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Book Excerpts: Of Displacement and Ramadan

The prospect of transforming an old Tanjong Pagar shophouse into a home preoccupied my thoughts as much as the sad dearth of Hari Raya’s domestic commotion.

The drilling noise, debris and halting Singlish of my contractors would be weak substitutes for an oven overworked from batches of pineapple tarts, the chatter of middle-aged deejays and festive songs on the Malay radio.  These were songs of beef rendang[1] and children running about with sparklers on an idyllic kampong lawn. These were songs of sojourners fighting for the last ticket home for that uniting embrace with family.

The evening calls to prayer gouged a deeper void than the hunger of my fast. I attempted to fill that void with prayer for myself and my mother’s soul and once, a walk in the garish, bustling Geylang bazaar.  I felt comfort from joining the throngs elbow to elbow, even when bargains were made curtly and the joyousness of the occasion left me feeling more desolate than when I started. I went home with the smells of street food, taste of festive cake and colours of cheap Johor-made kebayas and baju kurung[2] so vivid, they embedded themselves into my dreams.

Ramadan was always a polite, wise visitor who never overstayed his welcome. He descended upon me this year like every other year, like a blanket woven from prayers and good intentions gently heaving over the world like the moon pulling tide. No matter what I had to do, what I did, what I failed to do, what I accomplished and what I let slip through my fingers, Ramadan had always descended the same way, with his own measured pace and stillness. And he would leave the exact same way.


[1] A rich traditional Malay dish of stewed beef cooked with coconut and spices, considered a celebratory dish.

[2] Traditional Malay costume which consist of a long-sleeved tunic and a sarong, worn on important occasions such as weddings and other festivities.

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