Since she began recounting her life, she’s been having dreams of her youth.
She dreams about 1930s Sindh, in what was still India, and not yet Pakistan.
In them, she recalls the freedom of childhood and being a child: how she and her friends ran races, played games like dog and bone, how they roamed the streets of Hyderabad – courageously, in all their urchin-like temerity.
She remembers fearlessness: her father never scolded her so she was very brave; her mother would back down whenever Nani stood up to her – which was often.
There were neither borders nor obligations; no boundaries to be afraid of crossing.
Most of all, she remembers the freedom.
Were you happy, Nani, we ask.
“Khush,” she says, spreading her gnarled fingers in an expanse of expression. Happy.
“Ma free has; ma sochandas ma free aayah.”
“I was free,” she said. “I would think then, ‘I am free.'”
At a Milestone: Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre
By Laremy Lee
The tenants of Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre are a mix of old hats and new blood. Some of its old occupants have long outgrown it while others have shuttered their shops, but it remains a monument to a bygone era.
Built in 1981, Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre (USSC) was the definitive heartland mall of its time, catering to residents in the Hougang area.
Specifically – because any discussion of the sprawling lands of Hougang requires precision – USSC served residents in the vicinity of Ow Kang Ngor Kor Chiok, or Hougang Fifth Milestone, in the Teochew Chinese vernacular.
Old-timers born before Singapore’s independence used Ngor Kor Chiok as a reference point for the area out of necessity and simplicity. In the past, road markers, or milestones, were placed along Upper Serangoon Road to measure distances travelled. Descriptions vary, but what can be gathered from recounts is that the Fifth Milestone was placed somewhere between Boundary Road and Lim Tua Tow Road, back when Upper Serangoon Road still had some of its hustle left.
Over time, however, the bustle of food stalls, goldsmith shops and the wet market – among others – slowly disappeared as gentrification and re-urbanisation modified the makeup of this little town. USSC is one of the buildings left behind from that bygone period. One look at the Shopping Centre and you’d know it to be the sort of mall that has seen better days (and many sordid nights, too).