THERE once was an enchanted space in Kajang that now lives only in spells of recalling. In fleeting bubbles in the deep wells of the mind. Occasionally, a little light illuminates it, and a stream of emotions flows out.
It was called jeram by schoolboys and adventurers. This waterfall must have had another name, but of it nothing do I know.
In 1977, it was to my brothers and me a place of mystery and fairy. We had heard rumours of this jewel in the woods, but neither daring nor desire possessed us to go in search of it.
My father and mother had created a new dwelling for us in this forested corner of Kajang the same year. Very few human beings lived nearby. But we had numerous other wild creatures as neighbours and fellow owners of the land.
In the light, when the sun ruled, we observed monkeys, pythons, cobras, mouse deer, pangolins, wild boar, owls and other citizens of the air. At night, when the sun fell into slumber in the western regions, strange sounds would we hear and our young hearts were filled with fright.
Not too far away was quiet Sungai Kantan. In this area that straddled the path leading to the falls, was an assemblage of village homes, rubber plantations, secondary forest, hills with rocky peaks and hills with tangles of trees, pretty streams and large disused mining pools.
There was also a hill where hundreds of men, women and children lay in an unbroken sleep. I had dreaded to go there, to even let my eyes fall upon the gravestones; but my brothers had greater courage.
A narrow paved road led to this Chinese cemetery. But it would go no further, ending where life came to an end.
Beyond, a path carved out of the earth carried the adventurer, traveller and villager to known and unknown parts, to perilous perches and fabled views. A
close friend whose mother tapped rubber in Sungai Kantan in the 60s said she, and others too, had seen tigers amidst the trees. And other beasts too. Of their fate in the world of men, who can say?
A few years later, the stories about jeram continued to be told. About this time, the vigour and courage of youth coursed through our veins and lifted our feet. Off we went to it, as if drawn by a call, as was Odysseus by the Sirens.
Truth be told, it was a waterfall like any other in the vast forests of the nation’s lands. But it was our first, thus was it special.
The journey to the falls, like the march in life, was rough and tough. We had never travelled to far-off places until then, so that even this trek was a stupendous endeavour, not unlike Frodo’s travel to Mount Doom.
AFTER THE CEMETERY:
The disused pools
When I first beheld the pools, I thought they were both magnificent and terrifying. We had never before seen such creations of nature, a “nation” of lakes. Of water, grass, reeds and unresting winds.
These lakes drew men who reeled in fish, and birds which sought a feast. The creatures in the water were many; giants dwelt among them. I read in a blog from 2011 that “you could easily catch all sort of freshwater fish like tilapia and lampam”.
Once, on the way to jeram (perhaps during our third or fourth visit), we discovered to our utter horror that the fish in several pools had become the victims of the devilry of poison or bombs. Huge and small, they lay everywhere; in the reeds, under a small bridge; and in the middle of the pools.
An unforgettable episode occurred when my mates and I rode to the falls after school. Hong Gee alone was on a motorcycle. He went ahead of us, and when we caught up with him, it was not at jeram, but in one of the pools. In some strange fashion, he had steered his bike right into the body of water.
It was a shallow section, thus was he saved from death, and his companions from fright.
Well do I remember the muddy, treacherous slopes, the narrow rutted path and the enormous trees. But especially “terrifying” were the moments when light fled and an unformed darkness surrounded us; this came upon us when the roof of the forest grew in strength and defiance.
AT THE FALLS
There were three tiers. But only to one did we dare venture. Giant boulders, formed by some great upheaval in the earth in an ancient time, or unceasingly sculpted by the rushing water from a spring in a high place, lay here and there.
At the deepest point, where the water descended in strength, few would venture. The bravest ones would scale the slippery and mossy rocks to find a perch from which they could launch themselves into the angry foam.
The coarse sand on the banks of the stream were where we rested and feasted, gathering strength and spirit for the journey home. There were strange songs and sounds descending from the trees and the air; from cicadas, and perhaps elves too.
What more is there to say? The little kingdom of the falls, like Galadriel’s Lothlorien, is no more. In Sungai Kantan and beyond, roads and homes and commerce have usurped the old paths, the forest, the streams.
Now, jeram lives only in the deep wells of the minds of schoolboys who have grown old. And when they leave the shores of this world, no spell on earth may recall it.