Kuah Nasi Dagang: An Introspection

It was on a Thursday morning when my mother decided that she and I should attempt to cook a traditional kuah Nasi Dagang Terengganu– which is not the simplest of tasks. It is so hard to get the dish right that most of the kuah Nasi Dagang sold at roadside stalls or even at high-end restaurants terribly miss their marks. Just ask any ‘Orang Tranung’ on how hard it is to find a kuah Nasi Dagang which tastes like the traditional, fondly remembered and possessively loved kuah Nasi Dagang. My mother was excited because the last time (and the first time) we attempted to cook the dish, it was very close to being right. I agreed to partake in the adventure, partly because I am fond of cooking, but mostly because I have always been obsessed with preventing old ancestral recipes from vanishing.

However, sometimes in my passionate crusade to preserve cultural heritage and thwart off revolutionisation, I run into a formidable foe; self-doubt. “What is the point of all this?” it asks, as I blended a few pre-soaked dried chillies to make ‘cili giling’ for the kuah. What is the point of preserving recipes someone found and proclaimed to be the staple food of your culture? What is the point of dedicating your life to protect and preserve yesterday? Why can’t the modern kuah Nasi Dagang, which can be tasty in its own rights– just very unconventional, be accepted as the new kuah Nasi Dagang? Is it blasphemy to revolutionise traditional cooking?

In fact, many ‘Orang Tranung’ who migrated out of Terengganu have already gotten confused about how a kuah Nasi Dagang should taste like. So why must we go the extra mile to find the right amount of jintan manis and the right amount of kerisik and wait for the long hours it takes to ‘mati air ikan’ (a process where you boil your fish with seasoning and other stuff for hours until the bones of the fish turn soft), simply to find the right recipe to recreate a dish and pass it down to the future generation? Is preserving an old recipe, a cultural heritage, that important? What even is the importance and significance of our cultural heritage?

“Our heritage is our identity,” my mind will chasten, trying to stifle my self-doubt. It is what sets us apart from others. It is the source of our integrity and principles. To thwart it, to replace it, to adopt something new and not ourselves will be to shed our sense of being and dress up in costumes; pretending to be someone we are not. To modernise the sacred recipes we inherited from our ancestors is to leave our heritage in dusty, dingy basements in favour of replacing it by purchasing something new, something different and exciting, but not us. In doing so, we forget ourselves. We forget how special our culture is. We forget to champion our culture and our country to make it a formidable presence on the international stage.

We abandon our Nasi Dagang and Ikan Singgang and Baju Kurung Pesak because we are bewitched by Kombuchas and Kimchis and pastas and oversized hoodies. Not to say that it is wrong for us to appreciate international food (I love pasta and croissants and British tea). But if we were to leave and forget our own heritage, our own identity, allowing it to quietly disappear and be extinct in favour of adopting someone else’s rule of life (a.k.a. lifestyle), then who do we become?

Thus, as I stir my kuah Nasi Dagang, waiting for it to ‘pecah minyak’, I ponder about how proud the French are about their croissants. And how devastating it is that neither my mother nor I have been able to cook Rendang Hati the way my late Nenek (my maternal grandmother) cooked it when I was younger. And how we never asked my late Jiddah (my paternal grandmother) for her Kuih Pa recipe. And how disheartening it is to watch a large fraction of Malay young adults obsessing about wearing their costumes right first and covering their aurat second (wear short socks that expose your ankles and short trousers that expose your knees) and how some of them simply do not understand the fault in it (“netizens are too negative” and “tak suka jangan tengok”). And how lucky I am to have grown up in the right environment under my parents’ care and to have chosen the right role model (my Atuk who was always trying to improvise and modernise things but still protected cultural heritage and taught me about the importance of it as he reads his daily Utusan Malaysia). And yes, I will dedicate my life to this cultural heritage and history preservation crusade that I have been fighting for since I was a child. And I will continue to proudly wear my hand-me-down Baju Kurung Pesak on Hari Raya– knowing that people of my age make faces at the sight of them because the Baju Kurungs were too out of date and not resembling Western or Korean dresses enough.

And so as we sat down for lunch, with the steaming hot pot of kuah Nasi Dagang placed at the centre of the dining table, I was relieved and overjoyed because everyone thought that the kuah Nasi Dagang turned out fantastic, authentic and finally right.

Tulisan Jawi

“ارفع كلماتك ولا ترفع صوتك فالمطر هو الذي ينبت الورود وليس الرعد”
Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows roses, not thunder.
-Jalaluddin al-Rumi

To preach is so much easier than to practice. Such is often the case. For to speak words of virtue and idealistic views is far simpler than to be a change; foreign and, subsequently, isolated and frowned upon. Yet, just how far can we go if we only talk, but do not walk? How long can we shout the same words before it becomes nothing but a broken record? 

Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows roses, not thunder.

Throughout the many years that I have spent writing and worrying about the future of our nation and its rich heritage, I have always been upset and frustrated about my subpar capabilities in writing and conversing in my own mother tongue; Bahasa Melayu. I felt as if I am a hypocrite; preaching about how important it is to protect our culture and heritage and yet, being unable to master Bahasa Melayu myself. I wasn’t incapable of conversing and writing in Bahasa Melayu, but I often make grammatical mistakes and my vocabulary index was so shallow that it was laughable.

Then, one quiet morning in November 2018, I was blessed with the opportunity to meet Allahyarham Tan Sri Dato’ Haji Omar Mohd Hashim, who played a key role in establishing the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examination to replace the Cambridge’s examination and empowered the role of Bahasa Melayu in our primary and secondary education. On top of that, he was also one of the people responsible behind the construction of Wisma Sejarah as the headquarters for Persatuan Sejarah Malaysia– which was where I accidentally met him as he was reading a newspaper (Utusan) in the library. And for a man who played such a great role in preserving and strengthening the role of our own language as well as our history, he was greatly uncelebrated. He rode a humble car and dressed in smart, but humble clothes and looked at me perplexed when I asked for his autograph because he didn’t understand why would I ask for his autograph. And from this experience and the words that he wrote and spoke throughout his lifetime, I came to understand that he didn’t care about the fanfares which came with his many credentials. All that he wanted was to preserve and strengthen the role of our language and history and thus, he worked to ensure that it happened by raising his actions and words, and not his voice.

Thus why I was inspired to take the opportunity to relearn Bahasa Melayu from the basics and try my very best to finally master the language while I was studying for my SPM examinations last year so that I won’t just simply excel in the exams, but can write and speak in the same language that my forefathers spoke in. And now, I can proudly say that my proficiency in Bahasa Melayu has immensely improved and my “karangan” being arguably better than that of my elder sister’s.

Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows roses, not thunder.

For the past months, the issue of including a section to observe our traditional script, Jawi, in the Bahasa Melayu syllabus has been so hotly debated that half of us have forgotten the point of including the section in our syllabus in the first place. However, for all the damages it has caused, what good has the debate brought us? Are the ones who shout as they defend the decision to include the Jawi script in our syllabus actually using the script in their daily lives and working to ensure that the script is preserved by teaching their children to appreciate, love and write in the script? Everyone left and right are screaming and shouting about the implementations of the action, and the implementations of opposing the actions, and the implementations of opposing the opposition of the action that it is dangerously close to turning into an annoying sound like that of a mosquito which the public would swat away when they hear it, or a grenade which explodes and destroys bridges in between friends, neighbours and the nation.

Then, the Raja Permaisuri Agong, Tunku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah binti Almarhum Al-Mutawakkil Alallah Sultan Iskandar Al-Haj, simply posted four words in Jawi script on her twitter calling for the public to “هيدوڤ کن کݢوناٴن توليسن جاوي”, or to start writing and applying the usage of the Jawi script in our daily lives, and subsequently only wrote in Jawi script on her Twitter. However, her actions have triggered thousands of Malaysians to start learning and using the script on social media as well as their daily lives; a refreshing and exuberant sight for all of us. Her Majesty didn’t call for war or for us to preach to those who are bent on despising and calling our traditional script propaganda. All that Her Majesty did was to call for us to practice it in our daily lives and encouraged it by doing so herself. Yet, the good it has brought us is tenfold the effect we have seen from the months-long debate on Tulisan Jawi.

Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows roses, not thunder.

We’ve heard these words from Jalaluddin al-Rumi countless of times– perhaps, have even quoted it. Yet, how often do we sit back and ask ourselves if we are embodying it? How often do we sit back and reflect on our past actions and look for countless of times we went against the words we preach? 

Forgetting Our Future

At times like these, I wonder how can the people — not just the youngsters, forget the ones we owe our lives to. Perhaps it doesn’t matter because we are here today and let yesterday be what it is; the past.

It pains me as I watch faces who said that they are a part of us leave the moment they thought they see glitter on the other side of the river. Perhaps it doesn’t matter because there’s a chance that tomorrow you’ll find a golden apple and let today be what it eventually will be; history.

It tortures me when I realise that no one is concerned about how we are all forgetting the values which promise tomorrow. How no one is concerned about how the water that we saved in hopes to live through the years of drought is rapidly seeping out from the cracks of old age. How no one is concerned enough to fix the cracks and replenish the reservoir so that we can make it through tomorrow. Perhaps it doesn’t matter because we’re sleeping with a full stomach today and let tomorrow be what it is; uncertain, unfound — lost.

