Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Snake Charmer, Loktang, Pekji and Weil Weil

The Circus, Ice Skating Shows and Musicals
Were not within our family budget in the '60s
But there were many free entertainment options
Which Ma had lined up for us 

There was the Snake Charmer, and his Apprentice
Beckoning us to the roots of the Banyan Tree
On Beach Road’s grassy banks
With the sound of his wind instrument
And the contents of his wicker baskets
Under the cool shade
His assistant uncovered the lid
And a cobra uncoiled itself
And danced to the tune of the flute   
A couple more slithered on the turf
As people reached for their pockets
When the coins had piled up
The reptiles were kept
A new act unravelled
The magician transformed into an Oracle
And his aide was blindfolded
As he responded to questions
From the astounded audience
When the boy finally fainted
We knew it was time to be disbanded

Ma’s idea of punishment for misconduct
Was to send us to watch the Lok-tang
As she got into a trance
By the forked road next to our fence
Dressed in light blue tunic and pants
The medium was hired to chase demons
Lurking behind the willow strands
She summoned Guan Dong with a swish, swish of her Guan Blade
She dazzled the crowd with her Spiked Ball Mallet
And took our breaths away with a ‘Sealing of Mouth’ ritual
Where she used long, brass needles to poke a hole in her face
And sealed it by sliding hot, burning coal iron on her cheeks!

When the Wayang Pekji set up stage
On the vacant lot next to the Central cinema
We would be tossing and turning in our beds
Or searching for the rojak man in our pyjamas
Lured by the vigorous slicing of cucumber, pineapple and turnip
Tossed and drenched in shrimp paste and peanut bits
In a yellow glazed bowl
Each handful scooped into a banana leaf boat
With a toothpick anchored at its stern
We elbowed our way among the throng of sweaty spectators
And tuned out the opera actors’ piercing notes
Along with their sharp movements, costumes and make-up
If there was still money in our pockets
We would head for the ‘tikam tikam’ to try our luck
A peanut flake biscuit in a cellophane wrap
Which was ripped apart to reveal a card
Which said "Try again", so better to trudge back to bed!

If Ma saw no signs of repentance after the Lok-tang encounter
She would not hesitate to send us to watch the Kavadi carriers
With bow-shaped wooden contraptions on their shoulders
Hooks and spikes poked and pulled the skins on their bodies and faces
As they dedicated their vows to their god Murugan
The devotees meandered on the streets in a trance
They chanted 'Weil, weil' on this day of Thaipusam
With friends and family members who cheered and sang
To the fast beats of the loud music and drums 

* Rojak - Spicy fruit salad
** Tikam-tikam - A game of chance

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