Two families, a bunga tanjong tree and mentors in my life

Raja Chulan Raja Ahmad Tajuddin talks about his familial roots as well as fond memories of his grandfather, the late Raja Razman Raja Abdul Hamid, and days spent at the eponymous Rumah Hitam at Bukit Chandan. And not forgetting a few scary moments, courtesy of a tree.

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I feel blessed to have descended from two Perak Royal Houses – the Idris I family on my father’s side and the Abdullah family on my mother’s side. It was by chance that I learnt of this when I was just about seven years old. I remember it was during one of those days when I followed by mother to her kelas mengaji taught by Allahyarham Haji Wok at the surau which was located between Rumah Hitam and the Istana Kuning (the yellow-painted residence of Allahyarham Ku Zaid[1]).

I was seated amongst the men folk facing Allahyarham Haji Wok, whilst my mother and the other womenfolk were seated behind the tabir (partition) at the back of the surau. As usual before starting his class, Haji Wok would engage in conversation with his class, perhaps to break the ice. It was then that he noticed me and asked, “Payong ni anak Engku Nor, ayahandanya Ku Tak?”. I just nodded my head, surprised he knew both my parents. Then he addressed the assembly, “Payong ni dari dua keturunan, Mohom Idris dan Mohom Abdullah” which was etched into my memory until now.

Conveniently, we would visit Allahyarham Ku Zaid and family at the Istana Kuning after every kelas mengaji. His late wife was my aunt, my mother’s sister. I loved it when we were served ubi kayu goreng (deep-fried tapioca) which was sliced thin and crisply fried by their cook, Mak Kiah, whose husband, Pak Kimi (or was it Wak Kimi) who had a small plot of vegetables growing at the back yard of the Istana. We were never empty handed when we took leave from these visits, with freshly plucked bananas and tapioca.

After Istana Kuning, we would make a stop at Rumah Hitam, which was essentially my second home as this was the domicile of my grandfather, Ku ‘Nick’ Razman, and my grandmother, Sharifah Hendon. Their children who were also living with my grandparents were my late aunt, Ah (Allahyarhamah Raja Halijah Razman), Auntie Mimi and Ayah Chu (Raja Harun Al Rashid) a.k.a. ‘King Richard’. I loved Rumah Hitam because its backyard was virtually my hunting ground for fruit the likes of bananas, nangka (jackfruit), pineapple, rambutan and jambu batu (guava). Whenever it was the fruit season, I would be appointed ‘official’ fruit picker, being a good climber then, especially with encouragement from my ‘mentor’, Ayah Chu.

From this story I am about to tell, this mentee of Ayah Chu’s that is yours truly learnt to be brave the hard way. I was always the errand boy whenever I stayed at Rumah Hitam – my errands included buying a bottle cooking oil, a kati[2] of sugar or even biskut Marie (in the days when biscuits were sold in kati and never well packed!), as well as what Ayah Chu described as ‘secret assignments’ which turned out to be buying a few sticks of cigarettes at Mamak Rahman’s store which was quite a distance.

There was no proper road that led to Mamak Rahman’s from Rumah Hitam, just a small track winding through the houses. The track would pass underneath a big (I thought it was really huge then, being a seven year old boy) bunga tanjung[3] tree. With its big trunk and thick foliage, this tree looked foreboding especially at sundown. However, it was not too tall as some of its foliage were hanging quite low, almost touching one’s head. To worsen matters, there was this strange man called Pak Baki who made this particular bunga tanjung tree his home of sorts.

Was there or was there not a Pak Baki under the said tree?

On errands to Mamak Rahman’s, it would be brisk walks for me, except in the evenings when it would trotting all the way, running even, when I passed under the bunga tanjung tree with eyes running wild on the watch out for Pak Baki. I was on one errand to Mamak Rahman’s to buy supplies for Rumah Hitam one evening and this particular time Ayah Chu was with me. I was glad because I had company and need not trot we came by the bunga tanjung tree. All went well and we were on the way back with me carrying the bottle of cooking oil. As we approached the tree, Ayah Chu abruptly stopped and started looking around. This wasn’t good, I thought to myself.

