Tuesday, 19 August 2008

In the bowels of Batu Road

Do you remember the original Coliseum Theater, Globe Silk Store, Bata, P H Henry on Batu Road, now known as Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman?

My first exposure to Kuala Lumpur was when we migrated from Penang in 1961 to the big Apple. Batu Road and Robinson's on Mountbatten Road were the places to shop back then.

What remains now are the repainted plaster facades of pre war shop houses, the Coliseum Theater which shows Tamil and Hindi (Bollywood) movies and the Coliseum Cafe where an 80 year old waiter still works.

The newer Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman shops look more like this, housing silk and textile merchandise owned by Gujerati and Indian muslim merchants.

Remember the strains of old Malay favourites belted out by this couple on organ and tambourine? They were younger then of course, but like the song goes, they are singing it to me one more time.

The clientele profile has changed since then. Now our Malaysian multiracial groups mingle with colourful costumes from Africa, Middle East, South America, Eastern Europe and many more.

Deep in the bowels of the beast lies the hidden treasures of Little India vis-a-vis Malay Street, a new phenomenon that has emerged in most larger cities of Malaysia and Singapore. If shopping streets could be deemed ethnic, that's what they have actually become.

This is the portal to a shoppers paradise. You can get just about anything you wish for. From herbal or Ayurveda potions to a suit . . . with a great discount thrown in!

Or you may need a sanggul (chignon) to go with a sari for the wedding of the year; or a ketayap (skull cap) for the kenduri (prayer meeting) on Friday;

or a head scarf from the stalls or boutique.

How about jewellery - fake or the real thing?

Time for a hair cut or shave followed by a songkok to cap it all and a dash of minyak atar (perfume)?

By now if you're hungry, this is just the place to satisfy your gastronomic needs. Food vendors line the street and passage ways selling vadai, goreng pisang, muruku - all yummy but bad for the waistline and skin.

My 'must have' meal each time I visit Batu Road is a healthy dish of rice noodle in fish broth, laksa kedah, almost as good as my sister-in-laws. I attracted some attention while photographing the laksa. The ladies next to me muttered "Eh eh! Tembak (shooting) laksa!" The young couple in front of me commented, "Tourist ? Reporter ?"

Grilled fish, fried spicy chicken, sugar cane juice, young coconut?

Little India it is, with not one but two shopping complexes selling nothing but saris, selwar kamiz for all occasions.

My favourite shop is Libaas in City One Complex owned by Jessy and her family. It is a traditional family business with shops in Ipoh and KL. Jessy stocks a fabulous collection of selwar kamiz outfits and fabric and has a tailor on hand to pamper your every whim and fancy. The hottest item currently are chiffon patiela pants which are heavily pleated and are very feminine and sexy.

His and her Malay traditional costume ready to wear in S,M & L sizes.
What more could you ask for?

Malaysia's young population go ga ga over weddings. Specialised shops stock matrimonial paraphernalia in every colour and style imaginable. Weekends are packed with couples, mum's, brides, grooms and entire families enjoying the preparations.

Dusk falls and whilst shops used to close at 5 pm in the sixties, most stay open till 8 pm these days. Business is competitive and times are not so rosy. Every year street activity rises to a frenzied peak prior to festivals like Deepavali and Hari Raya.
But old and important structures always stand tall and remind us of a peaceful and simple time. Those were the days.


anak desa said...

A memories that always be in our hearts. It just make me remember the old days when i was studying in UTM early 80's. It has been more than twenty years an i believed a lot of changes has happened. Still missing shopping along jalan TAR from chow kit road to pertama complex.

Anonymous said...

have been a regular with your blog since you started. very refreshing news and your pics are like done by professionals lah! keep it up!