Sunday, September 30, 2012

Mother 2 - Old Malaya Days

As I mentioned in my last posting, Malaya of the late forties and early fifties was under the British rule after the Japanese were defeated in the second world war. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war. All state and federal administrative functions were British and the Brits held the various Managerial positions, with each Sultan having a British Adviser, who not only advise but also mostly run and rule the state. The way things were handled then did not go well with the people and they formed factions to fight the British rule, the most militant of which was the Communists, who went underground. Then there were the clandestine Communist sympathizers providing them assistance as and when feasible, to counter any effort by the British to rehabilitate the country in the aftermath of the war. 

As a young boy, pre-school and primary school years, I grew up in the above era. There were curfew hours, when all have to stay indoors; there were restricted movements with inter-town travels only allowed with police escorts; and there were food rationing. If Mum and Dad wants to return to Muar from Johor Bahru, of course with me and my sisters in tow, we have to schedule our trips according to the police escort hours. If one dares to travel on their own without the escort, one runs the risk of being ambushed by the Communists or worse still, one may be marked as a Sympathizer!

We lived in a government house located very close to the main entrance to the British Advisers residence in Johor Bahru. This residence is in a fenced up, sprawling area of perhaps 50 acres in size, with a very large double story bungalow, with several servant quarters attached to it at the back. Its guarded around the clock but as a child I was free to roam the grounds and used to play there often. It has four tennis courts, a lawn bowling pitch and garages for several cars. I used to watch the Mat Sallehs (that's how we called the Brits) playing tennis and/or bowling; men in their white shirt and shorts and ladies in white skirts or gowns. I became friendly with the servants working in the house. In fact, they were all friendly with us and with Mum and Dad. (Mum and Dad are by nature friendly with everybody, irrespective of colour, creed and social standings. They were as friendly to the servants of the BA Residence as they were to the Adviser himself and this nature of theirs hold true with other members of the society we live in). The servants would often drop by our house for chats, tea and biscuits (some they bring from the 'big house') but I suspect they were 'informers' to Dad and maybe Mum as well on the BA's activities etc. Mum and Dad were with the activist movement then and any inside information of the British would be useful. Me, I enjoyed the scones, the branded British biscuits, chocolates, etc. that they bring along. I get these whenever I go into the residence as well. I even had meals there sometimes. The BA then was a bachelor, so no lady of the house to fuss over things and no children of his running around.

Mum and Dad meanwhile were active with the newly formed political party then which was fighting for the peoples' rights to self rule. They had the British to contend with on one hand and the Communists on the other. History had it that we gained independence and D day was 31st August 1957. However, all these gains were not without problems. The insurgents created a lot of havoc around the country. They continued to thwart attempts made to peaceful transitions from the British to local self rule, with the Sultans as Head of state.  The Communists would continue to attack government installations, police stations, housing communities, and even ambushed fleet of cars travelling along lonely interstate and inter town roads. The activists, Mum and Dad included, continued their fight to gain freedom from the British meanwhile. The first legislative elections were held in 1954 with a resounding victory by the ruling party that remained in power until today, winning elections after elections every four to five years. Mum stood in one of the elections and won. I remember having to assist the campaign helpers when Mum stood for elections and learnt a lot of the struggles the elders went through.

After gaining independence, there was the initiative to form Malaysia, which was to include Sarawak, Sabah, Brunei and Singapore with Peninsular Malaya. However history showed that Brunei declined to join in and Singapore pulled out after a short while. Sarawak and Sabah were indecisive. A fact finding mission was held to gauge the peoples' response to the proposal and it was headed by one Lord Cobbolt from the British East Asia London Office. Mum was one of those engaged in the mission, which was called the Cobbolt Commission. The result of the mission was a very positive yes and so Malaysia was formed with Sarawak and Sabah. I remember Mum, after returning from the mission, was treated somewhat a celebrity in the eyes of the local.  She remained as popular from then until her last days. The elders remember her very well.

Mum and Dad continued sacrificing their time and energy to the political party, with both of them holding positions in the governing body, and leading committees and sub-committees. Mum had been the Treasurer of the Women's wing for many years and Dad was the Head of the youth movement from his younger days until he no more can call himself 'youth' and that was at an age of 45, I think. At the same time he was the permanent Chairman of the movement for many many years. Both of them got voted in, year in and year out repeatedly. Not that there were no other contenders for the positions during election of office bearers, but I guess their popularity and performance when in office speaks volumes of their having been voted in again and again. This involvement by them took them away from home very very often. Many times I followed them to the politicl party headquarters and in the process learnt quite a few things about life, rights and freedoms. I was in my formative growing up years, and I think it was destined right timing for me. May the Almighty be pleased with Mum's and Dad's efforts and I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to experience what I had gone through. I am what I am today as a result of growing up in those difficult years.

