Childhood Memories of Telok Pulai, the Chinna Yaalpaanam
Of Klang, Malaysia
by Sivananthiram Alagandram, Geneva, February 26, 2023
Many who lived in the Chinna Yalpanam have gone abroad . Kindly consider posting at sangam, so that it would enable many to share their experience in Telok Pulai as well as the social change that has happened, I have given my e mail for them to share their experiences.
This is the story of the Jaffna Tamil’s golden era in Telok Pulai Road, Klang in the 1950s. In those years, Telok Pulai was fondly referred to as the Chinna Yaalpaanam of Klang due to the predominance of Jaffna settlers there. It was also among the early Jaffna settlements in Malaya. The others are the Jaffna settlements in Kuala Lumpur, Seremban, Ipoh, Taiping, and Kuala Lipis.
Dr. A Ponnudurai With the HH Sultan of Selangor at the opening of the Navalar Mandapam, 1957. Looking on are Ayathurai Kurukal and Kailaspillay.
During the first decade of the 20th century, Klang became a thriving settlement and its growth created a demand for Jaffna Tamil English-educated migrants. Its rapid growth was supported by a growing public sector which saw the establishment of the district hospital, railway station, police station, magistrates court, public works department, and a labor office, The Belfield Bridge connecting north and south Klang meant that Jaffna Tamils living in Telok Pulai could cross the Klang River easily and work in both north and south Klang’.
Klang was also becoming a center for agriculture with the District Office making available land at cheap prices to European companies. Consequently, Klang town became surrounded by rubber plantations such as Bukit Raja Estate, Highlands Estate, Golden Hope Estate, Sungai Rengam Estate, Shelford Estate, and Golkonda Estate all providing Jaffna Tamils employment as field conductors, clerks, dressers, hospital assistants, etc.
The Subramanya Swami Temple, Telok Pulai, Klang in 1959
In addition to this, Klang was also growing as a primary industrial town in the country before the emergence of Petaling Jaya in 1954. There was a pineapple factory, the Shum Yip Leong Rubber company, the Fung Keong Shoe company, and the well-known Bata Shoe Company along with a ground nut oil company.
All these developments provided ample opportunities for Jaffna Tamils to find employment in the growing labor market. Many Jaffna Tamils working in these estates and factories rented homes along Telok Pulai for enabling their children to attend English medium schools. The Tamil Schools at their respective plantations were not able to produce graduates well-versed in English which was then the passport for employment.
From 1910 onwards, with frugal living, the Jaffna Tamil Community began to buy up land and houses along Telok Pulai which led to a mushrooming of Jaffna Tamil Settlements along both sides of Telok Pulai Road. The Jaffna Tamil settlements stretched from custom Selvaratnam’s house at the Jalan Raya West Road junction to the postal Sabapathy’s house in Simpang Empat. My grandfather Ayathurai Sinnathambar too made Telok Pulai his home after his retirement from the Malayan Railways joining many of his other colleagues in 1953.
Datuk M Rajasingam, Director General of Post, Malaysia
By this time, more than 60% of homes along Telok Pulai Road were either owned or rented by Jaffna Tamils. Along with my grandfather, three of his siblings – Seenithambys, Kandiahs, and Ratnams m- ade their homes on the Telok Pulai Road. My father’s sister Parameswary Ponnudurai too lived opposite our Telok Pulai home.
You could not go to the provision shop without running into someone from the community we knew. The community was quite close-knit and you virtually knew them all. Many of my good friends who lived along the road were Sasiharan Rasiah, cousin Sivanesan Seenithamby, Ganen Sabapathy, Victor Yesuratnam, and Kangaratnam Ambalavanar.
Among the factors that facilitated the settlement of Jaffna Tamils in Telok Pulai were the availability of freehold land/homes for sale and for reasonable rental. Before WW1, the land along Telok Gadong Road and Telok Pulai Road was owned by Malays who built their houses on either side of the road. When land prices rose in Klang, they sold their land and houses. When my grandfather settled down in Klang, some of the homes owned and occupied by Jaffna Tamils were still in their original Malay architectural design.
Citizen Nades, Award winning Investigative Journalist, from Telok Pulai , Klang Malaysia
Sensing the demand for low-cost housing,, some of the enterprising Jaffna Tamils built houses for rent on their land along Telok Pulai Road. Among them were Murugeu, Ponnusamy , Thuraisamy , Subramaniam, Ponnambalam, Poomany Amithanathan, Chengol Mandore, and Kandiah. Their houses for rent in Telok Pulai were in great demand due to their proximity to secondary schools, such as the Convent High School, Anglo-Chinese School, Methodist Girls School, Methodist School, and Jubilee School. Klang town center with its own employment opportunities within also within walking distance of Telok Pulai.
