THE HARI RAYA HAJI

Selamat Hari Raya Haji

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.

 

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PICKING UP THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

English languageI was brought up in a Malay society and obviously the Malay language was the only language I spoke and understood. Although at seven years old I started to learn the English language and began to write and speak the language, it was only done in school. The Sekolah Ismail School Two was an English medium situated about four miles from where I lived. My Standard One teacher was a young Chinese lady I remember only as Miss Lim. It was only after a week when things began to fall into place that we only begun to write and speak in the English language. There were very few subjects; Nature Study, Arithmetic, Geography, English, Malay, Art and Singing. The year was 1957.

When Miss Lim started her class, she conducted everything in the English language and that made all of us hardly understood every word she spoke. So whenever she asked any one of us in the English language, we could only smile with some showing off their missing front teeth. She needed to translate some of her questions in the Malay language for us to understand. Most of the students were Malays, some Chinese and very few Indian students. Because of the breakdown in communication, we mingled around only with our kind. But most Chinese and Indian students could speak in the Malay language and they would talk to the Malay students in Malay. By the middle of the year, we began to understand some simple English words and we would communicate with our Chinese and Indian friends in English but we still spoke the Malay language among our Malay friends.

The subject I liked most was Nature Study. It would always begin with Today is Sunday. (The first day for the state of Johor). The sun is shining. It is a sunny day. Then we had to draw that sunny day. In most cases, there would be a mountain at the background and the sun just above the mountain. There would be two or three coconut trees and some birds with a V signs. Beneath the mountain would be the river. The sun would be a round ball with orange colour and surrounded by its rays. The next day we learned another sentence; Today is Monday.

Obviously if it was raining, it would be Today is a rainy day. And if we noticed the sun was blocked by the clouds it would be Today is a cloudy day. Of course we had to draw a rainy and a cloudy day. At home I would tell grandma and our maid-servant what I learned in school.

Counting numbers wasn’t that difficult but when we had to do it in the English language, that made the Arithmetic a difficult subject. First we had to count the numbers from one to ten followed by the “teens’ up to twenty. Adding, subtracting, multiplication and division sometimes confused us. Those days we used the phrase “take away” and not “minus” for subtracting, perhaps it was descriptive. And for multiplication we used the word “times”. The most difficult was dividing numbers making most of us blinked for few seconds. Miss Lim was a very patient teacher and she would always give us a helping hand whenever we got stuck somewhere.

Our English teacher was a middle-aged Chinese man I remember only as Mr. Yap. A very tolerant person, he would always give us time to think before giving any answer. Whenever we gave wrong answers, he would encourage us to think again saying the answer was not right and requested that we took our time before answering. In most cases we never managed to correct our wrong answers simply because we knew not. So Mr. Yap would correct it for us.

Suleiman was a frail boy with such an innocent face. Timid and very quiet, he would only talk when asked. One day in one of our English classes, he was asked by Mr. Yap about his father, his occupation and how old was he? Suleiman was suffering from speech impediment and would remain silent whenever he found so difficult to begin a sentence. Another of his problem was the pronunciation; he could not pronounce words that began with “F” and words that used “th“.

“Suleiman, what is your father’s name, and what is his occupation?” asked Mr. Yap pointing his index finger at Suleiman giving him a shock like a thunderbolt passing through his nervous system.

Suleiman stood and looked at Mr. Yap meekly, then slowly answered, “My pader name Mahmood.” Mr. Yap smiled at Suleiman and walked slowly towards him and said, “Father, not Pader”. Can you try now?”

“Pader”, answered Suleiman again and this time he was visibly shaken. It was very natural for boys of seven years old to tremble whenever faced with an English teacher. He looked at his teacher with fright but Mr. Yap being such a nice person consoled him amicably and finally said it was alright for Suleiman to pronounce father as pader, but emphasized on the apostrophe “s” after the word father.  At seven years old, the word occupation was very alien to us and so Mr. Yap had to explain what it meant. Suleiman told the class that his father was working in a very big building situated right besides the Muar River..My pader go opes…opes besar kat laut.

Chinese students too found difficulty to grasp the language at an early age. While Malay students could not pronounce any word beginning with an “F” replacing with a “P”, most Chinese students pronounced any word beginning with an “R” glaringly different replacing it with an “L”.  So Muar River would be Muar Liber.

“Kok Chai”, where is the central market of our town?”, Mr. Yap had once asked Chong Kok Chai in one of our English classes. Lanky and quite tall for a seven year old boy, Kok Chai stood up confidently and answered, “Near de liber”(Near the river). No matter how glaringly wronged was the pronunciation, we never laughed because we were no better.

Indian students somehow had a better grip of the English language. Some say because the Tamil language is quite difficult that learning other languages is easier. But most Indian students of my early schooling days had their share of different pronunciation; they could not pronounce “V” which they would pronounce as “W”. Thus ‘vehicle‘ became ‘wehicle‘.

By the time we were in Standard Three, our English improved but not tremendously. In class we would converse in English only with our non-Malay friends and maintained talking with our mother tongue with those of our kind. We spoke broken English but understood pretty well by our listeners. Our vocabulary improved and we learned new words everyday.

It was in 1959 when I was in Standard Three that I joined a group of students to watch a religious epic movie called “The Ten Commandments”. It was organized by our school and the movie was screened at the newly built cinema called The Cathay Cinema. Each one of us had to pay sixty cents and not many students could afford it at that time. When I told grandpa about it, he encouraged me to watch the movie because it was about a prophet named Musa (Moses) and so he gladly gave me the money. We watched the movie on a Saturday morning and was attended by some other students from other schools as well. In spite of watching a movie on a Saturday morning which was a holiday, our school insisted that we wore our school uniform and likewise we noticed other students from other schools wore their own school uniform too.

We were so excited to watch an English movie because most of the movies we watched were Malay movies where we could understand every word spoken. And it was more interesting because it was a coloured movie while most Malay movies were in black and white. Going to a movie was a real treat in those days. We had no television then, in fact we had never heard of anything like a television. It was unthinkable for a square box to produce pictures that could move like in a movie.

The show started at around 9am and when the credits were rolling, all of us watched the screen with great excitement. We knew not a word what they were talking about but we enjoyed watching how Moses built the pyramid and the most intriguing part was when Moses parted the Red Sea. All of us had our mouth wide open enjoying many exciting scenes and when the Pharoah’s men were drowned, all of us were so happy because these bad people were finally defeated.

At home I told the story to my cousins of my own version and with so many exaggeration. The next day at school during our English lesson, Mr. Yap questioned us about the movie.

“Tan Swee Kang, tell us which part of the movie you liked best?” asked Mr. Yap to Tan who sat at the front row. Confidently he stood up and said, “I like the one when he make the sea open”. Then he continued, “I think he got magic one because he can also make the liber red colour.” And all of us agreed.

When we were in Standard Six, we could converse quite well although still used  some broken English but our listeners always understood what we said. We could even write short essays and our grammar was much better. Although our written grammar was quite alright, we still spoke the English language with many wrong grammar. When we watched English movies at the cinema, we still could not grasp what they were talking about and after the show we would always speculate what the movie was all about and how the hero ended being victorious.

