Sunday, March 06, 2005

‘the free extra’

As someone who spent twenty years outside Terengganu, my homecoming was in itself a journey of self-discovery. Suddenly, my classrooms were everywhere. ‘Pasar Maghrib’ included.

I returned after being away for twenty long years since the tender age of twelve. Against such background, Kuala Terengganu was to me a strange place. To my other half, a Kedahan, the environment was even more alien.

Within the quiet environment, I found more time for reading, for attending the ‘baca kitab’ sessions or talks after the prayers, and to join in quiet ‘lepak’ at the ‘lambor’ of ‘surau’ waiting for isya’ when the speaker fails to turn-up. I took up cycling too, but that’s years later and another story.

As strange as it may be, this was a lovely place to be, the sky is always blue (even when KL was shrouded in haze), the air fresh, the beach captivatingly beautiful and best of all the people are very friendly. They are your friends after just a single encounter, even without you knowing their name. That friendship means raising your hand greeting the guy at the other end of ‘Kedai Payang’; waving at the driver in the next car, calling each other ‘boh’ (for boss), a ‘salam’ and shake-hand all around. That friendship means consistently free lunch when eating out, that you soon join in the race to 'belanja' or to pay first. And that friendship means an extra fish or two at the market; extra scoop of ‘beras siam’ (siam rice) at Pasar Payang; extra packet of ‘nasi dagang’ and extra ‘tulang’ over the half kilo of meat you bought. Those are ‘free extras’.

That ‘free extra’ I later discovered was more than just a friendly gift. It underlines a deep understanding of religious principle of purity in wealth, of right and wrong and of things ‘halal’ (permissible) and ‘haram’ (forbidden). Principles so deeply ingrained in their life that it became a culture. Principle based on the doctrine oft repeated in the Quran; ‘Perfect thee, thy weight and measure’ (sempurnakanlah timbangan dan takaran). Something we all had taken for granted and even dismissed as petty.

These days of profit orientation, shareholders return and growth percentage, we took to all means to better the margin. Even if that mean denying the rights of others, trampling on the environment and forgoing all sense of human decency. How else can we explain why on the day a major conglomerate announced a profit of billions, it too front-paged a major dismissal plan of their workers, once their very source of existense. Call it retrenchment, VSS or whatever, it is still as good as taking away their dignity. How, automated, computer generated bills must be paid without fail even if the week supply of food rot in the fridge after a black-out and murky water in the pipes stink to high heaven. We have all lost the virtue of others above self.

But here, in the small market hall, there are people who still care. People who still worry that their weight and measures were reduced somehow and the money earned blemished to a point it is ‘haram’, and they want no part of them. Let it be to them that they give more, the more to made up the shortage and as a ‘sedekah’ – gift of ‘ikhlas’ and from the heart.

That was truly the lesson and challenge of the ‘free extra’.

Pasar Maghrib is located at Jalan Pasir Panjang close to Maktab Perguruan Pasir Panjang. It was called so as it operated late afternoon and well pass the sunset, time for Maghrib prayer; something extraordinary in Kuala Terengganu as other markets are usually closed at five. It was a group of shanty huts until its redevelopment in 2001. Despite being renamed ‘Pasar Bukit Besar’ it remain to the locals as Pasar Maghrib.

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