My paternal grandparents with my uncles and aunties. My father is second from the front.
As the trishaw rode inside the compound of our house, everyone outside was curious to find out who could be our visitor? My three ‘sisters’ and me together with neighbours our age were playing our usual game of hide and seek and the game was interrupted when the bicycle bell of the trishaw rang. I was hiding under the stairs when I heard the ringing sound of the bell. It was quite unusual to have a visitor in the early morning when breakfast had just finished. Those in the kitchen were busy washing the dishes and their daily routine was about to begin. Immediately I came out from my hiding place and so were those hiding in some other places.
It was Enche (My paternal grandmother) and she was smiling and waving at me the moment our eyes met. Enche (Now spelt Encik) would come and visit us every week but she would normally come for lunch or for tea. Grandma had always respected her as she was her auntie (First cousin to my great grandmother Tok Jilah). Furthermore they were bisan to each other with Enche’s son (My father) married to grandma’s daughter (My mother). Immediately I ran towards her and kissed her hand and she held me tightly and kissed me all over my face. She would always do that whenever she got hold of me.
Enche was born Anggor binti Ali (Literally, anggor is grape in English), a peculiar name for a Malay but such a name was quite common during those days. Looking at my family tree, we had names such as Timun (Cucumber), Tasek (Lake) and Gunong (Mountain). As a matter of fact, these names are truly Malay names as compared to today’s Malay names which are adopted from the Arabic names. She married a Bugis descent who came from the island of Sulawesi named Daeng Delik who later adopted the name Ali. He was attached to the Johor Military Forces as a captain. She was slightly above fourteen when she married my paternal grandfather.
They both stayed in a bungalow with a big compound which was a walking distant from ours. As we were closely related, my father and his siblings would come and play with my mother and her siblings when they were kids. It was Enche who was instrumental to have my father married to my mother.
Enche was an extraordinary woman. All her children called her Ko instead of mak (Malay for mother). Some of her children adopted the Ko to their names; thus we had Konah for Hasnah, Kolah for Abdullah and Kochah for Yusof. Some of her grandchildren followed suit; we have Kolan, Koyong and me Kodin. My brother Farouk was once called Kolop. He should thank his lucky star for not having that funny nickname to his now. However, all her grandchildren called her Enche instead of nenek (Grandmother). Likewise, grandma and grandpa were both referred to by their grandchildren as Enche and Enche Jantan respectively.
She got married at the age of slightly above fourteen and gave birth almost yearly producing twenty one children in all. You can’t blame my grandparents for being very productive as there wasn’t any entertainment outlet during those days and they had never heard of such term as ‘family planning’. Some of her children died during infancy leaving sixteen beneath her wings. When my grandfather passed away, my youngest uncle Wak Aad (Fuad Ali) was only a few months old.
It was known among some elders of my family circle that Enche was conned of her properties by some members of my paternal grandfather’s kin as she was illiterate. She was driven out from the house together with all her young children and she had to rent a house that was almost dilapidated along Jalan Majidee within the Tanjung vicinity. Luckily for her as there were few relatives who offered to help her including my maternal grandparents. One very friendly relative, Daeng Salam (known as Wak Daeng) persuaded her to stay with him until she could find a suitable home of which she accepted but only for a short period. Her two eldest sons had to stop schooling and found themselves a job to help support the big family. From being the wife of an army captain with frequent visits to the Istana, she became penniless and took some odd jobs to survive. During this trying period, their staple food was the dried skin of tapioca. The dried skin would be cut into very small pieces just like rice and boiled. Enche’s life after the death of my grandfather was most traumatic and torturous. However, she had always been a strong-willed woman and managed to pull through until most of her children got themselves a reputable job. My father made it and went to further his studies at the Raffles College in Singapore.
To earn a decent living, she became a part-time Mak Andam and went on to become the most famous Mak Andam of her time. Most of the Malay weddings in Muar town would employ her as the Mak Andam.
