Below: My rascal younger cousins, monkeying around in the living room, the one with the atap zink, lived by night when it got cooler. This was where the kids used to sleep together like in the war camp, except it was major fun... There were whisperings after the lights went off..followed by contagious giggling. Sometimes the boys will still be fighting in the dark. Then some old folk would come around making their rounds to check whether everyone was okay, enough blanket, or pillow, and shushed those who were still giggling uncontrollably, ushering us to go to sleep, with the promise of duit raya the next day...I remember this well, because in the hot afternoons, we do not at all sit in the living room, which was covered with the zink roof. The kitchen was the heart of the house. The women sat around cooking and washing endless incoming dirty dishes almost all day long. The men, well, some uncles who didn’t mind joining in the feminine crowd to eavesdrop on the latest gossips without giving away the expression that they cared, when actually they did, pretended to eat something or just sat by the door facing the back of the house gazing far away into the belukar behind. My paternal grandparents had 14 children, some died young for reasons avoidable should they were not living in poverty. So you can imagine the number of cousins, aunties and uncles that I have !!
The aroma in the early hours was amazing. I could still recall the smell of ketupat and rendang reheated from just being cooked a couple of hours before. The smell of lemang from outside where the men had cooked it just the night before raya tickled our hunger centers. The combination aromas, the lemang, the rendang were like a complete feast to my nasal receptors, but unlike my gastrointestinal system, I could never get satiated by this form of feast.
At some point the waiting made us restless, for we suddenly wanted to jump into our baju raya so that we could finally taste those delicious food. The water was fresh and I remember, one cebok full would jerk anyone even on sedatives to jump out of their sleepy state!! It was cold and refreshing.
Pagi raya was not an occasion for bathing in the Sungai, just a 3 minutes walk at the back of the house. The crocodiles may just be having this idea of feasting on a fresh human butt rendang and we didn’t have time for drama, not when everyone had to quickly get ready to go for raya prayers and some, to the Tanah Perkuburan. There were too much eating and socializing, and catching up to do in the morning of the first Hari Raya. The sungai was for late afternoons probably from the second raya onwards. It was an occasion by itself.
Ah yes….the sungai. How can I not talk about the sungai. The whole jinbeng geng, headed by our youngest uncle who is about 7 years older than most of us, the same culprit who instigated the drugging of the “Malaysian Idles” would march towards the sungai, making noises with our loud excited chattering along the way. Our laughter rang through the otherwise silent secondary jungle. The bathing in the sungai was an occasion by itself. We were mostly all cousins guided by the younger uncles and aunties. The boys would go in with their sarong or shorts and the girls wore sarong tied around our bosoms, well for those lucky enough to develop them already. For those who took after their fathers, flat chested, suffered with trying to keep the sarong from slipping-off as there were, obviously, no point of grip. To city dwellers like us, this whole ordeal was an adventure.
Below : The elder cousins.. having an afternoon dip.
Above : The rakit on the sungai. On our right, not in the picture was the loo. It was a bit difficult for first timers to relax the sphincter while doing the job and looking smack down into the sungai, (ultimate multitasking if you ask me) hoping nothing odd emerges suddenly to take a bite on your rear end.For some of my cousins who actually live in the kampung, this whole ordeal was a good time to hear stories about the city life. While the city slickers envied the carefree life of the kampung folks, no routine, no schedules, no tuition, no piano lessons and so many lessons until one could hardly breath, the kampung folks envied the privileged life the city people were supposedly to be living in. Of course we hardly mention that even to poop in the city requires at least 10cents. Today, I've been to toilets that cost a bomb, it made me wonder if it was the unemployed graduates with actual degree from the University/colleges who are the ones cleaning them up, but of course, that is another story.
I can still recall the happiness of enjoying each others' company and idiosyncrasies. My uncle, the youngest one and head of the youth clan, had once showed off his swimming skills, whereby he swam courageously against the current. It would have been a grand finale, had he not came out of the river to the other end, naked, as his sarong did not make it through the moderate current. The girls started screaming at him, but he was just cool about it. Thank god he did not turn around, so we only got a glimpse of his buttock. Otherwise I suspect the girls would probably grow up to become lesbians, just traumatized by the whole idea of a Male's genitalia.