Everyone were excited when news came that the late Tungku Abdul Rahman Putra, the first Prime Minister and his loyalist team members, managed to convince the British to give independence and allow self rule to Malaya. They landed in Malacca, now Melaka, on their return from the mission and were duly accorded the grand welcome they deserved. Everyone then waited for the proclamation of independence at midnight of 31st August 1957. The shouts of 'Merdeka' reverberated through the nation called by the late First Prime Minister, while the British flag was lowered and the new Malaysian flag raised in all glory. Thus began our self rule and independence. The country has prospered, ups and downs notwithstanding, ever since, and may the country continue to prosper.......

MKI Ramblings Unlimited
Petaling Jaya

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mother 1 - The Early Days

This is an attempt to relate what I can recall of the early days and the happenings in the lives of my parents, Hj Ismail bin Md Yassin and Hjh Kalthum binti Ali. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the facts I put through but from memory recall its the best I can do. I stand corrected if any of my readers would care to straighten the facts. These thoughts will be posted here in installments, and as and when feasible.

Hjh Kalthum binti Ali was the eldest child of my maternal grandparents Ali bin Hj Budin and Dara binti Yaakob.  She has thirteen siblings one of whom, the third child, passed away in infancy and another, the fourth child, while studying at University Malaya, located in Singapore at that time. I met all, although memories of some of them are just vague, except the one who died in infancy. Eight of my Mother's younger brothers and sisters are still alive now.

Mother grew up in Muar and attended a religious school that was close to the house she stayed in. She, and a few of her younger siblings (I think there were three of them then) were looked after by her paternal Uncle, Hj Abdul Rahim bin Budin, the eldest brother of Ali bin Hj Budin. Grandpa Ali, the seventh of eight siblings, was then working in Pagoh and only came back to Muar occassionally.  When Grandpa got himself transferred to Muar, he built a house on a piece of land that he bought within the Muar township. Mother stayed in this house and continued her schooling in the religious school and then went on to become a religious teacher. I do not know whether she had any teaching training but a teacher she became.

Father, meanwhile attended Muar High School, an English school, and also the same religious school that Mother attended. That was where they knew each other. He went to work in the police depot in Johore Bahru in the early years of 1940s, possibily in 1940 itself, as a non-uniformed staff and later, presumably after he had saved enough money, married Mother. Mother, to be close to Father after they got married, got herself transferred to another religious school in Johore Bahru, continuing as a teacher and later went on to become the headmistress of the school.

1940's was when Malaya (it was not Malaysia yet then) was under Japanese occupation, in the midst of the 2nd world war. I was told that times were hard then. There were not enough food, freedom of movements were curtailed, and the Japanese were tyranical slave masters. One of my uncles, Father's younger brother, Abdul Jalil, died at the hands of the Japanese when he was in his late teens. I came along in the midst of the Japanese occupation. I was initially left in the care of my grandparents in Muar until I was about two years old when Mother brought me along with her to Johore Bahru. When she goes to teach in school I was left with a neighbour who babysits me and a little later my sister as well. A couple of years later Father was given a Government staff quarters to live in and by then Mother managed to arrange for a live-in maid to look after us little kids! Several years later we moved into another quarters which was much bigger and just as well, since the family had grown bigger. All my ten siblings were born between these two Government quarters.

As a result of the war, and the running of the country, first by the Japanese and later the British, coupled with insurgency of the communists and anti-British movements, times continued to be hard. You all would have read these in history books in school, and if not books on them are available in the library. Food were rationed, especially rice and each family had to keep food ration cards, There were curfew hours and there were restricted residents areas. All these had incited the locals to fight for their rights of freedom. They moved towards obtaining self rule and independence from the British which was obtained after much effort from all locals irrespective of race and religion. I grew up in this era. The era of activists, strong political inclinations, to the right or to the left, and my parents were deep into the thick of things. They fought, together with other activists of the time, the formation of the Malayan Union, a British attempt at further dividing the people and ruling them!!, They continued to be active through the years after that in politics.