For me I was beginning to learn more of the language. At home I would read the daily newspaper The Straits Times. As I liked reading stories, I spent quite sometime at home reading all the readable books and many were those written by Enid Blyton especially about the Famous Five.

It was in Standard Six that I befriended a Chinese boy my age who became my close friend. Eddie lived along Jalan Majidee quite near the Muar High School and he would cycle to my house everyday and from here we both cycled to our school of approximately four miles. We conversed in the English language and perhaps this made my spoken English quite fluent as months passed by. Apparently he was my classmate and we would go to the tuck shop together and sometime when I brought some food from home, I would share the food with him eating under a tall tree besides the football field of our school. So every moment I was with him, I would speak in the English language and whether some of our spoken English had some grammatical error was not much of a concern to both of us for as long as we understood each other. Eddie is still my very close friend till today.

In 1963 I was admitted to Form One of the Muar High School. Our class teacher was a chubby Chinese man I remember only as Mr. Quek. Whenever he was not around, I would always invite some friends to sing a famous P. Ramlee’s song Quek Mambo. One day as I was singing the song, Mr. Quek suddenly entered the class as he had forgotten something. As he entered the class, he saw me dancing and singing the song and just stood and observed me. When I turned towards him, I was shocked to see Mr. Quek smiling at me and requested me to go to the front of the class. Then he asked me, “I heard my name being mentioned in the song. Are you making fun of my name?” All the students in the class laughed at me. I explained to him I was only singing a famous P. Ramlee’s song that happened to have his name…Quek Mambo. Then he asked the class whether I was telling the truth and the whole class said, “yes”. He just smiled at me and said, “I never knew my name would be in a P.Ramlee’s song.

Our English teacher was an Indian man named Mr. Subramaniam. He wore a very thick glasses and taught us the English language until we reached Form Three. He taught us how to use the correct grammar and how to construct a good sentence. One day he asked us to read any book as long as it was in English as he had to go to the toilet for a while. I read my history book while some others read the geography books and some other English books. There was one boy whose name was Othman Sinapon who read a dictionary. When Mr. Subramaniam returned, he was quite pleased to notice all of us reading until he noticed Othman reading a dictionary. He went besides Othman and said to all of us, “Boys, our friend here is reading a dictionary.” Othman was shocked and closed the dictionary immediately. Mr. Subramaniam took the dictionary only to find a comic in the middle of the dictionary and Othman had to pay a price attending a detention class the following Saturday.

Mr. Subramaniam was a fine English teacher who taught us many English phrases and how to use them in our essay. He encouraged us to read a lot of English novels, literature books and suggested that we get all these books from the town library. I took heed of his encouragement and began to read a few English books that I borrowed from the town library. From these books I learned many words by referring to the dictionary. By and by my English improved tremendously and since then I never failed in my English examination.

When I was in Form Four our English teacher was a Chinese lady I remember only as Miss Wong. She was another teacher that contributed greatly to my improvement and I began to read more books recommended by her. Once she suggested that we read books written by William Shakespear and when I caught hold of some of the books written by him, I was not too keen to continue. It was like reading a poem, something that I did not quite like. So I continued reading novels and by this time I read novels about love, intriguing tales of mysterious happenings and even some ghost stories. My favourite author was Harold Robbins.

Miss Wong continued teaching us in Form Five and by then my spoken English was considered good and she always commended on some of my essays to the other students and I was extremely proud. But I did not do well in other subjects especially Physics simply because our teacher was an American Peace Corp who spoke like John Wayne. His American accent was too deep that at the end of every Physics lesson I understood not a word of what he had been talking about. As a result I failed miserably in this subject.

Looking back, I am grateful to all these teachers who had contributed greatly to my achievement. All these teachers taught me one common factor that I follow till this day. Do not write to impress others, write to entertain your readers and in doing so your readers will eventually appreciate your works. There is no point in using difficult words just to show off because there may be some of these words used do not fit in correctly to the sentence.

I am glad I took heed of their advice. My first book “Pages From My Past” published in 2013 was well received and most of the readers that I met told me how much they loved reading my book; so simple and easy to understand. Learning is never an ending story, for as long as we live, we have to keep on learning. But my book would not have been better if not because of my editor who happened to be my cousin; Zuraidah Omar. She has a better grasp of the English language and in fact I learned quite a lot as a result of her editing.

Memories are always wonderful moments to be shared as we grow older. I have so many wonderful memories and I thank God for giving me such a good memory because from all these memories stored in my mind, it gives me great pleasure to share them with you.

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THE MUAR TANJUNG BOYS

Muar boys during my growing years were quite cliquish and only flocked among their own sets of friends. It was only after our Form Four of our schooling years that we began to have more friends outside our fraternity. We were identified according to the housing areas where we stayed; thus we had the Jalan Daud Boys, the Jalan Bakri Boys, the Jalan Salleh Boys, the Jalan Suleiman Boys and of course the Tanjung Boys one of whom was me. The Tanjung area was quite a big area stretching from Jalan Joned towards the west coast up to the whole stretch of Jalan Khalidi. Even within our own area of Tanjung, we were fragmented into smaller groups and would only mixed with those we thought would be our suitable friends. In this article I would like to introduce my close friends many among them were the Tanjung Boys.

“Din, its almost time. Let’s go to my house”, Mohd. Shah said to me while we were singing some Beatles songs inside my bedroom. Sometimes he would borrow his brother’s scooter just to fetch me and we would rendezvous around Tanjung before stopping at his house for a short conversation before the approach of dusk. Mohammad Shah is the second son of the late Tun Suleiman Ninam Shah and was among my best friends during our growing years in Muar town. His elder brother Kadar Shah (Dato) was close to my elder brother Farouk as they were of the same age.

Mohd. Shah was a good looking young lad and always smartly dressed but quite mischievous in his own ways. Once I was in bed during a fasting month feeling like as though the world was about to crumble anytime, Mohd. Shah came and asked me whether I was fasting? Having received a weak answer from me, he disappeared for a while until half an hour later he came back with two packets of mi bandung and two bottles of sarsi. “Are you still fasting?” asked Mohd, Shah as he opened the packet right in front of my eyes. I just nodded looking at the other packet like a hungry dog that had not eaten for days. “Well, in that case let me just eat. Help yourself with the other packet in case you change your mind”, sneered Mohd. Shah as he began to enjoy his indulgence. Before he could gulp the first helping, I had already reached the other packet. “What the heck, I might as well join you”, I said to him and we both had such a wonderful treat. That’s how mischievous he was during our growing years.

It was almost late evening and the best time to be sitting at the front portion of his house. We would always do this every time there was a sport rehearsal at the Sekolah Abu Bakar Girls School (SABGS) because when the girls returned from their training, the wandering eyes of the boys nearby would be like the eyes of wolves gazing at the sheep in the open field. These girls would be in their shorts, cycling in every direction towards their homes. By then many boys had taken their respective positions to enjoy a good view. Mohd. Shah’s house was right in front of the SABGS and that was such a good ‘prime’ location to watch the girls passing by. When we arrived at his house, there were already some other boys who obviously had the same idea as we did. Sahak Doktor, Ajis Mak Enggor, Yem Seh Samin, Man Tobing and of course Mohd. Shah’s younger brother Zainal (Known in Muar town of my time as Zenal Datuk). They had already taken the best position to view the passing of these girls when the time came. Of course some of them would be smoking, and we would normally share a stick of cigarette with one another. Cigarettes those days would cost forty cents for a packet of ten sticks and our favourite brand was Players Gold Leaf.

