by Patricia Nambiar
This is a story from the 1940s as told to me by my brother-in-law, George.
“I was in my early teens living with my Grandma in the Chow Kit area which in the 1940s was a mix of the then Malaya’s different races. Chow Kit was already a bustling commercial area. There were shops, a market, a cinema and even a maternity home in the area bordering what was then Batu Road (now Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman). Further into Jalan Chow Kit near where the PWTC stands today was a kampung of sorts where I lived alongside my Malay, Chinese and Indian mates. Armed with catapults we hunted birds in the small jungle fringe through which the Klang river flowed and served as our swimming pool. In the evenings my mates and I played football at a nearby padang no more than the size of four badminton courts.
My grandmother was a superb cook, her culinary skills much admired by our neighbours and my mates who never turned down an invitation to join me and my cousins for a meal.
Grandma was from the Portuguese settlement in Melaka and at home we spoke a mix of English, Kristang and Malay. From time to time, I was tasked to go to the market. One morning I was given $2 and ordered by Grandma to get two chicken and vegetables. Even for the late 1940s that was a tall order so I sensed that Grandma was very impressed with my bargaining skills when I duly returned with the two chicken and vegetables.
Later that day, I took my mate Karim to the cinema, paying for his ticket after which I treated him to Chow Kit’s famed Chendol at a roadside Mamak stall operating under a huge banyan tree that has long since disappeared. Karim was duly impressed by my new found riches at a time when 10 cents was to my mates and I big money.
Grandma, by this time, had cooked her famed chicken curry and dished out dinner for Karim, my guest for the evening and me. “See how Grandma loves me,” Karim said pointing to the drumstick Grandma had served him as he happily tucked into the chicken curry and rice.
It was just then that we heard Karim’s mother call out “Karim, Karim mana kau? Dua ayam dah hilang!” Without lifting his head, Karim said in a low voice “George, George, why lah my chicken?”
“Well, you got the drumstick, and we went to the cinema and you had the chendol,” I replied.
Karim never ratted on me. We were too close for that. And neither Grandma nor Karim’s mother ever learned the truth. We continued doing what children did – playing football, fighting, honing our swimming skills in the muddy river and raiding our neighbours fruit trees until as young men we outgrew Chow Kit and moved away.
Years later in the late 60s when I went with my wife to Chow Kit market, the pork vendor asked Mary who I was to her. “Well, he was one of the rascals of Chow Kit,” he said, refusing to take her money. “This one’s for the memory,” he said.
My friendship with Karim endured over the decades until his passing some years ago. At the time of his death, Karim was a respected elder at Kampung Datuk Keramat.
I never stole another chicken.”
I love listening to George’s stories of his youth. They tell of the time when life was simple and colourful. – Patricia Nambiar, July 2021.
About the Author – A native of Sabah, Patricia now lives in Petaling Jaya. She loves listening to stories and experiences of times past.