Growing Up In Trengganu

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Growing Up In Trengganu #9513

One day, at the precise time of the noon prayer, there was a rain of agar-agar on our little community.Life's a beach, then you fly.

This was no ordinary agar-agar but of the finest variety. They were green and red and yellow and blue, crinkly cut in bite-sized diamond shapes. It sent Mother rushing out in her prayer shawl, punctuating her rapid movement to the window with words that I still remember: "My beleda! My beleda!"

This path to disaster began ordinarily enough some hours back when Mother was labouring over her hot stove, peering and stirring in a brass kuali that contained a transparent and bubbly goo. Trapped in it, like a fly in ember, was the long green leaf of the pandan tree. The scented, blessed pandan of the ubiquituous presence in Malay cookery.

When the mixture was ready, with the desired viscosity, she poured the fluid in as many trays as she could pull from the kitchen cupboard (which wasn't many), and into any other tray-like things that'd serve her purpose. These being mainly old Huntley & Palmers biscuit tins, food-trays painted with a smiling nyonya extolling the virtues of some local tea, or the lids of any old tins that could contain her gelatinous stuff in sufficient depth and quantity. Before pouring them out into the various trays she'd mix in just the right amounts of her magic drops as would make the agar-agar glow in transluscent gold, or red or green or blue, filling the whole kitchen with the sweet scent of vanilla.

Early in the morning, just as the sun was rising, I watched her use a serrated cutter to slice the jelly into into inch-long shapes which she arranged neatly in two large food trays to put out in the sun to dry. For the children, the agar-agar kering - the sun dried sweet with the crystallised sugar coating that wrapped the internal translucent jelly - were the colours of the Trengganu Hari Raya, the feast Eid to end the fast, the bulan puasa, (fasting month) of Ramadhan.

A window in our house looked out to one aspect of the local community, especially the surau, the musolla or the prayer hall, that stood cheek by jowl with our house in the huddled way that kampung houses stayed together. Ours was a tall house, much taller than most, that literally looked down on the daily life of the community. In the moonsoon months there peered through the window a menacing sky and the belinjau trees swaying from side to side looked extremely supple. As a child I stood for hours looking out of this window, listening to the roar of waves on the distant shore.

Mother looked out of the window too but with a purview of shorter remit. It was the corrugated iron rooftop of the surau that she was interested in, especially as it was sloping gently past our open window, and within easy reach. When she looked to the sky, her mind was set: it was a right, bright day for putting the agar-agar out to dry. Out went the trays onto the sloping rooftop, held in place only by their tenuous hold on the protruding heads of the roofing nails. The midday heat would crystallise the agar-agar pretty quickly.

But with noon-time also came the call to prayer, and in Trengganu then (as now) it would start with the beating of the beduk, a massive drum of cow hide hung with stout ropes to the lower end of the roof in the back of the surau. Beaten with growing intensity, it preceded the muezzin's call, the boom-boom-booming sound that shook the rafters, awoke the dozy, and sent the trays tumbling down from the rooftop, agar-agar and all.

I happened to be in the back of the surau just when this technicolored rain began to fall, sitting by an old curmudgeon who was a distant blood relation. He was a surau regular who was quick on the draw with acid retorts about the slightest thing that irked him so. When my mother's distressed call was heard between the booms of the beduk, he deigned to give the briefest look at the scene of devastation. Then, without batting an eye, he walked silently back to the inside of the surau to prepare himself for prayer.

It was not the sight and sound of my poor mother in her prayer shawl that became the defining moment for me in this comic episode but the unbemused expression on the old curmudgeon who bothered to even look at all. You needed to have lived on this earth for quite awhile to be able to look at diamond-shaped jellies of many hues showering down from the sky on a clear day and yet be able to dismiss it without so much as a sigh.

November 27, 2003


  • Oh, i wished i have lived for that moment. i never seen multicolored diamonds falling down from the sky, really I don't!

    Hi, i am irah frm paka...i hadnt mastered terengganuspeak yet

    By Blogger beauty.unidentified, at 12:20 PM  

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