Monday, September 14, 2009

Bonded by similarities

BACK in the days when few houses had electricity supply, there were not many families who owned refrigerators.

During Ramadan in the outskirts, the only place to get ice for bu k a puasawas from the coffeeshops.

It cost 30 sen a block, measuring slightly larger than three bricks laid lengthwise.

In the late afternoons, hours before the call to prayer, my friends Man, his cousin Zahar and I would make some money selling ice door-to-door.

We would push our wooden wheelbarrow to the sawmill to collect dry sawdust.

Then we would buy ice in bulk at the coffeeshop for a discount.

We would break each block into fours and sell them for 10 sen each.

Each block would be coated with fine sawdust to prevent it from melting too fast.

Then it would be a race against time as we go door-to-door screaming “Air batu!” Sometimes, when it rained and we had bought one block too many, effort and investment went down the drain.

Usually, there was some profit — about 50 sen.

Wewould pool our profits and use it to buy firecrackers to play with after buka puasa.

Of course, I was always welcomed to my fr iends’ houses during buka puasa, so much so that I was always looking forward to it.

Once, my mother chided me that it might be impolite to join in the buka puasa since I did not puasa.

After that, I kept my distance and only joined them for the firecrackers after they had eaten.

When Malam Tujuh Likur arrived, marking the 27th day of Ramadan, the perimeter of most Malay houses would be lit up to mark the occasion.

Wealthy families would have pelita (oil lamps) in their compounds but the poorer ones made do with bamboo lamps.

My friends and I would harvest the fattest bamboo trunks from the riverside grove, clean them up and drill holes in between each node.

We then fill them up with kerosene and stick cotton wicks into each hole.

The bamboo poles would be raised several feet above ground and lit at night.

Usually the poorest families had the brightest lit compounds because they had more lamps.

The most exciting time was on the eve of Hari Raya when the womenfolk would prepare lemang, dodol and k e t u p at .

I would be enlisted to collectwastewood from the sawmill to be used as firewood and lend a hand to stir the dodol or watch over the simmering k e t u p at .

I recall telling my friend’s mother that the Chinese, too, had k e t u p at .

We ate them on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, I said, and it was called chang.

Unlike k e t u p at , chang had to be wrapped in bamboo leaves since the boiling period was much longer as glutinous rice was used.

I invited her to the house during the Dragonboat Festival the following year and showed her how we made chang.

We even gave her a bunch of plain chang to take home.

Understanding her religious sensitivities, my mother had used a new pot to boil the plain chang.

In return, my friend’s mother gave us chicken rendang instead of beef.

On Hari Raya, I would be the first to visit my friends after they had returned from visiting the graves of their departed.

Therewas never such a thing as an “open house” in those days as the doors were always opened.

Only wealthy families had their gates closed.

Anyone who was a friend could just walk in and out of any house, take a nap on the s e ra m b i (verandah), or help themselves to the j a m bu b at u or pandan leaves in the garden without having to ask, unless the owner was within ear shot.

I don’t know if people were generally more trusting in those days when the crime rate was much lower, but I do know that we knew each other so well that there was never any cause for doubt or suspicion.

This understanding must have been built through the efforts we took over time to learn about each other, our daily lives and cultures.

Our ties were bonded by the similarities that we share rather than the differences that we are born with and strengthened by being aware of each other’s sensitivities and respecting them.

Perhaps this is somethingworth reflecting on as we celebrate Hari Raya together.

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