On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Selamat Hari Raya

How nasi himpit is made.

Come Raya morning, chaos rules. It is the same today in our household: time is flying fast and there is no sign of that button for the baju, and the shirt's unironed, oh woe is me.

And then I hear the genta, long clanging sounds from far away, atop the hill, and Raya resonates down to us down below, through closed shops and houses in Kuala Trengganu. Children half awake from a full night of weaving and running in the dark and looking at faces lit up in the yellow light of Chinese lanterns that fold up like bellows but are now stretched to their full length by the weight of candles.

There are ships among houses, no, not sailing ones, but close, too close to the stairs of the house of Pok Wè or Wang Semail, and other people who have money to take to the shops for crepe paper and glossy sheets in bright colours. Bamboos split into uprights and longer ones, joined together in horizontals, curved in the bow and papered over to be ship shape. We have seen them coming in, navigating the narrow neck of Ujung Tanjung and Seberang Takir across the water, the Hong Ho and the Rawang full of goods from Singapore. Now we have them made up from bright paper made bright by the lights of flickering kerosene lamps, in the front yard of some houses, trailing from mast to stern with twirled crepe of pastel colours, and perhaps a flag up there, no, not of Trengganu, but an unwashed kain lepas – a long sheet of workman's shoulder rag – to flutter into the winds the news that it is the night of Hari Raya.

We are tired now but the day's fresh as the dew, and hearken now to the sounds of Bilal Deramang and his companion Bilal Sa'id in two voices, one sonorous the other gruff, oh how beautiful and sad, the tugging in the heart sounds of the Takbir! And klaaang! and klaang! go the genta, an old bell on Bukit Puteri. The maidens living up there in the mist of legends must have been klaaanged from their slumber.

Now Father's looking smart with the apex of his handkerchief sticking out from the little pocket on the left breast of his baju, a place where the folded handkerchief with the bunga rampai potpourri sticks out in full aroma on wedding days, but Hari Raya isn't a potpourri day. Today it reeks of attar that came back with pilgrims from Makkah; his middle is wrapped in not quite the finest, but a good enough songket of Trengganu, bought from the shop of his friend Ustaz Su. And he wears his well-creased trousers to match the shirt, and that is the signal for us all. We are now ready to go.

Hari Raya is always a problem for me as I have trouble keeping the sampin tightly wrapped in the middle. It slides down the slippery trousers of some silky material, bought from the shop of our Tamil friend Abdul Hameed, and when the middle wrap starts to slide down, it needs to be readjusted and re-folded, and then twirled into a holding belt in the middle. It will be a great embarrassment if it comes down to rest on the floor around the shimmering trouser legs in the Masjid Abidin in the middle of prayers.

Around the Masjid, under the henna tree and the entrances towards Kampung Daik and another near the row of taps opposite the Lay Sing photo Studio are already teeming with people. Ku Haji Ambak and his sons in Middle Eastern garb, the paterfamilias with a round hat that seems to have been woven from some exotic straw, and their long robes brushing against other people in more familiar bajus tucked into the middle songkets glinting in the morning air. What a merry feast of Trengganu colours.

I always have my eyes at this time on the magnificent house that stands outside the mosque for that's our stop after prayers. There will be men handing out coins to children at the gate of the mosque and we'll be handed ten cents if we're lucky, but in the house of our uncle Ayah Pa and his wife Che Da (it's her family house actually) there'll be beleda with a crusty coat of sugar in the plate and ketupat to dip in peanut sauce and probably a cake laid out on a tray, made by a company called Big Sister, and there'll be buah ulu and laksam and maybe some nasi dagang too with the coconuty meat of the ikang aya (tuna).

The shops are closed but the mood is high. Adults exchange greetings and pleas for forgiveness for transgressions during the year, and the day's just about to start and it will end with us all bloated in the chair. There is a good view of the mosque from our uncle's upraised house, into the compound where the bilal will probably be seen in conversation with the imam, where people who are mosque regulars are still walking here and there. And there, outside the front mihrab tip of the mosque are the long stone pillars standing in rows, memorials to the royal family's deceased members.

The middle wrap of some fancy cloth is abandoned now and hands are dipping into the lower pockets of the Malay baju now jangling with coins and rustling perhaps with a dollar note or two. The lights are now fading into asar, time for the afternoon prayer, and we will soon be imbued in deep melancholy – of songs that endlessly sing the Hari Raya, of sounds that are gone but still droning from afar, lilting back and forth in memory, and lights and colours here and there.

As I sit here now thinking of that I see Mother now after her days of preparation in the kitchen, her face smiling, not basking in the joy of herself, but in vicarious pleasure from the enjoyment of seeing her children on Hari Raya.

Our beloved and departed family members, may Allah bless them all.

And I wish you all, my dear readers, a happy and blessed Eid ul Fitri.

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Passing of A Friend

I have to record with great sadness the passing of my dear friend Tengku Ismail Tengku Su at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London at approximately 4.30 pm London time yesterday, Saturday 13th August.

Tengku Ismail was in the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital for more than a month after suffering two heart attacks. He was here on a mission for his beloved Terengganu, to exhibit some of his songket collection at the Royal Weave exhibition at the Prince's School of Traditional Arts in July and for a presentation at Asia House.

He was given an emergency angioplasty procedure and stenting at the Royal Brompton to clear a clogged artery but recovery eluded him. For much of his time in hospital he was under induced sleep and even another angioplasty done later gave only minimal help to the damaged left ventricle of his heart.

His brother Tengku Yusof was by his bedside at the time of his passing.

I shall always remember Tengku Ismail as a very pleasant and cheerful man with much love for Terengganu handicraft, especially the weaving arts. He was responsible for the preservation of many Terengganu traditional houses which he brought together to his Pura Tanjung Sabtu resort in Kuala Terengganu.

He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the genealogy of the Terengganu royal house and was responsible for a beautiful facsimile reproduction of the Trengganu edition of the Tuhfat An Nafis, the original copy of which was kept by his family. He brought a copy of the Tuhfat to present to Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. In a rare moment when he was awake in his hospital bed, Tengku Ismail asked me to write a dedication in the book he brought for the Prince, but the Terengganu Duke of Songket - as he styled himself - never recovered from his illness to make the presentation.

His leaving us in this blessed month of Ramadhan is especially poignant for me as I remember in my childhood days that it was in this month that my mother would rush to the Tengku's parents' house in the precinct of the Istana Maziah to order for each of us a hand-stitched suit of Malay baju for Hari Raya. His late father, Tengku Su, was known for his tailoring skills and it was from him that Tengku Ismail inherited his interest in handicraft, design and weaving.

He was a student here in the early 1970s and coming back here gave him special joy as he was keen to revisit his old haunts. His legacy will be his works of design for the Terengganu royal regalia. He had friends throughout the world and his mild eccentricity made him an especially endearing man.

He turned 60 in hospital surrounded by friends. The Yang di Pertuan Agong DYMM Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin and the Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Nor Zahirah visited Tengku Ismail in his hospital bed earlier this month.

Tengku Ismail's funeral service will take place at the East London Mosque on Monday 15th August before burial at the Garden of Peace in Ilford. May Allah grant him jannah and place him among the righteous. Alfatihah.

NOTE 15 Aug.: Bureaucracy took time to process documents needed by Tengku Ismail in his to final journey home. His funeral will now take place on Tuesday 16th August at the place stated above.

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