- Welcoming Syawal has never been as challenging as this year; no ‘balik kampung’ exodus and no open houses.
- Yet, a celebration still awaits signifying the completion of Ramadhan, offering a sense of fulfilment at the end of it all. Just like how all Malaysians will celebrate when we overcome the pandemic that has wreaked havoc the world over.
Growing up as a child in a multiracial suburb, the annual celebrations of Raya, Chinese New Year, Deepavali, and Christmas are something I look forward to every year, ever since I was a child.
Hailing from a straitened background, I lived right next to the family of Uncle Z and Auntie M, or Umi as I had fondly called her. Although I am of a different race, they treated me like a son, always prompting their children to kiss my hand whenever they saw me as a sign of respect as I am more senior to them. During Raya, I used to hang around with this wonderful family till the end of the day, helping Umi with the dishes and welcoming their string of guests.
I fondly remember that this lovely couple was not only great cooks but also shared the same interest in Alpha Romeo (Uncle Z owned one!) and Bruce Lee! The good times soon came to an end when Malaysia was hit by the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Uncle Z’s architectural firm suffered a tremendous loss. It broke him not only as a businessman, but also as an individual, and a breadwinner for his family.
Worse still, all these happened just before the month of Syawal. This was unprecedented for him, just like what we are facing today, as some people are badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Uncle Z did not relent to the predicament he was in, but instead, he fought on for his family. What worried him the most at that time, was probably how his young children would celebrate Raya that year.
How would he explain to them that “this” Raya would be different, and that they would need to don their old Raya clothes? What would he say if anyone were to ask what he would be cooking for Raya?
Although he managed to have a simple Raya celebration that year, Uncle Z’s resilience brought a deeper meaning to ‘Aidilfitri’ – which means a celebration of one’s state of purity and innocence – back to its original disposition. It was certainly a Raya celebrated with utmost humbleness.
However, would this be the new normal for him?
It certainly was not! Against all odds, Uncle Z not only turned things around, but celebrated Raya in its truest sense in the following years.
“You must be shapeless and formless like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can also drip and splash. So, be like water my friend.” This was Bruce Lee’s quote, which became a mantra for Uncle Z as he battled his way through the crisis.
Though Uncle Z had since passed on, I am proud to share his story which many of us can relate to especially with the current situation we are facing. Some may break tradition to welcome Syawal this year, and some may not even be able to celebrate altogether. Many may still be hoping for a simple Raya celebration while strains of Tan Sri P Ramlee’s Dendang Perantau add to the festive air.
In short, Hari Raya will be different this year; no ‘balik kampung’ exodus and no open houses. Welcoming Syawal has never been more challenging. Yet, a celebration still awaits signifying the completion of Ramadhan, offering a sense of fulfilment at the end of it all. Just like how all Malaysians will celebrate when we overcome the pandemic that has wreaked havoc the world over.
We will rise soon, Malaysia! If Uncle Z could do it then, then we can all do it now too!
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Selamat Hari Raya 2020, Malaysia!