Good Times And Bad Times

Parents are our greatest teachers. From the time we are born our parents are by our side to help us take the first baby steps to ensure we grow and develop well. They are there to guide us in our everyday activities and in making important decisions later in life. The lessons learned from our mothers and fathers are invaluable and shape the adults we become. We inherit not only their genes in determining physical characteristics and features but more enduringly, the family values, culture and traditions they inculcate in us.

Unlike teachers who teach us formally in the classroom through books and other teaching materials, parents nurture us informally through advice, persuasion and example. They pass down the teachings from their own upbringing and life’s experiences. Caring parents and a secure home environment go a long way in developing the full potential of children.

Childhood Memories

As a little girl, I remember following my mother around the house as she cooked and cleaned and found little ways of making our family life more comfortable. Being with her was precious bonding time and I kept busy in the kitchen helping to pound sambal in a lesung batu or to scrape coconut on the old kukur. It was here that I picked up the Malay housewife’s petua or household tips to perfect a recipe and make food taste more delicious – one of which is cooking with firewood or sabut (coconut husk).

Indeed, my mother’s cooking was done over open fire fed with firewood from the rubber estate behind the doctor’s quarters where we lived. I remember how happy we were collecting twigs and branches and helping to saw fallen trees after a storm. The rainy season brought the family good tidings as plenty of edible herbs and mushrooms growing in the clearing were picked and a month’s supply of firewood was cut, dried and stored in the shed behind the kitchen. Thus, in her own resourceful way, my mother contributed a great deal to the smooth-running of our home.

During the weekends, my doctor father was no less enthusiastic about putting food on the table for his seven hungry children and several relatives who stayed with us. The fruit season was an inviting time to drive twenty miles to Kampung Linggi to visit his 80 year old mother and to partake of the wonderful fruits – rambutan, manggis, langsat, durian – from the trees that grew abundantly in the grounds of the Bugis ancestral home. My grandmother, whom my siblings and I called “Tok”, would potter around the kitchen blowing into the embers and cooking my father’s favourite dishes despite being bent double with osteoporosis. Always, hanging above the kitchen fire, there would be rows of lempuk wrapped in pinang bark and left to smoke and mature until her brood descended upon her to devour them. The Malay delicacy made from durian, flour and sugar would then be sliced and served on a bed of freshly grated coconut. My father and brother would return in the early afternoon with their spoils of wild fowl and forest pheasants after a little hunting with their air rifles. They would also have picked up udang galah and  pucuk paku from a relative’s stall nearby. Heading back to Seremban after a late lunch cum tea, we would be gluttonously full and the car would be groaning with food to last the family a few wonderful meals. We were frugal then and eating out was a rarity.

A Time And A Place For Everything

Every culture has its own concept of time influenced not only by the physical environment in which the people live but also by their activities and occupations. People who live in a temperate climate and experience the four distinct seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter – organise their lives around them. Summer would be a good time for outdoor sports and activities, while during the cold, winter months bad weather would keep them indoors for more sedentary occupations. The clothes they wear would be very much determined by changes in the weather and climate. In tropical countries where the sun is ablaze throughout the year and temperatures do not vary much, people dress in lighter clothes for day and night. They can indulge in the same outdoor activities throughout the year.

By their very nature, day and night forebode contrasting things especially among primitive societies in remote areas with no access to modern amenities such as electricity which urbanites take for granted. Thus, in some cultures it is believed that night and darkness invite ghosts and spirits that lurk in the shadows waiting to pounce on their human victims. Daytime and bright sunlight would somehow make these fears and superstitions go away.

The family I grew up in was traditional and modern at the same time. Having been mentored by dedicated English teachers, my father was a great believer in a sound English education with the virtues of etiquette and manners thrown into the curriculum, while my mother never ceased to remind us of our roots and the Malay sopan santun, budi bahasa and adab which gave the people their soul. “Without our customs and traditions, who are we?” she would rhetorically ask, But she also understood very well the democratic values of freedom and equality, the very principles that the religion of Islam espouses.

And so we children were allowed to play our outdoor games – guli, gasing, kunda-kandi – with friends of both sexes until sunset, when. she would herd us in to wash up. We would be reminded to be quiet for fear of disturbing the spirits that would now roam the area. A visible and audible sign would be the chirping of a formation of tiny birds which my mother warned were the spirits taking their place in the high heavens till daylight. Dusk would also be the time to prepare ourselves for the maghrib prayers after doing the ablution or cleansing ritual. Once cleaned, cleansed and in supplication to receive blessings from the Almighty we would settle down to have the evening meal and observe some quiet time, reading or doing our homework around the dining table.

