The glorious kampung spirit
“A kite in the evening sky”, an autographical novel divulging in tales of kampung life in Geylang Serai, gets 3 publication rights since 1989
Just two days before Hari Raya Aidilfitri this year (on 13 June 2018), some 3,770 ketupat casings were hand-weaved from stripped coconut leaves in a marathon dubbed “Ketupat-thon”, a 12-hour feat for charity at the newly-opened Wisma Geylang Serai.
Called “Ketupat-thon Charity” the event was led by Malay Grassroots Advisers to support Tabung Amal Aidilfitri (TAA). More than $36,500 were collected and donated to TAA for distribution to the poor and needy.
Some 600 participants, some expert weavers, some novices, weaved the casings which would be used to make ketupats (rice cakes) fr Hari Raya guests.
I was present at this event
Two scenes were nostalgic to me – the area now occupied by Wisma Geylang Serai and the weaving of the ketupat casings (with young coconut leaves called janur).
Way back in the early 1960 I lived in Geylang Serai and used to play bola chapteh (chicken feather “ball”) and gasing (wooden tops) with friends who lived in this very ground of Wisma Geylang Serai where attap- and zinc-roofed houses as well as a prominent wooden-beam and plank shop, occupying a sizable area, stood. It belonged to a Chinese construction supplies dealer.
The other nostalgic memory is that of ketupat casing weaving, a practice among some kampung households, held a couple of days before Hari Raya Aidilfitri. The ketupat would be cooked on the eve of Hari Raya, and eaten with serunding, lodeh and sambal goreng on Hari Raya when relatives and friends come visiting with the greeting “Assalamu-alaikum. Selamat Hari Raya”.
Well, for us male teenagers, voluntarily joining a group of young people weaving ketupat casings not only enlivened the festive mood but we got to throw glances at the girls sitting in the same circle absorbed in the task.
In the late 1980s, with the memory of such kampung indulgence and spirit still fresh in my memory, I wrote my kampung days’ experiences in a book, “A kite in the Evening sky” which was published by EPB Publishers in 1989.
I wrote it with the hope that present-day people would know that there were kampungs in Singapore. In the “Epilogue” of the book, I wrote: “I enjoyed kampung life with all its difficulties, peculiarities and qualities. And there was that kampung spirit we cherished…neighbours mingled easily to chit-chat or give a helping hand as houses do not have fences and children played together outside theirs or their neighbours’ homes.”
“A kite in the evening sky” attracted the attention of the Times Heritage Library to produce five books from five different authors to be made into school literature texbooks, and in 2000 Federal Publications published it.
To revive and cherish the kampung spirit, early this year (2018), “A kite in the evening sky’ was republished by Marshall Cavendish with two additional chapters.
The book contains my firsthand account of growing up in a Geylang Serai kampung in the late 1950s and 1960s. It was a time when children spent the hours after school playing with friends, eating fresh jambu directly plucked from the tree, hauling pails of water home from the public standpipe located at some distance away, attending prayers at the surau, learning to fast, learning to read the Qur’an as well as frequently attending cowboy movies from the 10-cents open-air cinema deep in Jalan Alsagoff and doing kampung roaming and visiting the Taj cinema, Garricks cinema and the Queen’s cinema, all along the Changi Road-Geylang Road stretch, to look at the display of photos of “Now showing” and “Coming soon” movies.
Like the chicken which had plenty of fresh air and exercises when they fought and chased each other, we teenagers had plenty of exercises too when we played catching, hide and seek, lereng, gasing, marbles; we went picking up thrown bus-tickets at the bus-terminus near the Taj cinema to play guessing numbers, we went “hunting” with self-made catapults; we climbed trees; we made our own chaptehs; we erected lampu colok to light up the kampung in the last ten days of Ramadan to enliven the Hari Raya mood.
We glassed our strings to fly kites; we flew kites high and far; we engaged in fierce kite-battles and we chased after “lost” kites during battles, sometimes injuring our bare-footed legs when we stepped on pieces of broken glass or exposed nails.
Many games we invented ourselves; many of the game rules we formulated ourselves, and many a times we furiously argued when the rules were flouted, and sometimes fist-blows ensued, but soon forgotten.
We admire the people of those days but we would not want the environment and its inconveniences, for instance of rushing to go to the jamban and finding it occupied; lining up to the “bathroom”, carrying pails of water from the government standpipes, all away from home. Definitely not!
Those were the days, my days and the days of many others, the days when kampung spirit prevailed. Today, we need to bring back the kampung spirit – the gotong-royong practice, the berkawan practice, the tolong-menolong practice.
Many in the kampung were poor but they maintained friendship. My family too was poor. My “jaga” father passed away when I was about seven and my widowed mother took care of me and my two sisters as we grew up enjoying our kampung days.
Subtitled “Tales of kampung life in Geylang Serai”, the book, in its blurb, records: “Thoughtful, amusing and heartwarming, these stories hark back to simpler days and humble ways, offering us a vivid glimpse of the kampung that raised the child.”
According to the publisher, “In Singapore, the book is available in all Kinokuniya Bookstores and the Kinokuniya webstore: https://singapore.kinokuniya.com/bw/9789814794428 as well as in Popular bookstores. In Malaysia, the book is available in Kinokuniya KLCC and Popular Malaysia stores. Online, the book will be available over all Amazon platforms, The Book Depository and Fishpond World.”
The kampungs of Singapore are gone for the better but we need to retain and maintain the glorious kampung spirit in our satellite towns.
26 July 2018