It was 1965 and we were in our early teens and had already begun to emulate our western idols of Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard and now the Beatles. The way we dressed changed  drastically from those worn by our parents and it was suddenly a new element creeping into our society. The hair style was first followed the way Elvis and Cliff combed their hair  but now many youths preferred the Beatles mop hairstyle because that was the latest trend. Those with curly hair cursed the day they were born. In spite of the Beatles crazed championed by our fraternity, Mohd. Shah never seemed to prefer that mop hair style and stick to his own style of clean right side parting. However, he was quite adaptable to the way the Beatles dressed themselves; very neat compared to the other pop British stars like the Rolling Stone, that was what he thought. So he would wear the boots of the Beatles and would boast to whomever he met about how John Lennon’s boots looked exactly like the ones he was wearing.

Ajis Mak Enggore and Yem Seh Samin were playing their guitars while Sahak Doktor sang “Yesterday” and he would always be seen standing whenever lending his voice. They were killing their time while waiting for the girls to pass by from their sporting rehearsal. When both Mohd. Shah and I approached them, Sahak Doktor had just finished the last line of “Yesterday”. Yem Seh Samin handed me the acoustic girl which we called gitar tong requesting me to play alongside Ajis. I started to strum the song “I saw her standing there” and the rest sang wildly with their out of tune voices. Quite a few were tone deaf but we always enjoyed whenever we sang together. Some danced like the way Paul McCartney did and obviously shaking their heads and shouting yeah yeah yeah. It was just to attract attention to some girls who had begun cycling home. When the hour arrived, we sang even louder with our hands waving at these girls who would just giggled as they cycled passed the area. Of course there could also be heard the whistling tunes of various melody. However, few girls were unfazed at our antics and would just pass by showing off their grim faces cycling straight faced like as though a steam-roller was heading towards their direction.

Another spot where we would gather in the evening to watch the girls passing by was at the tembok of my house and the most familiar faces would be again Sahak Doktor, Salleh Uzir, my close two buddies Halim Bond and Yem, Ajis Mak Enggor, Mene (Zakariah Lamdin) my neighbour and Mohammad Adib. During our growing years, Mohd. Adib was the quietest of the lot and would seldom talk unless when asked. He is a relative of mine whose mother was well known in Muar town as Mak Gayah Robensen. In his later years, Mohd. Adib transformed himself into a great “casanova” with many girlfriends to his list.

Sometime we would sit at the tembok of Halim’s house quite a near distance from mine. Halim was of a different breed and never showed any interest in girls. Like Mohd. Shah, Halim too was not too excited about the latest trend of the mop hair style. He would still prefer the hair style of James Bond his most impeccable idol earning him the title of Halim Bond. Even when he began to learn more about girls, Halim would not take any initiative to attract attention until finally he met a Chinese girl from Johor Bahru and made her his wedded wife. They had one girl named Nurul Huda and she became the only female in his life.

No matter how good these spots were to watch the girls passing by, nothing could match the area around Tanjung. Muar town of my days could not offer much exciting places other than the cinemas and some famous restaurants and so in the evening, Tanjung was the beacon. With tall causarinas standing stoutly by the roadside, these trees would always provide the best shade at every hour of the day. In the evening when the wind began to blow, the branches would dance gracefully to the breezy tune. When the sun began to slowly set at the western horizon, Muar youths would flock to the tip of the cape and enjoy every moment time could spare. Girls would cycle in groups passing by the narrow lane along the shores and the boys would not waste a moment to please their wandering eyes. The famous Tanjung boy of my days was none other than Jaafar Beatle. He earned the nickname simply because of his Beatles hairdo resembling that of Ringo Starr. There would not be a day at Tanjung without Jaafar Beatle strolling along. Because of his craze and trying very much to emulate Ringo, he learned enthusiastically to beat the drums and eventually became a drummer in one of the bands in Muar town. Jaafar had a good friend who would always be seen walking with him and because he was so smartly dressed, we called him “Yem Smart”.

Salleh Uzir was one name Muar boys of my time will never forget. He was the only boy who wore glasses and in those days when young boys wore glasses, we would always think they were very bright and studious. But Salleh made us changed that perception. Born to a well-to-do parents, it was unfortunate for him that they were divorced and he was looked after by his grandparents who were apparently quite a rich couple with few rented properties in town. He was perhaps the only boy in town who would always have himself a girlfriend and he kept changing them. At the same time, Salleh was the richest of the lot who would always have with him no less than fifty dollars whenever we went outing. Fifty dollars of my time would make you a King. Once I asked him how he could get such a big allowance from his grandparents, he answered saying that he stole it from his grandma’s coffer. Salleh was a good dancer and perhaps the reason why he could always get himself a girlfriend. Whenever we went to the Chuan Lee restaurant situated at the front of the Victory Cinema, we would flocked at the jute-box and played the latest of Chubby Checker’s the Limbo Rock. Immediately as the song began, Salleh would exhibit his skill of the Limbo Rock going lower and lower while all of us would form a circle clapping our hands much to his delight. He was a good singer too and would always lend his voice in any function we had and his favourite song would be “Don’t Play that Song” by Keith Locke and the Quest.

Another great character was my close friend Amir, known in Muar town of my growing years as Amir Maksom, Muar’s Chubby Checker. He was another great dancer and would always compete with Salleh Uzir. As his nickname suggested, he was obviously the best when it came to the twist dance. But what intrigued us all was his near resemblance of Chubby Checker, the creator of the Twist and the Limbo Rock.

Sahak Doktor was in fact technically my uncle (He was my mum’s first cousin). His father the late Dr, Hamzah Hj. Taib was the first Malay Doctor in the state of Johor. Sadly his father passed away at a fairly young age when Sahak was about eight or nine years old. It was on one Talent Time show held at the hall of the Muar High School that he wore his father’s overcoat earning him the title of Sahak Doktor. Another good singer within our group, he was frequently in my room singing while strumming my acoustic guitar.

Sahak was madly in love with a Tanjung girl whose name I would not mention. When she got married to someone else, Sahak was deeply depressed and decided to leave town. Indeed he did. With just a few hundred dollars in his pocket, he landed himself on a ship going to India and from there he hitch-hiked and miraculously reached Zurich. He stayed in Switzerland for a long time working for a fairly small cafe and later learned himself how to bake cakes. Upon returning home, he worked with the MAS catering in the early eighties. So if any of you were in a MAS flight during that period, the bread or cakes you were served could be those baked by Sahak Doktor.

Mustaffa Cliff Richard was another close friend of mine. One would wonder how did he earn the nickname knowing that he could not sing and not a single feature of his face resembled that of Cliff Richard. It was apparently he idolized Cliff so much and even had a small picture of Cliff Richard stick to his bicycle license’ frame that we decided to call him by that name.