The reasonable rental enabled children of Jaffna Tamil parents to send their children to English language schools in Klang. This was the game changer as it was this English language education that enabled many of these children to find employment. Among those who became well known in the country was an award-winning investigative journalist Nadeswaran, popularly known as Citizen Nades who lived with his parents in the rented house in Ponnambalam Kampong, opposite to my grandfather’s residence.
One of the Jaffna Tamil families even operated a provision shop next to the Ponusamy Kampong, fronting the Telok Pulai Road. This shop was eventually bought over by Hussain and Rahim. There were at least 3 building contractors among the Jaffna Tamil families living in Telok Pulai. Aside from this, there were no industrial or commercial undertakings in Telok Pulai managed by Jaffna Tamils. Although most of the Jaffna Tamils came from an agricultural background, very few ventured into farming in Telok Pulai. This could be due to the availability of land in this urban setting where land prices were expensive.
The Subramania Swami Temple in Telok Pulai
In the 1920s, the Jaffna Tamils living along Telok Pulai Road Klang were among those who took the lead to build a Subramania Swami Temple. Situated strategically near the Telok Pulai entrance, this temple is still one of the leading Saivite Jaffna Tamil institutions in the country. The temple underwent a significant renovation in 1959 with the new Gouberam depicting stories from Hindu texts and the inner temple with some mind-inspiring architecture and sculptural works. The Maha Kumba Abishakam officiated in 1959 essentially was to reharmonize and strengthen the spiritual energies of the temple and the deities. The new temple being built and consecrated was due to the initiative taken by the late Temple President Magendran Rajadurai.
The late Temple President who with his committee Rebuilt the Subramanya Swami Temple
From its inception, Jaffna Tamil devotees from Telok Pulai made up a major part of the congregation. Many Jaffna Tamils bought homes in Telok Pulai like my grandfather did to be enable them to pray at this temple. The temple modeled after the Nallur Kandasamy Temple in Jaffna fulfilled not only their emotional needs but helped the Jaffna Tamils to enhance their Saivite knowledge from the temple elders.
What sustains any temple is the faith of its devotees and the sincerity of its management. In this regard, the temple was fortunate in having among its devotees, earnest and pious leaders not only well versed in Thiruvasagam, Periapuranam, and Kanthapurnam but also with the knack of running the temple efficiently and working closely with the temple priest Ayathurai Kurrikal.
The temple’s past presidents /officials like Saiva Kandiah, Dr. A. Ponnudurai, Arumuga Sharsti, Kailaspillay Teacher Somasundram, Teacher Rasiah, Ekambram, Thuariappa, Sivapragasam, Muthukumarasamy, Saravanamuthu Gunaratnam, Sivaguru, Seenithamby Sinnathambar, Sivaprgasam, and Ayaduurai Sinnathambar were among many who worked closely with the Kurrukal to ensure that rituals, poojas, and programs were run on time. What was remarkable was that all this was in sync with Nadduvars, the temple musicians who played a pivotal role in the temple rituals. All these contributed to the Subramanya Swami Temple becoming one of the premier Saivite temples in the country.
Thaipusam festival in Klang, Subramanya Swami Temple
Of all the festivals the Kandha Sashti Fast was perhaps one of the most exciting events in the temple. The fast which often starts after Deepavali commences with Kanthapuranam being read by temple leaders with the explanation provided by Ayathurai Kurukal, Arumuganar, and other elders. During the fast, which was harsher than the popular “intermittent” fast, the devotees were confined to a single meal of fruits and milk.
During the 6th day of the fast was the Sooran Poor where the children of Kailasam who sponsored this event would virtually run carrying the Sooran around Lord Muruga and traffic along Telok Pulai would stall to watch the spectacle. Most of us will remember Kandiah standing behind the Sooran and directing the war.
Another festival so unique to the Telok Pulai Temple was the annual Katpoora Thiruvelar. During this festival, many women including Mrs. Saiva Kandiah, Mrs. Muthukumarasamy Mrs. Paramasivam Mrs. Gunaratnam Veluppillay, and many others would carry the camphor pot with fire over their heads offering prayers to each of the deities in the temple in the hope that fragrance of camphor and the radiance from the fire merges with the divine creating positive vibes for their wishes to be granted.
