Sunday, November 22, 2009

I remember when...: I turned from boy to man

On the 15 November 2009 an article came out in New Sunday Times.On page 15 to be precise.
It was taken from one of this blog's entry ; part 8 of the Terkenang semasa dulu series. It was about my experience undergoing the circumcision rituals back in 1972 in a remote village in Kedah.

It all started when En Arman from the NST desk e mail me through my FB inbox, asking if I can please translate my entry into English. I didn't ask him about any date line and I took my own sweet time to do it.

On the 13th November, Arman e-mailed me again,telling me he had done the translation coz they want it published on the 15th November. I knew Arman had his own column about Motoring in New Sunday Time€s and I just know he can translate it better then me. I was right, when the piece came out it was much better than I could have done. Thank you Arman.

Here are the links to my original entry and the one published in New Sunday Times.

I remember when...: I turned from boy to man



CIRCUMCISION is a rite of passage for boys in the kampung. DR ZULHISHAM GHAZALI recalls the day he faced the Tok Mudin

IT was November 1972, exactly 37 years ago during the year-end school holidays.

Our father came home one day and told us we would be going back to our hometown the next day, and with that I began my journey to becoming a man.

I had always loved going back to the kampung to meet our grandmother, Tok Chah, and the cousins.

We could play amongst the rubber trees and help our aunt, Mak Andak, tap rubber, or go to our grandmother's padi field.

We could climb manggis (mangosteen) trees and swim in the tandop (water locks). There were so many things to do. But this time, our father also had something planned for me.


We took a taxi from our Taiping home the next day for Kg Bujang. The first night in Kg Bujang, mother told me.

"Lusa hang masuk jawi tau! (You are going to be circumcised the day after next)."

I nodded in agreement. I often heard stories about how people masuk jawi but I didn't know what it was all about.

"Bapak! Masuk jawi tu lagu mana bapak? (Dad, how were you circumcised?)" I asked father.

"When you masuk jawi that means becoming a big person... we Muslims must masuk jawi," he said.

"Depa buat lagu mana bapak?Ada kawan cek kata depa kerat kote kita.Ya ka bapak?"

(How do they do it, father? My friend said that they cut our penis. Is it true, father?)

"Nah... the Tok Mudin will just cut a bit of skin of the front of your penis," father reassured me.

"Does it hurt?"

"Just a bit. Just for a while... then everything will be fine."

Dr Zulhisham Ghazali as a 5-year-old and as he is now
Dr Zulhisham Ghazali as a 5-year-old and as he is now

I nodded slowly. But in my mind, all sorts of thoughts went racing by.

They were going to cut it? A lot of it or just a bit? What would they use? A knife? Parang? Scissors?

I started feeling a bit scared. What if I cried and embarrassed myself in front of the kampung folk?

My uncle Pak Tam smiled at me, displaying a row of white teeth against his dark skin. Pak Tam was a soldier, just like my father. He had just come back from serving in the Congo.

"You are in for it Sham," he said with a smirk.

"I'm going to ask the Tok Mudin to cut the whole thing off and throw it to the chickens to be eaten," he said.

"I'm not scared Pak Tam," I retorted.

"My friend already masuk jawi and he said they don't cut the whole thing off... you are trying to scare me, aren't you?"

Pak Tam let out a huge guffaw, slapping his thighs. My other older relatives burst out laughing as well.

Later, my aunt, Mak Cik Jah, and uncle Hashim arrived from Alor Star, my two cousins in tow. Grandfather's house became noisier with children playing all over the yard.

On the third day, mother woke me up early in the morning. Father, Pak Tam and Uncle Hashim were having coffee and kuih.

They asked me to take a bath at the well outside. It was bone-chillingly cold.

At 8am, Tok Chah's entourage stepped out. All the girls were left behind. We headed to the house of Tok Ngah Arop, Tok Chah's brother.

The ceremony would be held there because three of his grandsons would be circumcised.

There were a lot of people there. There were three sheds with wooden floors to serve food to the visitors. It would also be used for the berzanji and marhaban readings.

Beside the house was the gedohoak (cooking tent) and I saw rubber wood fires burning. White rice was being cooked and I saw villagers cutting up beef and mutton for the kenduri.

The khatan ceremony was often as grand as a wedding ceremony. The women would be in the kitchen sorting out the cakes given by the neighbours.

The whole place smelled of home-brewed coffee made from freshly roasted coffee beans.

I was carried up to the house. We gathered in the living room. There were two banana trunks placed there.

In the background were five mats for us to lie down on after the ceremony. Above them were five rafia string hanging from the ceiling.

This was where we would be staying for the next two to three days.

As we entered the house, two old timers sitting there had to have their say.

"You guys are in for it. The Tok Mudin is coming with his axe to cut off your little birdies," one said.

"No... actually not an axe, he'll be using a wood saw," said the other.

The whole house erupted in laughter. We five skinny boys turned pale. We were on the verge of tears. For an hour there was some tension.

Then we heard cries from the compound.

"The Tok Mudin has arrived... the Tok Mudin has arrived. Let's catch whoever has not been circumcised and circumcise them together with the five."

The children who had been making a ruckus in the yard scattered.

We saw the figure of the Tok Mudin from where we sat.

He was a tall man with a big moustache He wore a kain pelikat with a green money belt, the kind pilgrims use when they go for the haj. He had on a tall songkok and a blazer and walked like a Panglima Perang.

Behind him was a younger man carrying a bag filled with the tools of his trade.

As he stepped into the living room, the five of us cowered.

"So who's going first?" asked the Tok Mudin.

There was silence.

Then Tok Ngah Arop said, "Bani will go first, then Sham.

"OK. Bani come here. Come and sit on this banana trunk.

The others turned and looked the other way. All of us hoped that Bani wouldn't scream.

"Sham, it's your turn now," said Pak Tam.

I thought to myself. How could it be so fast? I didn't even hear Bani cry out.

"Sit on the trunk," said the Tok Mudin.

Pak Tam held me from behind and asked me to look up. Pak Tam asked me to read a prayer and he whispered a prayer in my ear.

"What standard are you in?"

"Standard Four, Tok," my voice trembled. Suddenly I felt a sharp pain. Pak Tam tightened his grip on me.

"Bear with it. It's almost done," said Pak Tam.

"It's done. Carry him to the sleeping place," said Tok Mudin.

It was over in two minutes. Bani was smiling as I was laid down next to him, his kain pelikat suspended like a tent with the string from the ceiling.

When all five had been circumcised, the Tok Mudin took his leave. There were other kids to be circumcised in the next village.

The five of us were starting to feel the pain. Our penises were wrapped in a bandage known as a kundang, which was a gauze of coffee powder, spices and honey.

The worst part was taking off the bandage. For a week, warm water was dripped on the bandage to loosen it. It finally came off on the 10th day.

I was happy it was all over. I couldn't wait to start Standard Five with my new status as a "grown up".

In my 15 years of working as a general practitioner, I have circumcised 500 to 600 boys.

Today, it is rare to find parents organising elaborate ceremonies like in my childhood.

Boys after being circumcised at a ceremony in Kuala Lumpur in 1978.
Boys after being circumcised at a ceremony in Kuala Lumpur in 1978.

Monday, November 2, 2009


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