It would be a long list if I were to include every single friend of mine who resided within the Tanjung vicinity. Every one of them had their own ways of growing up and some made it greatly in their later lives. Those wonderful days are gone but what stay with me are those many memories of living among the many Tanjung Boys of my growing days. Some of them have left this world while few others are still living only to remind themselves of how wonderful life was in the sixties.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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OBSERVING THE FASTING MONTH #1

“I am going to complete my fasting at least for fifteen days”, I told Kak Fuzi as we were sitting at the tembok of our house but she was more adamant than me and telling me she was going to complete the whole month. I was seven years old and she was eight, ready to embark on a tedious journey of refraining ourselves from eating and drinking during the day. The Muslim month of Ramadan was just a day or two away and we had many plans for this important month. We even had bigger plans for the coming festival of Hari Raya, which would be immediately after the completion of the month of Ramadan.

The fasting month of Ramadan in Muar town was such a happy month for many of us and it was a happy month because we looked forward for the approach of the Hari Raya festival. And ten days before Hari Raya, the whole neighbourhood would be lighted with the oil lamps we called lampu likur. But the best part was all the ghosts would be chained and we would be very free walking around the neighbourhood without having any fear of encountering with any ghostly figure; that was what the elders among us had told us.

The four of us were sitting at the tembok of our grandparents’ house and it was almost 8.30pm. Kak Shidah and her two younger sisters were my best friends during our growing years. She was ten years old and I was seven while the other two younger sisters Kak Arah and Kak Fuzi were eight and nine years old respectively. Tonight we were given an important assignment; to wait for the sound of the siren from the town mosque which was situated along the Muar River. Our house was along Jalan Omri, not too far from the town mosque and we could hear clearly every time the azan was called. Everybody had speculated that tomorrow would be the beginning of the fasting month and it would be confirmed upon hearing the sound of the siren.

Grandma had cooked extra tonight in anticipation if tomorrow would begin the beginning of the fasting month. If the siren was heard, then we had to have our predawn meal before we began fasting, the reason she had cooked extra. We were so excited, planning what to eat for the first day of our buka puasa (breaking of fast) and the type of drinks we would wish to drink. And not forgetting the various kind of Malay delicacies.

While we were absorbed in our ‘serious’ conversation, the siren from the town mosque was heard. Without looking at each other, we ran straight home and so fast that we could easily be qualified to participate in the school’s hundred meters sprint. The sisters ran to their house which was just a few steps away while I ran straight home to inform grandma. The whole neighbourhood was so excited that we could hear their shouts, the din slightly lesser than the shouts when our team scorer scored a goal against our competitor. The kids our age were dancing and shouting yeah besok puasa, besok puasa (Yeah, tomorrow is a fasting day).

It was now almost 9.00pm and we decided to retire to bed early because by 4.00am, we needed to wake up for our predawn meal.

At seven years old, I no longer slept with grandma. I was now a room mate to my uncle Wak Jis who was five years my senior. He was still not home when I was in bed because he had gone to the mosque to perform the terawih prayer. On normal night after dinner, he would meet his friends around the neighbourhood and would return home by 10.00pm. Every time when he was away with his friends, I would sleep alone and would always find difficulty to sleep because my mind was absorbed with few ghosts looking at me. But tonight I had no worries because these ghosts had by now being chained and the whole town was free from ghosts. What a wonderful month this Ramadan was.

THE FIRST DAY

“Din, bangun sahur”. (Din, wake up for sahur). It was Wak Jis waking me up but I thought it was only a dream and so I continued my sleep. Then I heard it again and this time I could even feel someone shaking my body. This time it was grandma and Wak Jis and the rest of the family were on the dining table having their sahur. “Lekas bangun, waktu sahur nak habis” (Wake up now, the sahur time is about to end), grandma said to me perhaps already more than ten times. I woke up and went straight to the bathroom to wash my fash and then to the kitchen where the dining table was where everyone was almost finished. I was half asleep and could not even sit straight. It was only after we heard some recitation of the Quranic verses from the town mosque that I began to eat.

Back on my bed and my mind was beginning to worry about tomorrow. I had never tried fasting the whole day and this time at seven years old, grandma insisted that I have to complete the whole day. In the past I fasted only for half a day, breaking my fast at twelve noon. That wasn’t too bad because I could spend most of my time sleeping and waking up at twelve noon to break my half day of fasting. But tomorrow I couldn’t do that because I had to refrain from eating and drinking for the whole day. All the excitement just last evening had by now turned into a terrible problem.

It was almost 9.00am when I woke up. It was a school holiday and like any normal day, waking up was full of thrilling and interesting events I normally would have planned before retiring to bed. But this morning it was so quiet and nothing seemed to be moving. Suddenly my stomach began to feel so hungry but I knew there wasn’t anything much I could do and so I just lay down and killed some time before taking my bath. What a dull day this was going to be.

It was almost 11.00am when I finally woke up from bed and I went straight to the bathroom. My stomach was beginning to make some noise and longing for food. When I turned on the pipe, the water flowing from its mouth looked so fresh and pure tempting me to break my fast. The joyful spirit that had been built since yesterday evening suddenly turned pale and lifeless. But somehow I managed to fight the terrible temptation and showered me with the cool water from the tempayan. What a good feeling. I spent about twenty minutes in the bathroom spoiling myself with the cool tempayan water. On normal days, it would take me hardly five minutes in the bathroom.

I was now fully dressed and not knowing what to do. The wall clock hung near the staircase was showing almost twelve in the afternoon. I sat down at the dinning table, placed my two hands on it and adjusted my head onto my two arms and tried to sleep. Every time when grandma passed by, I pretended to be like I was almost dead hoping that she might suggest that I break my fast but she never did. My eyes kept watching the wall clock but somehow I thought it was not functioning at all; its two hands did not seem to move, not a bit. Perhaps it would be good if I looked for my Beano and Dandy comics to pass the time.

I went to my room walking so slowly looking for my comics collection and took three or four from the collection which was stacked at the corner of my bed. I never read my school books before retiring but instead I would always enjoy reading my comics. As I browsed through the pages, I noticed the cartoon of Desperate Dan eating a huge Cow Pie and the way he was enjoying his meal made my saliva dripped from my mouth like a mini waterfall. On the next page was another cartoon eating a piece of chocolate cake and I thought that was it. I threw the comics on to the bed and walked back to the dining table. The wall clock surely must not be functioning because it was still showing twelve noon. By now my stomach was making bigger noise like as though something inside was about to crumble. Mak Yang the maid-servant noticed the frailness in me and consoled me to endure this task as the hour of breaking the fast was now near. She must be blind, I thought to myself. It was only twelve o’clock and I had to endure another seven more hours to break my fast. My eyelids began to move lower and lower but yet I could not sleep. I went to the bathroom and washed my face and every time I watched the water running from the tap built up my urge to break my fast. Every one in the house was moving around like nothing bad was happening and here I was feeling almost dead.

I looked at the cement floor and it looked so cooling, so I decided to lay down and perhaps this could cool off my temptation of breaking my fast. I was lying with my eyes facing the ceiling and with my two hands wide open when grandma passed by and so I pretended to be like I could die if I prolonged by fast. But she passed by pretending not to notice. It was now almost half past twelve and the situation was not getting any better. Somehow I managed to doze off sleeping soundly on the cement floor.

