“I’ve made a mistake”, I sob to myself at the edge of the bed when I hear the amplified takbir raya from the mosque down the road. We had dozed off at four and I was awoken slightly confused by the incessant droning of a chant at seven, then I realized I had gotten the day wrong, “Eid ul-Adha’s today, not tomorrow.”
The imam was hardly motivating with a boring, low, monotonous takbir and the tuneless following of those at the mosque could be heard repeating after him, a collective bunch of sleepy Allahu Akhbars.
The guilt of getting the day wrong kept my eyes open, it was the least I could do on my part, staying awake to listen to the takbir out of respect and some bloody repentance at mixing up the days. As I sat up and got dressed, my emotions transitioned from a hint of guilt to absolute numbness, some kind of evolution trick that protects a species with strange cranial chemical and hormonal explosions – resulting in emotions – from walking off cliffs and buildings, wiping us out from the face of the planet one suicide at a time.
Natural curiosity got me peeking out the window to look at the mosque down the road. “I don’t even know the name of the mosque.” I perched my face on the sunny side of my palms and rested my elbows on the dusty windowsill, “God, I just cleaned that.”
I saw cars. Lots of them. From my restricted angle, at least 20 cars on the corner of the mosque, which meant there could have been at least 100 cars down the width of one side of the mosque. Still, I was numb and drowsy from a disturbed rest.
Then I saw two men crossing my street towards the mosque, one with a skullcap, and the other without. They work as guards at my apartment building, “I didn’t know they were Muslims.”
They had been working all night and were taking the time to go to the mosque whereas I am a Stay At Home (inactive) Mammary gland and got the days wrong, again, an unnatural side effect from an unusually high dosage of Internet, books on freakonomics, Sarah McLachlan and television.
Further down the road, two more men were walking towards the entrance of the mosque and suddenly, the Evolutionary Switch flipped the other way and I collapsed into myself and started sobbing uncontrollably.
“I have made a mistake.”
When I was a swinging single chick, I celebrated Eid ul-Adha exactly the way an unaffected teenager does, by waking up late and staying awake at the thought of the feast to come. My family was, by any measure, near the bottom of the scale of pious, traditional families.
My father is what we called a mixed mongrel, a pariah of racial mixes and my mother is an Indonesian Chinese, adopted by a childless couple. Having lost his father to a cardiac attack at a young age and his family to circumstances, my father spent a good portion of his young life finding his way about post-British Singapore, struggling to survive without his stolen inheritance and subsisting on James Dean inspired thrills with his friends. My mother was a hot 70s chick in miniskirts with a good education record who was looking for an escape, any escape, so she could finally breathe outside a home ruled by an overbearing and ambitious Indonesian mother who overcompensated for an absent husband sailing on the seas by choking the life out of her adopted toy. It was only natural that when my parents got married and made their own litter of mixed mongrel pups that they, like many new parents, found that they had no idea what they would do with my brother and I.
They did some things by the book, like sending us to madrasah, but they did not quite force it down our throats – and we did not exactly swallow either. My doting Kapitan grandfather who spoke and read Arabic fluently gladly did all my homework with perfect penmanship, I’d even scolded him that he was too neat and my teacher would know.
He could not have known that the times he taught me to read the Koran, that I was simply memorizing by ear and not learning how to read, just because it was quicker that way. More than anything, I enjoyed dressing for the sessions with a little tudung wrapped over my head. I treasured spending the time with my sweet, genial grandfather, he exuded a kind of love that I still aspire to give.
I dropped out of madrasah “because it’s so boring, Mummy!” and ended up going for classes with an ustazah who lived 2 storeys above us. Again, I memorized by ear the same surahs that I can regurgitate effortlessly today, instead of learning how to read. Soon after that, I quit that too because I found my Childcraft and Britannica encyclopaedias far more intriguing than learning from people who taught us to read a language blindly without learning the language itself and the history of Islam. The ustazah struck me as a very unhappy lady who concealed her sadness well, but in all fairness, she tried very hard, and very sincerely with difficult me.
Both my brother and I were sent to Catholic primary schools, made many Catholic and freethinking friends, a large portion of whom were also mixed mongrels and spoke predominantly English. On hindsight, I had spoken only English all my life. Growing up, I found myself to be part of the privileged bratpack in a good school full of girls waiting to come into their own skin and experimenting with many a liberal idea, including, horror of all horrors, enjoying statutory rape with ribbed condoms.
Coming from a school like that made me incredibly sure of myself, and terribly insecure. I exuded an arrogant sense of possibility and know-it-all that only teenagers can possess. I would go through a few more secular years with Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha representing little more than fasting and feasts to die for twice a year.
Meanwhile, my parents were growing older. Age has a way of throwing life, future and past, into your face and suddenly, I saw my parents praying, if not five times a day, then at least three. I threw their occasional nags behind me and thought “just because you found God, don’t rub him in my face.” They went for hajj and I celebrated by preying on newfound religious guilt by bringing home two kittens that I knew my father could not refuse despite his strict hand against pets, “because cats are God’s creatures, Daddy.”
After hajj, my parents turned into holy-hala-hula-masya-allahs and I found myself disoriented and in unfamiliar territory. Suddenly, I found myself shipped off to Indonesia to join a pesantren, religious bootcamp, where I learnt little more than eating good Indonesian village food and praying five times a day, if you consider regurgitating whole passages in Arabic which you do not understand as a direct passage to God. At fifteen, I was thrown from the thralls of secularism and the joy that is known as Take That and Gary Barlow, to spending whole days praying, reading the Koran and eating keropok.
Three years later, I met a man who introduced me to revolutionary ideas about Islam which could have earned him a global Kill Him O Ye Blind Muslims fatwa if he was not quite careful. As suspicious as everything was about that pesantren, which could now be mistaken as a hotbed for terrorists (especially since most of the men were ex-convicts), that and my chance meeting with this man were to shape my view of Islam today which is to say, five planes of dimensions away from everything they taught at that bootcamp, and not quite revolutionary enough to get me killed by Muslim lunatics.
I then joined a European company where dinners usually meant 10 rounds of scotch, 5 of the cheapest tequila on the shelf, some crazy dancing and at least one very satisfying drunken nap at the back of the boss’ car. Then I met a man who was defiantly atheist and agnostic at the same time. Against all odds and some family objections, I married this religiously confused man.
It is no mystery that some people go through their entire lives struggling to establish their identity. I am no different, and I’ll probably die still finding out new things about myself. One thing I’ve learnt today is that I have made a mistake.
Today, I sat at the corner of my bed sobbing not because I’m missing a feast. All those years of tradition, of large fanfare with ketupat, beef rendang, sambal prawns and kuah lemak had successfully instilled in me, more than just too many calories and clogged arteries – a private celebration of being a Muslim and celebrating with people I love. The first year I’m married, and two Eids have gone by without as much as a blink (I even got both days wrong) because I’m so used to my mother running the show and too afraid to overwhelm Ravi with anything Islamic in nature. I don’t believe in forcing God down someone’s throat.
That, is my mistake.
It is now my turn to run the show and I cannot pretend that Eid is little more than just a full stomach five times over an entire day, twice a year. Now it’s up to me, to start our own family tradition, first by appreciating the history behind this day, then next year, a full feast to celebrate and donating a slaughtered animal to the poor. Eid may not be as commercialized as Christmas is, or as fun with gifts and lousy regifted presents, but it is part of a long history that I am now responsible for passing down.
And I will not repeat this mistake.