vendredi, novembre 26, 2004

ANCIENT KINGDOMS A potted History of Hindu influence and the Coming of Islam

Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, a grand Malay epic, tells the story of Langkasuka, a Kingdom whose origins were shrouded in mystery. Mythology has it that Langkasuka, a peaceful and prosperous settlement was supposedly brought to prominence by an Indian prince who led his people in a great battle against the ferocious Garuda. The lack of documented proof does not rule out the existence of this Malay Kingdom as references in Chinese and Indian ancient text point to the existence of an early Hindu civilization near Gunung Jerai, Kedah circa 100 AD.

The fact remains that around the same period, India sought safer and faster routes in search of gold as the marauding Huns had cut-off the overland route to China and the Roman Emperor Vespian had stopped shipments of gold to India. In addition, the lure of Savarndvipa and Savarnabhumi - a mystical wealthy Kingdom spurred an Indian odyssey to the East which brought them to the Malay archipelago. As we know, Ptolemy found the Malay Peninsular significant enough to call it Aureus Chernysese which means Land of Gold on his legendary maps, further suggesting that the peninsular was an attractive destination for those in search of riches and wealth.

The Straits of Melaka was then, and remains until today, the busiest natural waterway in the world and the whole world sought this passage for purposes of trade, religion and expansion. But the  region was not entirely kind to visitors - the humidity, the forest was daunting and the Orang Laut  controlled the waters vigorously. So religious scholars, travelers and traders generally mixed with locals and gained riches only to return to their country of origin as were their original intention. However, the ideologies and religion generally replaced the paganism and animism widely practiced by the people of the land.

About four centuries later, around 450AD, Srivijaya rose to prominence in Palembang, Sumatera and for a millennia shaped much of the civilization and trade in the region. Srivijaya remained a powerful kingdom based on Hinduism/Buddhism which conquered many of the coastal areas of the islands including Kedah and ruled over much of the Malay Peninsula in the 9th century. The region continued to grow as a centre for gold, aromatic woods and spices and the Hindu culture swept throughout the land.

Their princes and princesses widely travelled and this influence extended all over the region. One instance is the alliance between Sailendra and Srivijaya when Samaratungga, who finalized the candy we now know as Borobodur, married Dewi Tara in the 9th century. Their son Balaputra returned to Palembang, after his sister Pramodhani and her husband engineered a coup,  to rule and Srivijaya became even more powerful than before.

From Java, Majapahit, the last of the Hindu Empires slowly overtook Srivijaya as the greatest maritime empire in the region. Hayam Wuruk, its renowned ruler reigned from 1350 to 1389 together with Gajah Mada, its most powerful minister in office from 1331 to 1364, extended Majapahit’s rule over Sumatra, Bali, Borneo and Malaya especially Kedah and Patani. Islam began to spread its influence, beginning in Pasai, then Jambi.

At the turn of the 14th century, a rebel prince of Palembang, Parameswara, fled to Tumasek, then continued to travel up-north along the coast to found Malacca. His diplomatic ties with China and a structured governmental hierarchy including firm policing of its waters to keep away pirates ensured a firm footing for Malacca’s continued growth as the region’s most prominent port. Malacca became the center of court, arts and trade.

Parameswara’s conversion to Islam formalized and marked the arrival of Islam to the Malay Peninsula. The Malaccan Sultanate which lasted until 1511 became the model for other sovereigns in the land with firm adherence to the Islamic teachings and Malay traditions.

October 2004

Slow Down - Recipes spiced with love

In the ever increasing rush we face everyday, time fleets by. Bills get paid. Children grow older. Dear ones depart. World politics blur into one another. Ever so often, when we remember to, we marvel at the speed of it all.

Time together with the family is reserved for weekends for the lucky ones, holidays for the extra busy or extra wealthy depending on your situation. Sometimes one feels a desperate need to break the monotony. The ideal family moment – breakfasts together, storytelling at bedtime and barbeque picnics seem more elusive than ever. With the time-sharing scenario becoming more common among the increasing number of divorced families, the intent to spend quality time together can be quite daunting.