As a small boy, from pre-school and through primary school, I often followed my Father and Mother or one of them at a time, to their political meetings and gatherings. I used to listen to the speeches, some fiery, some hard-hitting the British (and I think the pro-British locals as well!!) and some thought provoking on the future of the nation. I used to bring along my school work and home work with me when I followed them. I knew almost all the political leaders of the time and listened to their speeches, their ideas, ideals and what they fought for. Coupled with what I saw in terms of various developments, the happenings around us, the transformation of the country into an independent state, formed the basis of my own political thinking and ideals. My Father and Mother were my role models then. They showed me the way, I may not agree totally with them then, but they showed me the way, and I took it all to be what I am today, physically, socially, emotionally and spiritually. May Allah bless them for all their sacrifices, and for giving their hands guiding us, their children, to be who we are today. May Allah be pleased.....

MKI Ramblings Unlimited,
Petaling Jaya

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Quintessential Dad - Republished

Hj Ismail bin Md Yassin bin Abdul Jani bin Moepati
22 Nov 1921 - 8 Aug 1986

Dad, Several Years Before His Retirement From Government Service

That’s my dad. A quintessential dad, an inspiration to me especially and I believe to my siblings too. He held no secrets nor grudges on anyone and was friendly to all irrespective of colour, creed and social status. He was as comfortable mixing with the cleaners, grass-cutters and the like as he was with family, friends, neighbours and dignitaries. He was ever ready to help those in need and would share what he had with others. He was a good planner and had very clear vision and mission in life. I was often reminded to treat another person as a human being, not according to position. I was taught to respect elders always and to seek knowledge from them, to learn from their experience. I was told at a young age to always keep a note book and a pencil/pen in my pocket and use them. He told me you will forget what you see, what you hear unless you write those that you want to remember. Indeed, motivational gurus taught that you will remember only 20% of what you hear, 40% of what you see and hear, and 70 – 80% of what you see, hear and do. He once asked me to write in my notebook, “There is never any glory in never failing but a lot in arising after every fall”. I have held this close to my heart all my life. Never give up but to strive to do better always.

As I mentioned in my previous posting on my ancestors, dad was the eldest amongst his siblings. Being the eldest he learnt quickly that it was his responsibility to take care of the siblings just as it was his responsibility to take care of his immediate family. He was the eldest son (his six siblings, dad was fourth, of the same father and mother died when they were very young, and nine other younger siblings from a step-mother). Granddad was very sickly towards the end of his life and passed away at an age of sixtyish when dad was about 35. At that age he suddenly found that he had a big family to look after. Six of the younger siblings were at various stages of schooling age with the youngest just starting at year one or was it year two? (my memory is playing tricks with me, ha ha ha!). The two youngest were younger than me and one above that a couple of years older. So, my uncles and aunties became my playmates.

In his younger days, dad went to an English school in the mornings and attended religious school in the afternoon. It was in the afternoon religious school that he had eyes for this beautiful girl in the same class with him. She was brought to school daily by a fully covered trishaw (society was very strict then, a young woman and a young man were not to be seen together at all, let alone chit chat, while dating was taboo!). She had a younger brother whom dad befriended and they became close to each other. Obviously dad had ulterior motives, ha ha!

Mum, Active in Politics, Women's Movement, Community and Public Service

This beautiful girl ultimately became his wife and is my dear mum. They got married on 3rd January 1943 and I came along to start messing with their lives in September 1944. Malaya (became Malaysia in September 1963) was at that time under Japanese occupation and I was told that life was very hard then. Rice was scarce while tapioca became the staple food for a while. Milk was difficult to come by, and as an infant I was fed boiled tapioca water instead. Luckily there was breast milk and that was a luxury since mum was then a teacher and had to be away from home. I was taken care of by my grandma for a while until Mum found a baby- sister for me. That was how I had to survive with tapioca water, since breast milk supply was away from home ha ha!! Things improved a lot after the Japanese left (they lost the war, remember) and the British took over administering the country. Substitute baby milk was subsequently made available then and it was of the ‘Lactogen’ brand. Other brands were introduced much, much later. After me, nine other siblings followed to maintain messing up mum’s and dad’s lives, and together with a few of my uncles and aunties it was a crowd in the house, ha ha!