Roots of Malay Culture

Indigenous Malay society had its roots in the kampung or village where the main occupation was rice farming on the land and fishing in the river and sea (pic). The traditional Malay concept of time was very much determined by the daily prayers and rituals of Islam and the seasonal cycle of rice farming. There was preparation of the land and allowing it to fallow, followed by planting of the padi seeds and waiting for them to grow to maturity and finally, the harvesting of the ripened grain. An essential component of farming was a sympathetic climate which balanced the wet season of monsoon rains and a short dry season. Accordingly, Allah’s blessings were sought through prayer and doa’. Feasts and celebrations such as weddings and thanksgiving were planned around the good times. When an unusually wet monsoon over-flooded the rice fields or a long season of drought resulted in a poor harvest, celebrations would be postponed until times changed for the better.

I remember accompanying my mother on seemingly endless trips to the remote village of Nyalas in Melaka to see for ourselves the damage caused to the rice fields by the merciless torrential rain or scorching sun. Then the harvest would be poor and the rice grains, inferior. However, the kampung folk were never short of rice as they would have saved some for a rainy day in a huge tempayan. On visits to see my mother’s father, Tok Manan the village penghulu, we would always have the season’s rice with chicken, vegetables and herbs from his own backyard.

Coming from remote villages in Negeri Sembilan and Melaka, my father and mother brought many of the values and practices they grew up with into their marital home. Raised to be disciplined and frugal by his widowed mother assisted by caring uncles who were learned in the Sufi tradition of Islam, my father imbibed these values in his life. My mother’s Minangkabau values instilled by a doting father made her a strong woman who raised her six daughters to be self-reliant and confident members of the weaker sex.

It is amazing how these same family values are transmitted from generation to generation to sustain us in handling the vicissitude of challenges in our lives. It is wonderful how they are ingeniously adapted to modern living to become contemporary and relevant. The lessons learned from our mothers and fathers will be recycled to emerge as values that we ourselves instill in our children and grandchildren.



12402024_10155638459399619_2806835048425161144_o (1)Salam everyone! My deepest apologies for disappearing from Nini Talk since my last posting almost two years ago – most irresponsible of me I know!

But I had a genuine reason for not updating my blog. I suffered from chronic insomnia for more than a year and had neither the ability to focus nor the inclination to write much except short comments on Facebook. Alhamdulillah my sleep patterns are back to normal and I feel much better and in control.

So, here I am! Back with a new vigour if not vengeance! So much has happened I can’t help but think and write!







Published in The Sun on 31 March 2014

A national disaster which forebodes the loss of numerous lives has a way of bringing people together to share their utter sense of despair and helplessness.

It is a time when differences are put aside to offer sympathy and empathy to those whose family members and friends are victims. It is a time when communities rally together to offer their support, kind thoughts and prayers.

It is at such trying times that a nation’s people are united in their efforts to make sense of the tragedy that has befallen them.

The mystery of the missing MH370 and the likelihood that the crew and passengers have met a tragic end has sent shock waves across Malaysia and among Malaysians. Its disappearance on March 8 with 239 people on board has united Malaysians and the world in seeking credible answers and explanations from the authorities tasked with coordinating investigations into the lost plane.

No doubt at the beginning, due to the lack of specific information and the complexity of the task at hand, there were inconsistencies and contradictions in the official releases.

As leads picked up by certain countries such as the Chinese sighting of debris were followed, some proved to be wrong or inconclusive, which required the search and rescue teams to abandon or change their area of investigation.

It did not help that foreign media networks were laying out wild speculations and theories provided by the well-spoken experts they lined up. This only served to diminish the efforts of the Malaysian authorities who were seen to be much slower, less informed and articulate in managing the crisis.

However, to accuse them of being inept when there was so little to go by in the early stages is unfair and unhelpful. As the country leading the investigation into a multinational disaster involving nationals from 15 countries, Malaysia has shown itself to be more than effective in mobilising the support and resources of 26 nations including its regional partners, the US, UK, China, Australia, Japan and France.

Having little sophisticated search and rescue technology of its own to investigate an air disaster of such mystery and magnitude, Malaysia has used its excellent diplomacy and good regional and international relations to bring together an unprecedented team of investigators manning different aspects of the search and rescue operations.