It was Kak Fuzi who woke me up. Immediately I looked at the wall clock and it was showing almost two in the afternoon. Bangunlah, kata nak panjat pokok cherry? (Wake up, aren’t we supposed to climb the cherry tree?) continued Kak Fuzi. Yesterday we had planned to climb the cherry tree and pluck as many as we could to supplement for our breaking of fast. Suddenly she was a nuisance to me and I told her off, Tak mau lah. Kau gila ke, kan aku puasa ni (No, I am not going. Are you mad, can’t you see I am fasting). “Habis, kau ingat aku tak puasa ke?” (So, you think I am not fasting?), Kak Fuzi said. I kept quiet and slowly went back to sleep.

It was almost four in the afternoon when I woke up and the situation seemed to be improving. I could hear some noise coming from the kitchen and I stood up and went straight to the bathroom to wash my face. Once again the running water from the tap made me feel hungry even more. I splashed as much water as I could on my face to freshen up. In spite of having washed my face maybe more than ten times, the hunger in me became more serious. I was so weak that I felt I could not even walk another step.

In the past years I fasted for half a day. It began when I was five years old and grandma suggested that I should begin training myself before I could fast for one whole day. That wasn’t difficult and fasting for half a day, I could do it for the whole month. Now, the experience of fasting the whole day at the age of seven was such a torturous effort. Worse, the thought of having to fast for thirty days non-stop was something I could not accept. So I would fast only for fifteen days, at every alternate days. That was the agreement I had with grandma.

It was now 5.00pm and I had to go to the mamak shop just a junction away. Yesterday I had volunteered to grandma that I would always be available if she needed something at the mamak sundry shop. Well on this first day she needed quite a number of things; “A bottle of rose syrup, two tins of milk, a packet of paste dates (kurma), a small block of ice covered with saw dusts and some ingredients”. We had three bicycles at home but none belonged to me and every time when I needed to use one, I would just take the one nearest without asking from the owner; my uncles and an aunt.

Even cycling to the shop of just a junction away made me tire easily. The sun was shinning brightly heading slowly towards the western horizon. The evening was still and humid while no gush of wind was felt. They said on the first week of the fasting month it would always be very hot  and humid. God wanted to test the endurance of His servants, the elders among us had told us. It was now two hours away before I could break my fast and it was like waiting for another twelve hours.

At the mamak shop, some people had already lined up for their share of the small block of ice. To avoid the ice from melting, it had to be covered by lots of saw-dusts. We did not have any refrigerator at home what we Muarian Malays called gerobok air batu. While waiting for my turn for the ice, I bought the pasted dates and and all other items and ingredients required by grandma. This evening, grandma would be cooking bubur pulut hitam served as deserts after our dinner.

During the fasting month, most Malay houses would cook their choice of Malay delicacies more than they usually did. They would then distribute some to the neighbours and in return these neighbours would distribute theirs. Every time when we break our fast, the dining table would be filled with many delicacies cooked by the neighbours. We need not have the present day pasar ramadan to buy because the neighbours would be supplying us with all kinds of delicacies. The spirit of exchanging delicacies was an old tradition well preserved by the Malay community during the fasting month and the neighbours of my growing years adhered to this wonderful tradition.

By 6.00pm, although my whole body was so frail but my spirit improved because in just an hour away I would be breaking my fast. The three sisters came out from their house looking as frail as I was. The four of us sat at the tembok and discussed what would be our first choice of food when the hour approached. I had mine all lined up; three types of drinks…sirap bandung, air batu cincau, and air mata kucing. Then I would go for the delicacies followed by the usual rice. Grandpa and grandma would have a glass of water and some dates after which they would perform their maghrib prayers and would then have their rice for dinner. That was their routine during the fasting month. At seven years old, I was not required to perform my prayer, although grandma kept telling me to start my praying lesson.

It was now 6.45pm and just few more minutes to break our fast. I was the first to be at the dining table and kept looking at the wall clock situated near the dining area. The dining table would be filled one by one the cooking done for the day. The kitchen was busy with Mak Yang assisting grandma while aunt Mak Chu did some frying, the smell of the fishy aroma made my stomach quivered. While everyone was busy with their works, my eyes kept looking at the wall o’clock and I thought how slow the hands moved. By now my eyes were almost closed with my neck in a slanting position. Five more minutes to go and it was like five hours of waiting. I could not stand another minute and I thought I might die if it were another ten minutes. The nearer it got, the longer I thought it was and the hands of the wall clock did not seem to move at all. I looked at the three drinks in front of me and was ready to catch hold of one any moment now. Our Grundig radio was airing some Arabic songs while waiting for the announcement for the breaking of fast but our ears were more focused for the sound of the siren of the town mosque. It would be quite clear as the  distance from our house to the town mosque was not too far.

“Dah boleh buka dah” (You can now break your fast), grandma told me as the siren filled the air. Without hesitation I caught hold of the first glass of sirap bandung and gulped it within seconds followed by the second glass of air cincau. Grandma told me to have my drinks slowly but I couldn’t do that because I had been dreaming of these drinks since afternoon. When the third glass was due, I was already gasping for some air and managed to drink it slightly slower than the first two. When the three glasses were emptied, I could feel my bulging stomach and now I could not eat, even for a spoon of bubur pulut hitam.
My stomach was full of water and I could feel it. I took a rest and sat quietly at one corner while the rest of the family enjoyed their dinner after a long tiring day of fasting.

It was a good lesson though. I must learn to drink slowly after a long day of fasting. The older folks would tell you…nanti perut terperanjat.

The first night after I fasted was a happy night for two obvious reason. The first reason I completed my first day of fasting and that was a great achievement for boys my age; secondly the thought that tomorrow I would not be fasting. Grandma had agreed to my earlier suggestion that I would only fast every alternate days.

The first week of every bulan puasa was quite a dull week and as it began to gain momentum, the second week would become more lively. By now many of us would have had our baju melayu sent for sewing. In those days, we would normally sent our baju melayu for sewing. It would cost us Three to Five dollars per costume.

On the second day I did not fast and Kak Fuzi was not too happy and so together with Kak Arah, they would tease me with a simple poem…Puasa yang yok; Pagi pagi bukak periok. But I was not perturbed because I was going to enjoy my day of fasting eating as much as I could.

When the second week approached, many older boys ventured by playing meriam buloh (cannon made of bamboo). It was prohibited by the local police but these boys would always had their ways. Once Wak Jis and his friends played this meriam buloh behind our house. The bamboo was placed slanting like a cannon. At the bottom of the bamboo, they put some water and later some carbide after which the water with the carbide would be seen as though it was boiling. Then they used a long stick and at the end of the stick they had it lighted and placed the lighted end at the carbide. Immediately it would produce a sound…Booom. It could be very deafening and so before it was lighted, all of us would cover our ears. From afar, we could hear some other boys from the neighbouring areas also playing the meriam buloh. It was like as though we were in a combat with them. No later than five or six sound of the meriam buloh, suddenly we saw grandpa coming our way holding a long rattan. All of us scrambled to various directions finding our ways to escape the wrath of grandpa.

