My mother was remarkable in many ways! She was as modern as any modern woman is in having a clear head on her shoulders and a mind of her own!

Coming from the remote village of Nyalas in Melaka and educated in a Malay school, she was remarkable for qualifying for and completing a course in midwifery at the Kandang Kerbau Hospital in Singapore in the early 30s. She was modern in having the courage to leave her cocooned village life to seek an education in the far-off place that Singapore must have been in those days. She must have gathered the strength and determination to do this from a supportive family, especially a father who doted on her and was no less than the village chief or demang.

I clearly remember Tok Manan on the trips to Nyalas, where at 5′ 10″ he literally towered above the Minangkabau suku and saudara mara who looked up to him as Demang Abdul Manan, as a penghulu would have been revered in the days of old. After the death of his first wife – my mother’s mother – he married 3 other women who each bore him children. They are/ were my mother’s half-siblings – Munah, Monel, Ali, Halimah, Yam and Yah – and their children my half-cousins. I see them at family weddings and funerals and there are a few I keep in close touch with.

It was in Singapore that Khadijah met the young Mohd Said, a final year medical student at King Edward VII College of Medicine. To be connected by their common interest in health and medicine must have been a strong bond indeed for the two young Malays who must have witnessed numerous cases of disease and death among family and friends in their respective kampung in the days when the bomoh was a trusted healer who oftentimes failed them. Mohd Said was a Bugis from Linggi, Negeri Sembilan not far from Nyalas, Melaka. Together, they must have been determined to change the attitude to Western medicine and improve the standards of health and medical treatment in their areas of expertise. 

Thus the handsome Bugis lad fell in love with the Minangkabau lass with heels that were well turned out macam telur dikupas and skin that was smoothly putih melepak. Thus the doctor set up home with the midwife – in Pekan, Pahang for 11 years, in Kuala Lumpur for 2 years and in Seremban forever – raising 7 children (6 girls and 1 boy).

Mak loved her children dearly, never really doting on us but protecting us as a mother hen protected her brood. It is to her credit that each of us felt we were special and that she loved us the most, although as the youngest child I was privileged to have a little more of the caring and nurturing. Besides, I had Mak all to myself in the years when my older siblings were either away at college or married. The school holidays was the time when everyone came home and Mak was kept busy, cooking and we were kept busy, eating.

Ah! The endless meals of masak asam ikan parang, daging goreng kicap, ikan cencaru belah belakang, pucuk labu tumis air etc etc etc and the endless afternoon teas of cuk kodok and cucur bawang. Those were my days of “splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower” when mortality was so far away and never intimidating, when puppy love and crushes forever dogged me.  Those were the days when Mak was my loyal, unquestioning companion, warding off the “hits” from her husband and my father who was at times irascible!

As a wife she was extremely intelligent! She stood her ground when she had to especially when her own role and integrity were threatened. At other times she tolerated my father’s idiosyncracies and quirks with indifference rather than good humour. After all, she was secure in the knowledge that her anak menantu and cucu were devoted to her.

When she died unexpectedly of a heart attack in the wee hours of Monday 9 February 1983 we were completely shattered. She had not really been ill or if she had, she had suffered quietly without a murmur of complaint. She had left us without saying goodbye! Rather, she had waited all day on Sunday 8 February to say goodbye, but none of us had turned up. The guilt remains to this day as I picture her poised by the louvered windows waiting to catch a glimpse of the car filled with her children and grandchildren. She must have felt so sayu!

When Mak died, I grieved for months as I prayed and said my doa’ for my beloved mother. But deep inside I knew I was actually grieving for myself, for not being at her side when she took her last breath. Not one of us, not even my father witnessed her passing. She loved each of us too much!




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