To all my Muslim readers, I wish you all Salam Aidilfitri and to my Malay Muslim readers, Selamat Hari Raya Aidil fitri. Maaf Zahir Dan Batin.
When I left Muar town to pursue my studies and career in 1967, I left behind so many memories of my growing years rendering them impossible to be erased from my memory bank. The house where I was born and raised, the people I mixed with and the surroundings that nature provided had always been my companion. The morning crows of roosters breaking the dawn to begin another exciting day of creative ‘adventures’ around the neighbourhood and the soothing sound of the fajar azan from the town mosque. The swaying coconut trees dancing gracefully to the tune of the breezy wind by the shore and the setting sun ‘slumbering’ into the western horizon will always be those nostalgic scenes I will l always remember till my last breath. Sweet memories can never be traded with dollars and cents and something that money can’t buy.
Memories keep on displaying those moments when time had been very good and life had been worth a living. Ramadan will always be the month when most of my Malay Muslim contemporaries will rewind themselves to those wonderful days of yesteryears. We will remember waking up like zombies for our pre dawn meal, fighting very hard restraining ourselves from the aroma coming from the kitchen, dreaming of the food we crazed for every hour of the day and the final thrill of gazing at the serving table while the clock kept ticking to reach the end of our day’s fast. Such enduring feat of fasting during those days when we were kids surely deserve a good space and locked into our mind. As time goes by, these sweet memories will be our best companion and will live on in perpetuity for as long as we can still breathe.
It will always be the eves of every Hari Raya that will capture our attention displaying many events with tight schedules and doing some last minute preparation. How we struggled against time to find the right size for our new songkok, looking for our tailors for some minor adjustments, running to some houses of our neighbours to borrow certain things needed at home and few other important schedules.
I was seven years old when I celebrated the Hari Raya Aidilfitri with a better understanding on why the need to celebrate the end of our fasting month. It was 1957, the year our country gained its independence from the British. That night it was such a great night for me and my three ‘sisters’ living just next door. All our uncles and aunties had returned home and some brought along their new cars. I was brought up by my grandparents and they had no car and so seeing some cars parked at the front portion of the house was something to shout about. After our buka puasa, uncle Wak Man (Othman Abdul Hamid) brought us along in his new car driving through Muar town. I sat at the front passenger seat together with my female cousins Kak Fuzi while Kak Shidah, Kak Arah and Kamal sat behind. Traffic those days was very clear but Wak Man must drive carefully because the roads of Muar town on that Hari Raya eve were heavy with cyclists.
After driving along all the main roads of Muar town (only four main roads), we took a turn to some housing areas to watch the wonderful scene of malam likur. Wak Man knew where would be the best places to visit and it was obviously along Jalan Temenggong Ahmad and Jalan Daud. Before returning home, we passed along Jalan Joned and the whole stretch was lighted with the likur. Then we passed through Tanjung where stood the town mosque and the whole compound was bright and the chanting sound of the praises of God could be heard even when we were inside the car. Car air-conditioning was not heard of and we were contented with the breeze flowing into the car. All of us were very cheerful as we seldom got the chance to ride inside a car. We were like jakun showing off our faces and grinning by the side of the windows. If we met somebody we knew, we would shout out loud like as those we had not met them for years because it was important that they noticed us inside a moving vehicle.
Back at home everyone was seen very busy and it was almost midnight. Before retiring to bed, I inspected my new baju melayu and trying my new songkok at least two or three times. Then I opened my shoes box and admired my new pair of shoes which grandma bought for me at the Bata shop along Jalan Abdullah. I was now ready to spend my Hari Raya and I had lots of houses to visit and by the evening to count the total amount of duit raya I could collect.
The next morning when I woke up, grandma was already on her praying matt. Without even washing my face, I inspected again my new baju melayu, my new songkok and opened my shoe box and tried my new pair of shoes again. The radio was already on and the chanting of the praises of God was heard.
Wak Man was ready to drive grandma and me to my mother’s grave. On normal Friday mornings, it was Pak Malek the beca man who would bring us to the Jalan Bakri graveyard but this morning we were going to have a good ride. It was still quite dark when we began our journey and it would not take too long.
When we arrived at the graveyard, scores of people were already doing some cleaning at the graves of their loved ones. Some were reciting some verses of the Holy Quran praying and asking for mercy from God. It was a cold morning and as we passed along a path leading to where my mother was laid, we saw my paternal grandmother Tok Enggor who was already at the scene. She came earlier to visit the grave of her beloved husband, my grandfather whose grave was quite near my mother’s. Both grandma and Tok Enggor hugged each other and Tok Enggor came nearer to me and kissed me. Visiting my mother’s grave since then became my yearly routine until the day when I left for Kuala Lumpur. Once a while whenever I passed Muar town, I will stop by to pay respect to the woman who bore me.
I was now excited to return home and to begin my first day of Hari Raya. The menfolk were ready to go to the mosque for the morning prayer of aidilfitri. The womenfolk were busy preparing the ketupat and lodeh as well the the rendang. Cakes and cookies too had been nicely placed on the table Everyone was in a festive mood ready to receive our guests who would begin coming to the house by 9.00am.
Our immediate neighbour, the house of my three ‘sisters’ had a different morning dish. Their mother Mak Pon would always cook rendang hati lembu for their breakfast and I would surely be around to have a plate. Since then this dish became one of my favourites until today but Mak Pon’s style of cooking was the best to me.