Three Days After Their Wedding on 3rd January 1943

Dad started work in the Government service initially at the Police Depot as a civilian staff and stayed in that office for several years. Many of his colleagues then, both uniformed and civilian, became his close friends and they came to the house to learn English and English conversation under dad’s tutelage. Apparently dad was privileged to have gone through an English school, learnt and studied English, and true to his character his tutelage was voluntary without expecting anything in return. I used to sit in in his English class and he was very patient and helpful to the point of being overly accommodating to the errors and omissions made when tutoring his colleagues. I picked up English here and perhaps picked up some of his character traits as well.
From the Police Department he was transferred to the Government Audit department, then to the Medical Bureau and finally to the Marine department where he retired as a Deputy Port officer. At the same time he was involved with the scout movement and also heavily involved with a political party that came into power to rule the country. I remember that he was repeatedly voted in as the Youth Chief for many years. Mum was equally involved and stayed on as the Women’s division treasurer being voted in year after year by members.
With Dad and Mum heavily involved in the current politics then and away from home so often we, the children, were left at home on our own and I, being the eldest but still in school, was tasked to look after my siblings. I learnt to do the marketing, cooking and other chores very early. Apart from that I was also exposed to many life challenges at a very young age just as dad was when he was young but his was out of circumstances while mine was out of design!! (More of this in my upcoming postings). I am thankful that I was given the opportunity to grow up and grow fast!! May the Almighty be pleased…..

MKI Ramblings Unlimited
Petaling Jaya

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Passing Away of A Legendary Community Leader - That Was My Mum.

Hajjah Kalthum Binti Ali, my mother, passed away peacefully at 0154hrs on Tuesday 4th September 2012. Her recorded birth date was 22 August 1922, which made her officially recorded age as 90 years. However I remember seeing notes that she and my late dad had written in their 'scrap' books, and indeed she had told me when I was younger that her actual birth date was 3 years prior to the official registration of her birth date. So that made her 93 years old when she passed away. The reason for this delay in registration was because of the practice at that time when parents did not give much thought to registering their newborns and when they do register they just pluck a date to record, some to their advantage, for example in starting school, or much later in starting work or when getting married. It would be so long later that they forget the actual dates. Only the individual would remember their own birth date. The same was with my dad's birth date. He was one year older than Mum.

Mum led a full and active life. She had ten children, yours sincerely being the eldest, and brought all of us up in an exemplary manner. She balanced worldly commitment on a same platform with obligations to spiritual demands. She taught us to be humble, to respect others and to fear Allah the Almighty. She was our pillar of strength, our base reference, always there for us and to many of us our savior in times of need. She divides her time for her husband, children and the needs of the community well. Yes, she had a good life and I will try to write more of how exemplary she was in the days or weeks to come. For this post let me just concentrate briefly on the last two years or so of her life.

She had been active, albeit in her slow mannerism, as she was going on in age and tire herself easily, until the late evening of 29 April 2010, a Thursday or eve of Friday 30 April, when she had a fall in her room, after losing her balance when she got up to go to the toilet. The maid was at hand to help her up. She did not go to the hospital but instead went the next morning with one of my sisters, who had for the past 23 years stayed with Mum, to consult a lady masseuse whom people in the neighbourhood considered an expert on bone fractures and such!! The masseuse opined that there was no fracture but indicated that Mum's back bone was out of alignment and would need traditional treatment to realign the back bone. All the other children only knew of the fall two nights later when Mum's condition got worse and in great pain!! She was brought to hospital by ambulance and promptly attended to. An x-ray image taken of her back bone showed a compressed 4th vertebrae, a result of the fall. She had a good rest that night in hospital, and stayed on for a few nights more.

 Mum's condition after that fall slowly deteriorated. After her discharge from hospital she was given intensive care by her children and grandchildren. She needed to take it easy. The doctor who attended to her suggested we allow her compressed bone to heal naturally and prescribed medicines for her. She continued with medication and doctors' follow-up treatment but one day, about three weeks later she had again to be hospitalised when she lost a lot of blood due to an internal bleeding. The hospital again promptly attended to her and she recovered, but not fully apparently.

Mum was going on to 91 then. She could walk, albeit very slowly initially, but later it became a great effort to even take a few steps from her room to the sitting hall just outside of the room. She needed full attention and had to be assisted in all her daily routines. She could not manage personal grooming on her own anymore. She sat with us at meal times but that too became an effort for her. Her hands were shaking and could not hold the spoon steady for long. It pained us to see her in that condition, and we know that she was fighting hard to do 'things' on her own. We were patient with her. Meals took longer than normal but that was okay with us.
As time goes on and as her condition deteriorated she had to be wheeled around even in the house. All of us took turns to spend time with her. Mum agreed that she had to let go of her administrative routines (she had, until the moment, still held certain and several positions in voluntary work within the community) and one sister looked into divesting these including taking over her banking needs. Banking had become another great effort for her. The bank officer, the kind soul, had to go to her in the car, see to all the administrative banking needs there personally. To take her to the bank was another effort in itself. Initially it was quite okay to take her out in the car once in a while, away from the confines of the house but later even these outings became difficult for her. She would be very tired. She would fall asleep in the car, sometimes on the way out of the house. She was no longer interested to go out.

