Young kids of my growing years knew not the significance of celebrating another day known to us then as Hari Raya Haji. We only knew a number of things about our religion and the celebration that went along with it. We knew because we heard all these from the elders of our family but we knew not the significance of celebrating them. We knew why we celebrated the Hari Raya Puasa because God said you could now celebrate after having fasted for one whole month. We also knew that the Hari Raya Haji was meant for people who had gone to Mecca and they became a “Haji” upon their return. But others especially young kids could celebrate as well. What became even more interesting about this celebration was our town mosque would be slaughtering some cows and the meat of these cows would be given away for free. On the morning of this day, they would cook a special dish called Nasi Briyani Gam served on a dulang to be shared with four persons. And now the Hari Raya Haji was approaching and we all looked forward to celebrate this day.
The atmosphere of this special day in my hometown of Muar during the fifties was as enjoyable as celebrating the Hari Raya Puasa. The most best part of the Hari Raya Haji was we need not fast like the one month of Ramadan. So whenever my grandma baked some cookies, we could eat some of them immediately after they had been baked and it was truly delicious. In a few days time we would be celebrating the Hari Raya Haji and kids like me looked forward for another special day in our life.
Grandpa had by now mowed the lawn surrounding our house while grandma was busy washing and cleaning the curtains hung at most windows of the house. Believe it, we had eighteen windows on the upper floor of the house not counting those on the ground floor. Most Malay houses of my growing years would be a two storey wooden bungalow that stood on a concrete beam and at the front would be concrete stairs of semi spiral in design. Depending on the height of the ground concrete beam, some houses would have a room or two at the front ground floor and a small living room. For Hari Raya Haji we need not change a new curtain because it was recently changed during the last Hari Raya Puasa. Every part of the house would be clean, even the drains would be free from any debris.
The food to be prepared was quite like those we had during the last Hari Raya Puasa and so a bullock cart would soon arrive to deliver the chopped rubber woods. During every festivals, we needed lots of chopped rubber woods for cooking purposes like boiling the ketupat, cooking the beef rendang and the main gravy for the Laksa Johor. The area around our kitchen would be like a mini carnival with the womenfolk moving about doing the necessary responsibilities. The only difference was they could eat and drink while executing their roles.
Grandpa was not a Haji but he had many friends who were Hajis and they would be referred to as Tuan Haji before their names while the women would be Puan Hajjah. But kids like me would call them Pak Aji and Mak Aji respectively.
Two houses away from our house was a house belonging to Mak Aji Yang, an elderly widow whose granddaughter named Nora lived with her. Being a Mak Aji, she would be celebrating the Hari Raya Haji and so many of her grown up children would be returning home to celebrate with her. They would bring along their children too and one of them of my age I remember was Ghazali Abu Bakar. His parents stayed in Batu Pahat and every time his parents came to visit Mak Aji Yang, Ghazali would come along too and he would look for me and we became good friends for a short while.
On the morning of Hari Raya Haji in 1957 when I was seven years old, I woke up very early and headed straight to the bath room. Grandma was already dressed while grandpa was ready with his baju Melayu to go to the town mosque for the morning congregation prayer. It was still dark but the rickshaw man named Pak Malek had already arrived to bring grandma and me to the ‘Bakri Batu Satu’ Muslim burial ground. She had been bringing me to this place ever since I was as young as three years old. Later I found out that grandma was not my mother and my real mother had died and she was buried at this burial ground. Since I never knew her, I have always treated grandma as my mother.
Upon our return to the burial ground, I had a small breakfast of Ketupat Lodeh and saved my empty stomach for the nasi briyani gam that would be served at the town mosque. By now the radio could be heard the chanting of the praises of God throughout our neighbourhood. This morning I would take a walk to the town mosque together with my neighbour Othman, a boy my age. It was almost 9.00am when we started walking. We used the back lane of my house passing through the house of my granduncle Talib bin Haji Taib. As we passed the house, some of my relatives noticed me and they all asked the same question; Din, nak pegi masjid ke? (Din, are you going to the mosque). I just grinned and nodded at the same time showing off my baju Melayu of sparkling green in colour. I had my polished pair of shoes on which grandma bought for me during the last Hari Raya Puasa. The house was fronting ‘Jalan Ibrahim’ and from here we walked towards the junction of ‘Jalan Khatib’. Many people were seen walking towards the town mosque and we assumed that all had the same idea; to have a great taste of the nasi briyani gam. From ‘Jalan Khatib’ we walked straight to the town mosque. By now the compound of the mosque was already filled with people with their colourful baju Melayu and of course with their songkok on. The congregation prayer had just ended and so it was time to fill their empty stomachs.
Few cows and goats were seen tied on a field behind the mosque. Othman and me went straight to where the nasi briyani gam was served. There was a long queue of about five to six lanes leading to the big burning pots filled with nasi briyani gam.
Nasi Briyani Gam has its origin in Pakistan as many believed. It must be cooked using a special rice called Beras Briyani in those days which is Beras Basmati today. First they would put in the special rempah to the boiling oil inside the big metal pot. After a few minutes, the meat would be thrown inside the boiling rempah and in most cases they would use mutton. After a while, boiled eggs would join in and finally the rice. When it was about to be cooked, the fire would have to be put off leaving only the burnt charcoal to provide the heat. They would then place a white cloth on top of the big pot to let the aroma stay inside the pot. So Nasi Briyani Gam is cooked together with the rice, meat and eggs.
Before joining the queue, we got ourselves a dulang and headed straight to the end of the line. Some people including kids had already enjoying their meal sitting cross-legged under the big trees surrounding the mosque. The women had theirs at the other section of the mosque. When our turn finally arrived, we just held on to our big dulang and the nasi briyani gam was poured onto it together with some portions of the cooked mutton and four eggs. They were very generous by giving us many big portions of the mutton. As a dulang was meant for four persons, we invited two other boys to join us and the four of us had a great feast.
While enjoying our indulgence, I noticed the slaughtering of the cows and goats had already begun. As I was too sacred to see the slaughtering process, we only went nearer when it was time to collect our free meat.
Walking home after such a great feast was tedious. We walked very slowly and had to stop for a while to catch our breath. When we passed my granduncle’s house, it was already filled with so many of my relatives and some noticed me and called out, Wah Din dah kenyang makan nasi briyani kat masjid (Wah, Din is already full having nasi briyani at the mosque). Again I just grinned and nodded and at the same time showing off the free meat I carried in my hand. They invited me to come later for lunch and I would go together with grandma.
Othman bade farewell when we reached his house and I proceeded home alone, a walking distance of hardly a minute. Upon reaching home I went straight onto the ambin and laid down messaging my bulging stomach after which I dozed off.
Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Adha to all my Muslim readers.