During the breaking of fast that evening, Wak Jis was missing and I was in my room too scared to face grandpa. He had told grandma that the next time he saw us playing the meriam buloh, he would call the police. From then on, we only played the meriam buloh somewhere else.

The fasting month was not just a month of trial of our faiths, but for the young boys and girls and the teenagers, it was a month of great fun.

Selamat Berpuasa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE FRUITS SEASON

Buah kuini

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.

 

 

 

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THE MUAR TOWN GIRLS OF THE SIXTIES # 2

Muar town girls of the 60s (2) ( From left: Sophia Omar and Nazali Yusoff in the 60s)

The house party was now set for tonight. Early in the morning we did some decoration at the hall fixing some balloons at the corner of the ceiling and when the ceiling fan moved, these balloons would sway nicely. The food was set on the table in the kitchen; mi siam goreng, tembosa, satay and fruits punch for drinks. The turn-table arrived in the afternoon and after having it tested we were satisfied with the sound. The records were in place ready to be aired the songs of our choices; the collection of Cliff Richard and Elvis Presley, the Beatles’ latest, and some female singers such as Dusty Springfield and Lulu. Tonight we would be wearing our best clothes, with a nice thin necktie that could easily be fixed at the collar. Of course we would be buying some ‘Hacks’ sweets to avoid bad breath.

The house in question was situated along the junction of Jalan Mariam/Jalan Abdul Rahman quite near a Chinese sundry shop we called “Kedai Koparal”. It was a one storey bungalow with a small compound. Ajis’ mum and his aunt were already in Kuala Lumpur spending a few days with some relatives and we had the house all by ourselves.

“So how many girls are coming?” we began asking each other while enjoying our mi bandung along the busy road of Jalan Abdullah. We had only three more days to go and confirmation was still very blur. So far we had only four girls who had given their firm commitment the numbers of which was obviously unsatisfactory. We had on our list at least twenty girls and so far only twenty percent would be coming. With three days to go, we needed to act fast otherwise we might just as well forget the idea. The only thing that kept on improving was the number of boys coming.

Night life in Muar town would be very quiet as early as 10.00pm. Even the town center had by then turned almost into a ghost town and the only areas where we could find some people would be at the cinemas. The gated area of the Grand Paradise was the only place where people would be enjoying their night but this place was not suitable for boys and girls our age. Supposed to be an amusement park, it offered more enjoyment any man could think of. In one corner inside this gated area was a small pub with girls serving their customers with whiskey and brandy. Supposed to serve coffee for night birds, the place became so famous among many older folks that it became known among Muarians of my time as Kopi Korek. I can’t figure out how the word korek was added.

Unlike the evening tea served by a Chinese hawker inside the Padang Muar Club known among us as Teh Cangkung simply because we had to squat while enjoying our tea. So Muar Town of my time had Kopi Korek and Teh Cangkung.

There wasn’t any night clubs in Muar Town and the nearest one could get their ‘foot-loose’ was in Malacca or Batu Pahat. The Padang Muar Club and the Tanjung Muar Clubs served only for members and those invited by the members but for boys and girls our age would find it extremely difficult to have our feet inside the club. So, many boys organized parties to not only show their dancing skills but more so to be able to hold some girls while dancing, something that they could only dream.

Of course Muar Town had many young and pretty girls in the sixties but to get them to go to the house parties was like asking our grandmothers for an evening date at the Kim Leng Restaurant. The sixties was a period when things began to experience something new socially and politically around the globe. It is a term used by historians, journalists and other objective academics. It describes the counterculture and revolution in social norms about clothing, music, education and even drugs. Some describe it as the ‘swinging sixties’. Like all other developing countries around the world, Malaysia as a very young nation had to keep abreast with the world’s changing outlook and it was our youth who played this significant roles to effect the changes. The boys were quick to adapt to these changes but the girls were a bit slow and cautious too. House parties were unheard of in the late fifties and when the boys started to organize one in the sixties, it was suddenly a strange element creeping into our society. Most girls were not too sure of this new trend and many were skeptical. That was perhaps the reason for the poor response we got from most girls.

The changes were a bit too fast too. For boys, the hair style of Elvis Presley/Cliff Richard to the Beatles’ mop hair was something that our parents could not grasp with. How could a bulging hair at the top of the forehead suddenly dropped like a flat mop? And the baggy pants we wore too suddenly transformed into a tight fitting trousers that could easily measure the circumference of our thighs. When I first wore my drain-pipe trousers tailored by my favourite Chinese tailor with a front tooth missing, my grandfather would stare at me like a cat observing attentively to a moving object. Luckily my grandma wasn’t too perturbed with these changes.

Nazali Yusoff (Nali) and her two friends Sophia and Zaleha were about the only girls that kept our spirits alive. Sophia roped in her sister Rogayah who was quite sporting too. I pleaded with my cousins Kak Shidah and Kak Fuzi to join in the fun and they both agreed. So far we had six girls while the number of boys raring to go had by now increased to over thirth and we had two more days to go.

Some girls were quite reserved in their own ways. Shaukat and Nabiha, the two lovely daughters of Johor’s Chief Minister were among those in this category, that was what we thought. They could be seen in many social functions like a Talent Time show, stage performance and even at the fun fair. But they would shy away from house parties perhaps to stay away from the limelight for being the daughters of a very influential person. But being modern in their thinking, they too organized their own house parties and the invitees confined only among very close friends. Along the stretch of Jalan Suleiman and Jalan Daud we could find some pretty girls too like Robiah Adom and her sister Atikah. But these areas were forbidden for Tanjung boys to encroach. Muar youth of my time were cliquish and we had to be very cautious when entering the territories of others. Although very rare, there had been some fighting among boys of different territories over girls. So we had to rely purely on the girls within our territory.

While the boys kept emulating the western ways in their dressing, the girls did too. Slim skirts with tab details were fashionable in those days. Dresses and tops with specific collar detailing, along with the pleated skirts and button accents were among their favourite attires. They also had the sailor look and brightly striped dresses. Although for girls wearing trousers were indecent and therefore scarce, some did confidently with tapered plaid trousers paired with button down shirts. As for their hair style, from the famous Sandra Dee outlook some opted for the ‘bob’ hair. The short blunt cut hairstyle and the boyish short cut but with more soft look. The more sophisticated ones preferred the beehive type, one that could easily block your view in a cinema if seated right behind. The sixties is considered one of the most glamorous and productive era concerning the hair industry. Muar Town had some good hair saloon to cope with the increasing demand.

One more day to go and we now had ten girls coming to the party while the number of boys had reached almost fifty. Many did some rehearsals; like how to hold your partner in a proper manner when the music begins, how not to step on your partner’s foot while dancing and how to start an interesting conversation? Some talked to themselves in the mirror to make sure they would not fault in their ventures. Others had their dancing training among themselves often stepping on each others’ foot. While the boys were so absorbed in their rehearsals, the girls were helping their mothers washing the plates, watering the plants and reading their history books. When their fathers returned from work, they would be seen preparing bubur kacang with a cup of tea ready to serve. Baik sungguh anak dara kita ni (What a wonderful daughter we have.), the father would said to his wife while sipping his hot tea. Grinning alone at the kitchen, it was perhaps the best time to ask her father’s permission to go to this house party.