Mum's condition deteriorated further when she could no longer sit in the wheel chair for too long. She would fall asleep. She would not be able to get out of bed to sit on the wheel chair on her own and had to be assisted. Then later she was lying in bed and had difficulty to sit up on her own. She had to be assisted. The wheel chair was left aside unused and she does not leave the room. All attention to her was done in bed. 

Throughout all the above, Mum was constantly reading the Quran, reciting zikir, and would chat cheerfully with us whenever we are around to visit. Sometimes we would read the Quran together, sometimes we read and she listened. Her lips were always moving, perhaps reciting zikir softly. About four months ago, she was no longer interested in sitting up in bed and preferred to lie down all the time. She acknowledged all those who came to visit, sometimes remembering who they were and sometimes she just stared at them. She did not talk and would smile a lot.

This last month was the month of Syawal in the Muslim Calendar. A month of rejoicing after fasting the whole month of Ramadhan prior to it. My wife and I, our children and grandchildren drove to JB on the second day of Syawal to be with Mum. We had a gathering of the big family on the third day of Syawal (most of my siblings and their children and grandchildren were there), starting with the reading of verses from the Quran and reciting zikir and doa. Top activity was a barbecue, managed by the third generation in the family. There was a good turnout as always and Mum's house 'Teratak Kasih' was a hive of activities for three days straight. Mum however remained in her room, aware of what's going on but in her condition did not (or could not) join in the merriment. Then came time for us to leave and Teratak Kasih became quiet again. The daily routine there continued until the second week of Syawal.

We were at an uncle's house one evening for a Syawal gathering after dusk. It was Saturday 1st of September 2012. I received a call from my sister in JB that Mum's condition was bad. Her blood pressure had dropped to 70/40, which was very low. The family doctor advised for everyone to be alerted but said not to panic and instead to monitor her blood pressure. I hitched a ride from my brother-in-law who happened to be in KL and returning to JB that night. We arrived in JB at about 2.00am on 2nd September.

Mum's condition remained the same for most of the time. She was breathing heavily but was calm. We read the Quran by her bedside and took turns reciting the zikir close to her through the night and onto the whole of Sunday. Her blood pressure fluctuated between 70/40 and 90/60 most of the time and she continued to breathe heavily.

On Monday 3rd September Mum's blood pressure rose to 110/70 and remained stable. She was then breathing normally and managed a smile now and then. She continued to be calm. I decided to follow another brother-in-law who was driving back to KL alone, arriving home at about 6.00pm. However, soon after the Isya' prayer I received a call that Mum's condition had gotten bad again and this time her blood pressure could not be read. We decided to go back to JB then. Sita said she will drive first and let me rest and to take over the driving only if she got sleepy. It was about 11.00pm 3rd September then. I could not sleep. I silently said my prayers in the car. At 2.00 am my sister called to say that Mum had passed away at 1.54am. I made several phone calls to inform kinfolks of the news while Sita continued to drive all the way. My siblings said it was up to me to decide how and when to perform the funeral and burial services.

We arrived in Teratak Kasih at close to 3.00am. I considered Mum's siblings, (Mum was the eldest) there were five of them living in KL, having to drive all the way to JB and would only start their journeys early in the morning. I then decided that preparatory services be started at about 9.00 am, prayers in the house at 12.00 and then in the mosque after the Zohor prayers. All went like clockwork. A police report of the death was made, burial grounds arranged and funeral services arranged accordingly. Mum's younger brothers and sisters, and other family members and friends, arrived in time for the last rights. Even son Shaffik arrived from Sarawak just in time for the funeral services, having arrived by air at Senai airport at noon and Amir fetching him to Teratak Kasih.

Mum was finally laid to rest in a grave close to my late dad, my grandad, step grandma, my uncles and other relatives. It was not a family burial plot but it so happened that the space could accommodate family members together. Services were over by about 3.00pm and all of us went back to Teratak Kasih. We held prayers for late Mum for three nights in succession attended by congregation of the mosque and family members. So ends the life of a loving wife and mother, a Legendary Community Leader, an Activist, a Politician, a teacher, a religious motivator, a 'Sri Kandi' in the eyes of the community. That was my Mother...... May Allah bless her and place her in the gardens of Jannah together with those whom He pleases..... Amin ya Rabbul AlAmin.

MKI Ramblings Unlimited,
Petaling Jaya