Meeting Jabba The Hutt At Mokhtar’s

In a darkened room, I met the monster Mokhtar keeps as a pet. I nicknamed it Jabba the Hutt. Built by Mokhtar’s father in 1954, the brick oven is similar in design to those used in villages in India. The masonry oven known as a brick oven or stone oven dates back to medieval times.

Jabba has an insatiable appetite for firewood. Mokhtar’s father used to feed it rubberwood when rubber trees were plentiful in Malaysia. It is now fed with discarded wooden furniture. I asked Mokhtar and his response was: “Kayu getah sangat mahal sekarang, bro” (Rubberwood is very expensive now, bro).

So whenever someone in Slim River wants to discard old furniture, they send it to Mokhtar. The bakery is like a recycling center for wood. He turns wood into ashes and bread.

Mokhtar is a media-savvy person. He knew I wanted to capture the ray of lights spilling out from a hole in the ceiling. He waited patiently as I fine-tuned the power of the Sony HVL-F60M wireless flash.

He (Mokhtar, not Jabba) is a celebrity. I understand he appeared on all local television channels from TV1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 to TV 36 or something. He took me to his house nearby to show me newspaper cuttings and pictures framed and hanging from his living room wall.

While there, I noticed furniture was unusually sparse. In my mind, I wanted to ask Mokhtar:

“Bro, if i were to give you a nice IKEA wood table for your birthday, will you promise to assemble it and use it as a table?”

I didn’t ask in the end for I can’t bear to hear his answer. To be continued…

Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 2500, f4, 1/60 sec.

Fresh From The Oven

Baker Mokhtar’s late father was Indian-Muslim and his mother a Malay. Like his paternal grandfather, they are from a long line of bakers from Northern India.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear him describe the filling of each type of bread bun in Cantonese. There’s Yeah Chi (coconut shavings), Chee Mah (sesame), Ngau Yow (butter), Kar Yang (kaya or coconut egg jam) and Tau Sar (bean paste); Mokhtar rattled away.

It may seem routine to Mokhtar but if you think about it, what a rich tradition he inherited. Wonderful to taste this heritage product that has adapted to local taste by blending recipes from different cultures.

Mokhtar also bakes regular white Bengali bread loaves but they weren’t ready at the time I was there.

Next: I asked him to show me the big traditional brick oven that he has hidden in another room.

Sony Alpha a7R, ISO 400, f4, 1/60 sec.