THE BECKONING CORRIDORS OF OLD ALOR SETAR

There are not many old buildings left along Jalan Langgar in downtown Alor Setar, and of the few that endure, many have seen their better days. On a recent trip back to the capital city of Kedah Darulaman, the one time rice bowl of Malaysia, I had the opportunity to again walk the corridors of these buildings that date back to the early decades of the 20th century. Now, with layers of peeling paint on their pillars and assortments of electrical wires that run amok on walls and ceiling boards, these buildings are left very much to the elements save for some repair, repainting and minor refurbishment. Newer shopping complexes have lured many a customer away and what remains now are remnants of old sundry businesses like the Chinese traditional medicine shop, the two Indian millers and spicers, Jai Hind and SM Naina Mohammed and one or two grocers. One of the earliest shops to sell jeans wear in the 70’s is still operating. Gone are the Chettiar money lenders, the bicycle repair shop, the piles acupuncture expert, Eng Hwa Music, Pustaka Malaysia and the corner cafe that my grandfather Ahmad used to frequent for his tea and apom lenggang when he was alive. Newer businesses that have taken over are mostly in clothes, shoes and drapery.

The following photos were taken using iPhone 6 of the building directly across the street from the old Alor Setar Bus Depot. It was a bright sunny afternoon and the sunlight cast interesting shadows and contrast on the pillars and footpath. Combined with the overlapping rustic colors and the generally unkempt walls and ceilings, they made for interesting shots.


SUKA MENANTI

Photo Art by ABBA

Tarhim menderu dibawa sungai,
Lagu lama mengamit Qalbu;
Sejuk kampung dibuai badai,
Badai yang sama mengombak perahu

Bangun bersimpuh di atas lantai,
Merenung jauh mata bersayu;
Ashik terkenang saudara handai,
Bagai tafakkur di dalam kelambu

Bernipah lebat tepian sungai,
Pengkalan pagi nun di sana;
Ayuh adik beramai-ramai,
Menapak jalan  kita bersama

Sudah tersurat di alam azali,
Kampung ni Suka Menanti;
Tersepit sungai mengalir sepi,
Padang sayup membuah padi

“Wahai tuan pembawa perahu!
Di pengkalan kami kan menunggu;”
Dari gelap jawapan meluru,
“Pergi! Kenapa Aku diganggu!”

Perahu bertanjak dua pendayung,
Mengukir air sambil mengharung;
Melerai sekam padi terapung,
Mengejut ikan di pagi murung

Begitulah pagi di suatu hari,
Menyeberangi sungai pergi mengaji;
Berbekal pesan penuh sakti,
Harapan keluarga jangan dirugi

Pengkalan seberang kayunya buruk,
Lampu tunggal menumpah cahaya;
Ayuh adik! Masa dah suntuk,
Jalan jauh kita menghala

Sejarah lama ditulis semula,
Untuk adik yang mudah lupa;
Perit ditelan hati terluka,
Menjadi pedoman di hari muka!

2001


The above quatrains depict a morning of those childhood days when my siblings and I would cross the Sungai Pantai Johor early in order to catch a bus to school. The sampan paddler refers to the late Abang Yahya Keling, a relative. When there was no one to ferry us, we would go back to the house to get our father. In his sarong and with a towel wrapped around his shoulders, father would paddle the sampan, often using the back stroke technique. Those mornings were marked by cool breezes that swept the river, the early rays of the sun and the sound of the oars hitting the water. In the horizon you could make out the turret of Tunku Aziz’s Pumpong castle, now torn down to make way for shopping lots.


MORNING RAIN

Photo Art by ABBA

This morning

the rain came in a shower

hitting the roof with heavy thuds;

yet my baby deep in her slumber

smiled and lost in a world of her own.

The sound of the rain,

a comforting strain,

like a blanket nestled my baby

such that for a while all was lost in its embrace…


Outside

in the garden,

the poppy like flowers of white and yellow

decided a day’s rest from their blooming

to welcome the rain

and to sway in the wind…

Of the two Kelat Paya that flanked the swing,

one in a mantle of green,

the other in patches of reddish brown tinge.

