I woke up very early and was excited to go to the Padang Muar Club. It was the birthday of Prophet Muhammad and many schools would be sending their student representatives for the celebration. I was in Standard Three and was chosen to attend with few others and we represented the Sekolah Ismail School Two.
Every year the Muslims of my home town celebrated this event by assembling at the Padang Muar Club and from there they would march while chanting the praises of the prophet passing along Jalan Ibrahim and eventually to the Sultan Ibrahim Town Mosque. Whenever this event happened, I would stand at the junction of Jalan Omri/Jalan Ibrahim together with some other neighbours waving at the passing procession while they sang the Arabic version praising the prophet and glorifying God. I was always excited when this event happened and would make sure that I would be standing at the junction even before their arrival. From the elderly men to the youngest of my age, the scene was so exciting and from afar we could hear the approaching sound of their praises. They would bring along their banners written in Jawi and almost all of them would be wearing the Johor Baju Melayu of ‘Teluk Belangga’ of various colours. Today I was chosen to be a part of this congregation and was raring to go.
Grandma had my Baju Melayu ready (can’t remember the colour) complete with my ‘kain sampin’ and of course my songkok. I had to be at the Padang Club by 7.30am. The year was 1959 and I was nine years old.
Grandpa had his Raleigh bicycle ready to send me to the Padang. It was almost 7.ooam and I had just finished my breakfast. Our maid-servant Mak Yang was grinning at me and told me that she together with my three ‘sisters’ would be at the junction to watch the procession and I had better watch out. This time Uncle Wak Jis would not be joining the procession but he would surely be at the mosque to enjoy the ‘nasi biryani gam’.
It was 7.15am when we began our journey of ten minutes. As usual I sat at the center steel bar of the bicycle while grandpa peddled. The morning was beautiful and the sun was beginning to shine brightly. As we cycled passed the Police barracks, I could see many Muslims with their colourful baju heading toward the same direction, some cycling while few others walked.
Yesterday evening at school, my classmate Shamsuddin who was also selected to represent the school suggested that we meet at the entrance of the Padang before proceeding to our line. Shamsuddin was the son of my father’s close friend and he was staying at the ‘Lorong Sekolah’ which is just across the Sekolah Abu Bakar Girls School. My father was serving in India as a junior diplomat and it was Uncle Mohammed who would always come by my house to find out how I was faring. He would write to my father and inform him of my well-being.
When we reached the Padang, many people had gathered and it was a very colourful event with many banners being displayed. They were all written in Jawi and with some verses of the Holy Quran. Grandpa stopped at the entrance and after I kissed his hand, he cycled home. Shamsuddin was not around yet and so I waited for him as we both agreed that whoever arrive first would wait at the main entrance. The Padang was almost full as more people began to join in. Then Shamsuddin arrived driven by his father and Uncle Mohammed waved and smiled at me. We both then went inside the Padang looking for our school troupe. Each class was represented by five Muslim students. There was also a group representing the Indian Muslims and they had their own dressing of white colour and a white songkok, another group representing the Malay cultural society and they brought along their drums and a ‘kompang’ group.
Another interesting group I noticed was a small group of Muslims belonging to the ethnic Arabs. Muarian Arabs of my time were really Arabs in almost everything. They spoke the Arabic language among themselves, they wore their Arabic attires and they even got married to their own people, the Syeds would marry the Sharifahs and the Sheikhs would marry the Sitis although inter-marriages between the Arabs and the Malays were quite common. Famous Syeds of my time were Syed Idros and Syed Alwi of the Al-Alttas clan. There were few other clans such as the Al-Saggof, Al-Mohdar and Al- Firdaous. My very close friend Yem is a Sheikh (Sheikh Ibrahim) whose father was a famous religious teacher of my time. Today’s generation of these ethnic Arabs spoke not a word of the language of their forefathers and they have become one hundred percent Malays but most Muarian Arabs still have that Arabic features with them. Not many of us knew that the Johorean Arabs of my time were not considered as ‘bumiputra’ and I am not so sure if they are being accorded with the status now.
