Another of the many exciting periods of my growing years in Muar town was the fruits season and this would be the period our kampung contemporaries would gladly invite us from the town to enjoy the harvests. In the house that I grew, we had quite a number of rambutan trees, mango and two durian trees. Of course we had coconut trees as well but the fruits were not considered as “fruits” and were not seasonal. Coconut trees grew in abundance around Muar town and we needed these fruits only as part of the ingredients for cooking the Malay dishes and delights and they bore fruits throughout the year. Although there were many fruits that were seasonal, my neighbourhood had only four kinds of fruits that were seasonal; the asam kwini, rambutan, manggis and durian. Somehow these four fruits began their harvests concurrently and that made the fruit seasons very exciting. Muar town and the nearby vicinities were like a festival during the fruit seasons.
Beside my house was a tall mango tree with its branches covering some parts of the roof. Most of the houses during my time used zinc for the roof and you can imagine the sound it would create when something quite heavy would fall on it. When the mango fruit season arrived, the tree would blossom with its beautiful yellow flowers and from these the young mango fruits would appear when the time was right. It would take approximately two to three months before the fruits began to ripen and when it did, it would just drop onto the ground. When that happened, the scrambling would begin. Suddenly you could see runners from all over the house running like a mad dog towards the fallen fruit. Being green in colour, we could hardly notice it and that would mean we needed a strong sense of smell. Everyone at the site would be sniffing like a dog sniffing for a bone. When night fell, everyone would be carrying a torch light, just in case.
There were quite a variety of mango fruits but the most common was known as buah asam kwini. Practically every house in our neighbourhood would have one tree. We had three of them, one by the side of the house and two at the back. During the night, we could hear the sound of the fallen fruits and that was when the torch light would be of great importance. However, we dared not step out of the house after midnight for fear of the roaming ghosts which we believed were everywhere around the compound. It was only after I reached the age of sixteen that such belief began to fade. Night life within my neighbourhood was eerie and it was so because of our early indoctrination. Tales of various form of ghosts would circulate among the kids and not a single ghost was good looking. So if any one of us had to succumb to nature’s call after midnight, we had better try very hard to fight the urge.
When most of these fruits had ripen, we would wait anxiously for them to fall but in most cases they never did. But we were never despaired because by evening, the wind would come to our aid and once the wind came blowing, these fruits would fall by the minute.
It was after lunch that I went into the bushes beside our house to look for the right branch to make the frame for my hand catapult. It must be a Y-shaped frame. I had my kitchen knife with me that Mak Yang our maid-servant gave. She had earlier sharpen it with a batu lesong without grandma’s knowledge. Mak Yang had always been my supporter at home. She would do anything for me. Once grandma chased me because of my naughtiness, all I did was to hide under her sarong and when grandma passed by, she would just grinned at her showing grandma her red coloured teeth because of the sireh she was chewing. It was a Friday afternoon and because I was still a young boy, going to the Friday congregation was not imposed yet. I had just finished my lunch and I ate my lunch alone because the females would have to wait for grandpa and my uncles returning from their Friday prayer at the town mosque situated along the Muar River.
Whenever I entered this bush, I would pretend that I was Hang Tuah holding the kitchen knife supposed to be a keris. I would tie my handkerchief around my forehead making it looked like a headgear. Then I would look for the right tree branch suitable to make my hand catapult. When I found the right size for the frame of my hand catapult, I would return home and inform Mak Yang. By now she had a pair of long sleek rubber strips for my hand catapult. It was cut from an old tyre tube that could be found at the bangsal of our house. The two rubber strips lead back to a pocket which would hold the projectile; in most cases I would use small pebbles as projectiles. The pocket was made of used leather which I would cut from old unused shoes. The pocket would be grasp by the right hand while the left hand would stretch the rubber strips to the desired extent to provide the power for the projectile. This hand catapult would be used to shoot at those mango fruits. Sometimes, we would mischievously shoot some birds too and we would miss all the time.
Most boys of my neighbourhood would have a hand catapult of their own creation. We would bring this whenever we stroll within the neighbourhood and our pockets would be filled with small stones. Most of these catapults would be upgraded to our own liking as times passed. We were always creative and kept on improving our creations.
In the evening, we would create a competition among ourselves on who could shoot as many fruits as we could. Of course the winner would be the one who could shoot the most fruits. Once there was a terrible mistake when one of us accidentally shot a bee-hive and the next thing we could see a swarm of bees flying towards our direction like missiles. It was like as though these bees knew who the shooter was and would come flying straight to him. If he had the time to run inside the house and closed the door, he could save himself from the fatal bites of these bees. Once I was beaten by just one bee and the next thing I could feel the part that was bitten swollen and very painful. Can’t imagine if the whole swarm of bees managed to catch up before finding any escape.
As these kwini fruits ripen, the durian trees would begin to bear flowers and weeks later we could see the small fruits coming out from the flower stems. Likewise the mangosteen too would begin to bear fruits.
Besides the house where I lived was an empty plot of land owned by someone who lived in Johor Bahru. We hardly saw his face and he would only come to have a look at his land once a year. Thus we considered this land as ‘no man’s land’. On this piece of land were two tall and big durian tress, three mango trees and few coconut tress. Whenever these trees bore fruits, anyone could just take them away without anyone questioning. So whenever a durian fruit fell, those nearby would run as quickly as they could in search of the fruit. It wasn’t easy to locate the actual site where the fruit fell because of the thick undergrowth and so we had to rely on our sense of smell. Everyone would be sniffing like a dog.