Like masts of ships braving a storm

searching for the distant shore

and calling out, “Land Ahoy!”


Across the road yonder

to the neighbor’s place,

the wife was tending to the rabbits in a cage;

a familiar scene of every morning

and today, the rain having a say

in the affairs of the day

decided to send gusts of wind to the cage

and sending the creatures scrambling to a corner safe


The taxi man came

with a sullen grin

and a muffled greeting,

And in the rain

we made our way,

and in silence

we nursed our hopes for the day


There’s many a story to tell

of mornings that have passed,

yet today was special

for it had not rained for a while

And as I pen this poem,

I am reminded of

the morning rains of years ago

in a tiny village where I grew

and the same magical spell!

7-5-2003

LET’S SUP AT THIS TABLE

Photo Art by ABBA

Come, my friends
to the table take,
And be perfect Guests
you will make

Leave nothing of yourselves
at the gaping door,
Lest deprived you’ll be
the treasure in the store

This table of ancient days
accept none but the poor;
In poverty we are One,
“Host” and “Guests” no more!

Look at the table spread,
Right food, right light, right cloth,
Or are you too hungry
to hear the whisper soft?

As we partake of this food,
A joke or two to enliven our stay
“Chew this food well,” one say
“It will taste better that way!”

So count your chewing
and drown that merry brew,
Grind your mind in the salt of love
and make your amends anew!

Lovers have, at this table, been slain
for trying to court the moon,
The food on this table ignored
and find their efforts in vain…!

(In memory of precious moments with BM at his dining table).

A BIRD TALE

It is too late to do anything now – shriek for help, make a dart for the hole in the mud or attempt at take off. The farmer was simply too fast. With her wings soaked with the rain, Murai could only muster a token struggle – too surprised as it was by the suddenness and swiftness of the farmer’s hand as it swooped it from it’s hiding among the tall padi reeds.The tiny claws that have served well to hold it’s body mass to the the padi stalk during the onslaught of the the northern winds were no cutting tools; the bemused grin on the farmer’s face served only to dampen its hopes to cause injury to the woman’s palm and secure it’s release.

It is said that among the Murai there exists a belief of sorts. And in times like this, that’s the only thing left to comfort one’s self. “Keep to your Heart” goes an adage, and make a  “whisper in the wind”, and the particles in the air and the pollen grains will take your plea home, and, if you are lucky, even beyond – over the ranges of the distant mountains, and across the rivers and valleys to that land beyond the clouds. And perchance that the particles are diverted by contending winds, you can put your trust in the tiny flies to pick the baton. Aid would surely be forthcoming.

“Seek and you shall find. Ask and it shall be given.” Bundled in the farmer’s girdle, Murai could see the farmer making her way to the village and muttered a plea: “Happy are those whose domain is the sky and not this girdle. Please send help…” 


“What do you have there, grandma?”

“Oh…just some loose padi, some Keli and Haruan…and yes, this small thing. Look! Take it. Is it alive?”

“Look at it grandma! Where did you find it? It is so small and wet. Yes, it is alive. I can feel the heart beat. The feathers are cold but I can feel the warmth of the heart beat. Is it a Mala Kerbau?”

“Well..let’s see…I didn’t notice it well earlier. I am afraid it is not a Mala Kerbau but a Murai. You can put it in that bamboo cage if you like and place that cage on the para near the stove. It will soon get dry.”

“Can a Murai talk, grandma? I know Uncle Hadi’s Mala Kerbau can…”

“That you must ask your uncle, Amjad. The Murai is very much a bird of the skies even though it’s habit is to scurry on the ground. The Mala Kerbau, on the other hand, is a bird of the earth and that’s why it is called by that name, which means kawan kerbau (friend of the buffalo).,,he,,,he…”

“Uncle Hadi said you must use a piece of silver to scrape Mala Kerbau’s tongue to get it to talk. I wonder why…”

“Maybe it has something to do with the saying : Speech is Silver, Silence is Golden. Errr…you didn’t learn this in school..? He..he..he…Pi main jauh-jauh sikit. Tok penat ni…” (Go play elsewhere, I am tired !)