After being kissed by Enche, I went to the kitchen to look for grandma and after having told her of Enche’s arrival, she immediately went outside to invite Enche to the house. Grandma was likewise curious why would Enche visit her in the early hour of the morning. They both talked for hours and grandma invited her for lunch as well. After lunch I was told to look for a beca for Enche to go home.
During dinner time that night, grandma told me that Enche would be going to Mekah (Mecca) to perform her pilgrimage soon. Grandma was among the first to be informed.
Going on a pilgrimage during my time was the most important event in the life of any Muslim. In fact it is still important today but the atmosphere was totally different. Today’s generation have no idea of the whole process of going to Mecca in the late fifties. In this article I am going to share with you the experience of observing your loved ones leaving for the Holy land to perform their pilgrimage in the late 50s.
Leaving for Mecca was a really big event. Normally those going to Mecca would be those having reached the age of 55 and above. When I was a kid, I looked upon those who were 50 and above as ‘very old’. Imagine I am now 67. Had I lived during the time when I was growing at the age of 67, I would be looked upon as a very old man. Today some of my friends are in the 7-series and they don’t look that old. With their jeans on, colourful T-shirts and their style of living, they look as if they had just turned 50. I guess we live in a different environment and health supplement are aplenty. If I were to be transported back in time at this age and maintain my present status, I would be looked upon as orang tua tak sedar diri (Dirty old man) and perhaps a bad example to the Malay society.
The journey to Mecca during my time would take three months. One month during the journey by sea to the Holy land, one month in Mecca and one month for the journey home. One month before you leave home, you would be visited by countless relatives and friends from all over Muar town. Your close relatives staying outstation would likewise pay you a visit with most staying over for a night or two. During this one month before your departure, you would be receiving so many instructions, advices and tips from those who had been to Mecca before, sometime making you a very confused person.
A week before Enche’s departure, grandma and I paid her a visit and when we arrived at her house, it was full of people mostly our relatives. For the next six days, the house would be filled with people in every corner. The kitchen would be in operation continuously and the little toilet outside the house would be visited every minute. The contract worker carrying human waste during the night must have grumbled for having to carry extra weight.
During the night, almost every part of the house would be reserved for sleeping areas. Those waking up in the middle of the night to ease need to use the torchlight to avoid stepping over those in a deep slumber. And the snoring sound of various tunes sounded like those frogs and toads during the rainy season could be heard in every part of the house. It was like a snoring competition and those having difficulty to sleep due to these terrible sound would end up being judges. In the morning these ‘judges’ would relate the snoring sounds made by the respective sleepers.
By now the planning schedule had been finalized. Those chosen to accompany her had been identified, the number of cars and the would be passengers, the drivers, accommodation during their stay in Johor Bahru (JB), the food to bring, the relevant ingredients for Enche during her one month in the open sea, her clothing and her medicine. The head of the planning division did exactly what was taught in the Strategic Planning for an MBA degree.
When the moment she was to step out of the house for this long journey, the scene provided the best inspiration for a movie director to create a tear jerking moment in a sad movie. Everyone was seen wiping their tears, some hugged each other instead of hugging Enche and few others cried silently alone while watching Enche walked slowly towards her car. Before she entered the car, she looked back with a sad face. She gazed at her rented house that had given her countless sad memories. She was now leaving this house for a lifetime journey that would take her three months to return. “Will she be returning to this house again?”, her whispering heart kept asking.
It was 1959 and Malaya was still under the emergency rule. Enche was now 59 years old and looking very frail. Twenty years had gone by since she last gazed at the face of her beloved husband. With sixteen young children beneath her wings and penniless, she went through her ordeal with blood, sweat and tears fighting every traumatic onslaught passing her way. Her determination to raise her children to become successful in their own field had by now beginning to show signs of victory. It was now payback time for her children. They sponsored her lifetime dream, the first long journey away from home alone.
