Monday 29 September 2008

Selamat Hari Raya

Selamat Hari Raya Kak Teh Ucapkan
Kepada semua pembaca budiman
Ketika sampai ke akhir Ramadan,
Silap dan salah harap maafkan.

London raya hari Selasa,
tamatlah sudah kami berpuasa,
Malaysia pula raya lusa,
macam mana ni tak sama masa?

dua hari kemudian......

Terima kasih kawan dan rakan,
singgah di sini memberi ucapan,
kita raya sepanjang bulan,
makanlah makan, jangan tak makan!

Monday 22 September 2008

The Journey

Having arrived late, I sat in the last row of a very crowded prayer hall. From the back, I could make out familiar figures of regular members of the congregation just from the designs on their telekungs. The very, very regular ones, usually the early birds, have secured their place in the front row; there were some new faces, students and visitors somewhere in the middle and the last few rows were mothers with their children, praying beside them.

Watching children as young as seven already doing the terawikh, I thought how lucky they are to have the opportunity to start so very young. I started my own journey not too long ago at a very late age. I offered all kinds of reasons for not doing so; no one to look after the children, work etc – all of which to me personally translated into shying away from the unknown and unexplored territory. I was scared that people in the congregation might judge me. I’d attend the usual Friday night prayers but never terawikh. I’d wait in the canteen of Malaysia Hall with the children while hubby did his prayers. But a few friends coaxed me and like last night, I found myself sitting in the back row. No way I was going to sit and pray in the front row and then lead others astray.

Nowadays, I am more confident as more and more I feel I belong, and more and more I feel the need to be nearer to Him.

With this handful of friends, I learnt and from what I learnt, I taught the children who tagged along. These are the handful of friends who have made the journey with me; they had started earlier and they have guided me. Last night looking at some of the children sitting obediently by their mothers’ side, reminded me so much of those times with my girls; coaxing and cajoling them, constantly answering questions of “how many more (rakaats)” after every prayer.

A mother swept her daughter’s hair from the forehead under the telekung – such familiar gestures and I turned to my now grown-up daughter sitting beside me, and I am still doing the same to her. She no longer asked “How many more” and no more the bored look as she is now a regular and part of the congregation.

Our son who as a young boy followed his father to pray with the men, is now our own bilal at home and sometimes leads our prayers.

The members of the congregation have become a part of the extended family for us. The banters, the jokes and the sharing and caring – many have been here as long as I have. We have seen many ustazs come and go, and currently we have a young and talented ustaz with many ideas and programmes to entertain us and feed our souls. But one constant factor, though, is our bilal. Imams/ustazs come and go, but our bilal remains the same and it is a kind of comforting factor listening to his call for prayers as well as his accompanying the imam during prayers.

Two nights ago, we had an azan competition. There were less contestants for the children’s category this year but it is still an encouraging sign. The winner is a boy I had seen since he was a baby. And indeed like all other parents present, his parents never left him behind but encouraged him to join in. Children like him grew up in this familiar surrounding. There’s no one to frown upon parents bringing children, except for one occasion when some self-righteous guy banished my son to the back row in a tone that humiliated him in front of other adults. But it is the kind of encouragement and tolerance amongst the adults that nurture and encourage the young ones to participate.

Every night after prayers, there’s the morey. More than the food, which are always sponsored by members of the congregation, it is also the camaraderie that exists that binds us all together. After morey, a few would stay back for the taddarus and next week we will all be there to witness the khatam Quran.

Last Saturday was my second Qiamulail for this Ramadan and Insyallah next week, we will meet again for the last one. I am grateful to Allah for giving me this realisation before it is too late, before ill health and age take over and make it difficult for me to serve Him.

Ustaz’s zikir munajad never failed to move me. We recite the powerful and melodious zikir together, feeling every word, every message. And personally, when it comes to Laa illaha illallah, al malikul hakkul mubinnn, Muhammadar rasulllah.. without fail, tears would be streaming from my eyes. This is the part of the zikir my husband used to recite to the children as they go to sleep.

God willing, I hope to continue on this journey, for there’s still a long way to go. I will take on this journey knowing that there’s a place for me there, even if I need to squeeze in a chair in the back row, and in ustaz’s words, be elevated in status, although our knees have failed us.

Friday 12 September 2008

Three Ramadan stories

Story 1

There was a hush in the courtroom as the man in black suit, songkok perched smartly on his head, a Quran in hand, approached the bench.

“My Lord,” he stammered looking straight at the presiding judge, “ tonight is the night when the doors of heaven are open wide. It is the night of the Lailatul Qadr. If you release me, I will pay for your tickets to Malaysia to see my birthplace.”

Watching him from the public gallery of the Old Bailey courtroom, my heart sank. From day one it was obvious that the case was not going his way. His further attempts at mitigation only hastened to persuade the judge that he needed treatment.

“I will be getting lots of money as Salman Rushdie is writing my life story. I can pay for your return ticket to Malaysia,” he said, believing every word that tumbled out of his mouth.

