By the time the 17th of Ramadan approached, the spirit of the month became more livelier plus the spirit of the coming Hari Raya. Many things need to be prepared like getting new bamboos for the likur night, a tin of kerosene to light the likur for the whole duration which could sometime extend to the first week of Raya, chopped rubber woods for cooking purposes, new trousers to be tailored by Mr. ‘Mary’ of Mary Tailor and the most important of all was my new baju melayu.
To celebrate Hari Raya, I need two baju melayu and ‘Mary’ that elderly Chinese tailor with a front tooth missing was not skill enough to make them especially the collar of ‘teluk belangga’. Most of my baju melayu those days were sewed by Mak Wan, a Terengganu lady who had been staying in Muar town since her younger days. In spite of staying in Muar town for so many years, her Terengganu accent was most noticeable especially when she called my name ‘deng’. Sometimes Mak Wan would go around the neighbourhood selling some jewelries offering payment on a monthly installment.
At the kitchen, grandma began to look for her cooking utensils getting ready to bake some cookies like ‘kueh bangkit’ and ‘kueh samprit’. Her skill in making ‘kueh lapis’ would only be done a day or two before Hari Raya and before that she would begin baking some ‘cake marbel’. For the jelly, she would make them using some glass moulds with a design of a lion and elephant. These jellies with the lion and elephant shape would be dried and later placed at the table only as decorative items and we could eat them about a week after the first day of Raya. She would also inspect at some of the window curtains and to ascertain whether they need to be replaced with new ones. When I was about six or seven years old, the old curtain would be the materials for my shirts.
In 1963, grandpa was 64 years old and he insisted that he was still strong to stir the halwa maskat alone. I told grandma that if they both decided to make halwa maskat for the Raya, then to do it on Friday so that I could assist grandpa and so that year we had halwa maskat added to the list. My three ‘sisters’ who were likewise in their teens were always available to lend their grandma some helping hands.
In spite of the fasting month, grandpa was always busy with his lawn mower trimming the grass at every corner of our compound which was quite big. He would trim the front hedges, clear some shrubs behind the house, sweep the fallen leaves and clean the windows. He would only stop doing all these when the prayer was due.
To get new bamboos, my two friends Halim and Yem would come along as they too needed these bamboos. I would still go to my grand auntie’s house near the Muar High School where the bamboo trees were still plenty. Pak Jalil the barber was still around but looked a bit older but this time I used the service of an Indian barber in town. He was better than Pak Jalil because he could trim my hair like the Beatles’. Maybe it was easier to copy the Beatle’s hairstyle compared to that of P. Ramlee or Elvis Presley. The Beatles came a bit late, otherwise Pak Jalil would have no problem cutting every boys hair like the Beatles.
In the evening, I began to dig all the holes to fit in the bamboos. Each bamboo would have a nail at the top to put the likur. At the front of the house just above the hedge, I placed two strong woods one on each side and then I tied a long wire and along this wire, I would put about 15 likur. So before the malam satu likur, I had all the main features well in place and I did this all alone. When Wak Jis returned home for Raya, I must make sure he would commend my works.
On the evening of the first night of malam likur, I began putting the kerosene inside the likur and should be ready to light them immediately after the breaking of fast. For the house of my three ‘sisters’, it was their brother Ghani who did the job as he was now a grown up lad.
When the 20th night came, all housing areas where Malays were predominant, the scene was like Les Vegas or maybe even better. After the terawih prayer, cyclists began to take their round viewing the lighted likur at some selected housing areas. Muar town roads usually cleared of heavy traffic during the day suddenly turned chaotic with the cyclists in command and motorists had to maneuver their steering wheels with care. The most famous housing areas with the most lighted likur were Jalan Temenggong Ahmad followed by Jalan Daud. Boys wooing girls took every opportunity to pass by the girls’ houses and the girls always pretended to do some important things at the house compound. The boys wouldn’t mind passing by every minute and kept on making U-turns. They could only grin and few were brave enough to wave. If they passed by ten times then they would wave ten times and some girls would return the gesture after getting all lines cleared.
The road of Jalan Abdullah was full of people from the junction near the Manaf Book Store right up to the end block where stood the Kim Leng Café. Most of them would just walk in groups and some cycling to and fro maybe four or five times and waved at each other every time they met. Strange but true, they just walked along the road until as late as 11pm. All the shops along this road would have closed by then but the people kept on walking and most of them were smiling over nothing which sometime including me and my two best friends. This scenario would be repeated tomorrow night and the following night until the last night before Raya and most of the time I would be part of the scene. Likewise I would be walking with my two friends and smiled over nothing.