KUALA LUMPUR, 21 Feb — PEMBAKAR SEMANGAT … Peranan besar tulisan Jawi pada akhbar-akhbar Melayu seperti Utusan Melayu, Utusan Zaman dan majalah Warta Ahad dalam menyuburkan semangat kemerdekaan dan petriotisme di kalangan orang Melayu. Di dalam suratkhabar-suratkhabar itu digambarkan kesedihan orang yang dijajah serta dipaparkan juga kelemahan dalam masyarakat menyebabkan semangat untuk membebaskan tanah air dari belenggu penjejah semakin membara. Kelihatan akhbar Utusan Zaman keluaran Ahad 1 September 1957 yang memaparkan perkataan ‘Merdeka’, ‘Merdeka’, ‘Merdeka’, dalam huruf Jawi dengan megah menghiasi muka satu akhbar itu dengan foto pemasyhuran kemerdekaan oleh Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj. –fotoBERNAMA HAKCIPTA TERPELIHARA

Ujian Kesabaran

Staring Off Edited.jpg

Dalam hidup di dunia ini, ada kalanya kita gembira, dan ada kalanya kita sedih. Ada masanya kita senang, dan ada masanya kita jatuh, susah dan sakit. Susah atau senang, kedua-duanya adalah ujian untuk kita. Adakah kita akan terlalu berfoya-foya ketika kita senang hinggakan kita leka dan mencampur-adukkan yang haq dan yang batil? Adakah kerana kesusahan hidup kita akan hilang kesabaran dan Iman yang ditanam dan disemai di dalam hati mula mencair dan akhirnya terlerai?

Ramai yang tidak sedar bahawa hidup senang itu adalah satu ujian. Bahkan, ramai yang sedang hidup senang tidak menyedari yang mereka itu sedang melalui satu ujian yang amat besar. Sangat senang untuk kita terlupa tentang hari akhirat apabila hari-hari di dunia sangat menyenangkan. Sangat senang untuk kita tergoda untuk hidup mengikut hawa nafsu apabila kita semakin menjarakkan diri daripada Allah. Sangat senang untuk kita terjangkit penyakit sakit hati dan gila harta apabila hawa nafsu sudah tidak terkawal.

Ramai yang sedar bahawa hidup susah adalah satu ujian. Apabila tidur dan bangun kita perlu melayan suara-suara di dalam kepala yang tidak tahu untuk berhenti mengingatkan kita tentang masalah yang sedang dihadapi. Apabila kita hanya mahu duduk membaca buku untuk belajar atau hanya untuk membaca buat menghibur hati pun tidak tercapai apabila hanya satu ayat yang dapat masuk dalam kepala. Yang lain terus kabur dari penglihatan kerana tidak dapat menumpukan perhatian kepada perkataan-perkataan yang tercatat apabila suara-suara itu kembali. Sangat senang untuk patah semangat apabila setiap langkah yang diambil ditohmah dan diperli mereka yang sedarah dan sedaging dengan kita. Sangat senang untuk kita putus asa dan hilang kesabaran apabila hati telah lusuh. Sangat senang untuk kita menggadaikan Iman apabila sudah terputus asa.

Dalam hidup di dunia ini, perlulah kita bentengi pertalian saudara dan mengeratkan ukhuwah antara kita. Perlulah kita saling mengingati akan mereka dan memberi nasihat atau menghulurkan bantuan apabila perlu. Ia adalah sangat sukar untuk menghadapi ujian-ujian ini seorang-diri dan, jika kita sudah tahu bahawa mereka sedang susah atau leka, ia sudah menjadi tanggungjawab kita untuk membantu mereka.

Tetapi… susahnya kita hendak membantu mereka. Untuk memberi nasihat kepada mereka yang sedang hidup senang, memang tak terbuat. Antara kita fitnah mereka yang bukan-bukan, ataupun kita tumpang sekaki dalam kehidupan materialistik dan hedonistik mereka. Untuk menghulur bantuan kepada mereka yang susah… cita-cita itu ada, mungkin niat pun sudah disebut dan kadang-kala, habis ke semua orang telah kita cerita tentang azam kita itu. Bangganya kita apabila telah berjaya menghulurkan sedikit bantuan kepada mereka buat julung kalinya semenjak berbulan kita menanam niat dalam hati. Habis ke semua group WhatsApp kita share gambar betapa baiknya kita. Tetapi… selepas itu….?

Banyak-banyaklah kita bermuhasabah diri. Jangan kita gagal di dalam kedua-dua ujian ini. Kedua-duanya sangat mencabar untuk mereka yang tidak mahu mengawal emosi, senang putus asa dan tidak ada atau kurang kepercayaan kepada Allah s.w.t yang maha pengasih lagi maha penyayang. Tidak akan sekali-pun dia mencampak kita ke dalam situasi yang kita tidak ada kekuatan untuk menghadapi.