“Pulut bakar atas bara
Cawan kopi satu-dua
Burung Murai atas para
Basah kuyup tiada suara”

“Apa yang hang merepet tu, Amjad?”
(What are you mumbling to yourself, Amjad ?)

“Eh, Uncle Hadi! Look! Look at my Murai! Isn’t it cute?”

“Ah yes! Murai. What do you want to do with it? If you want a pet, it is better to get a Merbuk. Murai are noisy, but Merbuk…now those can really sing!”

“Can you teach it to talk…like what you did to Awang?”

“You mean Jantan? Jantan is a Mala Kerbau…that’s different. Murai cannot talk. Itu adat burung (that’s the law of the birds). The Puyuh, for example, does not have a tail. You can’t change that. You can try feeding it with all sorts of grains, but it will still not grow a tail. That’s why we have the saying, ‘Mati Puyuh hendakkan ekor’
(Like the quail pining for a tail).” 

“Well, can we not at least try? Please Uncle Hadi? Can I put Murai in Jantan’s cage? In that way it can learn. Please Uncle?”

“La…mana boleh dalam satu sangkar dua ekor burung .”
(It does not augur well for a cage to contain two birds)

“Please…Uncle Hadi.”

“Baik lah..! Baik lah..!.Esok bawa Murai tu ke rumah Pak Long. Pi dok jauh-jauh sikit. Pak Long nak cakap dengan Tok sekejap..hai, macam Murai pula dia!”
(Alright! Alright! Bring Murai to my house tomorrow. Go sit over there. I need to talk to your grandma. You sound very much a Murai yourself!)


Kuuur! Kuuuur!

                   “I am Jantan. I do not know why you are here…but this is my cage. As you can see, it is a beautiful cage. My Master over there…he takes good care of me. Call me Jantan, sometimes Awang. I am a Mala Kerbau. I used to run wild around this house and in that plot of mud under the Cermai tree is the kerbau that I  used to befriend. I kept the flies off his back so that his tail could rest. Now I am way better off – no more slimy mud and the smell of that pool. No more dirty flies. Only the best and juiciest of hoppers and polished rice. Clear water, nice papayas and ripe bananas. In the mornings I would be given a bath. Nothing is more delightful than a bath before breakfast…and when my Master snaps his fingers and calls out my name, my heart goes out to him. Kuuur ! Kuuur! Look at my tongue. See how clean it is! Cleaned by nothing less than a piece of silver. Destiny has been kind to me…Why, I can even speak the tongue of man. Listen to this:

Kuuuur A..w..a.ng! Aaawang! Kuuurr! Haaadii! Maaakaaan!

                   My master said that only the Kakaktua and Mala Kerbau can be taught. In the afternoons I would go out with my Master as he makes his rounds of the village. Sometimes he would stop at the stall by the river to sip his coffee. Children would then crowd around me and call my name. Just imagine. I…a bird commanding such attention! And during those times that he ride his bicycle, I would perch myself on the handle…and I could feel  the wind in my face. No longer do I need to fly to experience that. Of the sky and the clouds, I have only dim memories…

Listen to my song:

Buat apa cari kiri dan kanan
Bila ku dapat makan di tangan!
Ewah! Ewah!

(Why do I need to search hither and dither
When I can eat from the hand !)

And you little bird. What is your story ?”


“I am Murai and I am put in your cage by that boy over there for reasons best known to him. Two days ago, I was happily playing in the fields when I was taken captive by a farmer. It was drizzling and my wet wings prevented me from avoiding the fateful incident. To man, I am known by many names. One such is  Copsychus Sauloris Musicus, perhaps by virtue of my incessant chirpings…but I care not for such name calling…for I am first and foremost AtTayr, a bird, like you. My essence is that of a bird.

Man busies themselves with names, descriptions and analysis! Why…they even give names to the different trees and plants. I, on the other hand, prefer to see the forest. I hail from the Nipah palms at the end of the village. It is there that I take my solace away from the sun. Seldom do I venture out when the sun is at it’s peak. I spend most of my mornings at the edge of the water and in the late afternoons, in the golden sea of the padi fields.

