Even though it was balik kampung season, Mustafa K Anuar couldn’t help musing about current events, thoughts of which kept cropping up at the unlikeliest moments.
Going back to one’s hometown is a familiar ritual with most Malaysians when it comes to celebrating religious festivities such as Hari Raya.
Predictably, they drive in droves, clogging the already-choked main arteries of the country’s road system. Many pay the highway tolls in the hope of a swift journey but only to find themselves eventually locked in a staggering traffic jam leading out of the Klang Valley. But looking on the brighter side of things, this may well be an integrated and clever strategy of the authorities to help keep the highway safe by slowing down traffic in this fashion.
You, of course, have another option to balik kampung by taking the express buses, some of which are truly speedy Road Runners that can assure you a fast track to your final destination in more ways than one.
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All things considered, it is worth the tolls and tribulations, though, knowing fully well that at the end of the day one gets to visit and see one’s parents (and grandparents), siblings and other relatives on an auspicious day like Hari Raya.
Perhaps equally, if not more, important is that the family reunion revolves around finger-licking food and local delicacies. You banter and laugh out loud, and in another moment sink your teeth into the unmistakable ketupat, the riveting rendang and the sizzling satay.
There is a noticeable difference this year, though. The dutiful cows were not only slaughtered according to Islamic rites so that they were deemed halal; they were also kept in squeaky hygienic condos before the end of their collective lives.
In other words, the beef was bought and acquired from the slaughter house that is clean or, as in the Malay language, bersih. In fact, it is a guarantee worth the buzzwords, Janji Bersih!
But, of course, on a day when peace and happiness are of paramount importance, we would rather use the English terminology that doesn’t connote chaos, melee and, lo and behold, violence — let alone free and fair election.
To be sure, let us not politicise those poor apolitical cows; they are not like us humans who are, or mostly are, inherently political animals. As the state of politics in the country now stands, it is indeed as sacrilegious to politicise those four-legged creatures as it is the two-legged beings. Besides, there is a time and place for politics — which can only be determined by the powers-that-be.
Moreover, these cows didn’t suffer from the kind of foot-in-the-mouth disease that normally afflicts many a local politician in these days of waiting anxiously for the coming general election. At the most, these grass-munching animals can only mutter a feeble moo that could hardly violate the amended Evidence Act even though they’re on their own terrain.
Or, the cows would only leave some cow dung in their tracks as incriminating evidence of their otherwise unlawful assembly. This is, of course, not to imply that some animals are more equal than others.
The mouth-watering dishes such as rendang, lemang and satay would keep you busy for the rest of the day just as the sweet cakes or kuih — which are thrust onto you — would pleasantly occupy you for a wee bit longer.
Lemang, which is glutinous rice mixed with coconut milk, is encased in bamboo heated above hot fire. One only has to be careful not to let the ashes, or abu (not to be confused with the equally hot ABU buzzword), get into one’s eyes especially when there is wind blowing while the bamboo-ed lemang is being cooked.
The traditional kuih talam seri muka is one sweet kuih you’d die for. This is, of course, not the same as the much-talked about Talam in the mainstream media where certain politicians displayed a craving for Talam as if they were in the sixth week of pregnancy, if you know what I mean. This controversy may well border on talam dua muka.
While family members and relatives are expected to gather around the good food, friends of other faiths and political affiliations are welcome too, especially at a time when “open house” is happily declared by the hosts. Only thing is, these people of different beliefs and creeds should go to the festive homes with an open mind so as to avoid unnecessary suspicion of mass conversion of their collective palate.
Only if and when the Raya is taken in the right spirit would a promise of a good feast and company become fulfilled. Or to borrow the hackneyed expression of the moment, janji ditepati.