Three days before Raya, grandpa and grandma began to make the ‘daun ketupat’ out of coconut leaves. Grandma taught me how to do it maybe more than ten times but I always failed. While making the ‘daun ketupat’, she would frequently check on her baking cookies. Those days the mould was made of brass and to bake the cookies, the top cover was filled with burnt coconut husks and arang. The baking aroma was always good to smell.
After our breaking of fast when all the likur had been lighted, I cycled to the Grand Paradise not to be naughty but to check with Mr.’Mary’ whether my trousers were ready for collection. During the festive season like the Hari Raya, these tailors could easily earned a ‘diploma’ in promising and assuring and they seldom lived up to their promises but that night I was lucky. Before returning home, I stopped by at Pak Ma’il restaurant to bring home a packet of ‘mi bandung’ to satisfy my desire after watching a Chinese couple enjoying the dish this afternoon. When I reached home I could eat hardly half of the helping and grandma finished the rest.
At the house compound, my little cousins were playing with their ‘bunga api’ running here and there. By now Mak Pon’s family had grown with three new additions namely Halimah, Esa and Ariffin. Kak Shidah and her two sisters were admiring their new baju raya while their mother was as usual busy at the kitchen and Pak Mat their father was still at his drawing board.
After playing with my little cousins, I joined my friends cycling to Jalan Abdullah to take our rounds of walk together with the crowd and smiled over nothing.
The last day of Ramadan was the most exciting. My uncles and aunties came home with their families. Wak Man and Mak Jah drove home in their Simca with little Faridah sitting at the rear seat. Mak Omar and his lovely wife also Mak Jah and their three children Idah (Zuraidah Omar), Idan (Zaidan Omar) and Oyah (Zawiyah Omar) while bachelor Wak Mod (Mahmood Hamid)) arrived home alone. Another Mak Jah (Azizah Hamid) my auntie too returned home from Tangkak with her husband Wak Sheh (Sheikh Mohammad) along with their three children. Wak Yem and Wak Jis too were equally excited to spend the Hari Raya in their kampung.
Likewise the neighbours too had their share of the same excitement and our neigbourhood became so lively. Everyone began to look for their childhood friends and their first remark would surely be ‘hei bila sampai’ (hey, when did you arrive) followed by ‘bila balek tempat kerja’ (when are you returning back for work). They would talk about their working places, about life in other towns and the food, about some beautiful girls they met and about few new friends they had. My cousins next door welcomed home only one person and that would be their eldest sister Kak Bulat returning home from University Malaya.
During my time, Hari Raya was not fixed like we do now. They need to sight the moon before announcing and that was another excitement. Normally we would know by 8.15pm. In my home town, we all would sit at the tembok waiting for the siren to be heard and if by 9.00pm the siren was not heard then we need to fast another day. In the remote places they relied on their radios and the suraus. Grandma and my aunties would heave a sigh of relief because that would give them ample time to do the cooking.
If the siren was heard, the scrambling would begin. Those cycling on the road would immediately return home cycling like they were engaged in a cycling contest overtaking each other. Those walking would run like M.Jegadeson ran the 100meters. The beca men peddled their trishaws quite similar the way Ben Hur rode his chariot to the finishing line. Little children would shout ‘besok raya, besok raya, (tomorrow is raya). At every homes, the situation became chaotic with the womenfolk having to sleep well past midnight. Smoke could be seen in every kitchen and the ketupat must be boiled and cooked. The young ones would check their new baju raya and kept admiring them with a grin. In town the only shop that would close late would be the songkok sellers.
The chanting of ‘Allahuakbar…” would begin in the town mosque and in every suraus and its melody heighten the spirit. New curtains began to replace the old ones as well as the seat cushions. Tomorrow we need not fast anymore and it would be eating and eating.
Before retiring to bed, I sat alone at the wooden bench just beside my bedroom. Everyone was fast asleep after a hectic day. Early tomorrow morning, I need to visit my mother’s grave and this time I would go alone. She died at the break of dawn when the praises of God was heard in every mosques and suraus in the county. Every time when Hari Raya was announced, grandma would remind me that my mother breathed her last on the morning of Hari Raya three months after she gave birth to me. Although I never knew her, I will surely remember at every dawn of Hari Raya a woman named Kamariah.