Waiting for the approach of the month of Syawal is the most exciting period in the life of every Muslim. It simply means we need not fast any longer, at least for the next eleven months. There is no need to wake up from our deep slumber to have our pre-dawn meal and there is no more worries what to eat for the breaking of our long day of fasting. To those who managed to complete their whole month of fasting will celebrate the end of Ramadan with victory. Those who seldom fast will join in the queue and those who never fast because every time when the month of Ramadan approaches, his gastric suddenly becomes worse look forward for the end of Ramadan more than those who fasted. This has always been the yearly routine for Muslim throughout the world and somewhere in the north west of the state of Johore where lies the district of Muar, the local Muslims likewise await the coming of the month of Syawal with much enthusiasm. But no matter how much excitement this period can offer, nothing can match the excitement during the days when I was growing. During those days when life was filled with so many goodies and no worries. Let me take you back to the past sometime in the late fifties and feel for yourself the thrill of waiting for the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Syawal in a small town of Muar.
ONE WEEK BEFORE THE END OF RAMADAN.
Almost everything around the house need to be changed especially the people that resides within the house. Even the compound need to be cleaned; the grass must be mowed, the drains need to be freed from shrubs, small plants will be trimmed, the hedges too must be cut in horizontal and even the tembok and the pavement leading to the entrance of the house must be washed.
Some houses will be painted new with sparkling colours. The window curtains would be replaced and the colour and design must match that of the cushion covers. When the old curtain was replaced, some of it became your shirt and even turned into your gebor (blanket) to keep you warm on a cold night.
In the early sixties communication was still very poor and the Postman was the most sought. Unlike the present scenario where technology reigns supreme with various forms of button pressing gadgets that can reach the end users within seconds, the 60s was a far cry. Sending Hari Raya greeting cards was the norm and it must be sent at least two weeks before the big day. Some cards reached the owners few days after celebrating the Hari Raya. These cards would be used by most to decorate their living rooms. Each card would be tied to a long thread and to be hung at the four walls of the room where the serving table stood. Some would put all these cards on a big decorative plate for display. A big collection illustrated the number of friends or business associates one had.
Most Malay bajus were tailored (we called it ‘tempah’) and it must be sent to the respective tailors almost immediately after the announcement of Ramadan. These tailors were mostly women who would be busy doing the sewing during their fasting. The fee charged during my time (60s) was approximately five dollars per baju. The male baju Melayu do not have a collar and is known as the teluk belanga. The materials were normally bought at the Tai Tong textiles situated along Jalan Abdullah. As for the ‘kain sampin’, some shops belonging to Arab traders mostly situated along Jalan Abdullah and Jalan Maharani sold them together with the ‘songkok’. For the shoes it was obviously at the Bata outlet with prices between $9.90 to $19.90. For those who could afford a quality brand, the Husseini Store sold the latest ‘Clarks’ and ‘Salamanders’.
For the teluk belanga collar, the butang kancing could be bought at the Jewelleries and some Indian shops. Malay traders during my time were still scarce. For the ‘baju kemeja’, the Husseini Store sold some branded names and the most sought was the ‘Arrow’ brand. The trousers were tailored by most Chinese tailors and my favourite ‘Mary’, that elderly Chinese tailor with one front tooth missing of the Grand Paradise would only accept orders ten days before Hari Raya. Late comers needed to pay extra and it was still not guaranteed. Most Malays would be busy at ‘Lajat Tailor’ situated next to Manaf Book Store along Jalan Suleiman.
Female attires were the normal baju Melayu but some ventured a little further with the ‘kain kasa rubia‘. It was transparent sending some men reeling to their knees. Women of my time never used the ‘hijab’ and their heads were covered by the selendang or just ‘kain tudung’ and they looked very feminine and innocent and they covered their heads with the selendang only during outings or visiting friends.
For the Hari Raya delicacies, baking cookies began first and it came in various forms and taste. It would be baked using a thick round brass with mould designs of stars. On top would be its cover filled with burnt coconut husks. Familiar cookies of my time were ‘Biskut Bangkit’, ‘Samperit’, ‘Dahlia’ and few other names I have forgotten. Local delicacies too were added such as the ‘dodol’, ‘halwa maskat’, ‘koleh kacang’, ‘tempeyek’, etc.
