My Brick­fields

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - THOUGHTS - SUJESH PAVITHRAN

MU­SIC blared from por­ta­ble PA sys­tems and the makeshift stalls were fes­tooned with bright­ly­coloured sal­war kameez suits and el­e­gant kurta. A seething mass of hu­man­ity snaked its way through the shops, brows­ing, bar­gain­ing, buy­ing and, some­times, just bask­ing in the fes­tive air.

In­dian sweets of vivid hues and the aroma of tho­sai en­ticed hun­gry passers-by, arms loaded with plas­tic bags, into restau­rants.

The main street, lined with arches, was clogged with traf­fic, and from my van­tage point at the corner of an al­ley, the train of cars and buses seemed end­less. Mo­tor­cy­cles deftly twisted their fren­zied way to nowhere and at one point, an am­bu­lance bur­rowed through the ve­hic­u­lar morass, siren screech­ing in an al­most fu­tile at­tempt to reach its des­ti­na­tion.

The night sky was al­most lost in the blaze of street lights and neon signs.

I sighed ... it was the week be­fore Deep­avali, and I was in Chen­nai.

Okay, I’m kid­ding ... I was ac­tu­ally in Lit­tle In­dia, Brick­fields of KL, wait­ing for my mis­sus and mum to fin­ish their tour of the stalls. But we could well have been in any south In­dian city, so au­then­tic was the at­mos­phere.

Later, as we drove out, I spied the rem­nants of the le­gendary “Pines” row of Chi­nese restau­rants, de­mol­ished to make way for a mod­ern com­plex.

Nostal­gia prod­ded me. Back in the mid1980s, I lived in Brick­fields – not the no­to­ri­ous Lido area but what is now Lit­tle In­dia – for three years, af­ter re­turn­ing from In­dia, where I had spent a decade and a half.

Hav­ing no place to stay ini­tially, I crashed with friends. Brick­fields was “home” to the years that I strug­gled to earn a liv­ing as a writer and photo-jour­nal­ist, my hand­ful of pos­ses­sions be­ing my clothes, books, gui­tar, cam­era and rack­ety old type­writer.

The Pines row was where we – my new friends, mostly newly-em­ployed twen­tysome­things – would treat our­selves to din­ner and booze when we could af­ford it. The wee hours would in­evitably find us in the last res­tau­rant open for the night, for a fi­nal round be­fore we stum­bled back to our rooms.

Satur­day night, es­pe­cially, was a time for ex­tended rev­elry. Then, late Sun­day morn­ing, nurs­ing hang­overs, we would crawl into Mathais’ crowded stall at the Pek­ing Ho­tel, not far from The Pines, for his famed fried fish, chicken curry and rice. The pip­ing hot food fixed our hang­overs; af­ter that, Sun­days were eas­ier to get through de­spite the spec­tre of Mon­day.

Some days when I wasn’t broke, I would drop by the An­tho­nian book­store to pick up sci-fi books on sale.

I moved a cou­ple of times, but al­ways near The Pines and un­der the shadow of the gi­gan­tic – so it seemed then – Cres­cent Court con­do­minium, which lent the area a dash of class. Hey, it was the 1980s!

One place I rented was a tiny room in a flat be­hind the Sri Kota su­per­mar­ket. Some nights, I would spend hours pounding on that type­writer, then sud­denly re­alise it was 4am and I was hun­gry. The short walk to the hive of hawk­ers at the corner near the su­per­mar­ket took care of that. Also lo­cated in the area was “Gandhi’s” stall; so de­li­cious were the fried rice and noo­dles, we be­lieved the dark arts were evoked in their mak­ing!

Like The Pines, most of these places are now gone, and as I drove away that hu­mid night be­fore Deep­avali, I re­alised I missed the old Brick­fields. Sure, it had a big drain run­ning along the main road then but the oc­ca­sional flood only added to the char­ac­ter of the place!

This cen­tury’s Brick­fields may be more “cos­mopoli­tan” but its “Malaysian-ness” seems to have re­ceded deeper into the al­leys.

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