I finally faced reality. If I do not break the pattern, I will suddenly discover that my girls are old enough to go out with friends and refuse to be seen with me. They will be stepping out the door for a night out as I walk in.

So, time out!

First things first – a family that eats together, grows together. And yet it is almost impossible for us to schedule meals together on a regimented basis. So, I decided that our meals would be over memorable dishes that are super quick and easy to prepare, albeit not very regular.

My favourite menu starts with freshly squeezed oranges. Just cut oranges into two, ask Kak Ngah to squeeze them over the juicer. Voila! Ready made pancakes – what’s spectacular about that? Sprinkle Mc Cormicks cinnamon sugar over your pancakes and they steal the thunder from any major five star hotel breakfast any day. Make French toast which are shaped as stars, crescents or clouds served on a dark blue plate. Note - Save the extra bread pieces, blend them with milk, custard and vanilla essence, thrown in glorious raisins and bake the best bread and butter pudding for tea.

A one-of-a-kind marvelous, super duper breakfast is ready to be served.

For lunch, marinate chicken with tumeric, salt – pretty normal, and generously sprinkle Five Spices Chinese Herbs. Grill for 25 minutes. Throw in onions and tomatoes. Grill for another 15 minutes. Wow!

We also have this great looking cheese salad. Use toothpicks to stick cubes of cheddar cheese, apples, pickles and grapes all over an orange standing in a pretty saucer. Your salad is done Speaking of grapes, frozen ones make the best dessert – beats lemon sorbet any day.

You already have your tea pudding worked out. Nevertheless, once in a while, bake a cake or cookies with Kak Long and the rest. It can be fun or funny, depending on what comes out from the oven. Tell all your friends at the office your little girls made the chocolate lemon cake and her sister made the cookies – the budding chefs will remember that for a long time. Forever, infact.

During holidays, in addition to snapping family photos to fill albums back home, encourage children to draw. Bring along a sketchbook, one for each and everyone. Draw anything. Birds. Sea shells. Drift wood. A leaf. Your bedroom. A unique piece of furniture. Cute bath soaps. A waterfall.

Time slows down when you draw.

And while photographs are picture perfect, you can actually preserve the development of your children’s thoughts, skills and images that made an impact on them over the years.

Even the things you take for granted can be a fun point during the week. Avoid doing groceries on weekends. Everywhere is packed with people. Tempers flare up easily when you are waiting in line and there are too many people about. Do the grocery list together and head out on a Thursday. Save the weekend for the movies or picnics.

Get the children involved in everything from planning your open house menu to deciding on what furniture to buy for their room. I waited two years to buy a really good sofabed the girls wanted for their room so that they can use their own room for ‘entertaining’ during the day and sleeping at night.

Like everything else today, plan for memories. The more practice you have, the more spontaneous life will be.

By and by, build a lifetime of moments.

p/s ninotaziz is certainly no chef, can’t even be called a regular cook, she is merely a kitchen apprentice at best. And she is so-so at drawing.

November 2003

Inheritance from the Garden

Memory woven garden
To you I come for solace
For - it is here I remember
I am born of gentle grace
- ninotaziz

In the epic novel Dune by Frank Herbert, the Lady Jessica, sought solace at the atrium, a haven of a luscious garden, an outright extravagance on the arid and primitive planet Arrakis.

Throughout mankind’s history, we have been lured by the promise of a heavenly garden, paradise itself. It is natural perhaps for man to constantly try to emulate the idea of idea of Eden. Be it King or ordinary men and women, sprawling estates or hanging baskets become a wonderful source of solace. What goes into the care of the plants – fertilizer, watering, pruning…love, patience, knowledge is returned manifold.

It is true that a well cared for garden revives the soul and the body. For it is often within the green alcoves of shady vines one can find inner peace and calm. Senses come alive when caressed by the wind, stimulated by an ancient scent, mesmerized by the gentle sway of a flower.

My grandfather used to make the annual blossoming of his Grand Dame Bakawali, a family moment. Deep in the night when the air is at is at its coolest, the delicate white fragile petals will gracefully open over a period of two to three hours and fade just in time for morning prayers. And all of us, cousins who were ‘lucky’ enough to be sleeping over, would be dozing off on the even colder steps while grandfather admired his beauties.

