WALKING along the lake at Regent’s Park after the Hari Raya prayers at the London Central Mosque last week was like walking down memory lane with a feeling of nostalgia sweeping all over me.
Wasn’t it just yesterday that we walked along the same path, feeding the birds and the geese, watched the children run after the squirrels and delighted in their squeals of laughter? Wasn’t it only yesterday that I joined in the prayers on the lawn, while my two daughters sat quietly beside me, soaking in the Raya mood around them? Our eldest then was big enough to pray with his father.
After prayers, we would then squeeze our way through throngs of Eid revellers hugging and kissing each other, to meet outside the gate, buy some kebabs and make our way to the park nearby.
That was then — we loved taking the children when they were small, to the mosque, to join the multitude of Muslims from all over the world coming together to celebrate one of the most important celebrations in the Muslim calendar, Eidul Fitr.
All along the way from Baker Street, for that’s the station nearest to the grand mosque, streams of people celebrating the end of Ramadan, dressed in their colourful national costumes and their finest, would make their way to do their prayers.
We’d greet each other with “Eid Mubarak” , to friends and strangers alike. And every so often, from across the road or around the corner, a cheery shout of “Selamat Hari Raya” to and from fellow Malaysians in their baju Melayu, baju kurung and the resplendent kebaya! Depending on the weather, the attire was sometimes hidden underneath layers of coats or in summer, dressed for all to see and admire!
Last week, on the bus and in the Tube, people looked up from their newspapers and mobile phones to compliment the children on their Malaysian Raya clothes.
“Eid Mubarak, is it?” asked an elderly English lady, admiring my daughter’s embroidered kebaya.
Last week’s Raya was extra special; the boy we took to prayers thirty odd years ago, brought his own small family; his wife and their son, our grandson, to the same mosque where he went as a child and where his marriage to our daughter-in-law was solemnised.
When the children grew bigger, we frequented Malaysia Hall, then at Bryanston Square near Marble Arch in Oxford Street, where Hari Raya celebration took a whole new meaning. By then, we found extended families in close friends, who, like us, had made London their home.
When Tuk Din, of the now famed Tukdin Restaurant, was running the Malaysia Hall canteen, we would be involved in the preparation of the big day; the children busied themselves with banners and posters the night before, arranging tables and chairs while we helped to cut rice cakes and pulut. Hari Raya Haji gave an added excitement as we participated in the cutting and the distribution of meat. The many Hari Raya at Malaysia Hall Bryanston Square were really something to remember. The hall was big enough to host the hundreds of students together with the Malaysian community in and around London — and then there was no more.
When it moved to the present premises, the Hari Raya open house was held at a community centre elsewhere, and that too doesn’t happen now.
But one occasion to look forward to every Hari Raya is the High Commissioner’s Open House at Rumah Malaysia in Hampstead.
There’s always an abundance of Malay food from rendang to ketupat and satay; the queue for the satay was forever the longest.
The big tent will go up in the gardens of the high commissioner’s residence in case it rains or snows, otherwise when we are blessed with good weather, it will be picnic and barbeque on the lawn, catching up with long-lost friends or making new ones.
Our must to visit during the first day of Hari Raya is usually at Tuk Din’s. His restaurant is usually closed for the day, but we could be assured of lemang, rendang kerang, lontong and ketupat nasi. We’d have to drag ourselves out of their place and if it was not for Mak Ndak and the lure of her meehoon sup utagha, we’d all be like stranded whales on the comfortable sofas at Tuk Din’s.
Mak Ndak is now well into her eighties and had to be aided to walk — but to the kitchen to prepare the Hari Raya fare, she’d have no problem. She lives with her daughter and has other children and grandchildren and us as her extended family.
The list of must Hari Raya Open Houses over the years had always been at Zu’s and Kasubi’s (Mak Ndak’s daughter and son-in-law), Tuk Din’s, the High Commissioner’s residence and Makan Café in Portobello.
At Zu’s and Kasubi’s, where there was usually only standing room, it was not unknown for strangers to turn up just because they missed Raya food and had heard of their hospitality and, of course, the meehun soup.
This year’s Hari Raya mood was somewhat tinged by several incidents during Ramadan; the attack on London Bridge, the big blaze of Grenfell Tower and the attack on Muslim worshippers as they left the mosque in Finsbury Park after tarawikh.
Although the security wasn’t that obviously tight around the Central Mosque, there were barriers along the road leading to the mosque.
As it was quite a nice day, Regent’s Park nearby turned into Eid in the park as revellers had picnics and strolled along the flower beds and went paddling.
We had a celebration with a difference this year; took ourselves to Shireen’s and Rayyan’s apartment south of the Thames to enjoy Malaysian and Moroccan raya cuisines. The day ended with Rayyan and Ben singing Balik Kampung with a touch of Moroccan and Brummie accent.