web counter The Madness of MokcikNab: In Search of The Idyllic Aidil Fitri
The Madness of MokcikNab
Motives, movements and melodrama in the life of a thirty something mum.

Thursday, September 25, 2008
In Search of The Idyllic Aidil Fitri

My children are the only ones in their class who would not be doing the balik kampung trip this year. As a matter of fact, the kids have spent every single Raya right here in the Klang Valley, save for the two Syawals that we were in Jakarta, when we spent Eid celebrations freeloading at people's houses before returning home to dip our fat bellies in the pool.

It's always the same thing every year. On Eid morning, we'd do the usual rushed tango: wake up bleary eyed from one long night of cooking, haul the kids out of bed, get them dressed and stuff them into the car so that we'd have enough time to catch Eid prayers at the mosque in Kelana Jaya. Then we'd have breakfast with my parents at my mom's house, do the usual salam-salam and bit of photo-taking, then drive to Tanah Perkuburan Jalan Ampang to recite the Yaasin and ziarah the graves of my deceased parents-in-law, before ending up at my sister in-law's house in Setapak. By the time we get to her house, it'd be almost three or four in the afternoon, and the kids would have wilted, done in by the heat and their stifling festive clothes. Saiffuddin would be drenched in sweat and would fall asleep clad only in his Baju Melayu pants. For the past eighteen years, that's Eid for me: a mad dash across town and the pronounced smell of my husband's armpits.

I'd complain that there's no fun celebrating Raya in the city, but Saiffuddin would shame me and put my grouses in perspective. It's a religious event, he'd say, and the only things that matter are the Eid prayers and forgiveness from your parents. Your parents live in the city, he'd remind me, so what to do?

To me, these are mere technicalities. I could always transport my parents to any suitable rural location.

My husband, KL-born and bred, do not have memories of celebrating Hari Raya in the kampung. When he was small, he had only one surviving grandparent who lived in Malacca town and even then, he hardly knew her. Those pastoral Raya commercials showing old people rushing out of stilt homes to greet their grandchildren do not resonate with him. His tenuous link to any semblance of Malay heartland is his small clutch of relatives in Jalan Khatib Koyan, which is like, right there in the shadows of KLCC. He has been deprived of the true-blue Malaysian Raya experience, and has unfairly passed on this dysfunction to my children.

My poor children. If only I could give them the Hari Raya that I had as a child in Terengganu, so that they, too could do the stuff that my killjoy puritan husband might dismiss as bid'aah.

Celebrations would begin as early as Malam Tujuh Likur (the twenty-seventh night of Ramadhan) when my grandmother's house in Merang would be ablaze with the light of kerosene lamps set atop her fence posts. I remember going round the village with my sisters and our friends with Chinese lanterns in hand on Malam Tujuh Likur, just as one would during Moon Cake Festival. I don't know if this was a real tradition, or just an excuse for us kids to roam at night.

On the eve of Aidil Fitri, we'd have one final iftar at my grandmother's house, with coconut juice and Terengganu delicacies like nekbat or ikang golek. After Maghrib prayers my father would light firecrackers and sparklers, and the acrid smell of sulfur will mingle with the aroma of my grandmother's nasi minyok hujang panah, cooking on the wooden stove in her kitchen. When my grandfather was still alive, he would bring us to town during the day to buy the firecrackers from vendors along the five-foot way outside Kedai Payang, and I would always pick the mercung ayang 'telor, chicken-shaped squibs that would produce egg-like sparks when fired.

On Eid morning, we'd be in our Raya clothes, bright baju kurungs sewn by my mother, and if my grandmother was in a good mood, she'd loan us her jewelery. The table would be laden with nasi minyok, kurma daging, ayam masak merah and my grandmother's signature jelly of frothy egg-white, green and pink, that she would have prepared in the dead of night to avoid others from discovering her recipe. There would always be ketupat daun palas and sweet tapai pulut wrapped in the leaves of the jambu laut tree, and fizzy orange drinks in dainty gold-rimmed glasses.

We would also celebrate Eid at my maternal grandparents' house in Besut, about 40 minutes away from Merang. The journey itself was a joy, a drive through brush land, across rivers with brackish brown water, and along white beaches edging the brilliant blue sea. My mother has a large family and during Hari Raya, the ample house in Alor Lintang will be filled with the sounds of grandchildren running across the wooden floors, and younger siblings playfully arguing with each other. My favorite auntie, Che' Nor would have stayed up all night to complete the blouse she wore that day. My uncles would indulge us by giving away a generous sum of duit raya, which my cousins would stick in their songkoks. Then it would be time to take the Raya photograph, and we would all line up on the steps of the house and pose as my father snapped pictures for posterity.

At night, the children would light up more fire-crackers, and fall asleep on kapok-filled mattresses laid out on the floor in the front of the house.

I miss visiting relatives with my parents during Hari Raya, and I fear my ties with them will soon fade because I can't remember them any longer, or I don't know the children of those who have passed away. I love going to the home of my mother's uncle, Tok Su Wae Su, and admire his wood carvings. He'd bring us to his workshop, or he'd show us what he's been working on-- an intricately cut wayang kulit figurine, the awan larat of a door frame, a sumptuous wooden cabinet. I used to play with his grandchildren during school-holidays and we used to catch fish and hunt for kemunting together, but sadly, I can no longer recall their names or faces.

We call Tok Su's wife Do Mek or "younger mother", and each time we visit them my uncle will always joke that we're seeing a door-mat. Of course, Do Mek was anything but.

On some occasions, we would visit my grandmother's relatives in Kota Bharu and rural Kelantan. One of her uncles lived in a house fringed by rubber trees, and I remember walking up to the place in the dappled sunlight as the fruits popped overhead.

I know less of my father's relatives, save for a garrulous grand-uncle who lives in a house perpetually in construction. He is a repository of memories and even though I keep reminding myself that I should write it all down, I never got round to it. Despite his age, he is still amazingly healthy, and I wish I could go home to Terengganu this Hari Raya and speak to him again.

Alas, this is not to be.

My wet blanket husband insists that we spend it here, at a time when even rats abandon the city. Ah, he would say as we drive through deserted streets, it's good to have Kuala Lumpur to yourself again. That's his idea of Aidil Fitri: the lack of traffic.

This year, I have a mind to go back to bed after Eid prayers. My mother is celebrating Raya with my sister in Seattle, and my father will be with my stepmother and Mimi this time around, which is fair, because he had spent most Eid mornings with us in Kelana Jaya. With the absence of my mother as anchor, all my other siblings will be taking off to their in-laws in Melaka and Perak. I had planned to make nasi dagang again this year, but the lack of kemeriahan has deflated my enthusiasm for any cooking.

Next year, my sister Elisa might be back in Malaysia for Aidil-Fitri, after years of celebrating the occasion in dry Arab Saudi. Reading her post, I sense her nostalgia for the Ramadhan and Syawal of our childhood, so I'm hoping to conspire with her to steam roll our husbands into taking us home in the Hegira year of 1430.


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