Sunday, October 14, 2012

THE MELAKA ROAD BOYS ( 1960 - 1970)

(An excerpt from my autobiography " The Times and Chimes of Joe Chelliah)

At Seremban Town Hall Ball 1975

Another important factor, apart from my music involvement, that affected my bachelorhood days was my association with the Melaka Road Boys.  They were major  influence in my life during this period.  Coupled with my music and estate background, the association with this "unruly" group of boys has made me somewhat of a street smart person that I have become today.  It is through such experiences that I can literally “walk with beggars and dine with kings”.                                                                   

The Melaka Road Boys at a Dance in NSCRC

In 1960, my brother managed to get government quarters in Melaka Road so named as it was the only main road to Melaka and Singapore way back in the 1800’s – perhaps it was a mere dirt track for bullock carts.  The valley below Melaka Road, which was plainly a mining area, is where the town of Seremban is situated today.  The many lakes in Seremban and around it were actually mining pools at one time. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, most government servants in Malaysia lived in the best houses in town that were provided by the government and referred to as government quarters.  There was always the omnipresent playground or field nearby these quarters.  The houses were also of varying grades according to the respective position of the officer concerned in the government service.  In Seremban, there were many such quarters notably at Melaka Road, Rifle Range Road, Hill Road, Bland Road, Lobak and the Rahang Square areas.  Top government servants lived in posh bungalows around the Lake Gardens area.  The laborers in the government services such as the Public Works Department lived in Lobak with a toddy shop close by to serve them at the foot of the Chinese cemetery in the area.

My first friends in Melaka Road were Lokman ( a telephone operator), Rauf ( a teacher), Ramli(a clerk) and his brother Ghazali who called himself Charlie (a clerk).  I was still occasionally hanging out with my Rasah Blue Jeans gang with whom I had been mixing since 1956.  This Blue Jeans association however began to slowly fizzle out over time as members moved on and out of Seremban.  But my friendship with Ramli and Charlie picked up and progressed along a new direction - we went to parties together with Ramli’s friends such as Christie David, Peter Chong, Francis Fong, Ambrose, Wendy, Maureen and Shirley.  It was during this time that I brushed up on my dance steps and became a good dancer.  If we were going dancing, we would gather at Wendy Tan’s house in Java Lane that was the adjacent street just below Melaka Road to practice our jive, samba, rhumba and cha-cha steps which were then shown off by the group at parties and gala balls that were organized quite regularly at the Youth Club, Town Hall or NSCRC. 
Now, across the road from my house in Melaka Road lived the chief operator of the Telecoms named Mrs. Stella Canagasabai.  She was a widow and had two sons named Edwin and Douglas who were renamed Adek and Abang respectively by her Malay servants when they were young.  The King George V School (KGV) classmates of these two boys assembled at their home in the evenings to hang out.  Gan Chai, Ah Ngan, Sathi, Sivasothy, Md. Nor, Muthu, Thiru, Ganesan, Palachandaran, Atma Ram, Ghani, Theva and Mahesan are the ones I remember most.  They were all still in school and about my age too although I was already out of school and working.  Initially till about 1961, I kept my distance with these boys and moved about in Seremban with Ramli and his friends. By this time, my association with the Blue Jeans Rasah gang was virtually non-existent as it had become a non-entity by then.  I did maintain contact with a few of them like Sunny and Winnie.

In 1961, a Harold Lawrence came to live with the Canagasabais.  He was about seventeen and schooling at the St. Paul’s Institution (SPI).  When his rich parents had died Mrs. Canagasabai was officially appointed as the guardian of the orphaned boy by The Public Trustee’s Department until he became a major.  Harold played the electric guitar.  I first met him when we played music together in a band called The Amigos led by Benny Jackson at that time.  Many music minded boys as well as music enthusiasts began to congregate around Harold in Mrs. Canagasabai’s house. 

The Twilights - 1962

This is how we began to also have Paulians (the arch rivals of KGV) like George Henderoff, Martin Seriwardene, Tony John, Aloysius Danker, Rene Especkerman, Eddy Tan, Xavier Jacobson, Donald Henderoff, Linus Singam, Johnny Tan, Kenny Martin and Barty Gonzago congregate at this Melaka road “headquarters of sorts”.  So this curious mix of Georgians and Paulians with some ACS and Methodist School boys too soon became a loose group of youngsters that were grouped around a band formed by Harold Lawrence called The Twilights in early 1962.  Ramli and I too became a part of this group mainly because I had joined Harold’s band as bass guitarist.  Ramli’s father’s car, a Morris Minor, was a convenience to get around both for the band as well as for dating girls.  Others like Gan Chai (his father was a lorry towkay) and Sathi Maniam (son of a wealthy Jaffanese Tamil) too brought along their parents’ cars.  Gan Chai brought a Chevrolet Impala and Sathi a Mercedes.   The band named The Twilights comprised of Harold (Lead Guitar), Tony John (Rhythm Guitar), Aloysius Danker (Drums) and me on the Bass Guitar.  It was modeled after The Shadows and Ventures that were essentially early pop rock bands of the period. The cousins of Abang and Adek from Kuala Lumpur too became involved with Melaka Road Boys such as Daisy and Eric Thomas, Katherine Singam and her brothers Mervin, Godvin and Irvin.  Of these only Daisy and Eric have remained ardent Melaka Roaders to date. 

