Every time when grandma took me along to Parit Bakar, I would be jumping with joy because I loved playing around the rambutan trees, running at the back yard where few mangosteen and durian trees stood alongside few other fruit trees like the duku, ciku, rambai, kundang and cermai. The house of my great grandmother was like my second home because grandma made sure that she visited her mother at least once a month. Most of the time we would take a teksi (beca for Muarians) and Pak Malek was the only rickshaw man she would engaged. Normally we would stay for a night and Pak Malek would come to fetch us back home the following evening.
The distance between our house and Parit Bakar is approximately eight kilometers and the journey would take us about half an hour. I have always loved the kampong scenery especially during my growing days where cars were hardly visible and even cyclist on the road was scarce. The kampung people were very friendly and somehow they all knew each other. My only problem was during the night because I was extremely scared of ghosts but during the day I could even walked alone at the back yard of the house and running around the surrounding secondary jungle because I knew during the day these ghosts would be fast asleep.
Unlike my cousins who called my great grandmother ‘nek’, I called her Tok because I have always looked upon her as my grandmother.
Last week Pak Jamak came to our house to inform grandma that Tok would be conducting a kenduri and Tok had wanted grandma to be at Parit Bakar a day before the kenduri. Pak Jamak was grandma’s first cousin and he was a frequent visitor to our house. He was Tok’s messenger as well and would cycle to Muar town every time a message had to be sent to grandma and Mak Kintan (grandma’s younger sister). When I was small I was scared of Pak Jamak because he had a very serious face. On the contrary, he was extremely nice and would always help me to fetch some rambutan fruits not within my reach.
It was a Thursday morning when we left for Parit Bakar and as always Pak Malek was very cheerful. While peddling he talked to grandma about many things while I sat besides grandma gazing at the wonderful scene of kampong environment. I just love kampung scenery even until today, a liking embedded since my childhood days. The morning sun was covered by the blue and greyish clouds, able only to illuminate its sparkling red illustrating a wonderful heavenly background to nature’s great wonders. The morning wind as always was breezy making our ride a pleasant journey. Throughout the journey, sometime I would be very busy squatting at the front of the beca pretending to be like a cowboy on a wagon shooting at the ‘Red Indians’ with my bare hand with the index finger being the pointer of the pistol. I received my early indoctrination of white people as always the good ones while the Red Indians were the villains.
When we reached Tok’s house, Pak Malek rang his bicycle bell and all heads suddenly appeared at every window of the house eagerly to find out whether was it the postman sending an important letter. The front door was opened and there was Tok standing and behind her was Timah Keling her adopted daughter grinning and waving. At the back door Mak Not (pronounce ‘note’) was seen preparing the site for tomorrow’s cooking and she was assisted by Pak Hussein, another of Tok’s adopted child. When the beca was at a standstill, I jumped down and ran straight to Tok and kissed her hand and proceeded to the back yard to look for Pak Hussein. He was a quiet man and would only speak when asked and I would always asked him a lot of questions. Sometime he got so fed up with answering my questions that he just nodded without any word spoken and I would keep on asking him about many things and he would just keep on nodding.
At the back of the house there were four durian trees and during the season, these durians would be distributed to the neighbours because it was plentiful. Sometime Pak Hussein would bring some to his friends at the nearby shop-houses and he would sit together with them enjoying the fruits. Those durians not too good to be eaten would be used to make ‘lempok’. We called these type of durians as ‘loko’. There were also many mangosteen trees as well as rambutan trees and I would normally climb all these trees and shout like tarzan.
Once I was stung by a hornet and within seconds the spot on my forehead where it was bitten began to sore and I ran home crying of pain and so today I was more careful making sure that no hornet was around. Quite often small snakes could be seen moving very slowly around the trees and most were green in colour. Malays called this type of snake as just ‘Ular daun’ and it was harmless but I would always avoid coming nearer to it.
It was not a durian season but the mango season had already begun with some trees showing off their fruits and some had ripen by the colour of their skin. Those ripen fruits would fall by itself but we were always impatience and so it was Pak Hussein who would be doing the plucking. Those not within reach, he would use a long bamboo we called ‘galah’ and sometime he would climb the tree and upon reaching the branch, he would shake it vigorously rendering those already ripen to fall. If Pak Hussein was not around, I would look for some sticks about the length of my arm and threw it at the fruit like the way we threw a boomerang. Most of the time I missed but quite often I enjoyed my own harvest. Normally I ate the fruit by eating it with my teeth to peel the skin first and then the fruit. The Malays called this ‘ongges’. Those days we always used out teeth to peel the skin of the fruits, even the sugar cane. Young kids like me had very strong teeth but of course we never used our teeth to open the durian fruits.
The kenduri was held in remembrance of my late great grandfather Haji Andak bin Jamak whom I never met. Grandma used to tell me a lot about him. He was a good-looking man, quite tall for a Malay and was a disciplinarian. He was of a Bugis descent whose father Jamak came to Parit Bakar for greener pasture. Four of Jamak’s grandchildren became prominent in their own fields. Tan Sri Taib Andak (grandma’s younger brother) became the first Chairman of FLDA (later Felda) and Malayan Banking, Tan Sri Jaafar Hussein (grandma’s cousin) was once the Governor of Bank Negara, Tan Sri Jaafar Abdul (grandma’s cousin) was the Deputy Inspector-General of Police in the nineties and Datin Paduka Fatimah Majid (grandma’s cousin) who was once the Head of Wanita UMNO. All these four were my grand uncles and grand auntie.