To coordinate these efforts and corroborate the information coming from different lines of investigation is no mean feat. To present it to the grieving families, the concerned public and the critical media in a coherent form is indeed a formidable task and responsibility.

To face the barrage of questions daily requires the spokespersons to display not only expert knowledge and articulation of the technicalities involved but also the greatest personal fortitude and resilience.

In this we must acknowledge that with more information being released by the international search and rescue parties and with satellite sightings of debris narrowing down to a smaller area of the southern Indian Ocean, there is growing confidence that the evidence required to arrive at conclusive findings about the disappearance of MH370 will surface soon.

Malaysians must stand behind the three spokespersons tasked with facing the world daily to bring the latest developments in the MH370 search and rescue efforts. We have seen them growing by the day, both in their management of information and its articulation.

The acting minister of transport, director of the Department of Civil Aviation and chief executive officer of Malaysian Airlines deserve our support and appreciation as they unravel the facts and evidence surrounding the investigations.

In the press conferences, we see their growing confidence and steadfastness in taking questions from the roomful of local and international journalists. We must give them credit for doing their work to the best of their ability and for exercising great diplomacy in representing their international partners.

Even in the handling of the unreasonable reaction and demands of the relatives in Beijing, they have shown much compassion.

While some of us are quick to criticise the aggressive and uncouth behaviour displayed by some of the relatives, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has reminded us to be understanding of their grief while reminding them that the families from other nations are also in mourning but have not reacted with the same irrationality.

We hope that the numerous pieces of debris sighted will be fished out quickly so that they can be analysed to provide conclusive evidence whether or not they are part of the MH370 wreckage.

If indeed they are, we pray that the black box will be recovered soon. We stand by the grieving families in mourning their loss and understand how important it is for them to have closure. Malaysians are united behind their beloved country at this time of great national distress .





Published in The Sun on 16 March 2014

THE word “bossy” may soon be considered inappropriate to describe women in the workplace, especially those in positions of power and authority where they have to take charge and speak their minds. In fact, the word may soon join other words such as “bitchy” and “aggressive” which are considered sexist and discriminatory when referring to the personality traits of a female co-worker.

Facebook chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, has started a campaign called “Ban Bossy” to discourage and eventually disallow the use of the word “bossy” for women and girls. The belief is that among other forms of gender discrimination and stereotyping, the use of the word “bossy” creates problem of unequal childhood treatment of girls and boys. At home and in school, girls who are extroverted and show leadership tendencies are often described as “bossy” and “overly ambitious” while boys who lead are described as “strong” and “determined”. Like other forms of social stereotyping, this is carried over to the workplace where women who have strong personalities and take charge are negatively perceived as bossy while their male counterparts are seen to be naturally assertive.

Sandberg’s argument is that the description of “bossy” is more likely to be directed at girls and women with a range of associated traits such as “domineering”, “authoritative”, “overbearing”, “tough”, “opinionated” and “high-handed”.

When men show these same tendencies they are said to be demonstrating positive traits of leadership. Sandberg’s point is that as more and more women enter the workforce and assume positions of power, it is important to insist on equal treatment and evaluation, including the description of their leadership qualities.

Should women be offended if they are called bossy at work? Is “bossy” a discriminatory term used to put down a woman’s personality or work style? In fact, is being bossy considered a negative trait in the workplace?

To answer the last question first, the word “bossy” has certainly acquired more negative than positive connotations when used to describe one’s office colleagues. However, it is not unusual for a man to be negatively perceived as bossy or overbearing. Whether male or female, bossy managers are not liked by their subordinates and co-workers. In today’s more democratic work environment, managers and leaders who are overbearing or domineering are not likely to get the cooperation and support of their work teams.

Office evaluation will mark these as negative traits.

It is for this reason that women (and men) should feel offended and discriminated against if they are called “bossy”. The word has become prejudicial and is unhelpful in providing a fair assessment of one’s colleagues. Instead, the focus should be on how to highlight the positive and indispensable nature of “bossiness”, turning it from a word that foregrounds the domineering and overbearing characteristics to one used to describe the positive qualities of leadership.

In the workplace, being motivated and motivating are essential qualities to get the cogs of the office wheel moving, and being assertive and opinionated is necessary to encourage optimal contributions from its human resource.

The important thing is how, at each level in the office hierarchy, workers can be motivated and motivating, assertive and opinionated without appearing bossy and controlling. Therein lies the secret of true leadership which should see the combination of authority and power, intuitions and insights with outstanding management and communication skills.

