“Aiyaaaaaah! dok diam-diamlah”, said Ah Gek as I fidgeted in front of the mirror in her kitchen. I looked forlornly at the reflection in the mirror and back to the hourglass figure, Audrey Hepburn look alike in one of Ah Gek’s well thumbed fashion magazines. I had wanted THAT look but forgot that while Ah Gek could be magical with her creations, she stopped short of performing miracles. At the age of 12 or 13, my puppy fat, especially around the waist, meant that pencil lined skirts with slits at the back, and the famous Audrey Hepburn collar would not sit well on my chubby figure.
But year after year, it had been Ah Gek, our neighbour and seamstress who made our Hari Raya clothes. One year, it was a full flare skirt with those petticoats that
made you look like you had an umbrella fully opened underneath, then it was a simple cut polka – dotted number with a big ribbon either in front or at the back – anything, anything at all that was fashionable in Hollywood, and Ah Gek, in the small town of Yan, would humour us and kit us out in her creations for our Raya. If at all, she was amused by our choice of patterns, she was wise enough not to show it. She hid her smile, as she gritted the tacking pins in between her lips and adjusted pleats and darts on our choice of patterns on our ample bodies.
Yes, it must be about this time of Ramadan that the rush for making Hari Raya clothes starts. Why we do not make Hari Raya clothes before Ramadan, God knows....well, I supposed it wouldn’t be Hari raya clothes then, would it?
Sitting in my front room, watching the autumn leaves fall, leaving patterns on the pavement, memories flitted back and forth to how Ramadan used to be like for us children back in Malaysia. My own children now, don’t care much about Hari Raya clothes. Year after year, the girls wear my old kebayas. The boys will have their Baju Melayu from yesteryears if those still fit. If not, yes, we will get new ones from home. It is not such a big deal. Afterall, most of the time these clothes will be hidden under thick coats and jumpers. One wintry Raya, I saw young Malay girls, my children included, dressed in their best lacey kebayas, but all hidden underneath anoraks and woollen jackets, complete with trainers, shivering under the tents at the open house of the Malaysian High Commisisoner.
Once we took the children back for Hari Raya in Malaysia after 17 years here. And gosh, I had forgotten what it was like joining in the mad shopping rush two or three days before raya. But all they said was, “Oh, can I have those shorts and trainers?” Whaaat? whaaat? whaaat? Shorts and trainers for raya?
Anyway, when we were small, Pak would give us a treat, hire a car and take us all to Penang. Waaah, shopping in Penang for Hari Raya clothes was really something. By the time we reached Penang, we’d be half dead with exhaustion and hunger but for the promise of some new clothes, we’d soldier on going from one crowded shop to another, all with that familiar smell of moth balls. Once, and I supposed at that time Mak couldn’t fast or something, we went to Daud Restaurant. During Ramadan, these restaurants usually had curtains and sectioned off areas for Muslims who had “travelled more than 60 miles to do their shopping” in Penang.
We’d come back from Penang with bales and bales of materials, some for baju kurung that Mak would make herself and some for Ah Gek, who’d make us our western clothes, reserved for second of third hari raya. Baju kurung was for early in the morning to go to prayers and kubur. But even if Mak bought us these materials early, our baju kurung were the last to be ready because she made baju kurungs for raya for people in the neighbourhood. So, ours would be the ones without the tulang belut, or hastily hemmed up sarungs. But we stressed on mak that we did not want materials for the baju kurung from the same bale of material!!! Hmmm macam boria!
Sometimes, we’d just go to Alor Setar to get our materials, either from Pekan Rabu or Sin Sin or Lorong Sempit, thus called because it was so narrow you’d actually be doing dirty dancing to get from one place to another. This was where Mak would excercise her skills in haggling.
Mak: Berapa satu ela??? Alaaah, kedai Pak Mat tu lagi murah! (she’say as she pretended to walk away.)
Pekedai: Aaah, mak cik makcik,, tak pa.tak pa...wah rugi macam ni ..tapi tak paa...
Mak: ha..macam tu lah...tak boleh kurang lagi ka?
You see this all the time.
One year. Lipah and her sister from next door had this beautiful pleated skirt – one you didnt have to iron to keep the pleats in place. And I was so envious cos I wanted one too and then Kak came back from Johore, I think and had bought us one each. I tell you, we had a beautiful raya sashaying up and down Jalan Tunku Mahmood in the pleated skirts that didn't need ironing.
When we moved to Alor Setar, we found another seamstress that would make our catsuits, au dai (sp) (the Vietnamese outfit) and kebayas. Aaah, the day I could fit into a kebaya, I wore nothing else!
Yesterday, I had to sms my sister in law to get Taufiq and Hafiz some new baju Melayus. They grow up so fast. The girls might want some new kebayas as they have out grown mine. (I had outgrown mine a loooong time ago!) So, I will join the mad rush along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman when I go back. Oh, how I look forward to that!