The cakes came second and would only start about three or two days before the end of Ramadan. Most common was the ‘marble cake’. Likewise, few jellies (lengkong and agar agar) would be prepared using moulds of various shapes. Famous moulds of my time were those of a rabbit, elephant and lion design. These jellies would be placed together with other cookies on the first day but only for display. We could only eat it a week after the first day of Raya.
THREE DAYS BEFORE THE END OF RAMADAN
Most Johoreans of my time opted for the ‘ketupat’ and ‘lodeh’ which is quite similar to the ‘lontong’. The ‘daun ketupat’ (containers made of young coconut leaves) would be prepared and their numbers according to their anticipated number of guests. Preparing these ‘daun ketupat’ is known among Malays as ‘anyam’ and mostly done by the womenfolk. They had better skill compared to the menfolk. Those having no knowledge in preparing the ‘daun ketupat’ would place their orders from those with the skill.
The ‘rendang’ during my time was eaten together with the ‘ketupat lodeh’.
Some houses would serve ‘laksa johor’ and since spaghetti was still unknown, it was made of rice. (Refer my article on “Let’s make Laksa Johore).
By now most of the ‘baju raya’ were ready and we kept on trying them every hour grinning at the mirror with great satisfaction and would be repeated during the sahur. For the men’s ‘baju kemeja’, most relevant shops would be busy with the customers choosing and bargaining. During my time there was no such thing as ‘cheap sale’ or ‘Hari Raya sale’ and you need to be competent in your bargaining skill.
Chopped rubber woods could be seen in many houses delivered by the kereta lembu and business was brisk for the suppliers. These chopped rubber woods were most ideal to cook the ‘ketupat’ and other delicacies like dodol and halwa maskat.
By now the Hari Raya songs were on the air every minute and most became classics until todate. Whenever I hear the song sung by the late Fazidah Joned, my memory will immediately brings me back to those good old days. Two other songs made famous by Saloma and Sanisah Huri too were frequently aired. Later many other singers joined in to make the spirit of Hari Raya more lively. Singers like P.Ramlee, S.Jibeng, Ahmad Jais and few others deserve merits for their contributions.
During the night the spirit of Hari Raya would be at its height. The likur ‘competition’ too became more vibrant and the most famous areas were Jalan Temenggong Ahmad and Jalan Daud. In the area within the vicinity of Tanjung, the long stretch of Jalan Joned took center stage. Once in a while the sound of fire crackers could be heard while small children kept on playing at their house compound with their ‘bunga api’.
Those working outstation could not wait any longer to be with their loved ones in the kampung. At the Tangga Batu, cars waiting to be ferried from Tanjung Agas to Muar town had form a very long queue. The motor-boats carrying passengers to the shore worked overtime. All the beca men peddled non-stop to earn extra for a last minute shopping for their loved ones at home.
WHEN THE SIREN FILLED THE AIR
There wasn’t anymore need to listen to the radio because the siren would be doing the job and Muar town suddenly turned chaotic. Every homes were busy at every corner to celebrate tomorrow’s big day.
The kitchen began its schedule and the ketupat was the first to fill the boiling cooking pot followed by the ‘lodeh’. Few katis of meat would soon follow to make the rendang.
Home made cookies were lined up to fill the table but the cakes would only be sliced first thing tomorrow morning. The ‘kain alas meja’ as we normally called it must be new for the dining table.
All Hari Raya cards were gathered to be hung at the side wall where stood the dining table. At the corner where stood the Grundig radio, every items were nicely decorated. Even the radio had a nicely knitted piece of cloth placed on top. When the chanting of the praises of God could be heard over the radio, that was the spirit of Hari Raya at its greatest height.
The Hari Raya Aidilfitri was the mother of all Malay festivals of my time and we all wanted everything to be the best.
Selamat Hari Raya AidilFitri. Maaf Zahir dan Batin