The Ulu Bendul Mosque
Sister Azizah and Me
Tun at Work
It's certainly not the first time that I have returned home to the old village house in Ulu Bendul, NS, to clear up the compound and do what I can to keep the unoccupied house in shape. Once it was almost swallowed by wild elephant grass and "belukar' (secondary jungle) until I decided to take over its upkeep, although according to the matrilineal adat laws the place belongs to my sisters.
One of my sisters stays in Kuala Pilah with her family, some 12 km away. She too often visited the house with her husband to do some repair and clearing work. But she certainly needs the weekends for herself and family. Being a pensioner I have all the time to go there and undertake all the weed-clearing and grass-mowing job that needed to be done. Quite a job to travel from KL to do it, all alone.
Since my wife is still working fulltime, she could only accompany me on weekends. Not much can be done with a few hours per week and about an acre to clear. As such the major job must be undertaken on weekdays because the multifarious little things that must be done cannot be packaged and contracted out to paid laborers. Nor are such hired hands easily available in the village for all the villagers have their own piece of land to work on and which often remains unproductive . Some friends who have to return to the village to take care of inherited properties say they have to bring laborers from KL to do the work. It isn't worthwhile for me to do so since according to the adat laws a son doesn't even own the property left by his late parents. It goes to the daughters only to ensure their wellbeing, while the menfolk will take care of their wife's property. That's Adat Perpatih in brief.
Hey I'm not complaining. I certainly enjoy going back to my old home, the house in which I was raised though born in a different house in the village now owned by my late mother's sister ( but also left unoccupied after her children flew the coop and her husband passed away). Everytime I opened the locked door and entered the house alone, a creepy feeling crawled up my spine and neck. But heck, I used to stay all alone in that house as a little boy. So what was there to fear. I'd quickly step inside to open the windows and switch on the lights in the darkened rooms one of which used to be my study and bedroom. Hey. a lot of memories is buried in there....
For years I stayed with just my Grandma and a sister, many more years with just my Grandma for the sister also followed my other siblings to live with my parents wherever my father was posted to as a policeman. While in the day my Grandma kept busy working in the padi field, at night she'd spend hours weaving mengkuang leaves to make floor covers called tikar. And I'd be reading by her side sharing the gloomy yellowish light from an oil lamp. That went on from the time I was in Form 1 to Form VI. Prior to that we lived in a different house with my Auntie. When she got married and moved to Singapore we were left alone and we moved to the new house which had just been completed, the house I'm now taking care of.
Believe it or not I still don't feel comfortable resting in the house itself between work. All the memories came alive and I felt swarmed. I prefer to rest on the landing built for the steps, a little balcony-like structure with a knee-high railing made of wooden bars placed five or six inches apart. So you can easily see what's going on outside as you lie down there, enjoying the
breeze, aided by a fan blowing through the open door from inside the house. That's the wonderful part of the stay and I often dozed off for hours there. On Friday. I also have the pleasure of attending Friday prayer in the old mosque at Ulu Bendul and meeting the old folks, many of whom are older than me. (That makes you feel younger somewhat though death doesn't bother about your current age and comes when it comes)
The work that I do is simple enough, Mow the grass and clear the belukar around the house that kept creeping in like the surf on the shore. Want to know something about grass? It keeps growing (and wildly too) where you don't want it to grow and doesn't grow where you really want it to. Doesn't that remind you of some of the hairs on your body? I keep mowing and mowing just like we keep shaving and shaving everyday without winning the war. Even Sun Tzu's book on the Art of War cannot help us to win that war, hehehe. That's why I have been going back and forth to the village house with no end in sight. The work seems to increase all the time as the house gets older and older.
That last point makes me love the house more and more. Ey, what's that last point? The common experience of getting older and older together everyday. As I worked or relaxed at the balcony or landing, we implicitly realized that one day I will disappear and the house will have to depend on others to take care of it. And I hear the house say, stay on brother, stay on. We still need each other. That gives me the strength to carry on more than what the family members can say when we meet once in a long while.