Suffice to say, it was in the dank and pitiful meeting room at HMP Brixton that I saw him again. It wasn’t the place for him, not for what he did. He was surrounded by hardcore criminals, tattoo on their arms, violence etched on their faces. He cried for most of the one hour that I was allowed to see him, begging me to get him a transfer back to serve his time in Malaysia, the country he left some forty years before. He started off on an adventure but it was interrupted by love.

He rambled and and I listened, trying to sieve facts from fantasies, trying to find justification in locking him up with robbers and murderers.

“Datin,” he pleaded, forcing me to bite my lips for fear of laughing. “I want to go back. I don’t like it here.”

Ten minutes later, I was a Puan Sri. Such was his mental state that all I could do was listen to his life story, his love story and stories of his very, very sad childhood; all jumbled up with tales of his friendship with Prince Charles and other world leaders and celebrities.

That was our first meeting in Ramadan several years ago. He asked if I could bring him an alarm clock during my next visit as the guards had taken away his alarm clock. It was disturbing other inmates when it went off when it was time for him to take his sahur. He also wanted a new copy of Surah Yasin. When he thought that the guards were not looking he gave me a letter from under the table. It was to be the first of several letters that I received when he was held at Her Majesty's pleasure.

The next visit saw him a happier person as he was then moved to another place – an open prison where he could tend to the gardens that was his lifelong passion. Nevertheless, his state of mind had not improved. Without friends, he took to talking to worms under the floorboards.

I saw him several time after his release and quite recently too. Ahamdulillah he is well. Salman Rushdie never wrote his book and the judge never got the return ticket to Malaysia. He didn’t even recognise me as the Datin/Puan Sri who visited him during Ramadan.

Story 2

A life wasted...

The crowd leaving the mosque after terawikh prayers made their separate ways home. The man in the beige kurta-like shirt crossed the motorway and turned into a side road. It was a warm summer’s night but not many people were around; most probably watching TV or at the pubs. He hastened his steps, perhaps at the thought of continuing the meal that he had after iftar, or perhaps at the thought of his wife who had not been too well during the first week of Ramadan.

The silence of the night was suddenly interrupted by the screeching of tyres; which initially looked as if joyriders were having fun racing along the deserted road. One car was chasing the other not far ahead, then just at the junction of the road, the one behind rammed the other on the side. Then all the man in the kurta shirt could see were flashes that looked like fireworks, momentarily lighting up the night. He stood transfixed as if watching a cops and robbers drama on TV but when the realisation of what was unfolding before him set in, he ran as fast as his legs could carry, passing the car with a body slumped at the wheel.

He arrived home shaken. It took him quite a long time before he felt comfortable enough to walk to the mosque for terawikh again.

Story 3

Why Kueh Gula Melaka will never be the same again....

Thoughts of kueh gula melaka that his wife made for iftar haunted him throughout his terawikh prayers. He couldn’t concentrate as his mind kept thinking of the burst of sweetness of palm sugar that melted in his mouth a few hours earlier. The imam had decided on long verses that night and as usual it was 21 rakaats, none of the 8 that the neighbourhood surau was doing.

The doa’s after the witir prayers seemed unusually long but soon enough, he scrambled out of the mosque and after locating his slippers, said goodbye to his mates and made his way home, the lights from the houses on each side of the road guiding him on his trusty old bicycle.

He made his way straight to the kitchen only to find scraped coconuts left overs of the delicious gula melaka that had been plaguing his mind the whole evening. His disappointment turned to anger.

“Don’t worry, Sayang, I will make some more for sahur,” cajoled his wife sweetly, leading him out of the kitchen to the bedroom.

Like a dutiful wife, she woke up early, washed her hair and prepared the kueh gula melaka, inserting generous pieces of palm sugar in balls of dough before plunging them in hot boiling water. Then she proceeded to roll them in desiccated coconut. She took the pot of boiling water out to the adjoined kitchen that also served as a toilet at night, as it was more convenient than going out to the bathroom, a distance away from the house. Gently, she woke her husband up, promising him the most delicious gula melaka ever made. He needed no more persuasion and woke up and hurried to the kitchen to relieve himself before sahur.

And then, from the dark unlit kitchen came a scream that pierced that silence of the Holy night.

“Oh, dear, I should have thrown out the hot water,” thought the wife guiltily, downing the kueh gula melaka to drown her sorrows.

A disclaimer:

Stories 1 & 2 are based on real events.

Story 3 is just something my mother told again and again when we asked for kueh gula melaka. Tak ada kena mengena dengan yang hidup atau yang mati atau yang tercedera!

Monday 8 September 2008

Travails of a Cyber Backpacker

More pictures here: Nona in Rajasthan

The 1233 for Luton left from the spanking new St Pancras International where I took the Eurostar to Paris a few weeks ago. It is a sort of extension right at the end of the building and I had to dodge people with bags and trolleys as I was going against the flow to catch my train. I wasn’t fussy about where I sat as it wasn’t going to be a long journey and I reckoned that the half an hour journey would take me through a few more chapters of Preeta Samarasan’s “Evening Is the Whole Day”. I really wanted to know the goings on in the big house in Kingfisher Lane after Chellam’s unceremonious departure.