My real home, however, is far from here. You have to have strong wings to make the distance. It is however, close to my heart and in my dreams. To man, I am a noisy bird…but that is because they cannot perceive my secret…they do not know that I possess two tongues. My secret tongue is that which tells the story of the treasure – a secret mirror that reflects my homeland.You, who are in such a happy state, listen to this:

Many a bird is lost in this world, the Bangau, by virtue of it’s grace becomes vain; the Merak, by virtue of it’s colorful feathers busies itself with them day and night; the Merbok, by virtue of it’s voice is put in a cage; the Helang, by virtue of it’s strength becomes proud; the Bul Bul by virtue of it’s attraction to the Rose becomes a slave; and you, my friend, by virtue of your contentment progresses no further! Birds are given wings to fly but they prefer to be stuck in the mud ! Happy, however, is the Pungguk (Owl)!  Though  garbed in an unappealing outfit, earning it the other name of Hantu (Ghost), it possesses the distinction of having intimacy with the Moon. The Moon is not of this world, if only you but know…Do you not  see how the world and it’s attractions have no  foothold on the Pungguk’s heart..? It chooses to sleep through the day when the glitter of the world is strongest…preferring instead, to keep the night when it would call upon it’s only love – the Moon. Hoooo! (You, only you!), Hoooo! Enta Omry! Ah! such a happy state! Such singleness! Such rapture! Being lost in it’s love, the Pungguk is free! Man even coins a parable that says ‘Bagai Pungguk rindukan Bulan’ (Like the Owl calling the Moon). Now listen to my song as you have never heard a Murai sang before.”

And with that, our friend, Murai sings a song unlike any other bird song…filling the atmosphere with such notes and nuances much to the pleasant surprise of the man, the boy and the Mala Kerbau.

“Enough! Enough little one! You have struck a cord deep in my heart. We will need to get you out of here. This cage which I call home does not befit you – nay, it is a prison to you! I only pray that I may, one day, have the courage to venture out…to be among those that make the journey to that land beyond the clouds.”
 


The following morning.

“Apa lagi yang Pak Long dapat ceritakan tentang burung-burung ni? Seronok sekali Amjad dengar…” 
(What else can you tell me uncle, about the birds? They are so fascinating)

“Tak pa lah, satu hari nanti Pak Long ceritakan tentang burung Hudhud, iaitu Utusan Nabi Allah Sulaiman ke Istana Raja Balqis…Seronok cerita tu. Salah satu tindak tanduk pelik yang terdapat pada burung ni ialah kalau kawannya mati dia tak kan mencari ganti buat selama-lamanya…” 
(Maybe we keep that for one fine day. I will tell you the story of the Hoopoe, the Emissary of Prophet Solomon to the palace of Queen Sheba. One characteristic of the Hoopoe is that, should it’s mate die, it will not take a partner for the rest of its life…”

Suddenly…

“Maati! Kuuur! Maaaati! Mati! Kuur! 
(Death! Death! Death!)

“Apa dah jadi ni! La….Murai Amjad mati! Baru semalam dia duduk elok-elok…” 
(What happened ? Why…the Murai is dead! Only yesterday it was singing so beautifully…)

“Kesian ….!” 
(What a pity!)

“Punya nak ajar cakap, la ni mati pula!” 
(Just when you want to teach it to talk, it decides to die)

“Hai Jantan, apa dah jadi ni….” 
(Jantan, what happened..?)

“Dah Aku kata..pantang ada dua ekor burung dalam satu sangkar?” 
(Did I not say that it does not augur well to have two birds in one cage?)

“Hmm, mai kita keluarkan dia..nanti busuk …” 
(Hmm, come let’s take it out of the cage before it stinks)

Slowly the man takes the Murai on the flat of his palm out of the cage. 
And, as the man and the boy look at the inert body, Jantan makes a loud screech…

“MAAKAAAN ! MAAKAN ! MAKAAN !” 
(Eat! Eat! Eat!)

