Growing Up In Trengganu

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Growing Up in Trengganu #435926

'Eid day or Hari Raya would suddenly come with the pealing of the genta — the big brass Trengganu bell on the hill overlooking the harbour — a sudden shift of tone in the Masjid 'Abidin, from tarawih prayers to the takbeer, then perhaps an announcement on the radio. We had a radio with a lit up dial Tuang-tuang dan Puang-puang, esok Hari Raya di sana sini.that carried the names of many cities of the world. radioA long needle travelled across its face to pick voices that came from distant parts — New Delhi, Ljubljana, Moscow, Warsaw, probably even Gdansk and Timbuctoo. From each stop came sounds like voices of ghosts from afar, but mostly they were just the high-pitched gurglings pouring out across the ether.

Radio Malaysia was the clearest of all, and if the Hari Raya announcement did come on the radio, it would have been based on a sighting of the birth of Shawwal from Teluk Kemang, which was the best place for sighting the burgeoning moon.

But Teluk Kemang and the radio notwithstanding, Hari Raya came in those days much like the rain in those fabled reports on the Malaysian weather. The Trengganu genta may have pealed and clanged so ecstatically for 'Eid, but there'd probably be a state or two that'd be holding on to Ramadhan tenaciously, and push back 'Eid for another day. Hari Raya sometimes came like that — like the rain in those Malaysian weather reports — falling only here and there.

Soon as the news settled in, Mother would hasten to the kitchen to boil a huge pot of rice which she'd leave aside to cool awhile. Then when she'd done all her other work, she'd wrap it in banana leaves, and again in an outer layer of cloth; and then she'd call out to us to come to the kitchen to help her lift the heavy slab of grinding stone — batu giling — which she'd place atop the parcel. And there it'd stay till 'Eid morning when a miracle would unravel before our eyes. Carefully she'd unwrap the rice that had compacted overnight into a huge slab of cake, and cut it into little cubes to eat with her peanut sauce. This was the nasi himpit, or the nasi kapit as we knew it in Trengganu.

The nasi kapit was de rigueur for Hari Raya, as was the ketupat pulut, glutinous rice wrapped in triangle shaped packets of palas leaves, then fried in coconut oil. There was also another ketupat wrapped in little parcels woven from the long shoots of the coconut tree. This was another way of making the nasi kapit, Ketupat pulut in palas leaf ketupat pulutbut instead of resting the cooked rice overnight under a massive slab, raw rice was poured into the woven containers, then sealed and boiled in a pot until the rice fluffed out and pressed itself into a cake under the pressure.

It was the surprise Hari Raya that made it for us, the surprise arrival of a joyous day. But even so, preparations for it would've been made throughout Ramadhan. Cakes were ordered from the specialist makers: putu kacang or the apit-apit made from flour mixed with stuff, then thrown onto a flat, hot round pan, then rolled again when slightly browned and pliant, into cigar shapes with a hole running down the centre. We used them as edible straws for drinking hot Milo. Rokok Arab was my favourite treat, ordered from Mak Nah who lived behind the walls of the palace or istana. Rokok Arab was apit-apit with College education; it was rolled like a cigar and solid like a stick, not hollow like the apit-apit straw. It was greased with Trengganu ghee — our minyak sapi — smothered in Mak Nah's devotion and love, then fried to the right consistency as required to transport a child to another world.

Around mid Ramadhan mother would lay down her ingredients of long pandanus leaves, sugar and agar-agar, magical dyes in little bottles, and the merest hint of essence vanilla. She'd throw them all into a thick brass pot over a wood fire then stir and stir till the agar-agar and the mixture was transformed into the sweetest smelling goo which she poured into a tray with rims about an inch high. Then she'd start again with the same ingredients, but another colour. After iftar and her dusk prayer she'd sit on the floor beside her trays of congealed colours, to cut out crinkly edged, diamond shaped beleda which she'd arrange again into neat rows on many trays.

The task was set for father for the following blazing Trengganu day. He'd reach out of the window and place the trays one by one to dry in the sun on the only slightly sloping roof of the surau next door. The sun-dried beleda were the tones of our celebration: sugar-coated shapes of green and red and golden yellow, shining translucently like stained-glass on our Hari Raya.

November 14th, 2004

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