(Published in the Malay Mail. Click here for the online version)
PAK Idrus, the ultimate apolitical blogger this side of the Cybersphere, once confided in me: “The weird thing about aging is that I found my childhood memories to be vivid in my head but I’d have no idea where I put my glasses five minutes ago.”
I know precisely what he’s talking about. Even though there’s a good two decades ahead before my reaching acceptable retirement age, I too have of late been recollecting my growing up years with stunning clarity (but please don’t ask me where my glasses are).
Like sitting on the 17th step of the Tangga Bradley (The Bradley Steps) in Kuala Krai, doing nothing more than simply staring out at the mocha-coloured water of the Sungai Kelantan as it flows hypnotically toward the hilir – end of the river.
Historians list the construction of the Tangga Bradley sometime between 1927-1929. It was named after the then Kuala Krai district officer Gerald Bradley, who reputedly was a very energetic man and cared deeply about the remote and vast territory spanning some 2,300sq km.
Kuala Krai town itself is 64km south of Kota Baru. The administrative district is notorious for its bouts of flooding at the end of each year when the monsoon causes the river to overflow its banks.
Tangga Bradley consists of a series of 79 concrete steps. Back at the time when I was growing up in Kuala Krai, I remember being in awe when told that people living in the vicinity of the river were able to forecast flooding in their areas – and how much time they had just by gauging the water level at the steps.
Tangga Bradley also served as mini jetty for those living along the embankments of the Galas and Lebir rivers. They travelled to Kuala Krai – the nearest town from their remote settlements – every Saturday in mini-boats and sampans. During these visits, they brought agricultural produce to sell in the nearby market, bought groceries and did their banking transactions. They never bothered with “trivial” thing like a wearing life jacket while boating along the river. They have never, as far as I know, done that until today. Life seemed so simple, nothing hanging around anyone’s necks.
From Tangga Bradley, I used to gaze at the few rumah rakit (“floating” houses built on rafts tied to the trees with thick ropes) bobbing up and down along the river. You could see from any step you stood or sat on, that the momentum of life was going full swing: pots and pans clanging against each other, sarongs and sheets flying in the river breeze from make-shift clotheslines, and agile children running and jumping from raft to raft. Their playground.
However, sometime in 1984, some ignorant despot of Kuala Krai thought that it would be a great idea to rewrite history and changed the name of the steps to, geddit, Tangga Krai. How imaginative.
I was baffled. I still am today. While every nation tries to conserve its historical sites, racing headlong to be on Unesco’s World Heritage List, we have erased an Englishman’s name from our history and replaced it with something so clinical. Duh.
French novelist Gustave Flaubert has an almost personal message addressed at us when he wrote: “Our ignorance of history causes us to slander our own times.”
So, sue me, but I wish upon that person who robbed me of a precious name and more, to a haunting “Krai” everywhere for the rest of his life.
● Elviza Michele Kamal is missing home and her stairway to heaven. She blogs at http://elviza. wordpress.com