I’D like to take this opportunity to wish everyone — family and friends — a blessed and peaceful Hari Raya and may you all celebrate in an atmosphere of love and harmonious family bonding under such restricted circumstances. I am sure that it’d be a memorable one for all.
I’d also like to take this time to reflect on how Hari Raya visiting for me personally has changed over the years — from the late 1950s till today — from my personal point of view and own experience.
My earliest memory of Raya visiting was with my parents — my dad was an officer working at the Inland Fisheries and my mum an English school teacher. My dad had many Muslim co-workers, mostly in the field tending to the many projects and regions throughout the state. I remember with fondness at least four of his colleagues — Amin, Sidi, Zilin, and Mansor. The years have taken their toll on our collective memories as their surnames would now require a major rejuvenation of our memory cells. I remember most of them had lived at Kampong Boyan across the river and in reciprocating their families would always visit us during Chinese New Year.
Our family would visit them in their kampung homes and there was much feasting and chatting and it was customary that their very friendly neighbours and/or relatives would insist that we also go pay them a visit as well. Such was the friendly camaraderie of that bygone era. We would happily go from one house to another and another. It was tremendous fun and merriment for a young lad of seven or eight.
We had also tagged along when our aunties Mary and Rosalind (who worked at the Social Welfare Services and the Royal Customs and Excise respectively) had visited their very close friends. I always remember an extremely friendly and beautiful lady whom they called Nyachi (Inche Ali), who stayed at Ban Hock Road, next door to my cousins Matthew, John, and Angela Chan; she always served the best Malay kuih and other Raya delicacies, and she had a constant stream of visitors. Every Raya she would make my day by saying how much more handsome I’d become (I was then in my early school days); she had even asked my aunts if she could adopt me as her ‘godson’! Such grand memories are hard to forget.
As a young boy growing up one of my favourite memories was being driven slowly around the Malay kampung area at night during the Raya period by my dad; all five of us packed into his Opel Rekod saloon (no air-conditioning then!). We marvelled and ooh’ed and ah’ed at the brightly lit up gardens and forecourts of the beautifully dressed (and recently repainted) houses; many were then still of wood and on stilts; and the reflection on the surrounding waterways (drains and small streams) which gave us an enchanted look of a fairytale land.
In those days traffic was light and there weren’t that many cars on the roads; so we could even slow down or stop to gaze at a beautifully decorated house if we wanted!
During my school days I’d visit my Malay classmates. When I was in Form 3, in 1963, Tun Abang Haji Openg had just been appointed the first TYT Governor of Sarawak; his son Abang Johari was our classmate and we would be invited to visit his family home at Jalan Datu’s (not the official residence at the Astana). Those early days were a lot of fun and we all had a great time. We’d then cycle to visit our other classmates living in the vicinity – Abang Affandi Anuar, Datuk Wahap Julai, and others. For those further away we were driven by either classmate Vashdev or the late Dr Hsiung Kwo Mowe. I also remember our visit with Datuk Goh Leng Chua to another classmate Sindhu (aka Uthman Jas), who was one of the school’s fastest sprinters; he was to succumb to illness at a young age.
Once I started working in 1970, my visits were to my Muslim colleagues and dealers in the Borneo Company, and there were quite a few of them. I remember especially Ali Osman, who lived at Jalan Datu’s; he worked in the Tobacco Department and he would cook the best curries, kurma, and rendang, and the best lemang
to go with these delicacies; a few of us had the cheek too to ask for takeaways! He would also ensure that our visits would be filled with the spirit!
Other work colleagues and friends we would pay Raya visits to included my very good friend Shookry Gani, my ex-Sebor boss Zamhari Ediwi, Mustafa Mohamad, Ibrahim Mohamad (his brother and a close friend), and my PA Bulat! We had spent such enjoyable times together and there was much merriment and renewals of our past friendship bonds.
Much later on during my days in Borneo Company, Sebor, and then NBT Toyota and Auto Bavaria (BMW), there were memorable visits to the homes of Tan Sri Bujang Nor (all his children would always be there, they are such a close-knit and highly respectable family); Dato Sri Wan Abu Bakar; Pengiran Awangku Umar Ali; and so many others. I really miss those days when Raya visits were very relaxed and harmonious and grand occasions to keep in touch with old friends as well as more recently acquainted ones.
I just wonder whether such camaraderie still exists today? Especially between work colleagues, former classmates, and lifelong friends? Have distances, modern technology, and the strains and stresses of everyday living, and the rise of social media, fake news, and religious tension and racial disharmony taken a toll on our relationships?
The families of Wan Ali Ibrahim and ours have been close for a long time; when he was the Resident of Kuching, Wan Ali had personally attended as the registrar and witness at my wedding in December 1973. I never failed to visit him during Raya; but at times that alone was rather precarious as he was wont to ‘detain’ his favourite visitors from leaving before they had their fill. His famous tactic was to lock his gate! Wan Ali really enjoyed the company of his many friends! I will always remember him with great fondness.
This year’s Hari Raya will feel extremely strange and odd as for the very first time in our history there will be no visiting allowed and no family gatherings due to the conditions imposed by the CMCO by the government, and rightly so too. We must ensure that we win this fight with Covid-19. The most important issue right now is to stay safe and keep healthy by staying at home, practising social distancing, and continuing to be vigilant throughout the coming days and months.
We can all look forward to the next Hari Raya, and to an even bigger celebration then. For now at least, keep well, stay safe, and have a blessed time bonding with your family members.
Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri!
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