Friday, August 27, 2010

The Malay Male's Family Values: Meet the Devourers of Worlds

Raya always reminds me of family. Fuck the artery-clogging food. Fuck the TV specials. Fuck showing off to your neighbours.

It has always been about family.

Every family is special. Mine is also weird.

Take, for example, the women. I come from a family of extremely strong women. Their most important thing is independence. The women in my family are all free spirits, and the hardest thing for them to do is to depend on anyone, especially men.

I have never heard of the phrase, "You do it, because you're a man." growing up. My sisters could climb higher on trees than I ever could - I was a bit prissy, growing up, and extremely lazy.

The women in my family take pride in the fact that they can do anything better than anyone - man, woman, plant, animal or mineral. A bunch of overachievers, the lot of them.

The men are also free spirits in the fact that we are all aloof. Our biggest concern is in not giving a damn. The more we don't care about anything, the happier we are.

We men like to devise systems. We plan and scheme. My father likes watching things grow. My brother likes to keep things the way they are. The Great Preserver. Mr Status Quo. I... well, I am the Lord of Destruction. When I was a kid, no toy would survive three months with me as I have a tendency to break them or take them apart to see what makes them tick.

Usually, it's a wind-up spring system. Hahaha.

My mother, meanwhile, seems like a quiet housewife. But I learned how to swear from her. Favourite phrase? "BIJIK KELENTIT!" or, "KO BUAT APA TU? TAKDE KERJA? MENCALAT!"

She's the great emotional manipulator. Bar none. I got first place in every year of primary school cause she manipulated me into doing so. Even now, she puts things in place almost imperceptibly, but you know what's coming.

The family values hard work. If you're not doing at least three things at the same time, you are lazy.

Well, I am naturally lazy, so I devise ways to spend the least amount of time, focus and energy to accomplish anything. This did not go very well with them.

"There are no shortcuts!"

I have rebelled against this by peppering my entire life with shortcuts. Some worked, others didn't.

But I'm not the rebel of the family. Oh, no. Not me. That would be my brother, who has constantly managed to surprise everyone with his choices.

At one point regarded as a failure, he managed to carve a life for himself in teaching. His love for photography and computers shows that he is quite street-smart. In fact, he's a smart-aleck. I have never seen anyone get along well with everyone like him, except for the family, which can be quite evil at times.

There is a darkness within my family, as there are in others. We traditionally take revenge. Hold on to vengeance for decades. We imbibe in hatred. Searing, all-consuming. Wrath that could bend steel, anger that could cower Satan himself. We do not explode, but corrode.

It is a characteristic I have learned to live with. Old family feuds are taken beyond the grave. The curses we hurl could make anyone curl up in a fetal position with their hands on their ears.

We have also helped some people. My father is a superhero. He never turned down any plea for help, though people tend to take their own actions and he is left frustrated at their stupidity. Lots of people take advantage of his kindness, but still a lot more returned his good deeds in the most touching of ways.

His reputation is good enough that when I was out of a job a few years back, one KL person who knew my family said, "Cikgu Mat's children will never go hungry. Don't worry." Well, I was hungry a few times, but that was just to illustrate how some perceive his life's work - helping people.

My father never had a home of his own, growing up. He constantly had to stay at other people's places, and his loyalty to them lives on to this day.

For some reason, he also inspires loyalty in others. There is a student of his who would cycle every year to the house for Raya. Now, he's a doctor who drives a minivan with his six kids, and he has missed perhaps two Rayas at our home in the past 30 years.

We have a big bash at our kampung house every year. Over 400 people would be there. It's a full-time job, really. I am usually the waiter and cash dispenser. My sisters would be coordinating the food and drinks. My brother would come at noon.

The big bash used to be done simply because of our rather large Chinese side of the family. There used to be over 50 of them alone, and we prepared over 40 sticks of lemang in the old days. Now, we just buy some ketupat pulut and be done with it. The Chinese are the only ones who actually eat during Raya anyway.

If I am unhappy with my family, I would only ask for forgiveness at night, making my mother adopt this extremely sad face. Oh, we have our fights. Even during Raya. Usually about the lemang.

It was a complicated process, and everyone has an idea of his or her own on how to do it properly. The recipe remains the same, but the methods and the timing - my Science!

We boil our lemang first before roasting it on an open fire. That means using a metal scissors to cut two huge Minyak Cap Buruh cans. My father had to go to the jungle and bring back 60 bamboo casings, nearly a third of which gets thrown out.

I would clean the bamboo casings and my sisters would stuff them. I use a metal press to extract large amounts of coconut milk. My mother used to do this, cursing all the way. It takes one coconut for each bamboo casing. That's a lot of coconut milk, plus the amount we use for the other dishes.

We hardly do this anymore.

Anyway, I don't like Raya. It means more fights with the family. Pain medication, and people I don't really want to meet. Thank Science it's just once a year.

This year, I aim to go back, without having a single fight. I'll see how that goes.