THE name Brickendonbury, where the Malaysian-owned Tun Razak Rubber Research Centre (TARRC) is located, is synonymous to the Merdeka Carnival or Family Day as it used to be known.
The sprawling grounds and its grand, majestic-looking mansion, the office of TARRC since 1974, does not only house research laboratories, but also functions as a promotion centre for Malaysian rubber.
It is the place where scientists and researchers had, for years, converged for the annual gathering of Malaysians in the United Kingdom and friends of Malaysia.
Last week, as we trooped across the lawn strewn with golden leaves, the trees turning a different hue in the early autumn morning, it dawned on me on how much Brickendonbury, an hour’s drive from here, had come to mean to me and my family.
In fact, it is true, too, for most Malaysians who had made the UK their home and those who came to work or study here.
Brickendonbury is to me not just synonymous to the aromatic smell of satay drifting in the late summer or early autumn air, the squeals and laughter of children in their Malaysian costumes on the merry-go-round or clutching their Jalur Gemilang while watching Punch and Judy. It is more than that.
I have been going to the annual celebration at TARRC in Brickendonbury, close to 30 times now, always feeling a lump rising in my throat as we watch the Malaysian flag flying over the English countryside, listening to the national anthem and other patriotic songs sung by members of the Malaysian community in and around London and their flag-waving children.
This year, as I watched the children in their smart traditional costumes sing Kami Anak Malaysia, I remembered how,
not too long ago, as my own children were growing up, I was tasked with training young Malaysians patriotic songs for the occasion.
Some, born and bred in this English surroundings, like mine, struggled with the words, but never did they allow their spirit of patriotism to diminish.
When they couldn’t handle long tongue twisting words, they made up with more vigorous waves of the flag. This is one of many occasions growing up in a foreign country, where they could truly belt out the Malaysian in them.
Soon, they and other children took part in children’s events; colouring in Malaysian flags gave way to silat demonstrations and football in the field with the bigger boys, while my girl performed the traditional Malay dance on stage.
For many years, while there were also cultural troupes from Malaysia coming to entertain, when the budget permitted, my daughter, Rehana, would perform with the Sri Bulan London-based cultural group, while my son, Taufiq, performed silat.
It gave me so much joy to see them getting involved, showing that thousands miles away need not mean that they didn’t know their culture.
Being involved also meant that while I was filming and documenting the events for reports back home, I was also, sometimes, hauled in to do the emcee work; something I truly enjoyed.
This year, I watched with pride, too, as my youngest girl, Nona, filmed the event. As a child, she took part in the children’s tug-of-war and now, she is looking at these events from a different set of lens.
This year’s celebrations coincided with the country’s 60th independence celebrations, and expectations were high for some special events.
While in the past years we were lucky to have comedian Afdlin Shauki and Ombak Rindu singer Adira, we also have home-grown ones, such as Lisa Nurdin and now the ubiquitous and multi-talented singing engineer, Jefri Ramli, who doubled as entertainer and emcee. Suffice to say, year after year, we were glued in front of the stage in front of the TARRC building, watching the inang, the lantern dance or the Indian dance, while waiting for the joget lambak and poco-poco.
Over the years, the event at TARRC had attracted a lot of local people from the surrounding areas.
They came to join in the fun and have a glimpse of Malaysia’s culture, tasting food from various Malaysian stalls and enjoying the fun and games.
Over the last few years, what is becoming a regular event is the march past by members of the National Malaya and Borneo Veterans Associations and their exhibitions of stint in the tropical jungles of Malaya in the 1960s.
This year, we were treated to a short but wonderful performance by Syrian refugee children under the Drum for Hope Project by Maybank Heart and Mercy Malaysia UK. Now relocated in surrounding areas of Nottingham, the children were trained by members of Hands percussion from Malaysia and what a wonderful performance they gave.
One of the main attractions of the carnival each year, would have to be the food stalls serving Malaysian delicacies, sometimes competing with each other for the best kway teow goreng, nasi lemak and satay. When once Satay Kajang from Lani used to
attract the longest queue, now it is Roti King!
I once tried joining the competition by making mee bandung and sardine rolls! Suffice to say, the queue was just as long but I gave up after doing it for two years because I wanted to join in the musical chairs. That got me in trouble because I sat on a man’s lap while fighting for a chair. That was the end of mixed gender musical chairs for the carnival.
Malaysians from all nooks and corners of the UK would always make it to Brickendonbury for this occasion — members of the Malay Community of London, those old sailors and backpackers who found their way to the English shores in the 1950s and 1960s would always come in coaches from their club in Cricketfield, east London. Pak Yahya Bahari would bring sweets and fruits for the children; alas he hasn’t been seen during the last few years due to old age. Members like Pak Ali Bajerai and Pak Mat Abu came aided by their families — but they came.
In those days, free coaches were provided to take us from the old Malaysia Hall here to TARRC but now, even without, people still made their way there in droves.
Bad weather and strict budget cut never stopped us from enjoying ourselves.