A Garden in the Malay Kampung is really an extension of the house and its daily runnings. In the morning, all the windows are opened wide to let in the breeze, the view and the sun as if the household especially the children, just like the trees outside need the same basic ingredients to grow strong.

As breakfast is being prepared, the young ones will be told to run downstairs to the garden to get the lemongrass, lime or pandan leaves and many other herbs before the kids disappear into the surrounding woods at play or fruit picking depending on the season. Breakfasting during the fasting month was not complete without the cooling ‘air kelapa muda’. One of my chores was to prepare the rambutan drink, my grandfather’s personal favourite, there was always more rambutan than syrup in the punchbowl. Preparing it by the way, meant climbing up the tree for the fruits, peeling and slicing its flesh thinly and adding in the syrup and ice. Not as simple as opening the can and pouring its content out, but certainly more fun. I must get a fast tree (as in fast food) fast growing, fast fruiting rambutan sapling at the next Pasar Tani. Maybe then I can get my girls to make me that wonderful rambutan drink 3 years from now.

During festivities like Hari Raya or weddings, the garden really becomes an extension of the lively kitchen. Young maidens openly laugh with and chat with the lads over rows of bamboo crackling in the fire – cooking lemang out in the open is an example of how central the role of a Malay garden is in the Malay household.

Herbs essential for other occasions like during childbirth, to cure minor ailments and to calm those who are deeply troubled are also abundant. Serai wangi, lenkuas, kunyit, menkudu and many others are but a few of the plants my grandmother told me I must always have in my garden. She of course had a monster of sireh plant climbing up the water tank tower. It grew upwards reaching out to the sun, outgrowing even our golden coconuts like a great giant beanstalk. I remember how proud I was when she told me that I plucked the perfect sireh leaves for her, I must be a natural at ‘daun ubat ubat ni’. I was thirteen years old. I guess she was referring to her own inherited knowledge – a mixture of aromatheraphy and alternative medicine so popular today.

There are many things I learnt from being with my grandparents out in the garden. I was also fortunate to have father insisting that I must experience the paddy fields. ‘Your Grandmother used to to do this a very long time ago…’ I was bundled off to a ‘projek rakyat’ in Luit, Pahang and had a one day workshop on transferring young paddy shoots from one plot of the sawah to the other (mengubah) and also tried my hand at menuai.

Until her very last days, grandmother would be out in her garden, sitting on her kekuda – wooden stool when she was tired even though her arthritis must have made it torturous for her .

When grandmother passed on, I took three things to remember her by. Her aloe vera plants, her 80 year old water-basin which captured rain water we used to wash our feet with before going up the house and her green baju kurong I wore when we were bathing her for the last time at her funeral. Last week, one of my aloe vera flowered after a very long wait of 15 years.

Most likely, the inspiration for this musing of mine… Thank you, Grandmother.

November 2003

Embracing Technology

Four daughters. Full-time jobs. Free lance writer. Avid gardener. Sportsman. Piano lessons and recitals. Acting and dancing classes. Tuition. Quran reading. Holidays. No maid!

Many have asked us how we do it. And frankly I am not quite sure. I never thought it was anything extraordinary until I began to look around at my peers with subserviant and yet loving maids who are part of the family at all times (the lucky ones) and friends who complain incessantly about incompetent and not-to-be trusted maids who would run away at the very first opportunity.

I decided today to sit down and think about it.

My youngest, my little baby is about three months old and her immediate sister turned four a few days ago. Two months ago we decided to move away from my mother’s house as there were too many living under the same roof, even though it was a large spacious 6-bedroom family home. We found a wonderful baby-sitter and hired a lady to thoroughly clean the house every three weeks. We decided to spend a little extra on the best and reasonably priced launderer in the vicinity. Then we immediately got connected with broadband access to facilitate communication between the house and my office. Little did I realise we have just placed a little wonder miracle in our lives.