Tok was very fond of looking after few of her own grandchildren who at times looked upon her like their own mother. Che Chah (Esah Ahmad) was raised by Tok since she was a baby, Ram (Ramlah Abdul Hamid) although was not raised by Tok, she spent most of her growing days with Tok and even referred Tok as ‘Mak’, Bocheng (Ahmad Hj Ali) likewise spent his growing days with her. Another two of Tok’s grandchildren who spent quite a while with her are Noni Taib and Dollah (Dato Abdullah Yusof) who is currently the Chairman of Jaya Jusco and Aeon. The last of Tok’s grandchild who spent her times growing up with Tok is Ungku Nai. All these grandchildren surely have many fond memories of their grandmother.
On the day the kenduri was held, many relatives began to arrive and some came as far as Johor Bahru. Pak Usop and Mak Chah arrived from Johor Bahru togather with another Mak Chah (widow of Tok Midon). Tok Yeb arrived with Tok Nab and their children. Mak Chu (Puan Sri Zaharah Andak) came with her good husband Wak Ali (Tan Sri Ali Hassan). Likewise cousins of my age too began to arrive and we became a real nuisance running around the compound and at the back of the house. I remember Pak Jamak’s son Bakar, Mak Not’s son also named Bakar, Ungku Tik and Ungku Fadzil. They were all my buddies whenever we were at Tok’s house. Girls my age too were always around whenever there was a family event or gathering.
Many of our family’s earlier events were held at this house. Grandma told me that she was married in this house while grandpa’s house was the house stayed by Tok Yang Chik situated across the road near the Muar High School. Most of Tok’s children were married in this house as well and the last I can remember was the wedding of Che Chah and Ungku Hamid.
At the kitchen, the womenfolk were as usual busy preparing the necessary ingredients. The scene looked chaotic with everyone moving around executing their individual responsibilities. It looked even more chaotic when they talked while doing their works. The sound of various kitchen utensils like the batu giling and lesong contributed to the scene of ‘complete disorder’ with an added sound of toddlers with their cries. While many were rushing to keep to their ‘datelines’, Tok would also be very busy supervising every detail of everyone’s schedule as the clock kept ticking. The kenduri would be held at 3.00pm just in time for lunch particularly for the invited menfolk who would be returning after the Friday congregation at the Mosque situated along Parit Bakar Laut.
Parit Bakar is divided in two parts; Parit Bakar Darat and Parit Bakar Laut with the latter occupying the areas along the coastal stretch of the Straits of Malacca. The mosque is situated along the coastal road of Parit Bakar Laut while Tok’s house is at Parit Bakar Darat. The two areas are connected via a trunk road with few Malay houses could be seen toward the inner parts. Most of the frontage was covered with overgrown lallang and bushes. Cycling between these two points could take twenty minutes.
While the elderly women were busy at the kitchen, the younger ones were chit chatting about some new boys they met at some recent events they went to. They occupied at the upstairs of the house lending their hands to prepare the setting of the coming kenduri and subsequently the feast. It was almost noon and the ‘kain seperah’ must be spread with each end of the spread a ‘kendi’ would be placed. This ‘kendi’ was used to wash your right hand before eating and to wash it again after having satisfied your stomach. The spread was quite long able to cater for sixteen seating per spread. In most cases, the living area upstairs could accommodate three spreads. This responsibilities were given to the younger women of sixteen or seventeen mostly cousins who came with their parents and close relatives living in Parit Bakar.
Pak Hussein and Mat Not had done their job at the backyard of the house very well and it was time for their hard labour be tasted. It was a normal nasi biryani but the biryani kambing and daging (lembu) were equally on par with that of nasi biryani gam. Before the arrival of the invitees, kids like me were given the privileged to enjoy the food first. Most of us would sit on the ambin cross-legged and each of us was given a plate with all the lauk lumped together with the rice. There wasn’t any need to have a proper seating for kids like me and if we need to have another helping, we could just run outside the back of the house and look for Pak Hussein or Mak Not.
When the invitees began to arrive, Pak Jamak would immediately warned all kids to behave and to sit quietly somewhere. Sometime he would asked us particularly boys to join in the ‘tahlil’ and the ‘doa selamat’ so that we could learn to conduct our own ‘tahlil’ when we were grown-ups. The ‘tahlil’ began almost immediately when the Imam of the mosque arrived. Most of them arrived with their bicycles and Tok’s compound was filled with these bicycles.
The Imam would then recite some verses of the Quran and subsequently reading the surah Yassin. Although the ‘tahlil’ was in remembrance of my great grandfather Tok Andak, other relatives who had passed away were remembered as well. Before the end of the ‘tahlil’ session, the names of Tok Midon (Hamidon Andak), Tok Ali (husband of Mak Kintan), Tok Binti (Binti Dalilah Andak) and Tok Chik (Jaafar Andak) were mentioned along with their father Tok Andak.
The feast began about forty five minutes later and so these invitees had their lunch quite late. When the food was served, they had a real feast and it was worth the waiting. Some of the invitees who were close relatives were given a packet of nasi biryani together with the lauk to bring home.
That night the whole of the Andak clan enjoyed their dinner together. As for me and my kid cousins, we continued with our ‘adventures’ at the front compound of the house and we dared not venture away from the house as by now the ghosts had returned from their long slumber during the day.
That was not the only kenduri held at Tok’s house. In the months and years that followed, many kenduris were conducted and I would always look forward to be around. This was the only family event when we could meet all our close relatives and to catch up with each other. As time passed, kids like me began to grow and we were more disciplined in our own ways and those ‘adventures’ we used to create would be continued by the younger ones and this family culture continued for many more years until the day when Tok was finally laid to rest.