Reminiscing on the halcyon days of Cochrane Road

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MEMORIES of the past frequently permeate many members of my generation. Life for me has undergone a complete transformation since the 1960s when I was growing up in one of Kuala Lumpur’s well-known suburbs: Cochrane Road.

Then a green belt of Kuala Lumpur, Cochrane Road takes its name from Charles Walter Hamilton Cochrane, a British resident of Perak who later served as Chief Secretary to the Government of the Federated Malay States from 1930 until his death in 1932.

Steeped in a sense of nostalgia and eager to rekindle memories of yesteryear, I took an LRT from Bangsar to Pasar Seni, then an MRT, and four stops later disembarked at Cochrane station. As I walked towards the Jalan Shelly exit, I was happy to see two familiar landmarks: the True Jesus Church and the St. John Ambulance building.

I was delighted to see the two places stay in one place and had resisted the rapid pace of development encompassing the Cochrane area. Turning right and walking a few hundred yards, there was Queen’s Hotel at the intersection of Jalan Shelly and Jalan Peel. The place may be the same but the outlets have changed owners.

Turning left, I walked along Jalan Peel and came across another familiar site: the Church of the Sacred Heart – a Catholic church serving the spiritual needs of Catholics in the Cochrane and Cheras areas.

I kept walking a few hundred meters until I reached the Cheras police station and turned left again. As I walked along this road, I was deeply disturbed to see another school in the same location where my alma mater once stood, La Salle Peel Road.

I don’t understand how they could destroy part of the history of a La Salle school in Kuala Lumpur.

Mission schools like La Salle Peel Road have assumed a pivotal role in providing quality education to Malaysians of all races and religions. Many prominent Malays were educated in missionary schools and later contributed to the social and economic development of the country.

I continued my walk along Cochrane Road, which is unrecognizable today from the 1960s. Government quarters have been replaced by shopping complexes. During this time, the Cochrane area was an enclave of government districts where officials resided. Then we were a close-knit community and looked out for each other in our simple ways of life. It was not materialism that defined our relationships, but kindness, compassion, humanity and sincerity. But these days, more often than not, I hear that the neighbors don’t even know or recognize each other.

There were many huge rain trees and greenery that once adorned Cochrane and surrounding areas. Children of all races used to play all kinds of games together in the padangs: be it football, hockey, sepak takraw, kites, spinning tops, marble shooting and even catching spiders. Many of these games may be foreign to children these days.

It was also common to see hawkers plying their trade, selling a variety of food items; the milkman delivering fresh milk daily; and school security guards who were constantly on the lookout for our safety.

Upon reaching the intersection of Jalan Cochrane and Circular Road (later known as Jalan Pekeliling), I turned left and passed another landmark which is still there – a Buddhist temple – Wat Buddha Jayanti. I remember this temple very well decorated, especially during the Wesak celebrations, and I watched with admiration its splendor during this festival.

And as I turned onto Jalan Peel, I passed another historic site in the area – Convent Peel Road. I couldn’t help but notice the meaningful slogan inscribed: “Reach Higher, See Further and Shine Brighter”. Spontaneously, I thought that should be the slogan of our politicians today.

What a whale of a time we had then and how much fun we grew up in the 60s. Personally, I don’t think kids today have as much fun as we did back then. It has been lost to history. If I had a magic wand, I would go back to the 60s!

The residential areas of Cochrane Road were then truly the embodiment of 1Malaysia, where Malays of all races and religions lived in peace and harmony, with respect for each other’s cultures and religions. There was no need for slogans in the 60s because race and religion were never an issue.

I am deeply appalled to see the racial polarization prevalent at all levels in our country today. And unfortunately, there is no sign of concrete action to reverse this trend among the younger generation, to rejuvenate the wonderful era of the 60s.

Benoit Lopez

Kuala Lumpur

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