“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.