Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Way We Were #3 - the nights of my life

Every morning, at about 5.40, I would hop on my grandpa’s old Raleigh bicycle holding my school bag and a torch light. Grandpa would then cycle me the half mile of the dirt road to the main road to catch the only bus which would bring me to school 16 miles away. Come rain or shine, for 6 years of my primary school days, grandpa never missed this routine. When it rained, the dirt road would be soiled with mud and it would be impossible or difficult to cycle. He would then pushed the bicycle with me on it, trying to hold my school bag, a torch light and also an umbrella. He would be drenched sometime but he would just push the bicycle anyway. My grandma, in all her earnest intention of not wanting me to dirty my white school shoes, would even cover my shoes with plastic bags. She would tie the plastic bags around my ankle with rubber bands. I was brought up surrounded by that kind of unselfish, undivided, and pure love. Which made me wonder now, why is this world so full of hatred. Which made me ill-equipped, to cope with and understand all the hatred, envy and malice surrounding us these days. It was not until I left home for a boarding school that I learned, to a certain degree, to deal with hatred and malice. To say that I was shocked would be an understatement.

I remember those mornings vividly, like I remember those beautiful nights in the kampung. But nothing can beat the feeling I, and I think every other kampung folk, felt during “musim timur” (the eastern season). “Musim Timur” is the harvesting season. It is so called because the eastern wind would blow strongly during that time. This eastern wind would bring a fresh air of happiness and an aura of merriment throughout the kampung. After all, it is the harvesting season. For at least 4 months after this season, there would be no sufficient rain, or at all, for the kampung folks to plant padi. This state of affairs would continue until the Kedah government came up with a life changing irrigation plan in the early 70s. Upon implementation, padi could be planted twice a year, and now 5 times in 2 years. This undoubtedly economically improved the lives of thousands of padi planters in Kedah. It is proof that the government don’t need to embark on multi billion ringgit mega projects to improve the lives of its citizen.

The eastern wind is a cold wind blowing from the east marking the start of some kind of a drought season. The days would begin, and end, that much earlier than usual during this season. In the morning, when I was on that old Raleigh bicycle, the wind would just be a soft breeze, which would envelope my body with a degree of coldness, the like of which I would not be able to describe in words. It was cold, but not in a skin biting way a winter wind would inflict. It is soft in its coldness, softly caressing my body with coldness rather than biting its way into my skin and underneath.

During this season, I would be on the bicycle, looking at the clear sky. Thousands of stars scattered across the horizon. And sometimes, some shooting stars would move across like fireworks in the sky, leaving a trail of beautiful sparks in its path until the head vanished to destruction. How could something be so beautiful when it is leading to its death? And in the middle of the month, sitting among the thousands of stars, majestically, would be the moon, like a mother watching over all her children, sometimes smiling, sometimes grinning, but all the time with love and unbridle affection. Yes, from the time I was a small child, I had always been enthralled by the moon.

When the kampung folks were busy harvesting, kids like me would be enjoying the longer days by swimming in the river and flying kites. My brother was quite an accomplished kite maker. He would cut some bamboo, take some old newspaper, concocted glue out of tapioca flour, buy some coloured papers for the kites’ tail, buy some strong string and make a huge wau bulan or wau merak (“wau” is “kite” in the Malay language while “bulan” is “moon” and “merak” is a type of bird the name of which, in English, I do not know).

While my brother was making the kite, I would take a piece of bamboo and bent it like a bow. I would than take some coconut leaves and dried them under the sun. When the leave was dried, the two end of the bow would be strung by the dried coconut leave. This was known as a “dengung” (loosely translated, “dengung” is “vibration”). This contraption would be placed on the kite, at the upper body. When the kite was flown, the strong upper atmosphere wind would cause the dried coconut leave to vibrate and this would generate a humming sound which could be heard form afar, especially at night.

When the kites were ready, we would start our attempt to fly them in the late afternoon. They wouldn’t fly just like that. A lot of adjustments had to be made to make the kites fully balanced. It would just be trials and error. But time was with us. Time was in fact not a factor for kids like me in the kampung. We always have the time for everything. Where have all the time gone to now? I really don’t know.

By the evening, the kites would be flown in the padi field. We would normally fly at least 2 kites. When the kites were stably flying up above, we would stick a big piece of wood to the ground and tie the kites there. We would stay there for a while to look at them and then we would leave for home for a bath and dinner. Then we would be in bed by about 9.30pm.

If the next day were not a school day, my brother and I would wake up at about 2 am. After washing our face, we would go to the veranda and sat there, watching the beautiful nights in all its glory. Thousand of stars among the clear sky. And from afar, I would hear the distinctive hum of the “dengung” attached to the kites. We would then make our way to the dirt road in front of my house and walked towards the padi filed.

There I would stand up, looking into the nights with awe. I just loved nights like this. The clear sky. The stars. The shooting stars. The kites dancing back and forth, up and down, left and right to the tune of the eastern wind. The wind blowing on my cheek, caressing my whole body with coldness and messing up my hair. The hum of the dried coconut leaves attached to the kites. And right behind the kites, amidst the stars, would sit the…moon! A clear, bright, gleaming, pristine white moon. The biggest moon I had ever seen. The most beautiful moon in my whole life! I mean, I had seen the moon near the Eiffel Tower, on the banks of the Thames, at the lake district, from a hill at Aberystwyth, but the kampung moon that I had come to know, and love, is by far, the most amazing moon I had ever seen in my whole life.

And those were the nights I would cherish till now…the nights of the kites, the stars and the moon in my kampung.

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