The construction of the Navalar Mandapam by the community was a major landmark and an important contribution of the Jaffna Tamils in Klang. Erected in 1957 by the side of the temple, in Telok Pulasi, it served as a venue for conducting weddings and cultural events. For many years prior to that, Jaffna Tamil weddings had always been conducted at the bride’s home. This hall fulfilled the need for a modern wedding hall as well as a venue for religious classes and for hosting Guru Poojas which were unique events in the country. The poojas remembering Sri Arumuga Navallar, Manikka Vasagar, Thirugana Sambanthar, Sundramoothy Nayanar, etc were all very well attended and contributed to the understanding of the role of these saints in promoting Hinduism. During the discourse on the legacy of these saints, the presentation of Mrs. Ponnambalam, retired Tamil school teacher from Port Klang was a treat to listen to as she always brought new insights on religion.
The investments and sacrifices made by the Jaffna community in education, their perseverance and determination paid off as the community produced numerous professionals who became, lawyers, doctors, and engineers as well as arts/science graduates. Many of them today have also migrated overseas in search of greener pastures. The community had perhaps one of the highest literacy rates and also one of the lowest crime rates in the country. By the 1980s, in every family, you may be able to find someone with a diploma or a university degree. With this high literacy rate, the Telok Pulai Jaffna Tamil community was able to produce some outstanding personalities like Datuk M. Rajasingham who became the Director-General of Posts and Telegraph, and Mr. Sivaganam Seenithamby from the Ministry of Human Resources who rose to become the Director General of Trade Unions.
There was also the dedicated hospital Assistant Vaitilingam who resided near Thuraisamy Kampong in Telok Pulai. He became a hero trying to protect his patients from being stabbed by a mentally ill person even after he himself was seriously injured with a stab wound. There are many other prominent professionals both in Malaysia and abroad who spent their childhood days in Telok Pulai.
One of the unique treasures of growing up in Telok Pulai was that many of our teachers who taught at my Alma Mater, the Anglo-Chinese School, Klang were known to our family. My school geography teacher G . Arulananthan will be remembered for his all-round abilities. He was the Scout Master, an official of the Malayan Youth Council, and the super coach for the school athletic relay team which won many trophies at the national level for the school. Teacher Arulananthan from Telok Pulai subsequently joined the civil service and retired as a Senior Labour administrator.
There were other Jaffanese who, through their involvement in the social, cultural, economic, and sporting activities, were well known at the state and national levels. Dr. Rusty Thuraisingam Sinnathurai, living near Anglo Chinese School, Klang represented Malaysia in hockey and Sri Shan Naganathi in the same neighborhood along Jalan Raja West captained Malaysia in hockey. Klang did not have a Ceylonese Association like Kluang or Taiping did and in its absence, the temple and the HYO became rallying points for Jaffna Tamils in Klang. Ghandinesan, Thuraisingam, and Kamala Chellamuthu were all active members of the Hindu Youth Organisation(HYO) in Klang which promoted Tamil culture and rituals.
By the end of the 1950s, the Jaffna Community in Telok Pulai was able to successfully transform itself into a modern middle-class society, thanks to the dedication, thriftiness, and discipline of the pioneers. As a community, they invested heavily in education and took great pains to preserve their cultural heritage, sometimes much more than those they left behind at home. Most of all they kept alive their love for the Tamil language and culture.
All these began to change. Many of us in our student days hardly followed events in Jaffna. Our food habits changed. We began to crave Chinese and Indian Muslim food. We relished the famous fried flat noodles “kueh teow” from Jalan Malawis stall and the tick tok mee soup vendor who arrives in Telok Pulai at night…The roti channai (peratha) from Jai Hind restaurant was preferred over thosai (dosa)and pettu. Most of all we began slowly losing our typical Jaffna accent. Slowly intermarriage with other communities began to increase.
We could sense the detachment from the Jaffna heritage with a leaning toward Malaysian society. At that time we did not know the difference between races, religions, and castes. It was an stress-free and happy time back then in Telok Pulai. We roamed around in our cycles without any fear. On Kartgai Deepam nights, we would cycle the whole stretch of Telok Pulai to admire the brightly lit deepams in the houses, most of them we knew were homes of Jaffna Tamils reminding ourselves that this was truly Chinna Yaalpaanam of Klang. Our home and family in Telok Pulai were the best things we had. These are the beautiful memories that we always hold close to our hearts and will always find solace in remembering them time and time again.