As more and more women assume leadership positions and are accepted as equal partners in the workplace, the tendency to assess them in a negative or discriminatory manner will rightfully be replaced by objective criteria which contribute positively to the growth and development of the organisation. Women at work must stand shoulder to shoulder with their male colleagues in developing positive traits including being confident, assertive and speaking their minds. They should channel their energies into productive methods of leadership and dismiss the prejudices and perceptions that they are bossy.

The lesson to children and to the parents and teachers who raise and nurture them, should be that being opinionated, motivated and motivating, that is showing traits of leadership is to be encouraged. When properly channelled, these characteristics will empower them as they enter the workforce and contribute to society.

In this day and age where children’s upbringing is more equal and less discriminatory at home, where they are exposed to the same universal education, skills and training, and where work opportunities are getting more equal, girls should be encouraged to develop their self-esteem and strengths. They must understand that to advance their careers they have to empower themselves to be outspoken, opinionated and tough when necessary. Women must be as assertive as men in the workplace and should not be discriminated against if they are. It is indeed time to remove the word “bossy” from the office register.




Peace in the name of God

Published in The Sun on 3 February 2014

IN THE current Allah controversy, no logical, legal or constitutional arguments can appease the Christians and Muslims who believe their religious rights have been violated. Each side will stubbornly argue that there has been an encroachment into their particular religious territory by the other. They believe their faith is being threatened.

To the Christians, the ban on the use of the word Allah in the Malay Bible is unacceptable as, historically, the Malay-speaking Catholics of Sabah and Sarawak have always used the word in their practice and worship of Christianity. Among them, the ban is widely seen as an unconstitutional move to curb the religious freedom guaranteed in the Federal Constitution.

To the Muslims, the word Allah exclusively defines the oneness of God in Islam. They cannot accept that it can be extended to refer to the trinitarian concept of God in Christianity. Generally, Muslims are taking the stand that it is their right to defend an Islamic doctrine.

Public discourse in the English media is inclined towards the argument that the word Allah is a generic Arabic term to refer to the universal God of all religions.

The evidence quoted is that the word has been used by Arab Christians and Arab Muslims for centuries and is not exclusive to Muslims. That the Bible uses interchangeable terms such as “Father”, “The Lord”, “God Almighty” has not been highlighted.

Malay Muslim discourse, on the other hand, upholds the exclusivity of Allah in referring to God in Islam. It is argued that in Malaysia, the Arabic word Allah has acquired a specific meaning. It has become the term Malay Muslims use to refer to God not only in their readings of the Quran in Arabic but more widely in their prayers and worship of Islam in Malay. Thus their objection to the use of Allah to refer to the Christian God.

At the root of the impasse is the inability of Malaysian Christians and Muslims to understand one another’s sensitivities. The confrontational approach in seeking a legal redress over the matter will only lead to greater bitterness as each side is seen to be losing or winning. To the Muslims, lifting the ban would be sacrilegious to their religion. To the Christians, disallowing the use of Allah is a violation of their constitutional rights.

It does not help that the officials and religious leaders representing Christianity and Islam have been adamant in their respective stands. Their uncompromising attitude has opened the door to the most belligerent among their supporters to stage protests and demonstrations.

Religious leaders on both sides must be prepared to engage one another in a more magnanimous and compassionate manner to come to a compromise. Muslim leaders must acknowledge the historical evidence that in Sabah and Sarawak, the Malay-speaking Catholics use Allah in their reading of the Indonesian Malay translation of the Bible and should be allowed to continue doing so. Christian Catholic leaders, on the other hand, must see to it that the Bible translation is updated and edited to ensure there is no confusion in the references that arise from the use of Allah in a Christian text or area of worship.

Malay Muslims should not feel intimidated, rather they should feel honoured that Christians want to refer to the Christian God as Allah. They should see this as an opportunity to clarify the doctrine of monotheism in Islam in contrast to the concept of the trinity in Christianity. A show of compromise and magnanimity by Christians in Selangor is perhaps to concede that out of respect for the Sultan’s ban on the use of Allah, the congregation of East Malaysian Catholics can be persuaded to revert to “Tuhan” (God) or “Bapak” (Father) as terms which are interchangeable with Allah. Out of this peaceable compromise, both Muslims and Christians will be better educated in the doctrines and beliefs of one another’s faith.