It was almost 8.00pm when the four of us were standing by the entrance of the house. The night was chilly but the stress of waiting for the arrival of the girls made us perspire like it was such a hot and humid night. The small house compound was filled with boys with their mop hair and drain-pipe trousers. Those passing by would be wondering what on earth was going on? The music was on air with Cliff Richard taking the lead with some of his latest..The Young Ones, Summer Holiday, Please Don’t Tease but we reserved the song When A Girl in Your Arm after the night had gained its momentum. Some neighbours would peeped through their windows trying to figure out what these youngsters were up to. The car assigned to pick some of the girls finally arrived giving us a sigh of great relief. The girls living nearby just walked at their own leisure like nothing important was to happen. Among them would be some staying quite far and would put up the night with their town friends.

When we had the numbers, the party began with an unbalance quorum. It was an enjoyable night of sweet conversation and decent dancing. The food was palatable and sufficient in spite of the huge number of boys attended. As the number of girls were limited, some boys danced among themselves. Kedai Koparal the Chinese sundry shop nearby was out of stock of ‘Hacks’ sweets puzzling the owner himself. At some lampposts nearby, elderly neighbours with their kain pelikat and songkok could be seen standing and squatting speculating among themselves what these young boys and some girls were doing inside the house. By 11.00pm, the girls must return home to keep to their words otherwise the parents would drop by. The next morning the whole neighbourhood would place this topic as the first agenda over their conversation.

Organizing a house party in a small town like Muar Town in the sixties was the most stressful project. In spite of this, we enjoyed every moment that time gave us and we shared these wonderful moments with many of our Muar Town girls. We created these memories only to be shared in our later years…today. These wonderful girls are today mothers to their daughters with some already becoming grandmothers. Memories are borrowed times that we shared together. As times passed, these memories would linger on till our last breath.

This article is dedicated to all the Muar Town girls that I once knew. You all made Muar Town of the sixties a wonderful town to live in. My admiration to the following wonderful Muar Town girls of the sixties:

Fuziah Ahmad, Saleha Hassan, Nazali Yusoff, Sophia Omar, Rugayah Omar, Zaleha Johari, Aishah Mohammad, Halimah Ahmad, Maimunah Omar, Jane Chong, Raja Norizan, Zamrah, Robiah Adom, Atikah Adom, Zakiah Mansor,  Zaleha Tahir, Kamariah Othman, Kamariah Abdullah, Kintan Dali, Halimah Said, Rokiah Omar, Jamaah Hassan, Shaukat Othman, Nabiha Othman and many more. Of course I will always remember Midah Mata Sepet ( still can’t get her real name).

And not forgetting Yam Tetek Besar.

 

 

 

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THE MUAR TOWN GIRLS OF THE SIXTIES # 1

Muar town girls of the 60s (1)

Reaching the age of sixteen in the year 1966 was about the most interesting and exciting period of my life. It was exciting because like all other boys my age, I was beginning to have interest in girls my age and in those days a year or two younger were considered a bit too young to be mixing with me. I was schooling at the Muar High School attending the Form Four class and there would not be any important examination to be worried about. Even if I failed miserably at the end of the year, I would still move to Form Five. It was a year when I had adjusted myself pretty well at the school and just a year below to be known as a senior.

We had three school term holidays and every time the holidays approached, we would have planned few interesting events where meeting with girls would be most apparent. We would meet at the cinema for a good movie, or cycling in groups along the coastal route of Tanjung, spending the evening at the Kim Leng restaurant and the Chuan Lee Cafe. But the most interesting of all was organizing a house party. However, organizing a house party in Muar town in the year 1966 was most difficult because the venue would be a house whose parents were quite sociable and we could hardly find one. So chances were whenever we attended a house party, the house owner could be outstation visiting some relatives.

Learning to communicate with girls my age started as early as I was in primary school of Standard Six but there wasn’t any form of personal contact. Most of us had no phones at home and even if we had one, we could only make calls to those having phones at home. And that wasn’t easy to find; in fact most of my friends had no house phones. Messages were sent through words of mouth, cycling from destination to destination. That was not too tedious as Muar town of my days was free from any form of traffic congestion. It would take slightly further to peddle if we had sweethearts staying in the remote areas of town such as Parit Bakar. But when you were head over heels in love, cycling to Parit Bakar with your girlfriend was too short a journey; you’d wish she had stayed somewhere in Semerah or even in Sungei Mati across the Muar River. However, boys and girls of my town of the early and mid sixties fell in love only when they had reached the age of sixteen. Once the two became an item, we call this in the Muar Malay language berendut.

There was though an innocent way of communication between boys and girls before they reached sixteen; and that was by way of exchanging autograph books. The size of this autograph book was about six inches in length and four inches in width. I had mine when I was in Standard Five. The front cover was nicely decorated with ribbons and beautiful designs drawn on the first page. Since my primary school was for boys only, I had mine exchanged with my classmates. I would write a simple poem on my friend’s autograph book such as:

“Roses are red, violets are blue. Sugar is sweet but not as sweet as you.”

Then on the same page, I would draw some flowers and even butterflies. It was only when I was in Form One that I began exchanging my autograph book with girls from other schools. It was through my female cousin Fuzi that I became friends with these girls who were mostly schooling at the Sekolah Abu Bakar Girls School (SABGS). When I reached Form Three, my circle of female friends grew and I even had friends from the Convent School along Jalan Daud.

My first female friend was a sweet kampung girl named Saleha Hassan. She was a close friend of my cousin Fuzi and would always dropped by her house after school. As the house was just a few steps from mine, I could always see Saleha whenever she came by. She had a small bicycle with an unevenly large size carrier at the rear of her bicycle. She would always has some of her books placed on this carrier. Although quite shy, Saleha who had quite a husky voice for a young girl, was  comfortable with me around maybe because I was her good friend’s cousin. We would talk about some school subjects, about her kampung which was somewhere near Parit Korma and many other interesting subject. In spite of being a sweet and pretty girl, I was never infatuated by her sweetness but we were really close. She was more like a sister to me. After her Form Three examination, she left Muar Town to pursue her higher education. Since then, I had no clue of her where about. Sometime in 1998, while working in my office, I received a call from her. I was uncertain who she was until she said to me, “Din, ni Saleha lah, anak Pak Hassan”. (Din, this is Saleha, Pak Hassan’s daughter). She got my number through my cousin Fuzi. We talked for hours, laughing about those good old days in Muar town. From then on, we contacted each other through the phone quite a number of times. Later I found out that she was a “Datin” but sadly her husband had since passed away. When I moved to another office in 2000, I lost her contact number and was told that she had moved to a new home and so we were both lost to each other. Sometime in 2013, I received news from my cousin that Saleha had passed away of cancer. Receiving such a sad news made me speechless for a few minutes and when I recovered, the sadness of losing such a good friend was still truly unbearable. It made me even more sad when recounting those friendship days between me and a young, sweet and pretty kampung girl who could easily be mistaken as my sweetheart.

