Multicultural festivals in Malaysia have been anything but festive since the outbreak of Covid-19, leaving people stuck in unfamiliar territory and longing to be among loved ones back home.
The tune of Sudirman’s Balik Kampung blaring on the radio as well as in supermarkets may evoke nostalgic memories, but plans have to be put on hold for the time being.
This is following the implementation of the nationwide movement control order beginning yesterday and the interstate travel ban.
Last year, Muslims welcomed the new normal by embracing technology and resorting to video calls to stay connected with family and friends during Hari Raya Aidilfitri.
Although the number of visitors allowed in a house was subjected to a limit prescribed by the National Security Council, Malaysians alike put on a brave face and went with the flow.
This year’s Raya celebrations will be pretty much like last year, whereby everyone must be mindful in observing the government’s standard operating procedure while enjoying the festivities.
However, this will not dampen the spirits of some who look
forward to sharing the dawn of Syawal with neighbours.
Being good neighboursA low-key Hari Raya is not stopping Intan Maisara Abdul Halim, 20, and her family from giving festive treats to their non-Muslim neighbours in Port Klang.
Her father is from Banting, while her mother hails from Temerloh, Pahang but the family has lived in Klang for 10 years.
“On the first day of Raya, we used to visit relatives in different states but now with the MCO, it will be just spending time with immediate family.
“This is the time when we also greet our neighbours and share our favourite food such as lemang, ketupat, kuah kacang and chicken rendang, which are staples at this time of year,” she said, adding that duit raya would also be handed out.
Intan Maisara agrees that maintaining friendships with neighbours of different races and faiths is important.
“For Deepavali, our neighbour gives us murukku and other festive delicacies.
“It is important that we share and be kind to one another, especially during this challenging period,” she said.
Intan Maisara’s neighbour Viloshena Ravandran, 37, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 34 years with her father Ravandran @Ravindran Pakirisamy, 70, believes in the importance of maintaining good neighbourly relations.
She said the Covid-19 pandemic had made her re-evaluate the importance of humanity and humility.
“We are presented the chance to think about what we took for granted before Covid-19, including our relationships with neighbours.
“It is important to be thankful for what we have because those carefree days where we could mix around freely are behind us, for now,” she added.
Viloshena said Deepavali last year was a quiet affair too, so she and her neighbours exchanged cakes.
“Both my neighbours bake.
“During Ramadan, they shared food with us.
“At the end of day, race is nothing. It is the people closest to us who are most important,” she pointed out.
In USJ, Subang Jaya, musician and businessman Malik Abdullah, 55, and his wife Zainol Emilia Zainal Abidin or Mimie, 50, are once again embracing the not-so-new-normal of Raya via video calls with their relatives this year.
The father of four said Raya last year took on a different meaning altogether.
“At that point, we did not know what to expect.
“It was not a normal Raya morning because we needed to be careful when interacting with people at the mosque and in our neighbourhood.
“It was a strange year as Raya was celebrated just two months into the pandemic.
“Since it will be another ‘Zoom Raya’ this year, I may upgrade my TV so the screen can accommodate more people,” Malik joked.
In all seriousness though, he feels blessed to be in a neighbourhood with multiracial neighbours.
He makes it a point to inculcate the “love thy neighbour” and muhibbah spirit in his children as well.
“We teach them to be colour-blind to race, and of things out there that are specifically designed to pull us apart.
“They are teenagers, so I tell them to get off their smartphones and greet the neighbours regardless of whether it is the festive season or not,” he added.
Malik noted the urbanite problem of ignoring neighbours.
“This pandemic has made us realise that we cannot take for granted things we used to do before, like shaking hands in greeting and hugging.
“We cannot connect like we have done before the pandemic, so these small gestures and greetings matter,” he stressed.
Malik’s neighbour Chin Fui Lik, 62, and wife Ng Yoke Ying, 58, have lived in the area for 27 years.
Chin believes in maintaining good relationships with his neighbours, especially during festive seasons, as sharing is caring.
“Neighbours nowadays often don’t take the time to get to know each other.
“It is different from living in the kampung where everyone knows each other.
“Now with the pandemic, people don’t want to interact. It is all the more important that we as neighbours continue to maintain good relationships to share not only food but also important information,” he said. Wedded bliss amid pandemic
Daniel Teoh, 30, is excited about spending his first Raya with wife Nur Hafizah Ab Hadin, 30, who hails from Rantau Panjang, Kelantan.
Teoh, a coordinating officer with the Selangor government, met Nur Hafizah online in 2017.
She works with a government-linked company.
He converted in January and their marriage was solemnised in Kelantan.
What drew Teoh to Nur Hafizah was her pleasant personality and character.
“She is curious about the world, eloquent, observant and opinionated,” he told StarMetro.
With regard to embracing Islam, Teoh’s parents voiced their reservations initially on the conversion but they eventually understood and respected his decision.
“It is normal for them as parents to be worried about my future, so I had to dispel a lot of misconceptions they had and allay some of their fears,” said Teoh, the eldest of three boys.
For him, Ramadan is a time of quiet self-reflection, fasting and observing prayers.
He experienced fasting during Ramadan even before he converted, just out of curiosity.
“I come from a family who has similar practices of fasting,” he said, referring to his devout Christian parents.
“Honestly, refraining from drinking water is the most challenging.
“But other than that, fasting is very meaningful because we become tuned into our own body by experiencing hunger,” he said.
When the pandemic put a damper on Raya celebrations last year, Teoh only managed to call Nur Hafizah to wish her as they were not married yet.
“I made it a point to call her and talk to her family and relatives.
“We don’t have much planned for this year.
“She is the eldest daughter of six siblings. Her father has passed away.
“Her siblings were curious but open to me, although her mother was a bit reserved, which was understandable,” he said.
On a lighter note, he quipped that mastering the Kelantanese dialect was a challenge.
“I don’t speak it. It is a completely different dialect.
“But by virtue of my personality, I can easily talk to people, and I did well with Nur Hafizah’s family,” he added.