Then all hell broke loose when this mentor of mine shouted, “Pak Baki!!!”

Ayah Chu ran well ahead of me. Shocked, I stood rooted to the ground and began to cry. Realising and thinking that I could possibly be victim to Pak Baki I then ran for dear life. It must have been the fastest sprint of my childhood days!

There was one errand I made for Rumah Hitam that would invoke fond memories of my late grandfather, Tok Nick. This errand was actually a trip to Mamak Rahman’s which I made on my own accord on the day arwah fell ill with fever. I bought him 10 cents worth of biskut Marie which touched him so much that related it to my other mentor – my uncle, Allahyarham Ayah Din (more about him can be read in my early musings here). Before his demise, arwah Ayah Din would always recall this gesture of mine for his late father. May Allah bless their souls and place them amongst the dwellers of Jannah.

Footnote:
[1]Raja Zairan ibni Almarhum Sultan Yussuf Izzudin, the younger brother of Almarhum Raja Di-Hilir Ekram.
[2]One kati approximately equates to 600 g.
[3]The spanish cherry/medlar/bullet wood tree. Take your pick.

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A personal record

Raja Chulan Raja Ahmad Tajuddin returns with more tales from his early years as a Kuala Kangsor boy – this time revolving his involvement with sports at school. Engku Chulan reminisces the 200 meter race of his life when he equalled the school record which lasted only 5 minutes!

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I was an all-round sportsman, I dare say. I played football, hockey, badminton and, in later years, rugby. I was quite good at field games and athletics too, although I cannot say I excel in any. As the saying goes, and as far as games go, I was jack of all and master of none!

In all the schools that I went to I was never one to shun from sports and field activities but it was in my early secondary years at Clifford that remained etched in my memory. It was during the school’s annual sporting event when the various Houses rose to the challenge to be the best in school. In all there were six houses, each with its own colour. I was in Head’s House, coloured brown. Purple was for Queen’s House, yellow for Iskandar House and red for Idris House. Hogan House took cream for its colour while Chulan House was in blue. Until now I wondered why I was never in Chulan House!

The first preparation for the sports was to get our singlet coloured. Common was the Pagoda sleeveless singlet which was the cheapest. We would share school pocket money to buy the dye. The large cooking pot needed to boil the water was from my mum’s kitchen and the firewood ‘borrowed’ (ahem! -Ed.) from the Chinese coffee shop on Hogan Road. The singlets must be evenly stirred in the boiling water mixed with the brown dye for the colour to be even. Otherwise, we would have light brown singlets with dark brown patches!

On the big day, we gathered at the school field to register for the events we would participate. Each member of the house would enter for as many events as possible except of course for the kaki bangku. We aimed to score points in every event we participated for our House to be declared champions. I chose the long jump, the shot put, the 100 yards as well as the 200 yards. Although not the eventual winner, I did score points in the long jump and shot put. I won my first heat in the 100 meters but never made the final heat. Still, I did secure a point.

I was determined to win the 200 yards being the last event I participated. The crowd was all for me as the announcement was made for the start of the race. I was in the fourth lane and as the countdown began I had my sight only on the finishing line. I was off the block even as the starting gun blew off and I realised I had a very good start. I was oblivious to everything as I took the first turn except for the loud clapping of the crowd at the finishing line. Down the final stretch, I realised that the others were far behind and I never looked back. I broke the finish tape with hands held high for it was the run of my life. The crowd was jumping and clapping as I rejoiced at the victory. I was especially excited because the win meant I had equalled the feat of a favourite cousin, YM Raja Balkish Raja Amir, who was GEGS’ best sprinter (she eventually became the Perak state sprinter).

I saw the headmaster came towards me, perhaps to congratulate me, I thought. Then there was a hush as the crowd turned silent. “You curi lane hah!” was all Mr Karam Singh said as I felt a biting pain from his crab-pincher on my stomach. Then I realised that in my excitement to win the race I had cut into the inner lane right from the first turn. But how could he have seen that. He was nowhere near the starting point!

Well, it was a lesson well learnt and I was lucky because despite not gaining any points in that race I was not penalised for the other points I earned. And it was the most short-lived record-equalling run in school. That was a personal record for this Hill Road brat.

