Raja Chulan Raja Ahmad Tajuddin returns with more tales from his early years as a Kuala Kangsor boy. Today’s post is a first parter describing his early days at the Clifford School Special Malay Class following his early education at the Sekolah Rendah Melayu Pusat. Being at an English-medium school did not deter our intrepid co-editor from enjoying simple kampung fun with his school friends!
On a recent one-day sojourn to Pangkor Laut Resort, I was a guest of Executive Chef Zaffar, a long lost friend whose elder brother Abdullah was a schoolmate in my early primary school days at Central Malay School and, later, Clifford Primary School. Even during his early schooling days, Dollah, as we fondly called him, always helped his father, Pak Samad, who was a reputable cook in Bukit Chandan. Dollah now continues the family catering business as a caterer in Kuala Kangsar. However, he has not been of good health lately and, as a close school friend, I pray to Allah for his speedy recovery.
Like Dollah, I moved on to an English-medium school from my three year-stint at Central Malay School. My mother, who took pride in being one of the earliest Malay ladies to be English-educated (The author’s mother, Raja Datin Nor Zaharah Raja Badiozaman, is an alumnus of Lady Treacher’s, Taiping –Ed.), persuaded me to take the Special Malay Class examination which would enable me to be enrolled at Clifford Primary School. This exam was meant for pupils in the standard four and I was only in standard three. I guess that must have been my first real challenge in education. I managed to make the grade and jumped class. I then became a Cliffordian at the Special Malay Class, a mere walking distance from Hill Road.
However, changing schools never did change my undying thirst to explore new territories of truancy. My new friends at the Clifford SMC came from various districts of Kuala Kangsar – namely Manong, Padang Rengas, Kati, Enggor and Sayong to name a few. These places were not as they are now and in those days these places were considered remote and not easily accessible to kids like us to venture on our own, especially without permission from our parents.
Kota Lama Kiri was one such place and I had an unforgettable incident while foraging for pineapples and bananas grown by the village folks at the jungle fringes. Kids, including myself, innocently thought that these fruit plants/trees had grown naturally! But it was not just our craving for fruit that brought us here. Classmates from the locality of Kota Lama Kiri kindled my interest to catching catfish (ikan keli) with my bare hands. It was a challenge that was too good to miss. Catching catfish in the padi fields of Kota Lama Kiri was seasonal – after the padi harvesting season when the water in the fields have been drained out.
From the small single-lane road leading to Kampung Jemuan and the Iskandar Bridge, we detoured at Sungai Chempias, a small tributary of Sungai Perak, wading upstream against the river’s fast current. This led us to the irrigation drains and the padi fields. Excitement mounted as I saw some budak-budak kampung already sloshing around in the muddy padi fields, some shouting excitedly with ikan keli and haruan in their hands. The padi fields were not entirely dried up for some parts were still covered with ankle-deep water and locating the fish was not that easy, as I found out. Holding a live fish is normally quite difficult but catching one ith bare hands in muddy waters? Not wanting to be belittled by my kampung friends I became bolder and ventured to a corner of the padi field where none of the kampung boys went.
As I sloshed through the mud, the water level raised to my knee rather quickly. I felt myself sinking deeper and deeper, groping around but not finding anything to cling on to. It was after some desperate flailing of hands and legs that I finally felt myself floating up, gasping for air. I was helped up and was told that I had slipped into a telaga buta (an unused well) hidden beneath the shallow muddy water! It was an unforgettable incident that never reached the ears of my parents, alhamdulillah. My disappointment of not catching a single ikan keli nor haruan was soon forgotten during lunch. With the peaceful kampung surroundings, we ate hot steaming rice with freshly grilled ikan keli and haruan. And the freshly plucked pucuk paku in santan (coconut milk) cooked over firewood was simply delicious.
[To be continued]