AS in previous years, this Ramadan began with time-honoured traditions.
Returning to Seri Menanti, I joined the soldiers of the Royal Electric & Mechanical Engineer Corps in blasting the cannon to announce that fasting would start the next day, confirming the televised message of the Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal.
Then, the first terawih prayers were performed together with palace officials in the wooden surau next to Istana Besar.
After the first sahur with the family, I returned to Kuala Lumpur after the subuh prayer, enjoying the rising sun from the vantage points offered by the Bukit Putus bypass and the glorious stretches of the Lekas highway.
I see that highway quite a lot during Ramadan, since the usual schedule of board and annual general meetings continue unabated, alongside other corporate and charitable events.
In the villages of the Luak Tanah Mengandung – the area around Seri Menanti that come under the direct jurisdiction of the Yang di-Pertuan Besar (as opposed to areas of Negri Sembilan that have an Undang, or the Tunku Besar Tampin) – I was once again powerfully reminded of the blissful serenity that our rural settings provide.
Beyond the postcard-perfect padi fields, the innocent roaming of foraging animals, the cool breezes and the ability to actually see stars in a clear night sky, are the human features that make rural Negri Sembilan particularly unique: the dignified architecture of our little mosques, the slanted roofs of old houses that dot every village, the mellifluous melodies of the calls to prayer, and the tazkirah delivered in the local dialect – which somehow makes the messages much more engaging and convincing!
Not forgetting, of course, the food that is lovingly cooked by local communities, with superior beef rendang, ayam masak lemak cili api and fried ikan sembilang filling up one’s shrinking tummy before the eyes go wild at the ice-bejewelled cendol (using only the finest gula enau) and freshly grilled apam balik.
While these experiences represent the best of Ramadan, this year’s was also punctuated by loss.
On the 17th day of Ramadan, as Muslims were commemorating Nuzul Al-Quran (when the Prophet Muhammad is believed to have received his first revelation from God via the Archangel Gabriel), the fifth modern Sultan of Pahang, Paduka Ayahanda Sultan Ahmad Shah Al-Musta’in Billah, passed away.
In the throne room of Istana Negara, royalty and political leaders paid their respects, including the Prime Minister – the same as the one who first became Prime Minister in 1981 during Sultan Ahmad’s reign as the seventh Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
His popularity and impact as a Ruler was evidenced by the throng who crowded the streets of Pekan for his funeral, but the death of this long-reigning ruler also marked the end of an era for our nation.
With his signature clearly beside that of his father Sultan Abu Bakar, Sultan Ahmad (as the then Tengku Mahkota) was the last surviving witness of the Federation of Malaya Agreement 1957 that paved the way for the declaration of independence on Aug 31.
That historical nugget stayed in my mind, and it occurred to me that I should share it with Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim the next time I might meet him. But a few days later, he too passed away.
He was kind to me over the years and he served as an adviser to Ideas in its early days.
On behalf of the board, management and staff, I wrote that “his knowledge, experience and sensibility enabled us to grow. Malaysians of all generations and persuasions owe him a debt of gratitude for his decades of education, inspiration and provocation.”
Like the late activist and consumer advocate SM Mohamed Idris who died earlier in the month, he inspired many in Malaysian civil society.
As I was drafting this article, I received news that my aunt, Tengku Puteri Khadijah, after a long and brave fight, also passed away shortly after maghrib.
From her, I was educated and inspired as a child on many aspects of life and her advice remained consistently sound as I got older.
The tremendous qualities of her children – my closest cousins – are a testament to her extraordinary qualities.
As relatives and close friends congregated at the house, it was clear the bonds of family and friendship would ensure collective memories would endure and be transmitted to younger generations.
The most famous song by Datuk Dahlan Zainuddin, Kisah Seorang Biduan, who was buried near my aunt later the same day, speaks of personal evolution.
Yet, in this Ramadan’s spiritual and mortal encounters, I further appreciate how one’s personal
journeys, weaving through a collective cultural fabric, help provide shelter to everyone, even though our ultimate destination may be the same.
Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin is founding president of Ideas. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.