The seats on the First Capital Connect were quite comfortable, and minutes after it pulled out of the platform, we buried our heads in our reading materials. The young teenager opposite me was devouring the pictures in Heat magazine while the gentleman on my right concentrated on The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

It took awhile for me to realise that I was staring for a good five minutes on page 44 with not a word sinking in. My mind was making its own journey and so I looked out of the window to see how the suburbs of London was being treated in the last few days of summer. Hedges were already neatly trimmed and shrubs cut in preparation for autumn, but there were a few optimists with their BBQ sets still outside their conservatories, hoping for one more sunny day to return.

According to the BBC weather forecast, we were in for a long wet and windy spell and true enough rain began pelting on the windows and I was thankful when we disappeared under a tunnel.

As we emerged from the tunnel, I blinked a few times. Right before me were clusters of huts with zinc roofs dotting fields that looked barren and dry with nothing to offer skinny cows and even skinnier goats roaming aimlessly in search of food and water. Pot bellied children clung on to their mothers’ faded sarees, as they walked gracefully balancing pots of water precariously on their heads. A few turned to wave at us without spilling a drop of water.

I turned to look at my travelling companions to see whether they were witnessing what I was witnessing. The girl with the Heat magazine was no longer there but in her seat was a fat woman trying to calm her baby by suffocating him with her ample breast. The gentleman with The Reluctant Fundamentalist too had disappeared and next to me was a skinny old man in his dhoti snoring loudly and plainly oblivious to both screaming child and ample breast. In fact the whole carriage was a scene of pandemonium. There were fans whirring from the ceiling of the carriage and there were people, sitting on the floor, being trampled on by a couple of cross dressers in their bright coloured sarees, making their way to the next coach. They ignored hurls of insults and lewd jokes, pulling their tongues out from chilli bright lips, which served to excite their teasers even more.

Looking out of the window again, slums with dilapidated houses in various stages of neglect and repair whizzed past and billboards displaying the latest that Bollywood can offer had the handsome Shahrukh Khan staring unsmiling at me. And as if on cue, a melodious and haunting sound of the sittar pierced the midday air, followed by the beat of the tabla, prompting the passengers on the floor, the cross dressers with their tongue sticking out, and the fat lady with baby at her breast to jump on their feet and break into one of the most syncronised Bollywood dance I ever saw.

Even the snore of skinny man next to me sounded melodious and he suddenly opened his eyes and broke into a Mohamad Rafii number.

I would have joined in the fun if not for the announcement that the train was approaching Luton and a reminder for us to take all our belongings. Like a dream rudely interrupted, coach C of the First Capital Connect returned to its normal albeit boring calmness as it pulled into Luton station.

I stepped onto the platform into wet and soggy Luton, annoyed that my dream of India was interrupted. I put it down to the puasa as well as the many sms’es and reports that I received from Nona about her train journeys since arriving in Mumbai. After a subtitleless Bollywood movie in Mumbai, she and her cousin took a train to Ahmadabad, before going to Udaipur where, hot on her heels was a very enthusiastic young man with chat up lines, that will make you roll on the floor laughing.

Example of chat up lines :

Did it hurt you when you fell from heaven?

Which country is suffering now that you are not there?

(And I thought the best dialogues come from India!!)

Anyway, Nona and my niece and friend are having a wonderful time in India. Right now they are in the picturesque mountain resort of Manali, after a 15 hour car ride from Delhi. A punctured tyre, stops for mutter paneer to break their fast, they arrived in pitch dark Manali at about midnight.

“Its like Geneva, mama,” she gushed on the phone to me from the balcony of her hostel when morning unveiled Manali’s beauty with the snowcapped Himalayas in the background.

That is indeed a stark contrast to the experience camping in the heat of the Thar Desert of Jaisalmer, where they started their first day of Ramadan. If I could expel the nagging feeling, I think waking up for sahur, in the early morning before the sun rose in the Thar Desert, being served with boiled eggs by two male guides, has a romantic touch befitting any Bollywood movie.

Well, her journey had taken me on my own journey of India via google and blogs published on travels in India. I made the same train rides from Mumbai to Ahmadabab to Udaipur, where among the ruins of a palace she was surrounded by locals who touched and stared at her. Sleeping in the trains during the nights seemed to be the norm, a cheap way of travelling without having to stay in hostels. From Jaipur they left for Jaisalmer in the soaring heat that I could almost feel from cold and wet London. I prayed for their safe journey to Agra where they feasted their eyes on the Taj Mahal before moving yet again to Delhi.

I caught up with them in time at a travel agent where they booked a car and a driver that had taken them to Manali, then to Shimla and back to Delhi.

The next few days will see them making the tracks to Sikkim in the west and then a two day train ride to Bangalore. After that, I think, I should be able to rest (my fingers) after crisscrossing the Indian continent, thanks to Google.

Other train journeys:
Manchester Musings
Tales From The Tracks
On the 1302 from Kings Cross with Tunku Halim
Training My Thoughts
As I Was Munching Muruku
A Malay Experience in Roman Exeter
Train of Thoughts
A Story Untold