There were fights too, naturally when youths get together. I remember being angry with my cousin brother for stuffing the little chicken’s asshole with the leftover mercun and blasted it off. The same chicken I found joy chasing around trying to catch it out of pure curiosity. I was mortified at the whole deed. The chicken died on spot as the mercun blasted off and cried and cried for hours, refusing to talk to him for over a week. He never did apologize for his bad behaviour, but later (like a few years later when he finally developed brains), he did confess he felt guilty as hell for what he did to the chicken. He did not grow up to fulfill our prophecy of him becoming a serial killer. In fact, he did okay for himself actually. He is currently practicing law and has his own firm. Frankly, I would not want to be on his opposition side in any court case, after witnessing what he did with the poor chicken.
But I wasn’t that good a girl too. On a couple of occasions, I agreed to team up with the cousins to raid Pokcik Karim’s dusun. It’s not like we don’t have our own dusun to raid, it was just much more fun and adrenalin pumping to raid others’ dusun because frankly, the forbidden fruits did tasted better. The walk into the forbidden dusun itself was a mini adventure for us. On the way, we would stop by Mok Moh’s house and she would pass us whatever tit bits there was from her kitchen. She made the nicest jemput jemput bawang by the way. She would look at me and ask in that Pahang dialect, which I found to be funny, “Aok anok weyn yeh?” (Are you Wen’s child?). for a few second, I thought I was famous and important, until she continued, "Rupe sebijik macam aboh aok" (you look very much like your father). I wondered it that included the chest area too.
I really enjoyed going around in the dusun. That was where I learned how to climb trees. Our biggest challenge was not the climbing, but the climbing with minimal irritation from the kerengga who seem to guard especially the rambutan tree, my favorite fruit, vigorously. One of my cousins fell down once and broke his leg. He was lucky it was not his neck that was broken. We were then prohibited to embark into our mini adventure after that, but we were kids and “Rebel Without Cause” was not made for no apparent reason. So we would divide ourselves into groups, each pretending to head on different ways, yet we would meet up at an agreed secret venue to proceed to with the forbidden excursion of eating forbidden fruits. Ah…nothing felt more fantastic than sneaking out against adult’s orders into the wild.
I remember the first time I learned how to ride a bicycle, without the extra wheel to aid, was by the vicinity of the Istana, in Pekan Pahang.(my eldest uncle's house, by the river) One of my cousins taught me. I remember it was a “basikal Chopper” and it was the groovy thing back then to be caught riding one of those. Of course, just like love, you need to fall a couple of times before you get it right. So fell down I did but I would get up with a vengeance and gave it another go for every time I fell down, until one fine moment, I was riding like a pro (minus those uncool small wheels to aid balance). Well, at least I thought so until I bumped into a cow, just minding it’s own business clearing up the overgrown grass in the vicinity behind the Istana. The path was narrow and it was because of my panic state that I rammed straight into the cow!!! The cow however, just moved away from me in puzzlement turn his head around and looked upon me in disdain. I never thought cows could have an expression, but that cow had character. My cousin came screaming from behind, more afraid of getting scolded by her father for not being able to watch over me, than she was in regards to my injuries. I was more concern about the cow I had just terrified.
Today, dogs or cows cannot stop me from cycling. Only one can stop me,….. me. I do almost every Sundays on my mountain bike, which tyres I changed into a semislick one in order to increase my speed and catch up with the rest of my cycling gang who were smart enough to purchase an actual road bicycle. Hulu Langat is a really fabulous place to cycle. It is part of the La tour de Langkawi circuit by the way. The whole gang use to cycle up what we call “Mount Perez” (when you are old but have problems accepting that, a hill may seem like a mountain), about 12kms from the Hulu Langat Dam and ended up at the border of Negeri Sembilan. We would take photos at the welcoming sign board that says, “Selamat Datang ke Negeri Sembilan” and show it off to others and let them assumed that we cycled all the way to Negeri Sembilan!! (it’s all in the marketing folks)
I brought my kid, a couple of times, she was then between 8years to 10 years old to cycle around there. She stopped by a kind of “reban” with many kambing in it. She was upset and with a gasp, exclaimed, “Ummi!! Look at the poor cows!!! Pity them!! They are all locked in that jail”. I looked at the barn full of goats and almost died from the fact that my daughter could not differentiate between goat and cow. Then when I started laughing, she got annoyed and scolded me, “well, it’s your fault that you never bring me to the kampong. I only saw the pictures in the book, and they all look the same size in the book.” True. It was my fault really. I took for granted that she knew, it was something I overlooked.