Muar town girls of my growing years were innocent in many ways; their mixing attitude, the dress they wore and the friends they kept. We could hardly find a group of girls sitting at a public place during the night. By dusk, they would be at home helping their mothers and after dinner doing their home works and reading their history books. Some had televisions at their homes watching “Peyton Place” and “Perry Mason”. By 11.30pm when the transmission ended, they would be in bed. And the night environment became silent except for the chilling chirping sound of the crickets.

The time was almost 5.00pm when I cycled to Tanjung to meet my friends. It was the last day of the school term and we would be enjoying a two weeks holiday. All school books would be left untouched for the whole duration except if we had some home works to be done, which we would normally do on the last night of the two weeks holidays. It was quite windy when I reached Tanjung with the trees swaying gracefully and the waves pushing gently by the shore. One or two black Morris Minor were passing by  with the drivers grinning unnecessarily. Some older lads were on their Vespa and Lambretta scooters riding by the shore emulating the way Troy Donahue rode in a movie “A Summer Place”. Few with their dark glasses which they would still wear even when the sun bade farewell. The striking colours of the shirts they wore were carefully chosen to attract attention and their drain-piped trousers tightly tailored to their choice. I had mine tailored by my favourite tailor, an elderly Chinese man with a front tooth missing.

At the tip of the cape were some girls with their skirts worn modestly below their knees and their hair styled to that of Sandra Dee and Lulu. They would always be seen giggling maybe talking about some boys who had tried to date some among them. At the roadside leading to the tip of the cape where stood Kamal the rojak seller, parked bicycles lined up taking the space reserved for cars. Tanjung Muar during the evening was a beacon for young lovers, enjoying every moment that time could spare. In the midst of great tranquility created at the scene, there was Nazali Yusoff and her group of close friends chatting about the sad part of “Peyton Place”, a tale of a lonely and repressed Constance MacKenzie and her illegitimate daughter Allison. About a town full of hypocrisy, social inequalities and class privilege in a recurring themes of a tale that includes incest, abortion, lust and murder. But Muar town was no Peyton Place although the setting was almost identical. Muar town was a lively place, with birds singing by the tree tops and social inequalities were never heard of. So when the script of Peyton Place revealed to the people of Muar town, they moaned with bitter grievances and Nazali Yusof could not kept it by herself. “Nali” as she was fondly known was a lively person and easy to get along with and there would be no wonder when many girls her age would gravitate to her side. Among those close to her were Sophia Omar, Maimunah Ismail, Aishah Mohammad, Zaleha, Zakiah Mansor and Rogayah Omar and few others.

Some older girls too were at the scene. They were the Form Five and Form Six students, considered senior to us. Midah Mata Sepet had dark glasses well fitted to hide her sleepy looking eyes and Zamrah the party-goer was strolling along the shore waving at some young lads with their cheeky smile on their scooters. Chinese girls from  the Convent school were on the other side towards the Muar Tanjung Club being wooed by boys from the Saint Andrew school. Indian girls were scarce in Muar town but the beauty of one or two could give full satisfaction to some wandering eyes.

I stopped and parked my bicycle slightly away from where stood the rojak seller. The queue was building up pleasing Kamal who was so absorbed cutting some cucumbers faster than any machine we could find in town. His sharp knife was so worn out the center looked like a U-turn sign. The early birds were enjoying their rojak standing under the tall causarina while the cendol man was equally busy to satisfy one’s thirst. When my turn came, Kamal poured the gravy slightly more without me asking for he knew his regular customers very well. As I was enjoying my indulgence standing behind the busy entrepreneur, my eyes were more focused on the surrounding scene than the rojak. I needed to be on the look out for my two buddies; Halim and Yem.

“Where are these two guys?”, my mind kept telling me. The girls we had wanted to see were now here and this was one great opportunity to approach them without much hassle. It wasn’t easy to encounter a group of girls in town and when that moment appeared we had better take the chance quickly. The house party that we had planned was a week away and that would give the girls sometime to think about before accepting the invitation. These girls needed to formulate their strategy in order to receive approval from their parents. Like smiling all the time at home while helping their mothers at the kitchen. Or sweeping around the house even in places where sweeping wasn’t needed. Read a lot of books pleasing their fathers who had just returned from work. And at night before going to bed, they would try to write anything for as long as the parents thought they were writing some home works. So after being such good girls for the past few days, surely a night out among close female friends deserved the reward.

Yem finally arrived cycling on his sister’s bicycle. The front tyre of the bicycle was punctured and had just had it pumped and so the reason why he was a little bit late. Halim was still not at sight but never mind because Yem could do it. I pointed to Yem at the direction where the girls were and still giggling amongst them. I was always very poor when asked to approach a girl and so Yem had to do the job. Without hesitaion, he walked towards them while I stood at the very spot I had my rojak. The Tanjung scene became more lively with cyclists filling every part of the road fronting the shore. Some young women with their baju Melayu were walking in small groups maybe planning to watch a Hindustani movie currently shown at the Asiatic cinema. The kids had their wonderful moments running around the small field watched by their parents. Tanjung was so alive like it had always been. Few minutes later Yem came back with a slight smile on his face.

“Most of them will consider”, Yem said as he approached me. Girls those days would never give a straight answer whenever invited to a house party. Could never blame them as most fathers were always skeptical to give their approvals. “We need the numbers before we can fix the actual date”, I told Yem. So far we had six girls considering the invitation and being considered was very good enough to proceed with our planning. We needed at least ten girls to have a wonderful time of chatting, eating and a little bit of dancing. “Let’s meet up with Ajis tonight”, I continued. Ajis’ mum and his auntie would be leaving for Kuala Lumpur in a few days and that the house would be available to organize this party.

While the town girls were always be a part of the Tanjung scene, those living at the outskirt of town would not wish to be left behind. Tanjung would invite many pretty girls staying across the Muar River along the stretch of Tanjung Agas in the north. Towards the south the girls were from Parit Keroma, Parit Raja and Parit Bakar and to the west those from Jalan Bakri and Parit Stongkat. While modern in their outlook, they were conservative and moderate in their thinking. My good friend Saleha Hassan was considered as one. One girl who had me crushed almost to pieces was a quiet girl staying along Jalan Salleh towards Parit Stongkat whose name was the feminine of mine; Kamariah Abdullah. Because I never managed to build my guts, admiring her was left to waste until one day I saw her cycling with a boy from my school.

That night we met Ajis Mak Enggor who came cycling to my house after having his dinner. As usual, he had with him a packet of Gold Leaf cigarettes to be shared with the three of us. The night was chilly and he had a muffler around his neck. We told him the progress and added a white lie that we had already ten girls confirmed coming. The white lie was necessary to enhance our progress and subsequently his approval to use his house. When he asked us the number of boys who would be coming, we told him that would not be necessary because they would gladly come even if not invited.

“So the party is on”, I said while the rest were enjoying their free puff. “Now we have plenty of things to do”, Yem continued. “Lets start our planning; the car needed to fetch some girls, the menu for the party and the turn-table to fill the air with music”, cautioned Ajis. “Can we ask Mat Shah to use one of his father’s car?” Halim asked.

To be continued…..

 

 

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