…kampungku indah nun jauh di sana…
I no longer have a kampung. And how I define a kampung as is a place where my grandparents lived, and either parent originated from, and filled with my childhood memories. Since we hardly went back to Teluk Intan (my father’s hometown) when my paternal grandmother was still alive: Kampung Jerangsang, Mukim Tanjung Besar, Daerah Benta, Negeri Pahang was the only kampung I have vivid memories of. And the month of Ramadhan is always closely associated with a kampung, underscored by the late Sudirman’s song “Balik Kampung.”
Back in the early 70’s, the house my late grandparents used to live in consisted of only 3 parts: the serambi (the verandah where guests were entertained), the Rumah Ibu (the main part of the house that had only two rooms, one was occupied by late grandparents, the other was by my youngest uncle before he went off to England to further his studies back in 1972), and the Dapur (the kitchen). At the edge of the dapur, the planks were made of 2-inch boards with gaps in between as it served as the toilet at night. Those were the times when tigers and communist terrorists alike, used to roam at night, not to mention some supernatural beings they say. The bathroom was a well on the left-hand side of the house, where, during those early days, we had to employ a pail attached to a rope to fetch water.
The house was separated from the paddy fields behind it by a small stream that looked somewhat wide when I was little. My elder cousins used to bathe in it, and I have seen people fish in it. But what I remember most about the stream is the coconut tree trunk that used to straddle it, that was used by my cousins for mass crap-dumping sessions after dinner, while the younger ones like I, and my cousin Harry, would have to stand guard with a torchlight to “light” up the dark night.
The house eventually “grew” in size; in the end it had 2 other rooms added, three bathrooms (one ended up as a store) with flush toilets. Electricity came to Jerangsang very slowly. In the early 80’s we had 12-hour electricity, that eventually became 24-hours in the late 80’s. Water supply came in around the early 1990’s, but that was more to supplement the fresh cold stream water we tapped from the hills nearby.
Hari Raya would see us: aunts and uncles, and cousins get together as one, catching up with those who did not live in KL as most did. And because of the celebration being in a kampung, it was more traditional in nature than it would be in larger towns and cities. Two days before hari raya, arrival at the kampung was never followed by a good rest. You would be assigned to a task: the men would have to help make rendang, lemang and dodol, while the womenfolk, led by my grandmother, would be in the kitchen, cooking other dishes that could be eaten with the lemang, or for the breaking of fast later in the evening. And every night after, we would have fireworks and firecrackers to play with, much to my father’s chagrin. On Hari Raya itself, we would have members of the police field force (now police general operations force) on duty in that area coming over to the house on my father’s invitation, to eat good food.
Later in the 80’s, one by one the older cousins would start their own family, and have their own life. Although they do make it a point to go back to Jerangsang, we would only meet each other there on alternate years, or not at all since their alternate years of being there is when others were away. That’s one of the ways how us cousins grew apart.
My last hari raya spent there with my grandparents was just a month before my grandfather passed away. Still reeling from my divorce and the Asian Financial Crisis, I went back to Jerangsang with whatever money I had left with me. I am glad I made that journey as it would be the last time I would see my grandfather as his usual jovial self. He even got a masseur for me that hari raya day because I had sprained my back so bad I could not lift my right arm or breathe without feeling pain. A month later, I saw him at the hospital, post-surgery, in a coma; and he passed away not long after. My grandmother followed him exactly six-months later, which, I believe, was more because she missed him terribly, than because of the sudden onset of terminal cancer.
It was decided by my mom’s family that my late uncle should stay there with his family to look after the house. We went back for hari raya again the following year. Yes, it wasn’t the same without the matriarchal and patriarchal figures around, but nevertheless we managed to keep the family together still.
Then my uncle passed away in an accident in 2002. Subsequently it was decided to rent the house out to aliens from a neighbouring state. With that, we cousins have lost the final link: a place that would have brought us all together as one, as it used to for decades.
Gone are the laughters of the members of the fourth generation, the stupid jokes the third generation would trade; we cousins now hardly know what’s happening to one another. Let’s not even talk about if any of our children know each other, save for one or two second cousins.
And as I sit typing this posting out, I can still remember the smell of the crisp cold fresh air, the mist-covered top of the hills behind the paddy fields, and the hot black coffee we would enjoy with our late grandfather, served with cream crackers…and ponder upon the thought of having to return to my wife’s kampung for the rest of my life…her kampung, where only love exists, but devoid of childhood memories.
I hope, if any of my cousins are reading this, please let us get together one day, with photos of our beloved kampung and let us scan these pictures and distribute them. I’m sorry but I have none.
For those who still have a kampung to return to, preserve your kampung and the link between families. You have no idea how it feels to have lost a kampung.