That is one thing that I had failed to give my daughter; the gift of a childhood experience in the kampong environment, especially that of Hari Raya. Except for that one time we camped somewhere in Kuantan by the seaside, she had not really been blessed with the experience of a carefree kampong life. No queuing to bath by the perigi, nor be able to enjoy simple things like watching a monkey climb to coconut tree and started performing some monkey business enjoying the attention by disobeying the master’s order to come down after it threw down the kelapa muda. Nor did she had the pleasure of bathing together with many cousins in the Sungai, or feel the thrill of walking into the rakit sungai to do the big job in the middle of the night, armed with a simple parang and a lantern, while trying not to get the crocodile’s teeth sunk into our butt, when we wanted to pass the last meal through it, the chasing around those cute little yellow chicken in excitement. That was my childhood Hari Raya. I enjoyed every minute of it.
Above : My uncle who spent 3/4 of his life in the UK and when he went back to the kampung, still went around comfortably in a sarong without a top. He could have almost blended in if not for his fondness of using the word "bloody" in front of almost every word he used in a sentence. Still does it by the way. And that was me, high on the pedestal...skinny as ever.As I grew older, somehow rather, the spirit of hari raya had worn out. After the death of my grandmother, the house was just not kept as everyone had moved on in life and gone to town to make their own living. It is now an unkept secondary jungle.
Hari Raya had changed drastically as we celebrate it in KL/Selangor. My parents have settled here and the family, gather together quite frequently. Let me put it this way. When others say they are home sick, it means they miss their kampong. When I say I’m home sick, it just means “I’m sick of home”. When I was in uni, I use to listen to the boys from the hostel across singing, or rather screaming on top of their lungs that song “Balik kampuuuuung oh oh oh balik kampuuuuuuuunnnnnggg” and I use to really envy them. I’ve missed that feeling of excitement of balik kampong.
Now, our Hari Raya is celebrated quietly amongst immediate family. The first day consist of a get together for breakfast. After breakfast is the normal ritual of salam salaman. We are a bit arrogant when it comes to the "maaf maafan" part, amongst sisters and brother. We only minta maaf with our parents, that too in the shortest fastest unimaginative uttered words possible. It is an understood unspoken sentiment that we forgive each other all the time and pagi raya was not a day to accumulate everything we did throughout the year, and minta maaf in a dramatic "Jejak Kasih" telenovela. We are a family of obstinate, stubborn, hard to cry bunch, and we shed our tears in the rain. If we're talking to each other, that simply means we're cool, alls forgiven. Then comes the photo session. Everyone would be glad to get out of their beautiful but uncomfortable baju raya, immediately after the photo shoots and to resume with lunch. After lunch, we will sit around and bitch about politics as usual, while entertaining the little ones to videos. In that comfort zone, one by one would slowly retreat to our own room to "qada' tidor" (payback sleep).
As my parents are amongst the eldest in the family, later in the evening the younger aunties and uncles and cousins will start coming to the house. We would sit and after catching up, the conversation would inevitably end up with more bitching about politics. The ladies however will have their own politics to talk about, and I don't really fancy joining in because if you're going to bitch about humans, and get "dosa" from it, there'd better be names like Samy Vellu, Nazry, Hishamooooodin, Toyo on the list. Otherwise, it will be a complete waste of bitching time. The visiting of friends and colleagues would start a week after raya, when everyone's back in KL. Basically, if you celebrate Hari Raya in KL/Selangor, it would be a quiet family affair.
Perhaps there is no more exciting activities such as tree climbing, mass cool dips in the sungai in the hot afternoons, the Robbin Hood acts of taking from the rich man's dusun but forgot to give to the poor, the chasing around after the small chicken, the fireworks display (one of my uncle was in the army; every year we will have that shooting up the "army rescue flare"), the get around the BBQ fire talking till late night, too indulge in, I reckon,even though we now celebrate a more subtle Hari Raya, one thing remain the same through time; The spirit of kindredship and friendship. That is the true spirit of Hari Raya.
You can grow old, but the fond memories of your childhood amongst family would still be forever in you mind....
"Selamat Hari Raya to all Malaysians". Maaf Zahir Batin. And keep your inner child alive!!!
As for those who are still blessed with the kampung to go back to, appreciate what you have now, for you will never know when you will loose it. Enjoy one of my favorite from Sudirman;