I have mix emotions when celebrating the end of Ramadan, Hari Raya Aidilfitri festive. Behind the joy there is the nostalgic when it comes to the time of “forgive and forget”, when we reminisced our past, mistakes and misdeeds, and resolute for a better future after forgiving and forgetting.
The trip to the mosques or suraus and joining the chorus of “takbir” with the congregation was poignant indeed wherever I was on Hari Raya morning. I would listen attentively to the sermon which encouraged goodness to be significant, after the prayer. After that it was the “salam” among the long line of devotees. Normally I stayed on for a while for niceties with the regulars at the snacks prepared before heading home to the family.
“Balik Kampong” mania has different connotations at different phase of my 70 years. In the beginning it was devoted to my late “bapak” (father) and late “emak” (mother). Father being a penghulu in government service would stay in his “mukim” and be with the populace. So that became our kampong.
I remember only once when I was a toddler he took us to the kampong where he was born as his late father, our “atuk” (grandpa) was on his dying bed. The journey from Sungkai, where he was stationed during the Japanese occupation, to Kampong Padang Tenggala in Bota, Parit, Perak, was an adventure of sort.
First we took the steam locomotives all the way to Ipoh where we took the bus to Parit town. In Parit a horde of relatives were waiting with bicycles where the young and restless would be despatched on the career of the bicycles for the long arduous journey through the kampong path of more than 10 miles. The roads of today were non existence then. The elderly and baggage went by the “ferry”, local mode of transportation consisting of sampan (rowing boat) along the leisurely huge Perak River and would land directly in front of atuk’s house downstream. Those days the houses faced the river. Later when the road came the frontage changed direction. That was the reason some of the older houses seem extended with two frontages which is a rare sight these days.
The journey back in reverse was just as adventurous.
When father was transferred to Sungai Manik our house was in the hamlet of Chikus. Unlike Sungkai on the main trunk road of the country, Chikus was what the Malay would term “tempat jin bertendang” (god forsaken place) for being out of the way but the railway between Tapah Road and Telok Anson Wharf passed through it. There was no station there but a sign board prominently displayed “HALT” stand in front of our house. It is routine for the train driver to slow down to embark and disembark passengers. If we are taking the train we just wave and it will stop. If we are on the train to disembark we just inform the guard cum ticket checker and he would signal to the driver. The train ply 5 times a day to and fro during daylight hours only, perhaps for economic (people sleep early those days of non entertainment diversions) and safety (it was the emergency period and the “enemies” move at night) reasons. The train no longer ply on these tracks today. I was in the Malay School and had many friends. Our house became the focal point on Hari Raya day.
When I joined the Special Malay Class at Anglo-Chinese School, Telok Anson (English school) and stayed at the hostel, puasa and raya had a more significant outlook for me. Being away I look forward to be home with my parents and siblings. It was more significant when father was transferred to the more cosmopolitan Ipoh in 1952. It was no balik kampong per se for me. Hari raya celebration include cycling around town and going to the cinemas without worry of catching the last train as in Chikus.
In 1953 I was admitted to Anderson School, Ipoh, and stayed at home. There was no balik kampong mania; not until end of 1957 when father shifted to Taiping for his final posting before retiring. Upon retiring he built a house for the family at Jalan Kampong Jana Baru in Kamunting adjacent to the well known Kampong Pinang. So I finally got a kampong to go back to.
Hari raya was a little lonely in a new place and strange environment. I had few new friends in Taiping. So I decided to spend the days in much stranger but attractive atmosphere in Penang where a former neighbour from Ipoh was studying. I had an enjoyable stay in good company.
Then in 1959 I went to Kuala Lumpur to study and subsequently worked there. In the early years I was caught in the balik kampong craze like all the other younger generation of t timere. On reaching home in Taiping I found myself at a lost for company. Beside catching up with lost sleep and lazing around, I decided to make myself useful by helping emak with her chores of making cookies and “bakar lemang”. She trusted me with the preparation of the gluttonise rice and the heating as she considered me to be an “expert” just as she trusted me with choosing the best of durian in her dusun in Sungkai then.
When I joined the Malay Service of Radio Malaysia late 1963 the balik kampong resonance became insignificant as work load did not allow us the luxury. With limited number of staff we have to be regulated to work on hari raya days. Being fresh I was assigned to interview those who visited the Kampong Baru graves at Jalan Ampang. That made me realised how I missed the raya spirit in the “kampong”. A week later I paid my courtesy to my parents at home after getting the break.
Then in 1966 I got transferred to take charge of the Northern Region based in Penang. My life became more organised. I was able to release myself for the festive season as I have two trusted and capable assistants who were locals, in the late Ismail Long and Nor Hashimah Ismail. That became the routine till 1972 when I went back to KL on transfer.
By that time family was on the way and hari raya was more devoted to the kids. The trip “balik kampong” was sort of archaic when the kids were in school and berating “why balik kampong? This is our kampong, all our friends are here. You also don’t have many friends there”. It was the end of the balik kampong rush for me, especially when both my parents were called by the Almighty in early 80’s. The kids finished schooling and were pursuing their different paths to the future. By that time it was visiting the graves of my father in Padang Tenggala and mother in Taiping, normally on 2nd or 3rd day of raya and on to Penang to visit Jun’s relatives and the family graves. We would be there a couple of days before hitting home.
The routine stopped this year due to health reason, the inability to drive long distance and the hazardous traffic along the north-south highway, more so at festive occasions and week-ends.
Now we look forward to the visit of the kids and the cucus (grand children) with the small preparation that Jun made. This is their kampong. We are here to stay!
Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri
Maaf Zahir Batin.