chulia street

Highly regarded Haji Adul Kadir Mohideen
Reminisces in his store;
Grey of beard, kepiah-haji
On his head, puffing an imported beedi,
Physically in Chulia street, mentally
He is in Nagapattinam; the Nagore shrine
Seething as usual with activity
Honours an alien wali
Who never stepped into this country

In Market Street and adjacent alleys
Chettiars count their money
Convert ringgit into rupees, promptly
Calculate the gains:
Another house in the native district
Another plot or two of paddy
Another daughter or son married
Another grandchild ushered into the world
In distant Tamil Nadu, ancient land
Of Silapadikaram, M.G.R., Sivaji Ganesan

Gone are the days when horse–or hand–
Cart, familiar rickshaw, tramcar
Led to a clamorous jetty, rickety sampan
Unloading bringing
The latest news,
With muruku, masalavadai, mampalam

Chulia Street is no longer the same
Though the adhan from neighbouring
Kapitan Keling maintains a familiar strain,
An occasional sermon intoned In Tamil;
Motorised traffic kicks high the dusty noise,
Bars and brothels prefer Mat Salleh
Introduced by beca-men,
The Japanese with their yen
Back in these parts with a vengeance

Tiger beer continues to flow
Besides watery whiskies and brandies, remember
“There is always time for a tiger.”
The hippies are hounded by junkies, pushers
Hawk their wares, rubbing shoulders
With benign mata-mata;
“Datuk, apa khabar, Datuk?”
“Apa hang buat?”
“Tak ada apa-apa, Datuk.”
A clumsy hand slips a tip
Another graciously accepts it
And Chulia Street does not notice.

The children have gone to study
On MARA loans or father’s fellowships,
Will return to cushy
Bumiputera positions
A life’s mission complete, another
Mamak will leave to lay his weary
Bones in the lap of his forebears

Another phase in history will end,
Begun centuries ago; the arrival
In this golden land
Where the climate is kind
And money, it seems, grows on trees;
Chulia Street will remain a name, a memory
A haunt of Alis and Babas, upstart aristocracy
Products of a New Economic Policy.

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