In the late fifties, having chicken for your lunch and dinner was a real treat, even beef and mutton could not match the rare popularity of chicken. Every day we consumed a lot of fishes and of various kind; ikan kembong, ikan kelisa, ikan tenggiri, etc. These fishes would be cooked in various style; ikan asam pedas, ikan masak kicap, ikan masak terutub and few others. Everytime when grandma bought a big fish, I would be the first to look for its roe. Our elders kept telling us “Siapa makan banyak ikan, nanti dia jadi pandai”, and so we ate lots of fishes. Chicken was quite expensive and we seldom had chicken for lunch. For that reason many household bred chicken as their livestock but on a very small scale only for their own consumption and we had ours too. This morning grandma said, “Today we are going to have chicken for lunch”. The first thing was to catch five chicken and this responsibility was given to me and it was obvious that I would need the assistance of my three elder cousins. My first instinct was to look for Kak Shidah, the eldest among us who on many occasions became our leader. We neededed five healthy chicken to feed many mouths.
Kak Shidah whose real name is Hashidah Ahmad was the closest to grandma and she used to stay with grandma for sometime and Kak Fuzi (Fauziah Ahmad) although was likewise close to grandma, she was in fact more closer to me perhaps we were not far in our age difference. Kak Arah (Zaharah Ahmad) was more reserved but as a kid she was as playful as the three of us. Any domestic problem arose where I would be involved, these three would be the first to know and this time we were given a very heavy responsibility but we liked it so much. It was quite sometime since we had chicken for lunch.
Kak Shidah began lecturing us on her strategic planning while the three of us listened attentively. The first important criterion was to identify the likely targets and that was not too difficult as we had quite a number of healthy hens. Those still with chicks were spared as well as the roosters. We understood why the mother hens were spared but why all the roosters too? She explained that roosters play a very important role in our lives. They are responsible for the reproduction of our stocks and secondly roosters wake us up every morning, they are our natural wake-up calls replacing the man-made alarm clocks. Furthermore the rooster’s meat is tougher than the hens’.
Once we have identified our targets, we needed to discuss the implementation process step by step; the correct method to catch these hens, where to place them while awaiting the slaughtering process up to the dressing procedure. In other word, the responsibility was not just catching these hens but up to the cooking pots.
Now that we knew and have understood the strategic planning, the next was the implementation. For this, Kak Fuzi and me were given the assignment and we began our identification parade on the likely targets. When all the five chickens had been identified, the next step was the method of catching them. In the meantime Kak Arah began to look for the coop where the caught chicken would be placed.
The application to catch each chicken should be adhered strictly according to the correct methods laid down by Kak Shidah. First, take a quiet stroll nearer to your target. Pretend that we awere just passing by and when we approached nearer then the catching would begin and made sure the chicken would have no room to escape. Once the chicken was caught, we must hold its body together with its wings so that it would not be able to struggle. In the meantime, the coop must be available when the catching succeeded.
So much for the theory, now let’s do the practical. I told Kak Fuzi our first target would be the fat chicken with a red-coloured tail. The four of us began our operation with the two of us walking slowly on one side of the hen while the other two on the other side. The hen must be wondering why must these four people walking nearer and nearer to her. As the four of us came closer, Kak Fuzi immediately jumped at the hen and managed to catch one of its leg and I ran closer to catch its body. It was a real commotion and by now many chicken had disappeared maybe out of fright. Kak Arah ran straight to the coop and had it opened ready to put them inside. We were still small and our hands could not hold the hen tightly and sometime it would escape and that would be tougher to catch it. If we were unlucky the hen might shit on our hand out of fright and we needed to wash as fast as we could otherwise nobody dared to be near us.
Grandma had by now boiled the water awaiting the slaughtering process to be done by grandpa to be assisted by Wak Jis. It took us almost one hour to catch the five chickens and when it was done, I ran to grandma and told her we had completed our first responsibility.
Grandpa was now ready after sharpening his knife. He had his songkok on and went straight to the coop where all the five chicken were placed. Wak Jis being stronger than the four of us took the first chicken and squatted near the barn where grandpa was. All of us likewise squatted and observed the slaughtering process. Grandpa began his duty with the chanting of some Quranic verses and the chicken were slaughtered one by one. For about two minutes the whole process was completed.
The responsibility now was passed back to us. All the slaughtered chicken were placed inside a basin and grandma poured the boiling water into the basin. This was done to make it easier for us to remove the feathers. The four of us began pulling the feathers and while doing it, we began to recount those moments of catching the chicken; how Kak Fuzi skidded and how Kak Arah almost fell inside the small drain and we all laughed happily. Then we started to reserve which part of the chicken we would prefer but we would always avoid the neck because the elders used to say “siapa makan leher ayam, nanti leher dia terlentok”. When all the chicken’s feathers had been pulled, grandma would begin the dressing. The four of us were given credit for what we did and we were very proud.
While waiting for lunch, we played the game of “congkak” and few other lighter games to kill the time. The games we played were all of our own inventions and many were passed down to us by the elder ones and we improved them. We needed to create a product and from it many styles of toying with the product came into play. For instance, from a marble we developed many kinds of games. There was a product we call “chaptay”, made of chicken feathers placed in a vertical position upon few small round stacks of rubber and from it we created many kinds of games. We even collected old cigarette boxes and created many kinds of products. We were fully occupied and not a moment we felt bored.
Then grandma called us to present our reward of our reserved parts of the delicious chicken cuisine. We deserved our rewards for executing our responsibilities with full marks. We had ayam goreng, ayam masak korma and ayam masak kicap. We enjoyed our indulgence and it would take at least another month for us to have chicken for lunch. Eating chicken was definitely a thing we looked forward to but it was the thrill of catching the chicken that we looked forward even more.
Today’s generations need not do all these works to enjoy their chicken delights, just take a drive to the nearest KFC outlet and they can satisfy their appetite for a price but they have no idea how thrilling life was in the fifties when the application of a systematic ‘project management’ skill need to be employed to have chicken for lunch.