selili in 1885 and again to Hogan Road (Jalan Iskandar) in 1887. It then moved to its current site and was named Central Malay School in 1950. It was renamed Sekolah Kebangsaan Sultan Idris II in 1964.