The start of the kebaya journey with Rehana (middle) carrying on the tradition.
Kak Di continues the journey.
In fact, I had been toying with the idea of keeping the kebaya back in the old suitcase I keep under the bed. After all, none of my girls could wear them anymore. It was a favourite with them during hari rayas and weddings. But this year, the girls had outgrown it. In fact, there are still several of my old kebayas and kota bharu with matching batik sarongs, still hanging in their closet. And these too have seen several rayas and weddings since I packed them in my suitcase for what seemed to be a very long honeymoon after just two weeks of getting married.
I seem to remember very vaguely the shopping trip to buy the material. It was in old PJ town. Not much thought was given to what kind of material I wanted for our special day, but I remember that I wanted something that I could wear more than once; something that wouldn’t look out of place at a function or a simple kenduri. I didn’t relish a wedding dress that would only gather dust in the wardrobe. So I settled for the dark blue lace, while he picked a lighter blue for his baju Melayu. And as an afterthought, a white lace to wear over my hair. No perms, no long hours at the salon, but a simple rinse and blow dry at home.
I brought several other pieces to send to the tailor, so I could wear them to visit relatives before our departure to London. And even those I packed with me, ignoring warnings that the cold London weather is not the place for thin flimsy kebayas. I even wore one on the flight here regretting almost immediately upon arrival, as it was below 10 celcius!
But it would seem that I wore nothing else BUT the kebayas here in London. The first airing for the blue lacey one after the wedding was to the Buckingham Palace Garden party. 22nd July 1982 was a warm summer afternoon - a perfect day for a garden party. With Aishah Ali and Dina Fuad, all in our finest Malay traditional costumes, we took a taxi to the Palace. Aishah was in bright red, I was in dark blue and Dina was in rich green. We nearly stopped the traffic. Never mind that we couldn’t get to see the Queen; we were too short and our path was blocked by people in tall, fancy hats. But I believe it must have been one of the Queen’s officers who asked us: Are you from Thailand? What a disappointment!
Anyway, the blue kebaya made another journey to the Palace Garden party a few years later and this time I was accompanied by Rehman. Another warm summer day and we decided to end the afternoon with a short walk to Harrods in Knightsbridge, for tea.
I wore most of my kebayas to work at the BBC World Service in Bush House, where a kebaya was certainly not out of place amongst Vietnamese ao dais, Indian sarees and the Burmese longyi.
Alas, four children later, the waist is just a fond memory of the good old days and most kebayas were banished in suitcases under the bed, including the blue lace kebaya - only to be taken out and stared at longingly, wishing for the return of the waistline.
But all was not lost. As the waistline grew, so did the children. The girls took to wearing my kebayas and in them I saw me, even if it was a fraction of me that I saw.
One favourite short kebaya of mine is one that I had made in Penang, for my graduation. I remember parting with quite a hefty sum to pay the tailor for the fine kerawangs, plus the kain batik susun to go with it. I was in that short brown kebaya, and had a flower in my hair, while Fati and Ena were in their best as well, and our picture appeared in the newspaper the very next day. Fame at last!Up until last year that was also a favourite with my girls.
Several kebayas were hand me downs from my eldest sister, a kebaya queen in her heyday, and these too made their way to the children’s closet. Nona loves Kak’s green kota bharu which I think will soon make its way back to Malaysia to see who else can wear it. Like the blue lace kebaya, the end of its journey is nowhere near.