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Raya sounds and lights that come from yesteryear
RAMADAN sails away ever so swiftly for us in the Trengganu of old, even before the nekbat has gone dry in the cupboard of neglect and the hasidöh pulls out into slippery tendons of rope, and we are up to our eyeballs in bubor lambok with limp tendrils of pucuk paku and the sprinkling of budu.
We are now going a-sailing, the seafaring people on the shore of Ujung Tanjong in Kuala Trengganu for it has always been in us, wind blasted souls encrusted in salt to the core, brine and brackish water in the Pantai Teluk with skeletons of abandoned boats that could no longer ply the waters to Senggora; ikang belukang and tiny crabs peering out from the mud, pincer-waving to all comers.
We have made this frame from thin bamboo, stolen probably from the bamboo hedge of the Malay school, glossy paper from Indian shops, red and green and blue, and streamers entwined from crepe paper and gaps in the ship patched up -- so as not to strain the budget -- with pages from old newspaper.
They call it tujuh likor, a word that has long vanished from our everyday tongue. What is likor? And why seven of them in this lengthening month of puasa? It is time for ships standing in the front yard of our houses and bamboo cannons blasting away carbide fumes and deafening the cries of mothers and excited children and the voice of the imam in the surau.
Ramadan has been a-sailing so quickly but never too quickly for a child. The night is flickering with lights and shadows and paraffin and whiffs of carbide in the air. Rushed is the iftar, rushed is the prayers of children of prayerful people for this is the night of the beginning of the month of Syawal.
And soon it will be Hari Raya, oh the third day after that perhaps, it all depends on the moon in the sky but oh joy is the night and food on plates, and ketupat and kuah kacang and beleda, the dry, sugar-coated coloured jewels.
Would Hari Raya come every day, would all those past Rayas that have gone lost in the mists of years, would they all come back now, for now is the time for forgiveness, for visits to past people all lying in the solace of their earthly beds with stone markers, time for children everywhere to feel a little rich, for a while.
Hari Raya is a journey, natch and Ramadan's a long travel. Many will take the road to the outer reaches and the glimmer of lights that shine in the joys of the past nights and sounds that come from yesteryear to the child that is still within us.
And we have children now and Hari Raya is for sharing and journeying once more into the roads we have travelled.
And taking a reality break now we know that some will not be there with us at the table. It is sad but the journey's fraught and the road is long and in the gung ho spirit of Raya travel we forget that we are but mortals.
In Trengganu that I grew up in there was the bell atop the hill that clanged to the morning break and loud noises from the hills that turned the little town into a boomtown for festivities. There were cannons in the hills that marked the start of the fast and the end of the day when we were encircled around the magic spread of comestibles. In the centrepiece was a jug frosting from the deep cold within the liquid pink -- blood red syrup with a mix of milk and sugar and pandan flavour and chunks of ice -- how cold the jug, how long the thirst. And we are still thirsting now.
But ah we forget for we are always in a hurry. Let's knock on the neighbour's door and invite them to partake of this delight for in the desert once was a traveller who knew all about Hari Raya and he said that a man is not a believer if he eats while his neighbour is deprived.
It was "neighbour" mind, the person nearest to your front door, and then from that door, another one closest to it and then another one and so on into a clustering of houses that form the neighbourhood, but in this contagion of neighbourliness is the essential truth about our being in this world. And this was an exhortation untied to faith specifics, he is you neighbour be he Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or an atheist or a Jew.
Mujahid, says a tradition, slaughtered a sheep and insisted that his Jewish neighbour must have a share. Raya is time for spirits of past thoughts, present contemplation and evaluation of the journey. Mujahid remembered the man from the desert, and he in his exhortations did urge us to remember, according to one narration, that a person whose neighbours are not safe from his evil is no dweller of the Garden.
And remembrance is the spirit of Raya.