WHEN I was in kindergarten, my father was the head of Radio Television Malaysia’s News Department. His second home was Angkasapuri and because of the nature of his work, I can count with my then, tiny stubby fingers, the number of times we went back to Taiping, my mother’s kampung, for Hari Raya Aidilfitri.
It was always spent in Petaling Jaya. The celebration would kick off with the countdown — malam tujuh lekor — about a week before Hari Raya, when Daddy would light up pelita around the house. On the eve of Raya , every male in the family, including the boys, would gather at a designated meeting point, and visit the houses along our road for the yearly takbir.
The ladies would be busy cooking special dishes to serve everyone. To this day, my 42-year-old brother, Abang, remembers the various houses’ signature dishes. These included laksa Johor, kebab, sambal sotong and soto.
On the first day of Raya, we would troop over to my grandmother’s house in Section 6. She was fondly known as Atok. Daddy would insist that we go as early as possible because he loved to perform his Raya prayers at the mosque my grandfather, Pateh Akhir, helped to build. Almost all of my Daddy’s siblings would be there. Every year, the ladies would help Atok prepare a big feast while the men made their way to the mosque for prayers.
Later in the evening, almost all our relatives would come over to our house to feast on my Mak’s delicious signature dish — special fried chicken and soto adorned with shreds of chicken, scrumptious perkedel (fried mashed potato ball with chicken/beef, herbs and other condiments). As Daddy liked everything to be freshly made, Along and Mak would usually be busy in the kitchen, frying the perkedel and specially marinated chicken, while Abang and Akak usually helped out with the dirty dishes and served the rendang, kuah kacang and ketupat.
As the youngest in the family, I was given the easiest task. My assignment was to refill the empty cookie jars and insert money in duit raya packets. However, as I grew older, the responsibilities that I had to shoulder increased, and I became part of the cleaning crew. Things changed when I got married and, boy, was I in for a culture shock. Suddenly, I was thrown in a situation, where I had to meticulously plan a balik kampung trip. Due to the unpredictable nature of my husband’s job, we could never really plan and decide on the day we would travel back to his hometown, Kota Baru. Hence, more often than not, we would be among the thousands of people contributing to the heavy traffic flow along Karak Highway and Gua Musang.
The Raya rituals were different. There was no house-to-house takbir on the eve of Raya. And, on the morning of Hari Raya, everyone, excluding those with young children, would go to the mosque for raya prayers, a first for me. Also, instead of trooping over to someone else’s house, my father-in-law’s house was the focal point.
Hence, my mother-in-law would be cooking up a storm on the eve of Raya, to cater to the throngs of visitors.
Her signature dish, ayam kuzi, was a crowd favourite. People could be seen mopping the gravy off their plates with tiny, buttery buns.
Her nasi bukhari, served with chicken, acar nenas and the special tomato sambal, was scrumptious.
At times, I could not help but ponder on how my husband’s way of celebrating Raya was similar, but also different from mine.
This is what I find beautiful about culture and tradition. Even though we are Muslim and Malay, there isn’t a specific way to celebrate Hari Raya.
Admittedly, differences in culture and tradition can be divisive, but, when acknowledged, understood and celebrated, they can also be instrumental in promoting unity.
What is important, I suppose, is to learn to adapt. But, adapting and fitting in is not as easy as one might think. A renowned intercultural communications scholar, Sverre Lysgaard, wrote extensively on the process of adaptation.
The phases – honeymoon, culture shock, adjustment and mastery – explain about the transition process experienced by the individuals in the attempt to understand the culture and quality of life in a new environment.
As I am well into my 11th year of marriage, I feel that I have got over the initial culture shock. However, there is always something new that I am learning from my husband and his family, and that means I have yet to reach the master phase.
To be honest, I am not sure if anyone can firmly claim that they have reached the master phase because people change all the time and, to me, that means we are constantly kept on our toes as we try to adapt to change.
**The writer loves spending her weekends at her hometown, Kampung Tunku. During the weekdays, she can be found giving lectures at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities