The old road to Batu Berendam village
by Wan Chwee Seng
From a parking lot at Taman Melaka Baru, Melaka I gaze at the constant stream of traffic passing a tree-lined road.
|A view from the parking lot at Taman Melaka Baru, Melaka|
Then I think to myself 'Fifty years ago I would be standing in knee-deep mud'. Back then this place was just swamp land where mud skippers frolicked among the tangled mass of mangrove roots.
It was the mid-fifties and we were then living in a small village in Batu Berendam which was about four miles from Melaka Town.
I remember just before Taman Melaka Baru, a rickety, wooden bridge used to straddle the Sungai Putat river. Mother told us a long time ago there was a huge rock at the bed of the river and hence the place came to be known as 'Batu Berendam' which means 'submerged rock' in Malay.
After the swamp land, paddy fields stretched as far as the eyes could see and the lush green sea was dotted with islands of coconut groves under which nestled small wooden huts with palm-thatched roofs.
Just before the bridge an enormous tree stood beside the road.
With thick, gnarled trunk and massive boughs with roots that hung down like tentacles , it became a prominent and familiar landmark for the residents of Batu Berendam. During the day its luxuriant foliage provided a welcome shelter and shade for pedestrians and cyclists who had to traverse the long narrow road flank by open paddy fields.
|The huge tree beside the road|
However, as soon as the sun sank slowly behind the distant horizon, the tree which provided shade and security during the day became an object of fear in the deepening darkness.I remember, when we cycled home at dusk, an eerie feeling would grip us the moment we caught sight of the tree. We would pedal furiously along the dark and deserted road until we reached the nearest house, Sunny Poh's house, which was located about half a kilometers from the tree. Perhaps, it was not the darkness that we most feared, but the story the adults told us about the place.
One moonlit night, we were told, a cyclist was cycling home after a night out in Melaka Town. He had just cycled past the tree when with each push and creak of the pedals, the bicycle seemed to get heavier and heavier. Thinking that something was wrong with the rear tyre, he peered over his shoulder. What met his eyes, sent a shiver down his spine. 'Someone' was sitting comfortably on the rear carrier of his bicycle.
|Hitching a ride|
If the story was to deter us from going out late at night it certainly had the desired result.
I remember, later an old Hindu priest who was also a palmist used to sit under the tree and for a dollar or two, we kampung kids could have our palms read.
Today, the swamps and paddy fields have all disappeared from view. The tree too has been uprooted and with the brightly-lit road its specter too has been finally dispelled.
|A stream of cars|
As I stand at the parking lot and look at the long line of buildings and listen to the incessant drones of cars, I think of those good old days when we used to cycle slowly along this stretch of road while we took in the picturesque vista, feel the caress of the cool morning breeze, catch the aroma of freshly-cut paddy and listen to the raucous calls of the snipes.