At the toddy shop ... again

It was still drizzling when I arrived at the Johor Baru Public Toddy Shop to meet up with Nagalingam Chelladurai, the licensed operator of the toddy shop.

Signboards outside the Johor Baru
Public Toddy Shop

Nagalingam, a father of three children – two boys and his youngest, a girl – told me that his daughter kept a copy of my story, Cheers to an old friend, (NST Johor Streets, January 2012) in his phone for easy reference.

When he re-read this piece, which recorded Nagalingam’s age as 49, he marveled that almost 10 years had already passed because he will be turning 59 this year.

A great deal has indeed happened in the past few years and we spent some time exchanging updates before I shared with him, the purpose of our meet-up.

A sign outside in multi-languages

I told him about my collection of My Johor Stories that were published and showed him my two books, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage as well as its sequel, My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People.

I explained that I am preparing the manuscript for Book Three of My Johor Stories and proposed to include in its contents under Johor Culture-Heritage, the story of the JB Public Toddy Shop.

Nagalingam was delighted that my book will document this small but significant part of Johor history and went on to share with me, his plans to upgrade the facilities to give it a proper facelift.

From its signboard and historical references, the building was clearly ancient and believed to be built by the British as a government building in 1920.

The ancient design of the windows with
stained glass panes above

I could see from the building structure and its windows, designed with stained-glass panes above, that it was indeed an old building that had hardly seen any upgrading for a long time.

He was aware that the building and its use has rich historical value, and was thrilled that it will be documented in Book Three of My Johor Stories.

Meanwhile he had already started the application process to the various government departments and agencies to obtain approval for the upgrading work on the building and was seeking a document from the Chief Minister’s office to support this project.

The layout plan for the site in the Township of
Johore Bahru, District of Johore Bahru

Nagalingam had brought along a thick folder filled with ancient documents and opened interesting layout plans to show me the site allocated for use as a licensed toddy shop with an adjacent site for opium smoking.

Back in the 1920s, opium was regarded as a form of investment and source of much needed revenue in a developing town.

Even though it was a copy of the original plans for the Township of Johore Bahru in the District of Johore Bahru, I could tell it was an ancient document because in the past, Johor was then known as Johore.

While the opium business no longer exists, the JB Public Toddy Shop continues to serve toddy connoisseurs who range from ordinary folks to doctors, lawyers and tourists.

Presenting my book to Nagalingam

As I was seated in the shop chatting with Nagalingam, I observed customers coming in to buy fresh toddy as takeaways, bottled in 1.5-liter bottles.

The recent lockdowns and the border closure with neighbouring Singapore did affect the number of customers in the shop but with the reopening of the economy, they are seeing more regular customers returning for a refreshing drink.

While it was good to know about the changes Nagalingam had made with his coconut plantation that supplies fresh toddy to the shop, I was sad to learn that his father, Chelladurai Loorthusami, had passed away peacefully just two months ago.

Nagalingam had worked alongside his father, who took over the operations of the JB Public Toddy Shop under license with the Royal Malaysian Customs, Johor, in 1984, and learnt the ropes from him.

When his father retired in 2010, Nagalingam took over the licence to operate this business in 2011. I met him in late 2011 and shared their story in the newspapers in early 2012.

In fact, the people whom I met with him in the shop some 10 years ago, have since retired and now his brother-in-law is helping with the business in the shop.

Nagalingam untying the
ribbon on the book presented to him

In the course of our conversation, I was pleased to discover that his eldest son, who is involved with fish farming, has showed interest in the business and was learning about the day-to-day operations.

After hearing the plans Nagalingam had in mind for the future of the shop, I am looking forward to seeing an upgraded building with modern facilities that will appeal to both locals and tourists who were keen to visit this unique historical attraction in our city.

Before I left the shop, there was just one more thing to do: to present a copy of my 2017 bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage to Nagalingam with my best compliments.

I reminded him to share my book with his family – especially his daughter, a medical doctor – and look forward to reading the story of the JB Public Toddy Shop in my Book Three, which is currently a work-in-progress. Cheers!

No comments:

Post a Comment