it was joy 32 years ago when Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Merdeka Day were celebrated close together.THE last time Hari Raya Puasa and Merdeka Day came so close together was in 1979 — six days apart. Tun Hussein Onn was prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad his deputy and Datuk Seri Najib Razak, the deputy minister of energy, telecommunications and post. the country’s economy was on the upswing.
This week, on a very rare occasion, Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Merdeka are celebrated back-to-back. the economy is unpredictable. Though the Merdeka merriment will this time be at full blast only on Sept 16 (Malaysia Day), Aug 31 will always be Malaysia’s Independence Day anniversary,in 1979, Hari Raya, determined according to the Muslim calendar, fell on Aug 25, the first day of Syawal.
The Muslim calendar follows the lunar cycle and is not synchronised with the Roman calendar. With an annual drift of 11 or 12 days, the seasonal relation repeats every 33 Islamic years or so.
Like this year, it was double joy all the same in 1979 and the long stretch of public holidays that came with it.Thirty-two years is a long time and many things have changed.
While the country is now showing signs of a slowdown and is bracing for the real impact of a weakened global recovery stemming from the European and American debt crises, the mood in 1979 was the opposite.”It’s Hari Raya boom time!” was the screaming headline in this paper on the eve of the celebration. the report was about the bustling economy with record export earnings of RM8.9 billion in the first five months of the year. Rubber and tin prices, the main commodities contributing to the exports at the time, were also at an all-time high.Note, however, that the country’s export earnings (full year) now is more than RM100 billion and that in 1979, a reporter’s monthly pay could be as low as RM300.
Even so, the economy was so buoyant then that the festive air was not affected at all when new fuel prices were announced just a day before Merdeka Day.Dr Mahathir, as deputy prime minister, announced that prices of premium petrol (probably equivalent to RON 97 today) and regular petrol (RON 95) would go up by a few sen per litre to 81 sen and 73 sen respectively. (Now, it is RM2.80 for RON 97 and RM1.90 for RON 95.)Hari Raya greetings were conveyed almost solely the old-fashioned way — through cards in the mail. Post offices were hives of activity two or three weeks before the festival to cope with the onslaught of mail. Well, that was way before the advent of e-cards and the various social networking applications which have taken a little burden off the postal workers.Merdeka Day was much anticipated with a grand rally at Merdeka Stadium held to commemorate the country’s 22nd year anniversary.For the first time, the Merdeka parade was telecast live in full colour as colour television hit Malaysian shores. the bush jacket was chic, the ministers and VIPs providing a galore of the attire during the ceremony.But some things just never change. Even in 32 years.For instance, this was the prime minister’s Hari Raya and Merdeka Day message — “Do not exploit religion for own ends”, which became the big bold headline in the NST on Aug 28.in his speech, the prime minister had urged Malaysians to ensure that none of their actions involving religion would jeopardise goodwill and unity among the people.funny many years down the road that we are still talking about the same thing and getting the same advice. the balik kampung rush was already in full swing in 1979 even though the circumstances and scale were different.Pictures in the old newspapers show the long queues of passengers waiting to board buses at the “new Puduraya bus terminal” and the mad scramble at the Kuala Lumpur train station.But the thing to note is that in 1979, the North-South Expressway which straddles the whole length of the west coast of the peninsula — and which is supposed to improve road travel — still did not exist.Those travelling by road during the festive rush had to endure hours of traffic crawl on the old trunk roads.And this inevitably would end up becoming the hottest topic of conversation when relatives and friends met in their hometowns on Raya morning.”It took me almost 10 hours from Kuala Lumpur to Penang…” a typical chat would start.”That’s nothing,” the inevitable reply would come. “We were stuck in Gopeng for eight hours because a steamroller overturned in the middle of the road and held up all traffic.”The NSE started with a lot of promise. the old snarls would be history, or so we thought.Today, about 15 years after the entire NSE stretch was opened, somehow we seem to be going back in time with the same old words to the same old conversation.That’s just the way it is. Some things never change.Selamat Hari Raya. Selamat Hari Merdeka. Drive safe.
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