The road to JB was long and winding with road blocks in almost every district and sub-district. We stopped at Ayer Hitam (Now spelt Air Hitam) after almost four hours of hectic driving and I must have vomited a hundred times and was dizzy throughout. By the time we reached the capital state, I was almost dead. We stayed at the house of Tok Ani (Enche’s younger sister) and after dinner I went straight to bed.
Tok Ani’s house was situated at Wadi Hassan, a housing area very near to the town of JB. When I woke up, the house was already filled with our local relatives. Enche was beaming with joy seeing our JB relatives and we had lots of them. Abang Gayah, Tok Ani’s daughter was very very busy supervising at the kitchen, planning the day’s menu. The womenfolk this time did not gossip much as it would not be good to do so when sending someone on a sacred journey. It was a great time for Enche as she seldom met her faraway relatives, a time when telephone was scarce. Information was conveyed through words of mouth. A sick relative from JB suffering from food poisoning could only be made known to the Muar relatives perhaps in a month’s time. By the time the news was received, the sick relative was as fit as a fiddle. So when they met, it was such a wonderful moment.
The following morning every one was ready. Our final destination would be Tanjung Pagar in Singapore. The happy moments of yesterday was about to change. This time it was our JB relatives’ turn to shed their tears. The scene tamed the saddest part of Love is a many splendored thing. It was the menfolk that cried unashamedly while their spouses did so in a more courteous manner. When the car that carried Enche began to move, everyone’s tears began to flow freely.
When we passed the causeway, I could not wait to return home to tell my kampung friends that I had again travelled on the longest bridge in the world. The first time I did so when I watched a movie called Hang Tuah with my idol P Ramlee playing the lead role. This was my second time passing through the causeway heading towards Odelan (Woodlands).
Every time we reached the traffic light, I would keep on looking at the red light. Those days it was red, then amber followed by green. So when it was amber, the driver was ready with the first gear. There were many traffic lights and I had lots to tell my kampung friends about these ‘amazing’ traffic lights. There were about ten traffic lights and I would tell my friends in the kampung that there were one hundred traffic lights. I wondered whether they would believe me.
When we reached Tanjung Pagar, it was so crowded that our car could hardly move. When I saw the huge ship docked at the harbor, I was so overwhelmed that it took me a few minutes to recover. Now I have another list of tales to tell. Maybe I could exaggerate a little bit that the ship was slightly smaller than Bukit Mor near Parit Jawa.
We walked in groups holding each other very tightly. Enche was not at sight but we knew that she would be soon on that huge vessel. Then we saw a line of people climbing the stairs by the side of the ship and we tried to get a view of Enche. Many people were crying waving at their loved ones who were already on deck. Then my uncle Wak Kochah said to all of us, Hei, tu dia Ko (Hey, that’s Enche), pointing his index finger towards the direction of the ship. We saw her but obviously she could not see us among the big crowd. A few minutes later, we could hear a loud siren coming from the ship, indicating that it would soon set sail.
It was Hari Raya Haji and the Sultan Ibrahim mosque was already filled with people wearing their baju melayu of various colours. I followed my uncle Wak Jis to perfrom our morning prayer with the rest of the congregation. We met many familiar faces and exchanged greetings. The Imam talked about the sacrifice story, about the great Islamic patriarch named Abraham. How he was about to sacrifice his son Ishmail in the name of God when God intervened, stopping him to do so. In replacement, a ram appeared on the other side of the mountain and God told Abraham to sacrifice it instead. It was a test from God and Abraham passed with flying colours. It was from this event that Muslims worldwide celebrate yearly in remembrance of Abraham’s great victory. In Mecca, millions of people from all over the world flocked to the Kaaba chanting the praises of God. In the year 1959, the same event was repeated and among the millions there was a small size woman named Anggor binti Ali.
Mak Enggor as she was affectionately known among family members and friends fulfilled her lifetime dream. She was truly extraordinary in many ways. She was very well known during her time that a letter from Kuala Lumpur written on the front cover of the envelope “Aziz Bakar, Cucu Mak Enggor, Muar, Johor”, reached my cousin Aziz safely.
How I miss my Enche.