Raya, yesterday and today

YESTERDAY, I was eight. Back then, at this time, I wouldn’t be indoors writing this. I’d be out there on my grandparents’ lawn, running around with my cousins in the bright afternoon sunshine in Kampung Laut, Kelantan.

Today, I’m 27. It’s 9.40am on the second day of Syawal and I’m parked in front of the computer. Trying to pin down the magic of Raya; the youthful exuberance that has lost its energy; the excitement I may have left behind, together with the songkok I blew up in 1991. (More on that later.)

Yesterday, Raya was the most eagerly awaited time of the year. Even before Ramadan, I’d ask my parents if we’re going back to Kelantan (my father’s side) or staying back in Kuala Lumpur for Raya (in Kampung Pandan, my mother’s side).

Travelling to the East Coast meant that I would have to brush up on my Kelantanese, or endure the taunting of my cousins, who would laugh mercilessly whenever I fumbled on the dialect. As a kid, the approval of cousins your age meant the world.

Today, the most eagerly awaited time of the year is the English Premier League. Raya is just a few days’ leave from work for me to regain the weight lost during the fasting month. So that I can fit back into pants that are getting loose, and not have to buy new ones.

Yesterday, Raya meant new clothing. From top to bottom. New songkok, as my head was getting bigger. New baju Melayu – just like the women folk at Malay weddings, I couldn’t be seen wearing last year’s colour. New sampin as I tore last year’s in a makeshift tug-of-war. And new shoes as the lifespan of an eight-year-old boy’s pair ends well before you can walk to the cash register.

Today, I’m typing these words in a Pagoda T-shirt and kain pelikat. Not quite the attire you’d see in a Raya commercial on TV. In fact, you’re more likely to see a flying sled.

Yesterday, Raya was a source of income. Not being a member of the Hilton family meant that I didn’t have a steady allowance to support my “needs”, such as X-Men figures and Tamiya cars. But thanks to the beautiful tradition of duit Raya, I was able to gather enough funds to last me until the following year.

(Statistics show that no more than 2% of children nationwide save their duit Raya in the bank. The other 98% splash it all by the third day ... unless the toy stores open on the second day.)

Today, I live in a parallel universe. Instead of raking in money, the ringgits start flying out of my wallet even before I can reach my sandals after Eid prayers. Kids flock to you that early.

Perhaps that’s why the baju Melayu is designed with all those pockets. For children to keep their notes and coins, and for adults to gather dust.

But all is fair I guess. I squeezed money out of their mums and dads when I was younger. That’s just how our economy evens itself out.

Yesterday, Raya was a time for war. That’s right. It was when children headed out to the battlefield, armed with fireworks (bought legally back then). We’d set up our arsenals on the field and attempt to out-blast the other kids in the neighbourhood.

Being the youngest among my cousins, I was more of the Sergeant General Observer. But when it came to preparing the fireworks, there was no question of whose songkok would be used to place the fireworks in position. My way of saving Private Ryan, I suppose.

Today, Raya is still a time for war. A different kind of war. You’ve got the Battle of Seremban or Dungun, Muar or Pekan, Tawau or Jasin, as couples criss-cross the country to head home for Raya.

While the winners of the balik kampung battle may triumph, they may still have to sit through their spouses’ long face throughout the journey. Hence the old Malay advice, “Cari yang dekat. Senang balik beraya” (meaning, “Look afar, and prepare for war”.)

Yesterday, Raya was great fun. Mainly because I had nary a care about everything else that was going on in the world.

Raya meant looking sharp in new clothing at 7am and having it all smeared in rendang by 10. It meant running around the house chasing chickens and goats for no reason before they chased us back.

It meant staying up past my bedtime because we wouldn’t let the other kids beat us with their fireworks, even if it meant a temporary loss of hearing. Today, Raya is, well, a bit different. The euphoria and non-stop excitement are simply no longer for me. Thing are quieter. Maybe it’s time to adjust myself and get into the groove of things – as an adult during Raya.

Then again, oftentimes these days, Raya is when adults sit at the hall and look at their cellphones while the children strangle themselves to get a hold of the PlayStation controller.

Alas, Raya yesterday or today, those dreadful movies you see on TV are here to stay.

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