By 8.00am, we were all ready to begin the procession. There was one speaker with a loud-speaker who spoke very briefly and when he finished, we began the chanting of praises of prophet Muhammad and glorifying God. Those with their drums provided the rhythm as well as the tempo and the first liner began their walking slowly towards the exit heading the ‘simpang lima’ and Jalan Ibrahim. The chorus of these praises crescendo gradually and by and by, Muar town began to witness one of its beautiful cultural heritage. As we passed Jalan Ibrahim, we were greeted with endless onlookers and they joined in with their singing, some waving at us and we responded. Banners with the Arabic inscription were proudly displayed throughout the procession and everyone sang “Sallallah alai Muhammad, Sallallah alai wasalam” and it was really fun.
Shamsuddin and me sang as loud as we could and we were so very proud to be a part of this historical event. I was very anxious to see our maid-servant Mak Yang who had earlier promise to wait and observe me in the procession at the junction of Jalan Omri together with my three ‘sisters’. Throughout our walk along Jalan Ibrahim, scores of people waited to see this colourful procession, even the Chinese, the Indians took their opportunity to observe this beautiful culture and they felt like belonging to this culture they grew with. Some brought along their small children pointing towards us and maybe explaining to their children about the Malay culture they were now observing.
When we were about to reach the junction of Jalan Omri, from quite a distant I saw Mak Yang and my three ‘sisters’ waiting for the arrival of our troupe. In fact there were quite a number of our neighbours who were also waiting anxiously. As we reached the junction, Mak Yang waved at me like as though she had not met me for years and my three ‘sisters’ giggled as they saw me passing by. I waved at them smilingly feeling very proud. Then I saw grandpa and grandma at the front road of our house and likewise they were anxious as well to see their grandson taking part in the procession.
The singing continued even louder as we passed by Jalan Abdul Rahman and the ‘kompang’ troupe kept on with their tempo. At the mosque, Pak Adam the singing chef and his assistants began preparing for the ‘nasi biryani gam’ to be served to all the participants.
By the time we reached the mosque, the crowd was really big and we began our search for the dulang to be filled with the ‘nasi biryani gam’. There were about ten big cooking pots lined up with the newly cooked ‘nasi biryani gam’ Each dulang would be served for four people and for me, I had Shamsuddin and my two other classmates (can’t remember their names) ready to indulge ourselves with the authentic Johor Biryani Gam.
The Johor Biryani Gam is another special cuisine sought by many. It is cooked with the beef/mutton/chicken inside the rice together with the rempah (blended curry powder). In most cases, it will be mutton. Boiled eggs would be cooked together with the rice as well. These boiled eggs are usually the ‘telur pindang’ which are first boiled by using some herbs. While cooking it, a white cloth would be placed at the top of the pot maybe to have the taste even better. Eating ‘nasi biryani gam’ goes along very well with ‘air sirap bandung’ (rose syrup mixed with evaporated milk).
When we got our dulang, we took our position waiting for the rice to be poured onto our dulang. It was so inviting and we could not wait to enjoy it. Then I saw uncle Wak Jis with his group of friends and he was already enjoying his ‘nasi biryani’. When our turn came, the cook took some big scoops and poured it onto our dulang and we could observe the meat so smoking and hot and the cook always made sure four boiled eggs were included. My two other classmates had gone to look for our drinks and would be waiting under a big tree we had decided earlier. Shamsuddin and me carried the filled dulang together as it was quite heavy.
The four of us sat under a big tree providing shelter from the hot sun. We ate with our bare hands and while enjoying our delicacy, we talked about the procession and how we enjoyed being a part of it. The compound of the mosque was filled with the participants and they were all enjoying their ‘nasi biryani gam’.
Since then, I attended another of this procession and would look forward for the ‘nasi biryani gam’. When I was older, I need not join the procession but I would surely cycle to the mosque to have my taste of the authentic ‘Johor Biryani Gam’.
During the reign of Sultan Iskandar sometime in the eighties, he banned this procession citing such activity as blasphemous but every time the Muslim celebrated this occasion, the Muar town mosque would be filled with people waiting to have their share of the ‘biryani gam’.
Those were the days when time was filled with so much fun. Television was alien and we never heard of a creature called ‘computer’. In retrospect, the days of my growing period was a period when everything around us were so pleasant and full of amusement. One day, if I lived to see an invention that could send me back to my past, I would surely be among the first few to get enlisted and if I got through to visit my old home town and seeing myself running around with my three ‘sisters’, I don’t think I would like to be sent back to the future.