During the durian season, the whole neighbourhood would have the durian aroma. Everywhere we went to would have the durian smell, even in the cinema. Once in a while a bullock-cart would appear filled with durian fruits for sale. Sometime even the trishaws were used to transport these fruits. At the Tangga Batu along Jalan Maharani where the bus and taxi station was, the smell of durian would wash away the smell of satay, mi bandung and all other fishy aroma. If you were travelling on a taxi, you had to make sure none of the passengers had durians on their hands, otherwise you’d be sniffing the durian aroma all the way. On the buses you rode, some durians could be seen lying on the floor next to your seat. Throughout your journey, you would end up having the durian smell all over your body. The only ones who would not be able to sniff the durian aroma were those suffering from a bad flu.
Eight kilometers away from my house was the house of my great-grandmother. Parit Bakar of the early sixties was a very quiet village but during the fruits season, the village would turn vibrant with the town folks visiting their kampung relatives. In the evening, the juction of Parit Bakar would be filled with cyclists cycling to their respective destinations and most of them were from the other part of the village or from the Muar town. They all had come to enjoy the harvests of the fruits season. On one particular evening, I was among those cyclists.
Earlier in the afternoon I had told grandma that I would be spending the night at Parit Bakar with great grandma Tok Jilah. It was a Thursday evening and when I reached Tok’s house, my ‘Andak’ cousin Bakar was at the stairs waiting for me. We had planned to stay for the night at a small hut behind Tok’s house. The front compound of Tok’s house was filled with many fruit trees and with even more fruit trees behind the house. There was some ciku trees, rambai trees, kemang trees, and of course few durian trees. At the left side of the house were few rambuatan and manggis trees. Bakar was two years older than me and was stronger and well built physically while I was a young town lad who had tried to emulate Cliff Richard’s style of hairdo. He was staying at Parit Bakar, quite a near distance from Tok Jilah’s house and being a frequent visitor to Tok’s house, he was very familiar with the surroundings. Tok Jilah was informed of our intention to sleep for the night at the small hut behind the house and she did not object. However, she cautioned us to be on guard on any slippery intruders who might just drop by during the night but we told her the hut would be fully lighted with oil lamps. Furthermore, we had our torch lights always with us. And of course not forgetting the mosquito coils as repellent.
It was around 9.00pm after we had our dinner and had done our Isyak prayers that we set foot for the hut. The night was dark and we both walked through the small path leading to the hut with Bakar taking the lead. I had a small canvass bag tied to my back. The contents were those relevant for our night stay; mosquito coils, matches, kitchen knife and pen knife, towels, biscuits and bottle drinks. It was truly dark and all we could see were those shone by our torch lights. It wasn’t long when we reached the hut and we immediately lighted the oil lamps that were placed all over the hut. It was situated at the bottom of a big tree. The objective of staying for the night at this hut was to collect the durian fruits that would fall during the night. For me, the experience of staying in a small hut during the night was more exciting than waiting for the fruits to fall because we could always collect the fallen fruits in the morning.
The ground interior of the hut was fitted with a rattan mat and could only accommodate three persons of five feet five in length. As we were still very young and about five feet two in height, we could lay down quite comfortably. The hut was built by Tok’s adopted son who was a Chinese named Chen and we all called him ‘Pak Hussein’. Not far from this hut were five durian trees and by now we could hear few fruits had fallen.
The night was still and all we could hear was the chirping sound of crickets. If not because of the oil lamps, we would be have been in total darkness as the leaves of the trees above us blocked every space to gaze at the high heavens; not a single star could be seen twinkling. At twelve years old, I was quite brave to be in the middle of the night accompanied by another boy two years my senior.
Then Bakar suggested that we picked those fallen fruits and since it was a near distant, I followed him holding tightly my torch light. As we reached the site where stood few durian trees, our hands began to sway slowly holding the torch light directed to the undergrowth. It was hardly ten minutes of searching and we had collected almost twenty fruits. We stacked all those collected to one side as we kept on searching. Throughout the search I was so worried about being hit by a fallen fruit because if it landed right on my head, I could be dead within a few minutes but somehow we both escaped that. When it was almost two in the morning, I suggested to Bakar that we should go to sleep and continue at the break of dawn.
The continuous loud shrill cry of the roosters woke me up and as I gazed at my wrist watch, it showed five thirty in the morning. Not far away could be heard the recitation of some quranic verses read by the imam of the village surau. Bakar was still sleeping soundly and I thought to just let him enjoy his sleep while I would go out to enjoy the dawn breeze. As I stepped outside, I saw someone not far away with a torch light coming towards the hut. A few steps away was a huge stack of collected durian fruits and it was much much more than we had collected before retiring. As the man came closer, I immediately recognized him as Pak Hussein who was holding a fruit on his left hand.
“Din, cukup tidur?” (Did you have enough sleep Din?), asked Pak Hussein. I nodded with a small smile and headed straight to a container of water to wash my face. Pak Hussein had dropped by while I was in a deep slumber and together with Bakar, they had collected every fallen fruit and according to Pak Hussein they had collected almost a hundred fruits.
These fruits would be distributed to any of our relatives and close friend who would surely drop by during the day. We could not consume all these fruits by ourselves and giving some away was obviously the right choice. And so during the durian season, every meal we had would surely have some durian flavour. Almost every house would have nasi durian for lunch. It was eaten with rice mixed with coconut milk and brown sugar, and of course with the flesh of the durian fruits. Sometimes they would have dinner with nasi durian as well.
At the same time, the mangosteen and the rambutan trees would have bore fruits. As these two fruit trees are not as tall the durian trees, we would climb the trees and pluck those ripe ones. The mangosteen tree was easier to climb compared to the rambutan trees. While the durian fruits can cause your body to heat if consumed too much, the mangosteen are believed to be able to cool off your body heat. So every time when we consumed too much durian, we would eat some mangosteen to balance our diet.
The fruits season during my growing years in Muar town was surely another wonderful period that will always be remembered for a very long time.