Does anyone care about 100 Quarters?

WHO cares about the 100-year-old 100 Quarters that will feel the brunt of the wreckers ball in a number of months?

Certainly not the authorities who may not know the difference between history and heritage.

History is a record of things that have coloured our collective lives while heritage is the substance of such things left behind for future generations.

While history can never be destroyed (it can be rewritten though and inevitably by the victors), heritage is destroyed daily in many parts of the world including Malaysia.

In fact, very few care about heritage nationwide with the exception of small pockets of people like Badan Warisan in Kuala Lumpur, the Penang Heritage Trust and other history associations in some states which have all been beleaguered in the face of development over the years.

They continue to make noises which may or may not be heard in the halls of administration with decision makers seeming to make the right sounds that invariably fall short of action.

There are others like me and a handful of people with one leg in the past and another in the present (it's a difficult stance) who make feeble efforts in the media and through books to impress on the masses the need for something from the past to guide the present generation into the future. To give perspective to the present and future, as it were.

But our efforts have been ably thwarted by the powers that be, both administrative and entrepreneurial, that never fail to forget the never-ending refrains of the development mantra. "The past has to make way for the future" (and by the way, we will try to retain some of the past by way of religious structures to appease the spiritual beings in our midst).

And who, I ask, formulated this unwritten law?

To be sure, the thousands of people who have lived in the 100 Quarters since 1915, including me (from 1955 to 1970), never asked for any quarter from the authorities in terms of permanence of existence of the little concrete boxes that the British asked civil servants to call home.

No quarter was given by the British and later the Malayan and Malaysian administrations that the 100 homes would be around till posterity. For the most part over its century-old history, the 100 quarters were just homes for civil servants.

But surely when the quarters hit 80 years of age or so, someone, somewhere, must have realised that these structures were a valuable throwback to the days when Kuala Lumpur was a small conurbation built around muddy rivers. I am sure this realisation was there, and valued at that, but ignored by almost all given the real estate value of the small area the houses sat on.

But I feel a little let down by the many ex-100 Quarters residents still in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya who have lamented the imminent erasure of the structures but who have done little to retain them.

I realise I may come in for some polite whacking for assigning blame to them for the fate that faces the 100 Quarters.

If this column seems to reflect the sentiments of an aggrieved person, it surely does.

I am pained by the fact that no one cares a hoot about the wanton destruction of buildings that stand without a crack after 100 years and whose beauty (subjective of course where less is really more) is unparalleled.

What is going to be left of Brickfields after development takes over in total will be religious structures in the form of the Buddhist Maha Vihara, the Zion Evangelical Lutheran church and the Sri Kandaswamy temple, the last vestiges of a Brickfields that future generations will never know about.

There are also quaint buildings around Kuala Lumpur that fit the same bill as the 100 Quarters whose days are numbered as well.

Will they survive the rigours of the years ahead especially in terms of calls for them to make way for gleaming concrete structures that are almost ubiquitous in the city today?

I don't know. But does anyone care?

Water, water, everywhere but not a drop to drink

Coleridge's lament on the in-availability of potable water in the middle of the salty ocean somewhat resembles the plight of Malaysians in several states who are staring at dry taps in the near future.

Negri Sembilan appears to be in the throes of a severe water shortage even as state authorities are assuring the public that everything will be all right for the next 41 days.

But what after that if it does not rain to raise levels at the dams in the state?

The picture is not all that rosy for the near future with cloud seeding appearing to be the only solution as the country gears up for a prolonged dry spell from April.
Selangor is also on a slippery slope where water is concerned with several areas such as Bukit Damansara and Balakong left high and dry.

Water shortages have become commonplace in recent years, something we never had in the 1950s and 1960s. Admittedly, there was much more ground cover in urban areas and catchment areas around dams were luxurious with foliage.

But by and large, the rains generally seem to fall in areas other than catchment areas these days. I can only guess at the dynamics involved: changing weather patterns, denudation of green areas and an inconsistent national and state water policy.

While some states like Perak have enough water, levels are abysmally low in other states with the future looking grim all around.

Let's be cognisant of the fact that wars are being fought over water.

I am not in the least suggesting that could happen here but I reckon state authorities will be jealously guarding what little they have if supplies diminish to the point where water reserves at state-level really matter.

If government at both levels cannot plan for adequate water in the future, the least they should do is emulate Singapore that is using desalinated water and purified water from sewage that may not be as acceptable here as in the republic.

Be that as it may, government should look at alternatives before a land once known for its rainfall ceases to be so.

Balan Moses, executive editor (news), may be among several lone voices in the wilderness nationwide calling for heritage to be preserved. But he will press on, at least for the satisfaction of having done something to influence young minds today on the difference between history and heritage. We cannot give up. Feedback: bmoses@thesundaily.com