Year : 1957
We were upstairs playing the congkak when we heard the ringing sound of a bicycle bell continously. Both Kak Fuzi and I looked at each other with our brains thinking alike, and within seconds we were up running towards the stairs. I could run faster than her but she never gave up and kept running closer behind me. Reaching the stairs, I jumped every two stairs and within seconds landed on the cement ground. Grandma shouted at us not to run but was not heeded. When I almost reached the front portion of the house, there was the postman holding a letter. But we were not alone, quite a near distant there were also Kak Shidah and Kak Arah also running toward the postman but I was faster and had the honour to collect the letter first and that made my day. Later I would boast to anyone in the house that it was I who got the letter first.
When I got hold of the letter, I showed to Kak Shidah first because she was our eldest and she could read. She said it was addressed to grandpa and it must be from someone very far away. She knew it because the stamp on the letter had a picture of a kangaroo. I took the letter back and ran towards the kitchen to inform grandma. Everybody at the kitchen was equally excited about the letter and I was the main attraction.
Receiving a letter in the early fifties was a rare ocassion because nobody wrote letters unless it must be very important. When a postman arrived at your house, the first thing he would do was to ring his bicycle bell and that would attract many ears. Suddenly you would see heads appearing from every corner looking curiously toward the postman like a Christian child looking for Santa Clause. Even our maid-servant Mak Yang who surely had no business to get a letter would sneak by the kitchen to find out.
Immediately I ran towards grandma and while running shouted at her that I was holding a letter for grandpa and it was from someone very far away. Grandpa was at the backyard of our house doing some clearing in a nearby bush. Grandma shouted at grandpa and within seconds he was already holding the letter. He opened the envelope immediately and there was a letter written in Jawi. It was from uncle Mahmood whom we called Wak Mod. He was in Australia studying accountancy. Wak Mod would normally write letters in Jawi so that grandma could read as well. When grandpa finished reading it, he passed the letter to grandma and said, “Mod is well and send his wishes to everybody. He wants us to make Halwa Maskat for him and his friends in Australia.” When I heard what grandpa said, my immediate reaction was to run to my three ‘sisters’ to break the news. And again I would be proud because I heard it first.
The three girls were at the front of the house compound playing ‘kok nai’ a game similar to the game of ‘police and thief’. When they saw me running towards them, they immediately stopped and were eager to hear some exciting news. “The letter is from Wak Mod and he wants grandma to cook for him Halwa Maskat”, I said as I neared them. “Grandma said since she is free, she is going to cook it the day after tomorrow”, I continued. The three of them jumped out of joy because whenever grandma cooked Halwa Maskat, our house was like a mini carnival.
Halwa Maskat is a rare dish and believed to have its origin from Turkey. When cooked it is very tender and sweet and looks something like nougat. It is usually brown in colour. The method of cooking it is quite similar to cooking dodol except for the ingredients. The main ingredient are flour mixed with ghee, lots of them. The flour needs to be washed and later fried with a small degree of heat. And God knows how much sugar is needed. You need a huge cooking pot of brass to be placed on a man-made stove using bricks. For the fire, chopped rubber woods are the most ideal giving it the desired degree of heat. When the cooking begins, you need to stir the mixed flour with the ghee and the stirring must not stop until it is cooked. Normally it will take about eight hours to end the cooking. In the midst of cooking, cashew nuts and raisin will be added.
Grandma and grandpa began to write down what were needed to make Halwa Maskat and that meant tomorrow morning would be marketing time. The town market was quite far from our house and could easily cost seventy cents per trip on a beca ride. Everytime grandma brought me along to the market, we would stop by my mother’s grave in Bakri which was quite near the town market and tomorrow’s trip would be the same. My mother died at the age of twenty six when I was three months old and I never knew her. To me my grandma was my mother.
That night Kak Fuzi slept with me on the ambin which was next to grandma’s bedroom together with another of our maid-servant Mak Wor. She came from Indonesia and stayed with our grandparents for a very long time. When both grandma and grandpa passed away, she stayed with our auntie Mak Jah until her death. I will always remember her for the rest of my life. She was truly wonderful to me.
As usual I would demand to sleep at the center and both Kak Fuzi and Mak Wor would sleep at my left and right. Then I would remember the old Malay saying ‘Siapa tidur di tengah nanti hantu mamah’ (Whoever sleeps at the center will be eaten by ghost). So I told Kak Fuzi to sleep at the center but she refused because of the same thinking and eventually Mak Wor had to sleep at the center. Before we dozed off, Mak Wor would tell us stories and both Kak Fuzi and I would listen attentively with our eyes wide and mouth opened. If it were a ghost story, then I would tell Mak Wor to step aside and I would again be sleeping at the center.
The next morning grandma was ready to do the marketing and my immediate assignment was to look for a beca. Grandpa inspected the necessary materials and equipment for the cooking exercise together with Wak Jis (our youngest uncle Aziz Hamid). The chopped rubber woods needed seemed lacking and this meant new orders and he would soon be riding to look for the bullock-cart man. Wak Jis would then take over the cooking site and to make sure all the materials and equipment such as the huge cooking pan and a long stick similar to an oar were in place. At the kitchen all the womenfolk were equally busy preparing the necessary ingredients. They would divide their responsibilities with some assisting grandma and the others would prepare for lunch.
