Praba Ganesan

Praba Ganesan is chief executive at KUASA, a democracy outreach organisation. It's time to be involved. You can contact him at praba.ganesan@mykuasa.org or follow him on Twitter @prabaganesan.

JULY 13 — This month, we get to step up. Huge step up. The MRT trains begin their Cheras stops.

[Cheras: A completely underserved zone within the Klang Valley where Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur is. Its people have quirky humour, cheaper food and acceptance of an unforgiving universe.]

The 17th of July, 2017 — forgive me for the dramatics — life as Cheras-folks have known all these decades changes.  

It’s quite the birthday gift for me.  

Sheer delight running down the list of stops.

One station opposite Satay Samuri — all my old UKM Thursday Specials sessions with Din Batak, and later debate discussions with MMU debaters; another station a walk away from my aunt’s place which my late mom quipped was so near but so difficult to get to; Station Suntex — an excellent way to pay homage to the sole big town for the whole of Hulu Langat in those days, where very little lay in the way to Air Terjun Gabai or Gunung Nuang; Cheras Sentral gets a station — the mall with as many avatars as Vishnu, with a cineplex returning after 20 years; Cochrane Station, next to a furniture shop which used to be a school — not much romance in that; and getting down in any one of the two stations in Bukit Bintang.

Damn right, it’s party time in Cheras!

While every corner of Kuala Lumpur has had some piece of the public transportation pie over the years, we had to wait till 2017. But we are not complaining, not now when we can ride escalators before negotiating turnstiles which lead to platforms — where one taps his feet for five minutes for the impending train.

Platform and only five minutes wait. A few Cheras peeps are going to faint when the train arrives. It would be like Rapture for some of us.

It’s hard to translate if you are not from around here.

That long flat road

Beyond Pudu Market were the City Hall workers’ flats and Chinese new villages. This is the road to Seremban via Kajang. Passing Taman Mutiara where there is the Lady Templer’s Hospital, it’s still the boondocks. 

Then nothing till a police field force camp, with a small new government union residential garden. The road keeps winding till Kajang is found, the rest station for buses pushing on for the even trickier destination of Negri Sembilan’s capital.

That’s 1980.

Which was about the time stories about poor souls trying to start over in a soon ever-to-be mushrooming developments started to emerge, probably forged by the unscrupulous minds of those in Petaling Jaya.  

I still hiss when I hear PJ people tell me how far Cheras is. No more, I have my train set now.

The completely random fashion of approving new developments across both sides of Selangor and Kuala Lumpur while relying on the single Cheras Road to channel traffic to the city gave life — or death, all about perspectives — to the Cheras crawl.

Road enlargement, underpass and flyover projects were set in motion to beat the crawl, but none ever did. The 80s had the two flyovers past Ampang, and then the other to grease passage to Loke Yew Road. This brought the infamous now-defunct Cheras graveyard toll. 

The Nineties gave us the East-West Highway, an arm’s reach to the new LRT line to Seri Petaling and the upgraded highway to Kajang with its corresponding tolls. In the Noughties, it was about the underpasses near Connaught and under the Loke Yew flyover.

All of them mitigated traffic logjams but only a mass rapid transport to the original road route from the city centre to Kajang which would alleviate the riddle of ferrying that many people that quickly back and forth.

Until this Monday, it is still applicable that living in Cheras is a driving nightmare, and a public transportation purgatory.

Many claim the reason the main artery was ignored so long was due to the unwavering support to opposition parties in Cheras. DAP’s Tan Kok Wai has been MP since 1995, after being central in the 1990 mass protests to the first city toll in Cheras. 

It forced the government to delay toll collection by a year.   

Some say today, even if Barisan Nasional has a landslide nationally, the DAP can name a disused mop from Pudu Hulu with a rocket stuck to its handle, brandish the wet head throughout campaigning and win the seat without breaking sweat.

We will leave that to the historians, for now.

For this weekend we celebrate.

Thank them

In my final undergraduate year, with uncertainties abound, Mrs Kaless brought me around Sydney when I stayed with them.

She’d point to the bridge, the one which everyone’s seen in a movie or another, just like the Opera House and muse how men from Middlesbrough were involved in its construction.

It’s not that men from across the world from England were key contributors, but that labour is held with high regard.

Malaysians rather credit leaders for monuments and progress.

Why not a moment’s pause for the thousands who woke up every day for years to get the project up? There is a foot-trail, not visible from the highway, which labourers traverse for kilometres depending on which part of the construction needs them.

Bangladeshis, Myanmarese, Nepalese and many others with Malaysians building a better nation for those who will remain to enjoy the fruits of the endeavour. Even if some of them will be abruptly shooed out once they are surplus to requirement.

A thought to modern labourers reminiscent of the romantic Shah Jehan’s Taj Mahal’s builders, who were then duly blinded by an equally cruel emperor desiring his devotion never to be superseded.

I want to stand up, and encourage the rest of my Cheras family — the million plus of us — to join in and applaud them.   

Tomorrow

It seems just like yesterday when they put up the project plan up at Menara UOA Bangsar for the public to peruse the information and to register relevant protests and grievances.

My late mom would be happy when I was available to drive her to Puduraya temple through where the MRT constructions were taking shape. I said her days of being at the mercy of city buses which never came in time, was coming to an end. No more two-hour waits because trains — even the worse ones — chug along better and she’d be with Vinayagar in half an hour.

That won’t happen, but I guess, hundreds of thousands can keep their appointment without being at the mercy of bus and traffic gods for the years to come.

Potentials will be realised. More colleges will be viable, work might be cheaper and Saturday nights a helluva lot finer.   

The lifetimes of waiting end this Monday. I’d like to mark the day, if that is all very good with the rest of my Klang Valley friends.

This Monday is Cheras’ day in the sun.

* This is a personal opinion by the columnist.

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