We heard the bell on the night of Ramadan
I HAVE fond memories of the Ramadan month as a boy when I was living in Terengganu.
My father, a postal clerk, was a strict man when it came to fasting and we started fasting during primary school or even before that.
By the age of five or six, almost all the children in the family would have observed the fast. We would start by fasting for half a day, then the whole day.
We had a big extended family in the house, and I can still recall the atmosphere in the house during the fasting month.
Mother and grandmother would have spent the day making kuih and bubur lambuk.
Some of the cakes that we had for berbuka included akok, a sweet Terengganu cake made of eggs baked in a mould, and beleda, a jelly dried in the sun until crusted sugar appears on the surface
We had horribly-sweet things like nek bat, the cake which was soaked in sugar.
It took my mother the whole day to make this cake, patiently mixing the batter and pour them into moulds.
The baking was unique. She would place coconut husks above and below the moulds and burn them and the nek bat would turn out nicely.
Mother still found time to cook bubur lambuk.
It was quite easy to get the ingredients for all these delicacies. Pasar Tanjung, the morning market, was right in front of our house.
The market was a wonderful place. Besides the fish, meat and vegetables, you could also buy baskets and trays and other things at the market.
The women would have their selendang over their heads. They wore selendang in those days (not the hijab).
I would stare out of the window of my house at the market, soaking in the atmosphere, the vendors, the people and the haggling and all the other "market noises" and happenings.
In the late afternoon, we, the children, would be sent to the market to buy ice. It was the days when there were no fridges.
An "ice-man" would come with a huge block of ice from a factory in Balik Bukit. He would saw it into smaller chunks for a group of kids who would cut it down further to be sold at 10 sen or 15 sen per block.
We would buy these blocks from these kids.
The ice was to chill the rose syrup we had for berbuka puasa. The syrup was made by our parents at home.
The highlight of Ramadan was of course, the breaking of fast each day.
Our buka puasa routine was quite simple really. Everyone would gather around the dining table.
Then the genta (bell) would be clanged, and some of the kids would fire their meriam buloh.
We would wait for geduk (drum) or beduk to sound. It would be getting dark, and we would hear the sound of azan.
In Kuala Terengganu, there is a surau every few hundred yards.
It was a wonderful time to hear the call of azan prayers from the minaret of the nearby mosque.
Father would recite a short doa and then we would start to tuck in.
We always overate and got bloated. Ice made you feel that way.
And we always promised ourselves that we would not do it again the next day.
Father would quickly finish his meal, then wear his sarong and baju melayu and cycle to the mosque.
On nights when we followed him, everyone would walk to the mosque. We would stand in the back row with the other kids.
After prayers, father would buy the day's newspaper. Newspapers in those days arrived in Kuala Terengganu after maghrib.
We always had two newspapers in our home -- Utusan Melayu in Jawi and the Straits Times.
I learned to read Jawi before I learnt to read roman letters.
Father would buy the papers at Kedai Abdullah Al-Yunani. The shopkeepers were a Chinese family from Yunan. The family is still there.
The shop that actually sells the newspapers is also still there but is under threat now because the government wants to re-develop the area.
Perhaps the most memorable Ramadan night of all was the night we went to Bukit Puteri.
We walked up to Bukit Puteri after solat maghrib at the Masjid Abidin. I was then in my lower secondary year.
Bukit Puteri is right in the centre of town, a short walk from Pasar Kedai Payang. It was pitch dark as we walked up the road in Padang Malaya into the compound of the Istana.
Ismail, who must have been all of 18-years-old, was our guide, and he was the person who clanged the genta in that fasting month.
Employed by the state government, Ismail carried the clanger in his pocket when he went to the mosque.
Bukit Puteri held many strange dreams, full of demons, for us. Many pitched battles were fought up there for the Terengganu throne.
There was an old balai at the foot of a puny lighthouse, and the tale was that in the cellar were crockery and silverware belonging to a Tuan Puteri and her courtesans.
That was how the hill got its name. There was talk that these were bunian people who had crossed over from another dimension into this world.
There were old graves under the dark canopies of tall trees, and as we walked up, there was sudden rustling in the bushes, and the occasional hoot of the owl. Our imaginations ran wild.
Ismail wanted to show us his place of work, and we were afraid, but curiosity held sway.
We huddled close together and saw the lights of Kuala Terengganu flickering at the foot of the hill. And that night, our esteem of Ismail rose considerably.
Most nights he would clamber up the hill alone to sound the genta of Kuala Terengganu.
Later, when I grew up, the bell was silent for many years.
In the early 60s, a Syeikh forbade ringing the bell because it was not Islamic.
I don't know of any other country in the world that uses a bell to announce buka puasa. But he was probably being a bit too strict about it.
Today, the bell is locked away in a hut known as the Pondok Genta. (The bell is being rung again during Ramadan, since 2006.)