Many things remind you of your alma mater such as the teachers and friends who studied with you. To me, the most unforgettable experience is the train journey which I took to return to my school, the Malay College Kuala Kangsar, Perak.
During my time in the early fifties, train was one of the modes of travelling used by students from Kelantan to return to their schools which were situated in other states. For me and other Malay College students, the train was the usual norm.
On the day I was supposed to return to Malay College, I woke up very early. The villagers knew I was leaving in the morning, so they came to my house to bid safe journey. As I shook hands with them and asked forgiveness, some slipped a few dollars into my shirt’s pocket. It was a practice in those days to donate money to students who were studying far from home.
In my Kampung, I was the second boy to have studied at Malay College. The first was Wan Mohamad Wan Ibrahim, my good friend, who was 3 years my senior. I left Jelawat, my home town, accompanied by my two uncles by taxi which they had booked earlier. The taxi took us to Kota Bharu ferry station. From there, we crossed the Kelantan River by ferry to the Palekbang railway station.
We reached Palekbang around 9.00 a.m. It was already teaming with students and well-wishers. The cacophony was unbearable and was further compounded by the shouting of food vendors and cries of children who could not withstand the stifling heat. Here I was joined by my College mates like Syed Mohamad Syed Jaafar, Fahim Yaakub, Wan Bukhari Wan Ismail and Hassan Ismail.
Apart from the Malay College students, there were others from STAR, SDAR and TKC.
After waiting for about an hour, I heard the distant sound of the Golden Blowpipe train which was heading in our direction from Tumpat, its normal starting point. The sound became louder and louder as it neared the station. About 100 meters away, it emitted a loud and prolonged ear splitting peeeeep as it roared into the station belching smoke, soot and steam. Then it reduced its speed to a crawl before coming to a shuddering stop.
I and the other students who had been anxiously waiting for its arrival, made a sudden dash for the doors. There was a frantic pushing and jostling to get a vantage seat in the train. I managed to get one on the left row in the direction of the engine and closest to the window. Having secured the seat, I came down to bid farewell to my uncles. Others did the same to their parents. A few were seen crying and had to be cajoled to get into the train.
After resting for about 20 minutes, the station master blew his whistle a number of times, urging the students to get on board.
The red flag came down and this was accompanied by the roar of the train engine and with a loud and prolonged peeeeep, it slowly pulled out of the Palekbang station heading southwards towards Pasir Mas which it arrived after about half an hour.
Pasir Mas station was bigger than Pakekbang and busier as it was popularly used by traders from Rantai Panjang and Golok to smuggle rice into the state.
From Pasir Mas, a number of my friends like Mohd Noor Rahman, Alias Omar, Mohd Nor Ismail, Wan Fatah Wan Ismail and other Collegians boarded the train. It became more crowded and noisier as students from other institutions also boarded the train. After stopping for about 20 minutes, it continued on its journey. The next big stop was Tanah Merah which it stopped for about 10 minutes. There were not many Collegians from here.
By noon, the train entered Kuala Krai station which was crowded by Terengganu College students. Kuala krai was the station where they boarded the train to return to College. As usual, there was a scramble for the remaining seats creating bedlam and frayed tempers. But things soon turned to normalcy after the initial frenzy.
When all the students had boarded the train and the food vendors had got down, the station master blew his whistle, the train screamed its peeeeeeeep and belching smoke and steam, it slowly gathered momentum heading towards Gua Musang, the last big station in Kelantan. On the way, the train passed smaller towns like Manik Urai, Pahi, Lima Kasturi, Bukit Abu and others.
Gua Musang was a big station but not busy or crowded by students or traders. I was fascinated by the place and its name. The station was on the right side of the train track. On the left, there was a hillock, with its facade denuded of any bushes or trees. It seemed to be covered by white material with rock like projections. Only the top had small trees. At the bottom, there was a large cavity resembling a big cave which at one time could have been the den of the foxes. Perhaps, this site gave rise to its name.
After its normal rest, the train resumed its journey. After some time, it blew its whistle, the lights came on and its roar became exaggerated as it entered one of eight or so tunnels that lined the route. There were plenty of smoke and soot in the coaches causing many to gasp for fresh air. Fortunately, there were free stretches and they helped to ventilate the smoke laden coaches.
After what appeared to be an interminable expanse of time, the train managed to traverse the challenging tunnels. What a great relief to breathe fresh air once again.
I knew that after passing these tunnels, Kuala Lipis was not far off. Sure enough, after twenty minutes emerging from the last tunnel, the train blew its shrill whistle, decreased its speed and ambled into the Kuala Lipis station which was packed by traders and students returning to their schools.