Soon in 1963, another band was formed in Melaka Road comprising of Douglas Canagasabai (Abang), “Coffee Shop” Albert and Martin Seriwardene called The Dinos.  In 1964, there was merger and reorganization of sorts of these two bands and The Jayhawkers was formed by me.  There on, the nucleus of the Melaka Road Boys gravitated around these the two bands.  Two wings came about in The Melaka Road Boys with no clear lines separating the two.  One was “led” by Edwin (Adek) and the other was “led” by his elder brother Douglas ( Abang).  Other leaders of sorts emerged such as Gan Chai, Ah Ngan,  Ganesan and me.  We were “tiger generals” of sorts.  This was a term given to the brave henchmen and front line fighters in the Chinese secret society gangs of the day.  However we were, strictly speaking, not a gang of any kind but a bunch of youngsters who did things together like going for parties, picnics, movies and so on and we were branded as The Melaka Road Boys by the Seremban townsfolk themselves. 

Edvin (Adek) & French Foreign Legionaire Thiru

Many from this group went on to do well in life and strangely, in further studies too.  Muthu became a doctor together with Mahesan and Linus.  Barty rose to a very senior position as a  Customs Superintendent.  Gan Chai was an early economics graduate from the University of Malaya.  Sivasothy went to USA and was probably the earliest PhD holder in Nuclear Physics in Malaysia.  He spent most of his life teaching at Universiti Sains in Penang as there was no other suitable job to suit his qualifications then.  Another Melaka Roader Thiru Manaiam, to the best of my knowledge, became the only Malaysian French Foreign Legionnaire.  Xavier Jacobson became the No. 1 man in the reference books sales market by selling the Encyclopedia Britannica.  The rest ended up mostly in the then prestigious government services or The National Electricity Board. Eddy Tan has migrated to Canada.  Adek went on to London and became a practicing barrister there.  Adek still talks like a Malaysian minus any British accent although he has been there for more than thirty years continuously. He comes back regularly around the Christmas to relish the Malaysian way of life and plans to retire here.
A Birthday Party @ Seremban Youth Club - 1963

Melaka Roaders attained much notoriety throughout the 1960’s in Seremban and were regarded as mobsters, loafers and rowdies by many.  Even Convent girls were warned to keep away from us at their school assemblies by the ever protective nuns and not to have
anything to do with us.  This made some of them all the more curious and some even ended up being our girl friends.  One such girl was Gloria Chin who ended up marrying
Gan Chai, a top Melaka Road “Tiger General”.  We were involved in petty fights in town as well as at parties.  We had the support of the Chinese gangsters in Seremban who were
mostly from the wet market or River Road.  We had a close affiliation with these toughies who also protected us from big trouble.  Soon, very few in Seremban dared to entangle themselves with us and kept their respectful distance from us at parties and on the streets and movie theatres. We were also “highly” regarded as a "public nuisance" by the people living in Melaka Road itself.  These neighbors often called the police in to report our continued nuisance and misbehavior.   The police would come and just warn us and go away as they knew we were not criminally involved.  I must appreciate their understanding us this way.  

In any case, our Thiru, the French Foreign Legionnaire, was himself a Malaysian cop at that time.  He was often quick to whip out his service revolver and police identity card. He migrated to France and joined the French Foreign Legion in the 70's. The group would normally assemble around 5 p.m. at Mrs. Canagasabai’s house.  We referred to her as Chief as she indeed was the chief operator in Telecoms.  Many of us ate and slept there.  Mrs. Canagasabai’s rationale was to have her (only) two sons not go out and “get spoilt” but instead have their friends come over to her house so that she could keep watch over them.  Through Chief we had some of her female Telecoms operators come over for our parties.  This helped augment the number of girls at these parties as not many were willing or allowed to come to our Melaka Road parties.  We held many parties and invited other friends in Seremban over for a small fee for the food and drinks. Gan Chai and the gang would go out and “steal” stray goats along Labu Road or Mambau which were then 

                     A Melaka Road Reunion in 1982 – Aunty Stella is seated extreme left.

brought back and cooked for our parties. The butchers at the local market slaughtered the goats for a fee of course.  We had two or even three live bands performing as an added attraction at these parties instead of simple playback music.  Some of the invitees were invited with an intention to beat them up during arranged blackouts.  The usual reason was some petty issue of envy or jealousy over girls.

By the mid and late sixties, some early Melaka Roaders “disappeared” from Seremban. They had migrated overseas to study or elsewhere in Malaysia to work.  The Melaka Road Boys still existed well into the second half of the 1960’s and has had a steady stream of new members such as Syedullah Khan, Jimmy, Augustine Manuel and Ted Pillai who proudly became associated with the group although quite belatedly.  Around 1970 Chief had retired and there was no more Melaka Road HQ.  I myself had moved on to the government quarters in Bland Road which is now Terminal 1.  The only other place that served as a meeting place of sorts was Martin’s house in Java Lane and even that was for only a while.  Martin too moved on to Kuala Lumpur just like many others had taken on jobs outstation by then.

Me With Two of the more notorious members - Gan Chai & Ganesan

By 1972, we had our first reunion at the Seremban Rest House. We still hold reunions once a year religiously since although the numbers attending have dwindled with a few hard cores still continuing this reunion tradition to date. The following Melaka Roaders have passed away in recent times.  They are Barty Gonzago, Low Ah Ngan, Martin Seriwardene, Thurai, Dr. Mahesan, Ariyathurai “Roundhead”, Alex Thomas, Theva and the Singhams - Mervin  Godwin, Gan Chai and Baby.  My Melaka Road association existed in a parallel universe for me as I was also a teacher at the same time.  Thus this positively “split personality” of mine as a teacher, musician and rowdy helped in balancing my life to some extent.  The teacher part of me prevailed most of the time and gave me some validity as leader in the Melaka Roaders fraternity as well.


Farouk Gulsara said...

good nostalgic trip down memory lane!

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jegaraj said...

Dear Mr Chelliah,
Is it possible of you to load photos of the old Malacca road with the govt quarters. If there are color shots,it would be all the better. Thank you sir.