I was already dressed, my new baju melayu complete with the kain sampin, a new sock and a new pair of shoes but for my songkok, I would put it on later when I began my round of visiting around the neighbourhood. It was almost 9.00am when the menfolk returned home from their prayers at the town mosque.
Our first visitors would surely be grandma’s younger sister Mak Kintan and her husband Ungku Abdullah. Along with them were my three cousins Ungku Tik, Ungku Fadzil and Ungku Arfah. While the elders had their Raya breakfast at the long table, my two male cousins would sit with me at a different table. Ungku Tik and me later became very close and in later years we even had a band with Ungku Tik as our leader. Ungku Fadzil was more quiet and would only speak when asked. We had a good morning feast and the kitchen was full of my uncles and aunties. It was a memorable day, one that I will find it difficult to vanish into the thin air.
Stream of visitors kept coming from both grandpa’s and grandma’s side. The ketupat and lodeh kept on filling every empty plates as they all talked. The cakes and cookies too occupied the same table with hardly any space available. For the drinks it was usually the rose syrup. All who came were dressed with their sparkling colours matched with their kain sampin/songkit. This went on for almost three to four hours of non-stop eating and drinking. When all our relatives whom we were closed to went home, it was then our turn to celebrate the Hari Raya.
We had this planned two days before and we had our list of houses to visit and now it was implementation time. The first on the list was the house of Uncle Lamdin, our immediate neighbour who stayed right across the road fronting our house. I had my new baju melayu on and grandma helped to tie my kain sampin. My three ‘sisters’ brought along their sister Kamal and brother Ghani. We were not too enthusiast with eating as we had enough at home but we were more keen to collect as much duit raya as we could.
Upon reaching our destinations, it was the normal greetings of ‘assalamualaikum’. We greeted simultaneously and quite loud too hoping to get the attention. We had to extend our greeting two or three times to be heard to finally receive the reply of ‘waalaikumusallam’. We knew all of Uncle Lamdin’s children and there was no need for any formal introduction. His two eldest daughters named Kak Nah and Kak Eton invited us to the kitchen for the ketupat lodeh but we had had enough of this back home and only interested to start collecting our ‘duit raya’. However, we were served with some home made cookies and we were later joined by Uncle Lamdin’s children of our age group. Before leaving, each of us were given twenty cents and that amount was considered quite big in 1957.
From Uncle Lamdin’s house we proceeded to our next immediate neighbour known to us only as Mak Yang. She was a widow and had been staying in our area even before we were born. She was a friend of grandma and maybe she was a bit older. Mak Yang gave each of us ten cents.
There were only about six houses considered as close neighbours and that was not enough to fill our pocket with the duit raya. And so we ventured a little further and started walking by the roadside to our next destination, the house of Tok Jid (Hj.Abdul Majid bin Jamak) who was grandma’s uncle. We were served by one of Tok Jid’s daughters we called Mak Neyney. Again we had cakes and cookies and before leaving home we were given quite a lot, fifty cents each because we were ‘cucu Abang Ara’ (Abang Ara’s grandchildren). On our way home we stopped at the house of Pak Adam whose wife was of a Japanese descent. All his children looked like Japanese and the youngest named Jaafar is today one of my close friends. Not far away from Pak Adam’s house was the house of Dato Suleiman Ninam Shah, an up and coming politician. His house was filled with guests that he had to put up more tables for his continuous flow of guests including the non-Malays. His wife whom we called Mak Rose was seen giving away duit raya to their younger visitors. She was a good woman and was always seen smiling. When we met her to extend our greetings, we were given fifty cents each. Then we stopped at the houses of Wak Daeng and Pak Haji Sebul and finally returned home. On our first round of visiting we collected almost one dollar each.
By evening we were exhausted but quite satisfied with our collection. At home it was time to collect our duit raya with the uncles who were already working and they gave us generously of one dollar each. Other older relatives who came to pay their respect to grandpa and grandma would likewise gave us the duit raya.
While we were doing our round of visiting, other children our age too did the same. The roads within the vicinity of Tanjung were filled with many small children walking slowly mostly in groups of five or six and they all looked very cheerful. Like us, they were more interested on how much collection they could get and eating the raya cakes and cookies was secondary.
On the first day I managed to collect Five dollars plus, the highest among all my cousins. That night all of us sat at the tembok planning what to do with our raya monies. With that kind of money we had, we could buy ice-cream for at least one or two months everyday without having to ask grandma for the money.
To kids like us, Hari Raya was a one month celebration maybe to make up for the one month of fasting. For as long as the month of Syawal was still on, Hari Raya would be on as well. The second day was another eventful day going around the houses of our close relatives who lived quite a walking distance from ours. Most second days, I would not be wearing a baju melayu but a baju kemeja, a short that reached my ankles, a pair of socks and of course my Bata shoes.
Throughout the one week of Hari Raya in my kampong was as vibrant as on the first day. We could still see young kids doing their visiting for the duit raya, we could still eat cakes and cookies which were always enough to fill any empty plate, we could still enjoy the ketupat and lodeh for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The likur were still lighted during the night and this could last for about a week after Raya. And the Hari Raya song of ‘Suara Takbir’ sung by the legendary P. Ramlee would fill every hour of the day over Radio Malaya.
This is the only Hari Raya song that will bring me back to the good old times of the mid-fifties when I took my time to grow. I was not in a hurry and I took every opportunity of enjoying every moment I had.
Once again thank you to all my good readers and wishing you a “Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Maaf Zahir dan Batin.
Salam and God bless.