Even though I was dead tired and could barely open my eyes, I groggily stepped down from the train to buy rice and tea from a shop at the station. This shop was the favourite with students and traders who used to ply this route. I felt invigorated after consuming the rice. I also took the trouble to wash my face and ease myself.
The train stopped at Lipis for about half an hour and everybody got on board when the station master blew his whistle repeatedly and this was followed by the train’s loud peep,peep,peep. By then, it was already about 4.00 p.m. and I could see that dusk was descending fast. The train passed and stopped at some stations like Jerantut, Mentakab, Bahau and others to take new passengers and to allow others to disembark. The stations seemed to pass in a blur as I was sleeping all the times.
Finally at around 2.00 a.m, it chugged into the Gemas station which was the changing point for my coach and others going to KL.
At Gemas, my coach and other students were separated as they had to be attached to a new train going to KL. Before this could take place, I had one hour of free time to do some necessary things. I needed to wash myself and have some food. At the station, there was a large canteen and paid toilet. By dropping a 50-cent coin in its slot, I had the toilet for my use. The canteen sold sandwiches, curry puffs and bananas. They were good enough for my empty stomach.
After finishing the necessary things, I returned to my coach and felt asleep. The next thing I knew, I was in a moving train heading north towards KL. The train passed many stations like Tampin, Seremban, Kajang and the others in a blur. I was too sleepy to pay any attention to them. From time to time, I managed to catch the conversations of the passengers assuring each other that the train was nearing KL.
At the break of dawn, I sensed that the train had slowed down and was moving at a leisurely pace. Curious, I opened the window and saw the vast sprawling landscape of KL. True enough I had arrived at the outskirts and would be entering the town soon.
The train chugged along patiently for about twenty minutes and with a loud peep, it entered the massive station. There was a flurry of activities as the students prepared to disembark. The train finally stopped with a loud screeching of metals, puffing and panting like a marathon runner who had just breasted the tape. I together with the other students quickly came down and by means of the subways, we moved to the platform of our next train going to Penang. By then it was about 8.00a.m and I was ravenously hungry and covered by soot.
I decided to go to the cafeteria for breakfast. I had some sandwiches, banana and tea. After that, I went to the bathroom to clean and ease myself. I then returned to the platform of our next train and marvelled at the beauty and splendour of the station. Its classical architecture with its towers and attractive facade was awe inspiring. It reminded me of colonial period. I spent the rest of the morning reading newspapers.
By about 10.00 a.m, our train arrived. As usual there was a rush for the best seats. A little pandemonium ensued, which was settled quickly.
The number of students also swelled due to new additions from Selangor, Pahang and Negeri Sembilan.
When all the students and other passengers were on board, the station master blew his whistle and the red flag came down, the train screamed with all its might and accompanied by belching of steam and smoke, it slowly rolled out of the station. It slowly gathered speed and moving faster and faster as it swallowed the many smaller towns in its path. Then the train arrived at Tanjong Malim, the first stop in Perak. Here some trainee teachers and SDAR students disembarked.
Though extremely tired, I felt exhilarated by the thought that the school was not far away. The train continued relentlessly heading towards Ipoh, passing towns like Tanjung Rambutan, Behrang, Slim River and others before reaching Ipoh. I was struck by the beauty of the Ipoh station as it looked like a miniature KL station. It shared almost the same features and the resemblance was very striking. Here, the STAR students bid adieu to us.
The train continued on, picking up speed as it headed towards Kuala Kangsar. As it passed the Perak river, I knew that we were close to the Kuala Kangsar station. As if to confirm my prediction, there came the usual shrill peeeeep and it then came to a stop. At last, I and the other Kelantan Collegians had arrived at our destination after having been on the train for nearly one and a half days. I quickly descended from the train carrying my rattan bag which was full of school uniforms, Malay shirts and trousers, sarungs and other clothes. Even though my limbs were stiff with cramps and the body was racked with pain and the legs were heavy like lead, I somehow, managed to force my way to the College bus which took us to Prep School.
What a joy to be back again. Some others had already arrived and they were lucky to be helped by their parents to make beds and to hang up the mosquito nets. As for me, I had to make bed myself and had to use a chair to hang up the mosquito net. After putting everything in place, I went to the bathroom to bathe and ease myself.
Dust fell quickly as I and the other boys prepared for dinner. The Head Prefect welcomed us back and told us that the night was free of any activities. This provided the opportunity to update each other of what we had done during the holidays. The night was full of laughter and shrieks as we regaled each other with our escapades. We were still in earnest, when the 9.00 p.m bell rang, telling us to go to bed.
Tomorrow, a new day and term, would begin in our young life. But the train journeys to and from the College would leave an indelible memory in my mind.
Dr Nawi Bin Mohd Amin
Class of 1963, Mohd Shah