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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Cast From The Herd: Excerpt # 56: Answering The Call

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 56:  Answering The Call

During one family kenduri my grandfather surprised everyone with an announcement. He said that both he and my grandmother had had a dream, a distant call that they could not hear very well. They prayed hard since then to seek Allah’s guidance as to the meaning of that dream. There was no mistaking the heavy religious connotation–two individuals having the same dream at the same time. 

“We heard the seruan (call),” he declared, “it is your grandmother’s wish, as well as mine, to undertake our Hajj this season, Insha’Allah!” (God willing!) 

Silence greeted the announcement, and for good reason. The furthest anyone in our family had gone was to the adjacent state, a distance of at most fifty miles. Now we were talking about a trip across the continent, thousands of miles away. How audacious! 

Undeterred by the embarrassing silence, he continued. “I have a few thousand dollars saved from selling my buffaloes.” So that was the reason he had earlier suddenly sold his precious herd. It was more than that. Those buffaloes were his pets.

My Uncle Tahir, my grandparents’ youngest son, the teacher, responded. “The cost is not insignificant.” Sensing the discomfit he had created, he quickly added, “We are a big family. We can contribute. Emak and Bapak can make it!” 

The discussion then shifted. Now wild figures were thrown around and the atmosphere descended to that of an oriental bazaar, with prices stretched and then shortened like rubber bands. 

My usually taciturn Pak Khamis, unfamiliar with the big and rarified dollar figures bandied around, then spoke. “I don’t have much,” he said with a nervous giggle as he took a dollar note out of his pocket and placed it on the tray in front of him, “but I’ll put a little bit each day until grandpa and grandma here get their wish.” 

I did not know if that was a challenge for the rest to make their contributions right there and then, but he went on. “Grandpa and grandma here have six children. All three sons have good jobs, and the husbands of all three daughters also have good salaries, except my humble self.” 

Silence! The jab took a while to sink in. My Uncle Nasir salvaged the situation. “Emak and Bapak have heard the call. It’s up to us to make it happen.” 

“I had an offer for my land,” my grandfather interjected, perking himself up. 

My father too jerked up on hearing that. He was against selling land to finance a pilgrimage. The Hajj is incumbent only upon those who can afford it. In the end it was agreed that the journey was possible without having to sell any property. Then as everyone was readying for dessert, having solved the crucial funding issue, my grandfather again spoke. 

“There is one other matter,” he added as he adjusted his songkok (skull cap). 

Silence again. What could possibly top going for Hajj? 

“Your grandma and I cannot undertake this pilgrimage with a heavy heart,” straining as he shifted his pose while grimacing like a man stricken with painful piles. He had difficulty continuing. “Right now our hearts are weighed down. This journey will be long and hazardous; we might not return.” He could barely finish his sentence even with my grandmother softly massaging his shoulders. 

Every family has its skeletons. Some families are good at hiding them, others less so. I always knew that there was a rift in the family but could not figure out who the protagonists were. I assumed it was over a minor slight or unintended snub, as typically it would be. Or a squabble over a durian that grew out of a seed dropped by a monkey. Now that tree straddled the two properties and instead of bringing joy to both sides became the source of never-ending strife. Those were the nature of kampung disputes. They still are. 

It was then that I discovered that there had been a simmering rift between the husbands of my mother’s two older sisters, Pak Donchang who worked for Malayan Railway, and Pak Khamis who contributed that first dollar. I never did find out what caused the conflict as it was not brought up. Instead it was agreed that there should be a reconciliation kenduri to bring the two together. That would be the highest priority, for even if you were to have the funds but with the conflict unresolved, there would be no point undertaking the pilgrimage. Allah would not accept it and there would be no burkat (blessings). 

It fell on my father as the third orang semenda (male in-law) to do the mediating, a task he was not adept at or thrilled to undertake. He did not know of the intricacies of Adat Perpatih. He was also not close to the two in-laws as he had been posted out of the village most of the time. However, with everyone in a forgiving and reconciling mood, he had to oblige. He arranged the event for the upcoming December school holidays. 

Excerpt # 57:  A Uniquely Kampung-Style Dispute Resolution


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