It’s obvious that compromises are reached more easily among the better educated and exposed. It is apparent, too, that not everyone has the same level of knowledge and reasoning to be able to understand complex religious matters. The most belligerent among religious followers are usually those that are either ignorant or have been led astray, advertently or otherwise, by religious leaders.

Closed-door meetings and small-group sessions can pave the way for larger, more harmonious engagements between Muslims and Christian. Community and religious leaders must come together at a retreat or an interfaith convention where issues surrounding the Allah controversy are discussed in a peaceable manner.

When people are able to engage openly, much of the suspicions and prejudices will be removed. They can then try to convince their community of followers and supporters to approach the subject rationally and peacefully. It goes without saying that the moderators and mediators must be people who are highly respected members of the community.








Published in The Sun on 6 January 2014

THE government has announced 11 cost-cutting measures to manage its ministries and departments more prudently. Trimming down on the lavish spending of public money is long overdue.

While cuts in the entertainment allowances, travel and toll entitlements of the higher grades of civil servants are exemplary, they do not add up to much in terms of government savings.

The government’s cost-cutting measures are thus seen by some as merely cosmetic, being too little and coming too late. To many, they are moves to allay the people’s unhappiness and fears.

What needs more drastic pruning is the big-time allocations given to ministries and departments to organise public events and programmes. Government departments must adopt more cost-effective ways of organising their activities and stop doling out unnecessary entertainment, food, drink and other goodies.

The government machinery will run more productively if office meetings, in-house workshops and seminars are uninterrupted by breaks for refreshments where food and drink is served. Off-site training programmes and study visits at home and abroad must be kept to a minimum and stringently approved.

Huge official delegations with accompanying entourage on overseas missions contribute to government overspending and must be reviewed.

The wastage and mismanagement revealed in the Auditor-General’s Report seem even more reprehensible now as the rakyat face rising living costs.

To the public, announcements of cuts in subsidy, toll hike, increase in quit rent and electricity tariff coming in quick succession mean only one thing – the spiralling cost of living with the expected increase in the cost of goods and services.

To the average person this means big dents in personal and family budgets; to the lower-income groups this spells great hardships as they struggle to put food on the table.

More special schemes must be put in place to distribute food and basic necessities to the needy. In India, for instance, the central and state governments work hand in hand to provide food security to the poor through public distribution schemes.

Those eligible are given ration cards or stamps to buy food at below market prices. By collaborating with established humanitarian organisations such as Red Crescent Malaysia and Mercy Malaysia to manage distribution, the schemes initiated by the government can be properly run and supervised as in the recent flood relief efforts.

There can be many more special funds for the needy which calls for donations from the more affluent public to contribute to what can be looked upon as a humanitarian cause.

In support of the government’s call for prudence, the GLCs and corporate sector should also adopt cost-cutting measures in company spending, including for travel, entertainment, food, gifts, etc.

Company events such as product launching and award giving can continue but with less fanfare, pomp and ceremony. To show that they are sensitive to national issues and empathise with the plight of consumers hard-hit by rising costs, their CSR priorities can be channelled towards schemes that provide aid for food and other basic necessities.

This will ensure that in the short term the most vulnerable groups are cushioned from the blows of the nation’s financial and economic woes.

For the average income earners, the new year also means adopting cost-cutting measures in managing our personal and family budgets.

More prudent spending will require greater financial discipline as we look for cost-saving options. We have to change some of our habits and lifestyle patterns to become more discriminating and selective consumers.

This means comparing prices and shopping around for the best bargains for food and clothing and managing household utilities more carefully.

Household electricity consumption, for example, can be reduced by analysing our usage and cutting down on unnecessary use and wastage. Switch off electrical appliances including televisions and computers when not in use. Use energy efficient lights such as fluorescent lights or energy saving lamps.

Train ourselves to be informed consumers who read energy labels and ask for assistance in choosing the right energy saving equipment. In buying a fridge for instance, make sure we get the right size and model to suit our family’s needs. A good habit is to follow the energy saving tips that come with every electrical appliance.

This year can be seen as a wake-up call for Malaysians to be more frugal as the country faces financial challenges. Admittedly, some of them are caused by years of overdevelopment and indiscriminate spending.

The euphoric, feel-good factor created by abundant economic opportunities has created a society which is profit-driven and materialistic, where a person’s worth is measured by economic success.

Perhaps 2014 will mark the beginning of a new era when Malaysians take stock of their priorities and change their ill-gotten habits and values. Perhaps we will become less greedy as we face the challenge of making our ringgit and sens meet.

February 2016
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