The smell of cooked rice and fragrant spices wafts through Irni Samila Sani’s home as she stirs a large pot of gravy that bubbles over the stove.
Irni, along with her husband Sahri Kasmuri and their daughter, is hard at work in the kitchen, putting together one of her signature dishes – chicken masala biryani.
As the rice cools, they scoop out generous portions into dozens of food packets, as Sahri proudly tells The Pride: “It’s my wife’s secret recipe. Usually, she cooks it for our family, but today she’s making it for a special group of people for the very first time.”
The household is more boisterous than usual, as Irni’s brother has brought his family over. When dusk approaches, everyone helps to carry the food packets out of the house – right into the carnival-like atmosphere of a street party that’s happening at their doorstep.
Held once a year, the street party is a highlight for the residents of Jalan Bintang Tiga. Initiated and largely self-organised by the neighbours, the event brings everyone in the community together for an evening of food, fun and games.
For 48-year-old Irni, who has lived there since she was a teenager, the party is an event her family always makes time for since it was first held 20 years ago.
She says: “On a typical day, we don’t always have time to interact with our neighbours. So the party is a time that everyone along this row of houses can sit down, get together and have a chat with each other.”
Chiming in, Sahri quips: “It’s become a yearly tradition that all of us look forward to. Almost right after each party ends, we start talking about next year’s party, and what we are going to do.”
With a large tentage, professional AV equipment and a detailed programme of activities and games for close to 100 people, it’s hard to imagine that the street party was once just a small potluck attended by a few families. Since 2013, the event has also been supported by the Singapore Kindness Movement.
James Suresh, a resident of 26 years and one of the event’s key organisers, recalls: “We had a small gathering at the suggestion of one of our old neighbours who has since moved out. It piqued the curiosity of some of the other neighbours, and so we decided to organise a proper party that everyone could attend.”
Over the years, the party has only grown bigger and better, as the neighbours got more well-organised.
Suresh, 63, told The Pride: “We’ve got neighbours helping to prepare food, and collate names for registration. There’s also a couple just down the street that helps with the games – the husband puts in a lot of time to craft a piñata for the children, and the wife makes a beautiful jelly cake that commemorates how many years the Jalan Bintang Tiga street party has been going on for.”
The guest list has also expanded, as old neighbours who moved out still return for the party, and new faces began to join in.
Resident Gan Pin Pin was surprised by the warm welcome she received from her neighbours when she first moved into Jalan Bintang Tiga last year.
“They were very friendly to my family, and the street party was a good opportunity for us to meet everyone. Without it, you may interact with your immediate neighbours but it would be difficult to get to know everyone else living along the street.”
The closeness it forges among the neighbours is a key reason why the residents of Jalan Bintang Tiga make an effort to keep the street party tradition alive.
Suresh, a corporate trainer and author by profession, explains: “In neighbourhoods that are not very friendly… you can just have a quarrel with your neighbours over parking spaces, for example, and not feel anything because there’s no love lost.
“But if you’ve built strong friendships with your neighbours, you won’t have issues when someone parks outside your house or celebrates a wedding or festive occasion. You’re willing to let them take your space, and you have no qualms handing your keys to your neighbours for safekeeping when you’re on holiday because you trust them.”
Smiling, he says: “For the finalé of our party, everyone gets a water bomb. If you can throw water bombs at your neighbours, you must be quite close!”
On the 20th anniversary of the street party this August, the residents received a pleasant surprise, as they learnt that Jalan Bintang Tiga would be recognised as Singapore’s first ‘Friendly Street’, with a unique identity motif attached to their street sign.
And while it serves as a reminder of the place where it all began, the ties that bind the neighbours have also gone beyond just location and proximity.
Over the years, neighbours who have moved out include those who are older, as well as younger residents who have grown up, gotten married and started their own families. Still, many return year after year to catch up with family and old friends at the party, and some even help organise the event.
Suresh, whose three adult children grew up with the street parties, says: “For them, the party is a fond memory as they were children or teenagers when they first started, and now they are adults bringing their own children here.”
Incidentally, he and his wife will be moving out of the neighbourhood themselves in a few days’ time, but the street parties will continue as another chairperson has already been appointed.
There’s also no question of their commitment to the yearly gatherings and people that have come to take up a special place in their hearts.
Cradling his two-year-old granddaughter, Suresh says: “It’ll be nice to see another 20 years of the street party, and I hope to see my granddaughter, who’s here for only the second time, come back for the next few years as well.”