Remembering Ramadhan and Syawal of 1976 -- Aug 14 2007
Ramadhan is a huge affair at home with Bapak. Just like in most Muslim households.
It's a whole month of fasting and having meals together as a family when dusk falls and just before the break of dawn.
What I remember most about Ramadhan was "sahur" or the pre-dawn meals. I know some people prefer to skip "sahur' because their sleep is more precious.
But, to this day, I never skip "sahur", if I can help it which means if I don't, for some strange unexplained reason, oversleep.
I know some people cannot have a full meal that early in the morning. A biscuit, a slice of bread of something light would suffice.
Some people would just have a cup of tea, and would go back to bed.
Me? Like the rest of my siblings - though I know one or two of them later in life prefer to have midnight meals and then sleep through sahur until dawn -- I love having a real good meal, plus dessert and a cup of coffee thrown in. And oh yes, a bite of chocolate. Then, the last two things I down are a "kurma" and a glass of water.
Some of my friends think I'm nuts. They'd rather get it all over with and go back to bed.
Bapak has a , er, peculiar way, of waking us up for school in the morning when we were young.
He'd sprinkle water on our faces.
So we learnt to wake up before he did that.
Most times, the person who got sprinkled with water would get up and wake us all up.
The problem was it was usually not as effective as water on our faces so Bapak would be going from one child to another, a "gayung" in one hand, sprinkling each child's face with water.
I remember almost everytime he did that, I'd feel as though I was in the rain. Dreaming that I was in the rain.
Everybody would almost instantaneously wake up when Bapak sprinkled water on their faces.
I'd take a little bit more time and after about 10 seconds of sprinkled water on my face, I'd open my eyes, awakened from wet-in-the-rain dream, and whose face would I see, mischievously grinning at me? Yep, you've guessed it.
And that was how Bapak would wake us up for sahur.
In those early years, the only place we could get Ramadhan fare -- kuih muih and other dishes -- was in Kampung Baru.
Bapak would gather us all at about 4pm (sometime earlier depending on the buka puasa time) and drive to Kampung Baru.
It used to not be crowded but later, perhaps in the 70s, it got to be so congested that we'd be spending more time looking for a place to park our car than for those Ramadhan goodies.
Still, we enjoyed the whole experience of going to and from Kampung Baru. It was always worth the drive.
When I went to college, I missed breaking fast and sahur with my family.
At college, the dining hall did not open for sahur but served midnight meals.
So we'd pack the food and eat it later.
There were times, in the beginning at college, I'd sleep through sahur.
That was when I'd strangely be missing the water-sprinkling-on-the-face ritual.
In those days, during weekends, our house would be full of our cousins who were studying at UiTM as well as our out-of-town college friends. And during Ramadhan on weekends, it was really great.
The first Ramadhan without Bapak was poignant.
We were thinking about what Bapak would be having for buka puasa and sahur.
Who would he be having meals with?
Bapak was not in the detention camp in Kamunting. He was in solitary detention in an undisclosed location somewhere in the Klang Valley.
In a way, it helped that I was in campus and not having to feel the void that Bapak's absence had left.
During weekends, everyone tried to keep Mak and the kids company.
Abang Med would make a point of ensuring that there were the "kuih muih" that Bapak used to buy.
Kak Ton and Kak Piah too would bring some "kuih" or other dishes for "buka puasa".
Still, it was not the same without Bapak that first Ramadhan in 1976.
I love Hari Raya when I was a kid.
In those days, we could play fire crackers. In those days, I got "duit raya".
I love the shopping for clothes and shoes.
Until about 10 years old, we got our dresses at May May which was located along Batu Road (now Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.)
After that, the dresses seemed too kid-ish for us. But there were no decent stores selling clothes for 10 year-olds like me, pre-teens like Kak Eda or young teenagers like Kak Olin.
The only practical option was for our dressses to be sewn.
So we had to buy materials to be made into dresses. Kak Piah and Kak Ton were given the job of sewing our Raya clothes.
When we moved to Section 16 and Kak Piah had already left for Canberra, Australia to join her new husband and Kak Ton entered Universiti Malaya, we had to find a tailor.
We did. -- in nearby Section 17.
She was a very patient lady.
Our first Hari Raya without Bapak was in 1976.
Were we able to see Bapak, we wondered?
Since his detention, arrangements were made for us to visit him. But it had not yet been regularised, although our visits always fell on a Tuesday.
During Ramadhan, we got to see him twice. So we were not sure if we would be able to visit him on Hari Raya.
Would there be humanity and compassion in the powers-that-be to allow us to see Bapak on the first of Syawal?
The only way to find out was to write an appeal letter to the Prime Minister (Hussein Onn).
We did and we CCed to the Deputy Prime Minister (Dr Mahathir Mohamad) and the Home Affairs Minister (Ghazali Shafie).
I think Mak sent the letter about three weeks before Syawal.
We waited for a response.
Two weeks passed and there was none.
But we never stopped praying and hoping for it.
Would we have to be resigned to the fact that we would not be seeing Bapak for Hari Raya?
Prayers helped to re-inforce our hope.
Nevertheless, the show must go on. Ramadhan would still be ramadhan as we remembered it to be. And Syawal would too, for the sake of the little ones, especially Lalin and Nina.
But truth be told, it was the older ones who felt the emptiness.
It was the eve of Syawal.
Kak Ton was at Mak's in Section16, helping with preparations for Hari Raya.
The eve of Syawal was always a busy day.
What was the plan for tomorrow?
We wondered who'd be visiting us this time.
There had been no reply to our letter appealing to visit Bapak on the first day of Raya.
We wondered where Bapak would be?
No lontong for him, that's for sure.
Just then, we saw a police outrider turn the corner into Lorong 16/7C.
What would a police outrider be doing around here?
A VVIP visiting our neighbours, perhaps?
Haha, we chuckled. Poor guy. Must have lost his way in Section 16!
Then he stopped in front of our house. Our house.
Kak Ton looked out.
"Probably he wants to get directions," she remarked.
The policeman stepped out of his mean machine and waited for someone to meet him at the gate.
Kak Ton, wearing a quizzical look, approached the man.
"Puan Hamidah?", he asked.
Kak Ton was taken aback. Momentarily silent. Then she regained her composure and replied that she was not Puan Hamidah and what was all this about. A little curious but a lot worried.
"Saya dari Pejabat Timbalan Perdana Menteri (Dr Mahathir). Ada surat untuk Puan Hamidah Hassan. Maaf, lambat," he replied, handing to Kak Ton an official-looking envelope.
Did Kak Ton hear him apologise for being "lambat"?
Kak Ton's heart beat faster than she could walk. She rushed in, called out for Mak and everyone, and opened the letter.
"...... dengan sukacita.......", and signed Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Timbalan Perdana Menteri.
It was a reply to our appeal letter. Not from the PM nor the Home Affairs Minister. But from the DPM.
We were allowed to visit Bapak, same place, same time on the first day of Syawal.
Mak, who was making preparations in the kitchen, came to the living room and listened to every word read by Kak Ton.
She raised her hands in supplication.
It was the last day of Ramadhan.
Her prayers were answered.