Hearing the agreed signal, Murai flaps its wings and darts to the window sill. 
Its heart pounding, it glances in the direction of the cage where the Mala Kerbau remains. And then, it flies away…

~END~

SULTAN ABDUL HAMID COLLEGE OLD PHOTOS, 1940’s to 50’s

(All of these photos belong to Abdul Rahim bin Bahauddin, fondly called Master Rahim among his peers. Use of the images are subject to the approval by the administrator of www.thekedahpages.com and can be reached at get2abba@gmail.com),

A MALAY WEDDING OF A BYGONE ERA

MAJLIS PERKAHWINAN DI BUKIT RAYA, KEDAH, ERA 60AN.

Satu koleksi gambar yang agak menyeluruh yang menonjolkan pelbagai aspek majlis kenduri kahwin Melayu di masa lampau. Gambar diambil oleh Almarhum Abdul Rahim Bahauddin, bapa mentua saya. Semoga ia dapat mengimbau kembali kenangan manis pengunjung ke laman ini lebib-lebih lagi penduduk Bukit Raya sendiri yang terlibat dalam majlis itu, juga memberi sedikit gambaran kepada generasi seterusnya di kalangan anak-anak dan cucu-cucu mereka tentang satu tradisi yang semakin pupus di kalangan masyarakat Melayu.

A MALAY WEDDING IN BUKIT RAYA, KEDAH, IN THE 60’S.

These pictures of a Malay wedding in the northern state of Kedah were taken by my late father-in-law, Abdul Rahim Bahauddin in the 60’s, They give a good coverage of the main happenings during the Kenduri Kahwin, or wedding feast.

It was typical then to build a makeshift structure called a balai (hall) to accommodate guests to a kenduri kahwin (wedding feast). Made of the trunks of the Areca tree and the fronds of the Nipah palm, the hall was placed adjoining to the main part of the house, almost like an extension of it. Here male guests were welcomed and made to sit in a group of 4 people (female guests would make their way to the main house where they have their own feasting area). After the customary exchange of pleasantries with the host or his representative, food comprising of rice; fish, chicken, beef or mutton; vegetables and sweetened drink would be served in a metal tray. When the local Imam (religious leader) arrives with his entourage of makmum (followers), prayers and the reading of the Burdah (an ode of praise for Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him), Marhaban and Selawat (salutations upon the Prophet) would be conducted either in the balai or the main hall of the house.

Food were made from materials contributed by the community and the host and the actual cooking was entrusted to the more adept members of the kampung (village), all in good cheer. Big woks like those shown above were used and a fire place was made in the open using bricks as support and coconut husks as fuel. Young lads in their sampin (waist cloth) raised above their knees played mentara (waiters) carrying food from the kedohok (food distribution center) to the balai and the women section in the main house. Used plates and glasses were sent to the washing area where another team took charge. Under the the shade of the various trees that line the compound, workers would take their break and puff cigarettes. Those who have not had their meal would do so in the shade, often having the prized kerak nasi (the left over rice crust) for themselves.

The invitation to a kenduri would be extended to all members of the kampung. While the feasting itself would begin around noon, the workers would have started their day much earlier. Guests would come from all corners of the kampung, many by foot, others by bicycles, trishaws and cars. Children would be everywhere and making a lot of noise. One of the highlights of the day would be the arrival of the groom in style, in a costume befitting a Raja Sehari (a one day King) and almost invariably by car.

Even though it was not compulsory to have a Silat (Malay art of self defense) display during the wedding celebration of yore, it was more prevalent then than it is now. This touch of Malay culture is a precious reminder and link to an identity that has seen much accretion of modernity over the years and much of whose symbols are slowly but surely disappearing.

The culmination of the kenduri kahwin is the bersanding. It refers to the practice of having the bride and bridegroom sit side by side for the purpose of receiving blessings from family members and guests. For this purpose, a bridal couch called pelamin is constructed in the place where the event is being held or in the hall of the house. The bersanding ceremony customarily takes place in the afternoon but in those days it was also held in the early hours of the morning forcing many family members to stay up for the occasion.