Suddenly I need not queue at banks, I don't have to worry about being mugged everytime I withdraw money to pay bills. My husband need not waste time at Telekom and Tenaga every month. I have information at my fingertips, the girls taught me to IM and chat (years ago my eldest taught me how to use Powerpoint!). I get to contact friends overseas anytime it is convenient. We bought webcams and optical mouses and wonderful little gadgets that allow me to embrace technology whole-heartedly. I have an album of digital perfect pictures in my 256 megabyte miniature pendrive. Not only that, I have videos and recordings of the girls singing and baby cooing stored in it as well. I am looking forward to buying a totally inexpensive internet CCTV at the next computer fair so that I can see what is going on in the house when I am not there.

If I need to work late, I can work from home now. Research for my writing and articles can be done late at night after the girls have gone to sleep.

Because my older girls have to be independent at times when I am not around, I enjoy an open and frank relationship with them, vowing to always tell them the truth about life and be honest when I do not know all the answers. As they have no maid to wait on them hand and foot, they are pretty good at tidying up after themselves, doing their chores and taking care of their own things. Staying on top of each others’ schedule is a breeze as talking to each other via the mobile or the computer is so easy.

The girls even prepare checklists for holidays …on the computer of course! Carefully selected computer games like SIMS teach them about life – budgets and family communication. They have their own blogs and create amazing journals with pictures of interest to them…and write wonderful stories. It is heartening to see that they are so at ease with new technology.

The computer is a wonderful thing, and the handphone is just as delightful. Its games keeps the girls occupied in the car, watching a movie is pure pleasure now that we need not queue to buy tickets, magic moments can be captured on the camera because you always have your phone with you. Even the baby can be pacified by ringtones when she cries.

In truth, all that time saved means more meaningful time together. Our family lives a contented and full life… and the marvels of modern day technology helps us along the way.C'est la vie!

Stepping Stones for Mankind

The month of Haj has spurred the thought - the more diverse our backgrounds are, be it cultural or religion, the more amazing our intrinsic similarities. Individuals have their personal quests, every culture and nation its holy pilgrimage or great journeys. Man's need to travel far and wide has brought about progress in and wealth creation.

Great journeys
It doesn't matter whether one lived in ancient times...or made history in the modern day. Aeneas of Troy travelled the Aegean seas to fulfill his destiny of founding Rome, Neil Armstrong took a small step on the moon to forever change our viewpoint of the earth.

Following God's will, Muhammad travelled the desert from the cruel and unforgiving Mecca to a more friendly and open Medina. Moses crossed the Red Sea to save his people and lead them to freedom only to be betrayed at Mount Sinai. 102 pilgrims tavelled across the Atlantic aboard the puny Mayflower from England to America to preserve a way of life just like Noah who took a pair of each and every living animal on board his 500 year old arc to be safe from the Flood that would have eradicated all land creatures.

Kings and Emperors support the forays and ventures into the unknown because great risks are often rewarded with even greater returns. Cheng Ho made seven collossal voyages from China in search of knowledge and unchartered territories. The same incentive caused Quuen Isabella of Spain to put Christopher Columbus on the same course, though at a much smaller scale, to fame. The conquering Portuguese travelled in the 16th century in search of riches in the form of spices, gold and territories.

A personal quest
Not all journeys are in pursuit of wealth and fame. In search for inner enlightenment, Siddharta Gautama sat under the Bodhi Tree for 60 days. 3 milleniums later, Mahatma Gandhi avoided violence to free his land by fasting and praying. Selfless acts by two men of different lifestyles and times.

Sir Isaac Newton must have heard how well the tree worked for Bhuddha to adopt a similar ruse to solve his questions on gravity. And where would our nation be if Parameswara did not sit under a particular malacca tree in the midst of his quest for a new kingdom to rule.

All the above actions in one way or the other helped further the cause and destiny of humankind.

No matter what religion, race or beliefs.

mercredi, novembre 24, 2004

Beautiful Ira

Ira is four today... She sang to Ilena a little tune and hummed 'Once upon A December'. She is so beautiful in spirit, her hands listens to music and moves, weaving magic in the air. She says Thank You and I love You Mak so sweetly, all of us just melt at her antics.

Inas called to wish her Happy did Tok Wan and Mak Su. We will have a Birthday Party on Saturday.

In The Quiet

Time out. I hear myself think and thank God for the joy and discovery of family love.
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