I am a sucker for the holidays. Deepavali, Chinese New Year, Christmas — I love all the pomp and fanfare that comes along with each festival.
But my personal favourite is definitely Hari Raya because I get to enjoy it as an enthusiastic outsider so all of the kueh tarts but none of the stress.
And Hari Raya brings out the most amazing outfits. Colour-coordinated families from five-year-old son to one-year-old daughter perfectly matched by accents or fabric to the young couple posing stylishly in an Instagram perfect post at void decks across the island — all clad in sarong kebayas and baju kurungs of every possible colour.
I also love the food. A visit to the Geylang Raya bazaar is an absolute must and this year the gentrification of this tradition was both heartening and sad.
The introduction of all these newfangled trends and foods (from a rainbow bagel to macaron ice-cream sandwiches) and the queues that formed by these stalls eclipsed the staples of prawn vadai and the iconic Ramly burger stands but at least it brought more young people to the festivities and that can’t be a bad thing.
Maybe we just need a little more inventiveness — rainbow prawn vadai for next year perhaps?
Beyond the sights, sounds, colours and flavours of the bazaar — there are the spreads waiting at the welcoming homes of Muslim friends and families; Ayam Bakar Padang, Lontong, Sayur Lodeh, Sambal Sotong, Udang Sambal Petai, Ayam Masak Opor and the desserts again capturing the myriad of colours that come with this celebration.
I love all of it.
Except one thing that has become increasingly prevalent — have you noticed lately that nobody says “Selamat Hari Raya” any more. More and more people are switching to “Eid Mubarak” casually, unthinkingly and nearly instinctively.
A Malaysian friend says she noticed it almost immediately after returning to KL from abroad in 2014. Suddenly, the billboards were saying the Arabic greeting of “Eid Mubarak” instead of the native Malay “Selamat Hari Raya.”
The Sultan of Johor summed this up when he explained why he preferred to use terms like “Hari Raya” instead of “Eid al-Fitr”, or “buka puasa” instead of “iftar” as “I have been using these Malay terms since I was a child… I have no intention of replacing these terms with Arabic.”
Why are we using Arabic? It is a beautiful language and carries with it a rich culture but my concern is this culture is eclipsing the authenticity of our local culture.
Malay culture is much more than just the culture of one people — it is in many ways the spirit of this corner of the world. Black and white photographs of my mother in a well-stitched kebaya or the endless repertoire of P. Ramlee songs my Uncle can croon are all testament to this.
I worry that we are beginning to frame this South-east Asian identity as less than its Arabic counterpart and this would be a shame because losing the culture would cause us to lose so much of what makes this region proud.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist, Surekha A. Yadav