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Sentul – sinfully scarred and sacrificed at the altar of ‘development’

How many more such villages and townships in the country have had their rich heritage eroded in the pursuit of 'progress'

All that's left of a grove of fruit trees in a kampong in Sentul - JD LOVRENCIEAR/ALIRAN

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It was a nightmare when I recently visited Sentul, where I was born over six decades ago.

Here was a great community of Malays, Chinese and Indians who lived together. Well-connected neighbouring kampongs thrived in a symbiosis of rich cultures, traditions and religions amid a little township with sufficient amenities and sprawling greenery.

What remains of a rich, thriving, muhibah (multi-ethnic) village in Sentul – JD LOVRENCIEAR/ALIRAN

Within minutes from busy Chow Kit and bordering the vast, rich fruit groves of Kampung Chubadak and the long stretches of tin mining land up to Setapak, Sentul was a rich paradise even up to forty years ago.

It had renowned schools like the Sentul Convent, the La Salle School and the Methodist Boys School including Tamil, Chinese and agama (religious) schools.

This school once had spacious greens near it, but it is now walled up amid congested surroundings – JD LOVRENCIEAR/ALIRAN

The town also had an integral farming village with cows, goats and sprawling vegetable farms on the ex-mining land.

Today, the once lush coconut plantations, rubber trees and streams where fish thrived are nowhere to be seen. Also gone are the favourite Malaysian pucuk paku vegetable (fiddlehead ferns) and moringa trees.

Sentul had its fair share of gang fights up to the late 1960s. But roadside thefts and house break-ins were unheard of.

Today, what remains of Sentul is a painful story of a failed, disjointed development plan.

Robbed by greed, Sentul now appears like a jigsaw puzzle of completely incoherent images with congested flats, secretly shared out upmarket condominium development plots and roads that cut across and criss-cross haphazardly.

Sentul and Sentul Pasar’s rich cultural and environmental identity is in tatters. Period.

This drain was once a meandering river, lined with pucuk paku vegetables and filled with clear water – a favourite fishing haunt for school boys during the holidays – JD LOVRENCIEAR/ALIRAN

Gone too are the wonderful fruit orchards that once raged all over Kampung Chubadak. Durians, mangosteens and flaming red and dazzling yellow rambutans are nowhere to be seen today.

The seasonal smells of exotic fruits like langsat, duku, nangka (jackfruit), chempedak (the smaller cousin of the jackfruit) and a whole range of Malaysian fruits just gradually disappeared over the decades.

It seemed like a grand plan to transform this historical and well-knit huge village in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

Sentul once had huge tourism potential and could have been a holiday getaway for city dwellers. I wonder what it would look like in the decades ahead. Perhaps it is not difficult to guess.

Thanks to our politicians who have turned Sentul into a nightmare of socio-environmental disorder – perhaps for good.

Snarling traffic chokes the streets of Sentul amid high-density high-rise buildings. More to come behind the hoarding on the right – JD LOVRENCIEAR/ALIRAN

In this modern era, IT and digital tools are helping many governments in the developed worlds to save sprawling residential hubs that have a rich, colourful, historical past.

Such suburbs are becoming world class, community-driven life-sustaining social habitats. They attract droves of tourists to live and savour life in these well-groomed townships.

With nature restored and brimming, these governments have restored the original identities of such villages and townships that offer its inhabitants and visitors a rich encounter with local heritage.

But what have we done to Sentul today? It is sinfully scarred and sacrificed at the altar of ‘development’, its legacy all but sunken. It makes you wonder how many more such villages and townships in the country have had their heritage eroded in the name of ‘development’?

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