Goodbye Hundred Quarters, thanks for the memories — Balan Moses

Work begins to demolish the Hundred Quarters. — Picture by Zuraneeza Zulkifli
Work begins to demolish the Hundred Quarters. — Picture by Zuraneeza Zulkifli

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MAY 28 — The final chapter on the Hundred Quarters, one of the oldest landmarks in Brickfields, is being written with demolition beginning yesterday in the 100th year of existence of the two-storey structures.

Generations of Indians, yours truly included, the Sri Lankan Tamil community and a small number of Chinese, Malays and Eurasians have passed through the airy portals of the rock-solid houses said to have been built with the inclusion of a secret ingredient — egg yolk.

But the introduction of modern construction methods and the sheer impossibility of sourcing eggs for much larger housing projects may have naturally excluded the item from contractors’ purchasing orders over time. 

In my family’s years there from 1949 to 1970, we tried with only occasional success to puncture the walls with nails to hang an assortment of pictures. The house were made to last, and they did.

Over the years, the words Hundred Quarters, also famously known as the Nooru (100) Quarters among Tamil speakers, were heard often in Indian households around Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya and urban centres nationwide.

They were generally used as a landmark because Brickfields was an Indian enclave and the only government quarters for clerks in the city then.

At a time when government quarters were rare in Kuala Lumpur with only a handful of fortunate civil servants allowed to stay in the Hundred Quarters for a grand monthly rental of 20 dollars in the early 1960s, it was truly a Valhalla of sorts for families used previously to living in thin-walled, single-storey, houses in kampong scattered around the suburbs of the federal capital.

The tiled-roofed two-room houses, on 1.4 hectares, occupied at the turn of the 20th century by a public works department workshop, were a far cry from the zinc-roofed wooden houses many had been forced to live in.

The houses were warm and safe enclosures on windy nights when rain pelted the city. 

My earliest memories are linked to the cold December of 1959 when buses transported carol party groups around Rozario Street and the adjacent Chan Ah Tong Street to visit numerous houses in the neighbourhood.

I remember the wood-frame windowed buses parked along Rozario and Chan Ah Tong streets in the wee hours of the morning with exhaust fumes hanging in the chilled morning air.

There was a unique camaraderie among the 100 families representing a truly multi-religious and multi cultural milieu with festivals being the best time for adults and children alike.

Trays with assortment of curries, sweetmeats and fruits would be exchanged among people of different faiths during Christmas, Deepavali, Chinese New Year and Hari Raya.

When Wesak came around, we had first-class tickets to watch the colourful floats from the safe confines behind the huge windows upstairs.

It was the same during the general elections in 1964 and 1969 when colourfully decorated lorries carrying Alliance and opposition leaders made their way into the neighbourhood.

During the riots of 1969 when Kuala Lumpur was in chaos, there was relative calm in our neighbourhood with residents sharing whatever food was available.

The corner house I stayed in had a large garden that housed an assortment of poultry including goose, which came in handy during festive times.

The other animal the Hundred Quarters was home was the white-and grey pigeon that found nightly refuge under the roofs of many homes, cooing children to sleep with their quiet lullabies.

The children of the Hundred Quarters had it good: we organised sports day ever so often with the 100m run from one end of the street to the other.

Suffice to say, we had a good run over the years and now it is time to say farewell.

The inexorable advance of development cannot be stopped and the many campaigners over the years for the retention of the Hundred Quarters may be heartened  by the fact that the developer will retain a portion to remind future generations of the past.

Goodbye Hundred Quarters, and thanks for the memories.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or organisation and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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