Fallen Off the Back of A Car
A man who calls himself Raja Muda sent me his observations on our moving times (New Straits and our post-modernist era). What a sad twist of irony if what he foretells comes true: when bits and pieces of the old Masjid Raja in Chendering will turn up in a Sunday market in the boot of a car. Our reality has become a sad self-devouring monster, of men with huge wads of cash paying themselves and their contractors huge sums to demolish our old parts and rebuilding anew, in the style of the old parts that we’ve just mown down. But in Kuala Terengganu the monster has itself become a monstrosity when we’ve demolished the warisan of Datuk Amar and built on the desecrated ground an Ottoman style market for the buying and selling of our treasures.
I know the old Kampung Datuk well. A man lived there who was the funniest man I knew in Kuala Trengganu. He could do magic tricks and draw pictures with a scrawl and a scratch and a dash with some wavy lines here and there and together they morphed into a smiling crocodile. He tore bits of paper and woof! they merged again into its original whole. One night he came to our house and I gave him a piece of savoury akök that had gone funny. He took one bite and left the rest on the side of his plate and smiled. I only discovered the truth when I took a bite from mine and spat it all out in a ptooi! and how we laughed over it all. Pak Mat or Pak Awang was a descendant of the Datuk Amar, Trengganu’s Man of Oob (see GUiT p. 285) and he, like the Pied Piper had a group of the Masjid Abidin’s children in his trail. He rattled off one day what sounded to me like a long tirade in the sing-song style of Trengganu Hokkien and then admitted that it was just a long litany of Chinese shop names he’d committed to memory. Father called him Che Awang King George because — I thought — he bore an uncanny resemblence to King George V, but recently I met the son-in-law of one of Pak Awang’s schoolmates and he had another story to tell. You can see Pak Awang, by the way, as the young lad standing behind the right edge of the board in the farewell photo of the Sekolah Arab Bukit Jambul (GUiT, p. 96). There was the Victory Clinic in Kampung Datuk, built in the old Trengganu ‘Gedung’ style of bricks and mortar, and there was a narrow lane that led up to the residential quarter that reminded me of the kasbah in Algiers.
All that is gone now of course. They could have preserved some of the interesting aspects of Kampung Datuk if they had wanted to, but heritage is a troublesome place, far easier to demolish the whole and then pour out fresh mortar to build anew – in an old mock-heritage style. But here’s the extract from that letter from Raja Muda:
”I've not read the NST for a while since I think the new management is bastardising the paper. The story of the demolition is not without its irony, since under the ECER plan, they're giving KT the moniker of Bandar Warisan Pesisir Air. The architects are already drawing up huge air-conditioned complexes with faux singgora tile roofs and carvings.Anonymous [see Comments, below] is right of course. The old now demolished car-booted Masjid Raja of Chendering was the favourite mosque of the late Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah, grandfather to the present Yang Di Pertuan Agong. Tuanku Ismail very rarely made an appearance at the Masjid Abidin in Kuala Trengganu on Fridays because he preferred the old Masjid Raja. (Perhaps that's how the Mosque got its name). I saw him at the Masjid Abidin once though, when I was going to the marja’ house after the afternoon 'asr prayer. I saw him looking at some Chinese workers working on the unfinished mausoleum that — many years later — became his place of burial.
“The real warisan is being edged out, the old houses, and perhaps soon the original people to make way for the glossy, gleaming sanitised vision these people have. All I can say is, I will be vigilant, lest pieces of the mosque appear in a car boot in this part of the world. What we cannot save in totality, I guess we must rescue in bits and pieces. Just as the Zaaba book or the old sheaves of Utusan Melayu someone throws away, one man's trash is another man's treasure. Perhaps pieces of old Terengganu will find a loving home elsewhere.”