Nov 13, 2013

The richest man in Jeram

"My grandfather was the richest man in Jeram! Ask anyone and they will tell you!"

Brandishing his arms towards the bemused shopkeepers, he declared, "Orang Cina pun kalah!"

Over the course of the next few hours, I would be hearing this phrase very often. 
(hehehe quite proud to have my race used as the rich-yardstick though)

Mr Thiruneelakandan (‘call me Thiru’) was born in 1942. 

Dressed in a shiny blue dato'-style batik shirt, he helpfully offered his grandfather’s story when I came asking. He also promised to drive me around to see his grandfather's vacation home in his dusty old Proton Saga.

"All this land in Jeram used to belong to my grandfather! All this land."
The abandoned Jeram Post Office; there was a tiny banana stall on the opposite. I still regret not walking over to take a shot of it, yellow and speckled bananas of all sizes, nicely framing the banana seller.
In 1918, his grandfather Mr. Nagamuthoor left Ceylon and came to Malaysia in search of a better life. 

He became the postmaster for Kuala Selangor, which is also responsible for postal operations in Jeram and Batang Berjuntai. Apparently, Mr Nagamuthoor the postmaster also owned large tracts of land in Jeram, most of them being rubber estates. Rubber is a prized commodity back then. 

However, this happy immigrant story came with a twist.
“Then, he gave his entire pension to the government.”

What? Why would anyone do that? 

“That time was the Japanese Occupation. He gave the money to help fight the war.”

what a different period we live in. 

Jeram Hill was used as a strategic post for the Japanese army. With some of the money left, Mr. Nagamuthoor was able to pull through and keep family members and relatives from starvation.

“My English is not very good. I studied until Form 3.”
"My grandfather is so rich, he had a rest house by the sea! Come let me show you."

In that short drive, he pointed out how Jeram has deteriorated as a town, with shuttered shops everywhere. 

Boy scouts and girl scouts were out in full force, hiking along the road with their backpacks and walking sticks, frowning against the hot sun.  

We arrived at Pantai Remis.  
The beach was empty, with the sound of lapping waves and a lazy breeze. I picked my way carefully through the rocks, hoping the flimsy slippers wouldn't give up on me.
 “That’s his rest house! That one. You must take picture of that.”

I squinted into the distance. The ocean reflected the skies beautifully, a few lone mangroves dotted the beach, and some stately storks stalked regally over the mud.

What is he talking about? 

There is no house!
Then I saw a tiny rectangular cement block in the distance, measuring about three by four feet.  

“Your camera can take? Zoom in?”

You mean that cement block?

“That is the tangki of my grandfather’s rest house!”

I’m speechless. The thing is like 50 metres out to the sea!
This man here inadvertently showed me the seriousness of the erosion at Jeram. I squinted out at the tangki again.

Originally, the village of Jeram was founded by the sea, but erosion has forced villagers to move inland. In 2012, Pantai Remis is classified as Rank 1 (extremely dangerous) in terms of coastal erosion. The stretch of coastline from Sungai Besar , Sekinchan, and stretching all the way to Sungai Sembilang, 33km in all, were suffering the same fate.

Geologists say this ‘sedimentological’ nature and ‘unpredictability’ is caused by a crazy storm some 60 years ago.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it means that animals in that ecosystem (such as clams and molluscs) actually play a role in protecting the coastline from erosion.

But the storm has changed the whole fossil bed, which makes it impossible for regrowth to take place before other storms come and wash the mud away.

The road by the beach, drainage and new facilities were all damaged because of the sand movement. Long term planning should rely on a more ecological approach, taking the fragile coastline into account before taking any action. 

The erosion is also the reason why Pantai Remis was never developed into a resort, but instead became a good spot for geology students to observe modern sedimentary conditions and their faunal content. 

Lots of people come fishing in the evenings though. and apparently the ikan bakar is really good. 
On the way back to the car, I noticed that he has a slight limp, but still pretty spry for a 71 year old guy.

 “I used to work in the plantations when I was young!”
He decided to show me a photo of the famous grandfather. 

When we reached the small white-washed bungalow, I heard the sounds of someone cooking in the kitchen. The neighbor’s dog barked enthusiastically.  

After greeting the smiley Mrs. Thiru who was in the midst of preparing lunch, I retreated to the living room. 

A copy of the New Straits Times lies neatly on the cracked leather sofa. But he mentioned that his education stopped when he was fifteen! 

I find it very interesting that my mom wasn't able to complete her education, yet she still voraciously reads the newspapers and follows the television news every day. Then some graduates I know, including myself, ain't nobody got time for that! 

As a citizen, it's basic responsibility to know what's going on. I'm trying hard to go through google news often, but so far, it's not working very well :(  

Mr. Thiru came out of the room, having found the treasured photograph. 
 “Here’s the photo of my grandfather meeting with the Penang Resident Councillor."

The man in white wearing a safari cap is the Resident Councillor, while the one in black shirt and white pants is the famous Mr Nagamuthoor.

He also showed me a small book on the life of his late aunt which mentioned his grandfather briefly. What a good idea! We should commemorate our family members’ lives in this way, so the stories will live on. 

The book even mentioned stuff like how his aunt wouldn't eat a particular kind of noodles until she's 10 years old because she thinks it looks like worms! hehe
“That is a swing I made for my grandchildren. I have six grandchildren."
On the way back, the traffic lights turned red. A boy ambled up and knocked on the window. This seemed to be a routine. 

Thiru rolled down the car window and passed him five ringgit. 

I’m not sure what to make of this. 

At my expression, Thiru explained: “He is, what do you call that in English? Orang kurang upaya. He got a bit learning problem. He asks for money every day.”

As the lights turned green, he shifted the stubborn gears with some difficulty.   

“What to do, we must help when we can. God will bless me.”

Seems like Mr. Nagamuthoor's legacy lives on. 

-This post is an entry for the Canon Photo Storytelling Challenge-

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