(Blast from the past! #5)
By Amir Muhammad
NST. 11 September 1999
You may have spent the last few days going about your daily business, totally unaware that a significant era has passed. No, this has nothing to do with any court case or the KLSE or any elections. I’m talking about something far more fundamental, something that will forever alter the spirit of our national life.
Batang Berjuntai is no more. That famous area near Kuala Selangor has been renamed. Yes, you read right. You can weep all you want, but I don’t think you can change this prickly fact.
A news report on 2 September stiffly stated that the change was made to “reflect (the area’s) stature as an education centre.”
The Selangor Menteri Besar (Chief Minister of Selangor) was quoted as saying that the town needed a new identity because the campuses of the new Selangor Industrial University (Unisel) and Institut Teknologi Mara branch will be erected there.
The implication here is that Batang Berjuntai did not sound intelligent or sophisticated enough. A more visionary name was needed. The Menteri Besar revealed that a new name was chosen “after the state heard views from various political bodies, government agencies and non-governmental agencies.”
Seems like a lot of research went into it. The new name? Berjuntai Bestari.
The short news report did not mention this, but the switch may have been made because Batang Berjuntai has always had a rather sexy connotation. (For those of you not terribly conversant in our national tongue, please seek an explanation from someone else. You can’t expect me to tell you everything lah).
Batang Berjuntai has for generations served as the punch-line for hundreds of perhaps thousands of Malaysian jokes. It’s one of those things that kept us together during hard times.
There is an Instant Café Theatre skit where a researcher plans to use the area to set up a manufacturing plant for the local version of Viagra.
The ingredients: “Tongkat Ali and coffee. It may not get you very far but it’ll keep you up all night.”
Well, all the jokes and innuendo will now be gone with the winds of politically-correct change. And subsequent generations of Malaysians will be all the poorer for it. I can’t imagine anyone using Berjuntai Bestari for ANY kind of punch-line, can you?
There will come a time in the distant future when a young Malaysian will look on in puzzlement as some old geezer (probably you or me) starts to reminisce about the golden days of Batang Berjuntai.
“What’s that?” the clever young dick will ask. And when you explain, he will be incredulous: “Tipulah! (You’re bluffing!) Next thing you’ll be telling me is that KLCC used to be the tallest erections in the world!”
The word Bestari may have been picked because it is the term for our much-hyped Smart schools, which should be operational any minute now. Plus, with the name change, the area will have the same initials as before.
Be that as it may, I am not sure if Berjuntai Bestari sounds cleverer than Batang Berjuintai. The latter at least evoked a concrete image in your mind – exactly WHAT image it was would depend on the type of mind you have. The new name doesn’t do anything, unless I’m missing something.
It was a similar shame when Pantai Cinta Berahi (Beach of Passionate Love) in Kelantan underwent a linguistic clean-up and became known as Pantai Cahaya Bulan. (Beach of Moonlight). (Same initials, notice?)
The authorities probably felt that the old name would whip couples into an erotic fervour and make them act out choice scenes from The Blue Lagoon. Now, people presumably go there just to look at the moonlight, and keep their hands to themselves.
Maybe I’m just a romantic at heart, but a lot of our new place-names sound so bland. Where our ancestors were once innovative enough to come up with Gelang Patah (Broken Bracelet), Pedas (Spicy), Balik Pulau (The Other Side of the Island) and Bukit Rakit (Raft Hill), we now can do no better than Subang Jaya, Kelana Jaya, Cyberjaya and Putrajaya. (I suppose it’s a small mercy that we have Berjuntai Bestari instead of Berjuntai Jaya or, Lord help us, Batang Jaya).
What’s so bad about a little sauciness? Batang Berjuntai had style; I could bring a smile to anyone’s face. True, I can’t imagine actually living there. Even if I did, I probably wouldn’t say so. I’d probably just say “Around Kuala Selangor.”
To have to deal with people’s comments would probably qualify as a mild form of sexual harassment.
But when all the bestari-smart kids move into their campuses, I hope they find a way of commemorating their locale’s former name.
A simple plaque will do; a play will be even better. Education, despite what you may have been told, isn’t just a matter of memorising facts. It’s about building character. And to me names like Batang Berjuntai were full of character. Even though it no longer exists in reality, make sure it exists in your hearts.
And in the meantime, please enjoy existing places like Janda Baik (Good Divorcee), Rantau Abang (The Man’s Region), Kampung Seronok (Fun Village) and Bukit Katil (Bed Hill) while you can. Their days might be numbered.
* POSTSCRIPT: It appears that the name-change was not absolute. There are still road signs that say Batang Berjuntai in 2007