Kak Fuzi and I were at the tembok in front of our house looking for a beca. We managed to get one in lest than fifteen minutes of waiting. Looking for a beca was not difficult those days. It was easier to look for a beca in my hometown in 1957 than to look for a taxi in Kuala Lumpur city today.
Like it or not, grandma had to bring me along to the market. Leaving me behind would be fatal for nobody could tolerate my crying, so irritating and very long. None of my cousins could compete with me when it came to crying.
By the time we arrived home after grandma had done with her marketing it was almost 12 noon. Wak Jis had by now done a wonderful job at the bangsal while grandpa was still not back looking for the bullock-cart man with the chopped rubber woods. And the womenfolk had almost completed their routine and soon lunch would be served. When the three sisters saw us arriving home from the market, they immediately ran toward us to lend their hands to carry the bought items to the kitchen.
After lunch, grandma began discussing with the womenfolk on the preparation of the ingredients. Few katis of flour had been been done with and ready to be poured into the big brass pot. The ghee too was in placed, the cashew nuts, raisins, jengkeh and one or two more essential ingredients. Then grandpa returned home and told grandma that the woods should reach our house by 5pm.
It was almost 5pm when the bullock-cart man arrived with his cart filled with cut rubber woods. By now the elders of the menfolks were ready to carry the chopped woods; there were grandpa’s kin Pak Ali who hailed from Terengganu, Mat Siput the son of our maid-servant Mak Yang, Wak Yem (uncle Ibrahim Hamid), Wak Jis and of course grandpa. Most Bugis called their uncles with the titile ‘Wak’ before the name.
As for me and the three sisters, we were so excited at seeing the two fulll grown cows pulling the cart. We took some sticks and hit the bodies of the two cows but they just stared at us. I guess their skins were too thick to feel any impact of our beatings. Kak Arah’s stick broke and we all laughed out loud.
The men then began unloading the cut logs from the bullock-cart and carried them to the backyard where the cooking would be done. Because these logs were quite heavy and one could easily get tired halfway, they formed a relay pattern and passed the logs to one another until the last person who would be near the bangsal. It took almost one hour to complete unloading the logs. These logs would then be chopped and made into fire woods used to set the fire.
That night we were extremely excited. After dinner the four of us sat at the front concrete stairs of the house. I remember asking Kak Shidah what a kangaroo was. She told us that this animal walked on two legs and they have two hands like humans except their hands were shorter. But the most strange was this animal had a pocket at the center of its stomach and the baby would sit inside the pocket. Then Kak Fuzi imitated how a kangaroo walked followed by me and we all laughed all night until it was time to sleep when Mak Wor shouted to both Kak Fuzi and me. Kak Shidah and Kak Arah returned to their house just few steps away.
The next morning the ‘mini carnival’ began. We were all so excited that we even forgot to brush our teeth. While the womenfolk were busy at the kitchen we were a real nuisance running here and there. Grandpa was now ready and everything was put into place. Then grandma remembered that something needs to be bought at the nearby sundry shop and so she asked Kak Fuzi and obviously Kak Fuzi would need my company. Now we need to go to this sundry shop but there was one big problem. Two houses away was a Chinese house and a feirce dog. Kak Fuzi assured me that everything would be fine as long as we recite ‘tabatyadah’ continously.
The huge pot was already placed on top of a man-made stove of bricks. The fire was made and grandma began to fill the pot with all the necessary ingredients and grandpa began stirring. By and by we could see the product beginning to take shape while grandpa was still stirring. They took turn to stir and to make sure that the stirring would not stop. In the meantime, my three ‘sisters’ and me would ocassionally ‘inspect’ the cooking progress, then we continued runnning here and there and later came back to ‘inspect’ again. Some neighbours who passed by would stop to find out what’s cooking?
We could smell it’s lovely aroma when it was almost cooked. By now all the womenfolk at the kitchen had prepared the necessary containers to fill the halwa maskat for distribution. When it was finally cooked, the four of us immediately lined up for our share ready with our containers. Grandma filled each of our container and we began eating the newly cooked delicacy.
The following morning all the distribution portions were already filled in the containers respectively. Wak Mod of course received the larger portion as the halwa maskat was cooked because of him. Almost everyone in our family circle living in Muar town received their fair share. Later, grandpa wrapped the portion for Wak Mod with a brown paper and have it tightened with special rope and brought it to the Post Office to have it flown to Australia.
About ten days later, the Postman came with a parcel from Wak Mod. There was a letter for grandpa and five curved sticks that puzzled us. Why would Wak Mod sent us five curved sticks, well varnished and with picture of a kangaroo? It was Wak Yem (uncle Ibrahim Hamid) who told us that this stick was a boomerang. If you threw it like throwing a base ball, the boomerang will fly back to the direction of the thrower. We began playing these boomerangs but somehow it always failed to fly back to us and later seldom play with the boomerang. Wak Jis however had a better use for this boomerang. Everytime his back felt itchy, he would use the boomerang to scratch it.