From a Malay School boy to a Cliffordian, part 2

Raja Chulan Raja Ahmad Tajuddin returns with more tales from his early years as a Kuala Kangsor boy. Today’s post is the second part describing his early days at the Clifford School Special Malay Class following his early education at the  Sekolah Rendah Melayu Pusat. Here Engku Chulan reminisces the friends he made at school and the antics they were up to!

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Among my Cliffordian friends who came from Kota Lama Kiri were the children of Allahyarham Mohd Nor Long, the famous football referee of Kuala Kangsar. Mohd Safaruddin, one of his sons, was a college mate at The College of Agriculture Serdang in 1969. Other Cliffordian friends included Krishnan, Bala and Muniandy, who stayed in Residence Hill; Kat Pin Hon who was a good hockey player and later became a businessman; Leong, whose father owned the Leong electrical shop opposite Yut Loy coffee shop; Ariff, the son of Pak Ngah Laksa; Zainal the son of Pak Desa, the mee seller at the old bus station in town; Majid who retired as a customs officer and Dato’ Ahmad Dhaman Huri who retired as the Ketua Setiausaha of JKR. And unforgettable too were the Scottish brothers Richard and Stuart Henning, whose father was the District Engineer. I cannot forget the day that I got into a fist fight with Richard when I thought he was flirting with one of the girls on our school bus. Despite that, we remained friends and I was even invited for Christmas at his house.

Our class master, or form teacher as it was known then, was a Eurasian named Mr Ball Hatchet (forgive me if memory fails me in correctly spelling his name), feared for his ‘crab pincers’ which essentially was a pinch to the stomach as he reprimanded naughty pupils in class. I was, of course, the most frequent recipient of the penalty.

A photo of Clifford School taken in 1897. (Source: Clifford School Kuala Kangsar Facebook page)

Clifford School as it stands today. (Photo: Raja Chulan Raja Dato' Ahmad Tajuddin)

Finishing the Special Malay Class, I moved school again to enter Standard Six at the Clifford Primary School which was located at Jalan Station near the Hospital Perempuan Kuala Kangsar. Since the school was rather far from Hill Road, I had to take the schoolbus driven by Pakcik Ghazali. The headmistress then was the late Mrs Yap. It was during my standard six here that we pupils were often taken to the Istana Iskandariah at the invitation of Almarhumah Raja Perempuan Taayah, my beloved grandaunt. Following my grandaunt’s demise, may Allah bless her kind soul, the school held its annual English essay writing contest and Mrs Yap asked me to write about Almarhumah. I won first prize because my essay was based on fond and loving memories whenever I visited her with my late father at Istana Iskandariah.

By this time, I became very close to YM Raja (Dr) Ahmad Tajuddin Shah Raja Bendahara Abdul Rashid* (also known as Ku Matta), who is a granduncle although we are only months apart age-wise. This close acquaintance proved useful in later part of my education when he and his MCKK colleagues gave prep tuition to this Cliffordian! And to this day, I am grateful to them for helping me to obtain my Higher School Certificate with flying colours. And unforgettable too were the nights when this Cliffordian was smuggled into the College to watch movies at the Hargreaves Hall. More often than not, after watching these movies, I would spend the night at Istana Gahara at the invitation of YM Ku Matta (or RATS* to his Serdang colleagues). Even as a kid, I could feel the familial bond that exuded from the warm and tender care of YAM Tuanku (Raja Puan Kechil Aishah Raja Saidin), bonda of Ku Matta. Soft spoken, always with a smile accopanying her charming personality, she treated me as a mother would. The ambience of Istana Gahara was one of royal splendour and serenity, with small vines that creeps the wall at both wings of the palace.

It was during these early Cliffordian days that my late father attended night classes at the insistence and recommendation of his superiors at the agriculture department in Kuala Kangsar. It was his diligence and dedication at work that eventually enabled him to obtain a Diploma of Agriculture at the Serdang Agriculture College. It was his sense of belonging as a son of Serdang that he sent me to attend the College of Agriculture Serdang in 1969, incidentally just after the tragic May 13 riots.