Archive for March, 2012



Look out

for each other

IN THE wake of the abduction and brutal murder of five-year-old Nurul Nadirah the most pressing question is how a helpless little child could have been made the pawn in the games that the adults in her community play.

That feuding parties would blackmail and threaten lives in their hatred for one another seems like the age-old psychological disease of mankind. This is the very stuff of territorial wars among primitive societies and even in the modern-day clashes of civilisations. As much as humans strive for peace, there seems to be an unending occurrence of conflict.

But when individuals, families and neighbours manifest this sick behaviour in the community they should be in harmony with, one wonders what has caused them to go over the brink of sanity to wreak mayhem. One wonders if the families and the neighbourhoods are indeed supportive and harmonious.

For some, eking a decent living places tremendous pressure on their lives. If their families are large, the problems are 10-fold and every day is an endless cycle of making ends meet. This is the stark reality of being at the tail end of the vicious cycle of poverty.

Add to this the phenomenon of low-cost flat-dwelling where nine or 10 members of the extended family are huddled together with little physical space for private relief and peace of mind. Imagine the pressure and hardship borne by the breadwinners.

And compare this with the rural kampung where many of the city migrants come from – where neighbours are either your extended family or your friends who look out for you and mind your business; where the traditional habit of “jaga tepi kain orang” or poking your nose in people’s affairs keeps the community in check and helps to prevent untoward behaviour.

This is where the adage of “charity begins at home” would be observed and the extra bowl of rice would be generously offered to tide you over your rough patch.

Yes – how many of us living in affluent neighbourhoods or in gated residential areas and luxury condominiums of cities can admit to knowing our neighbours or interacting with them?

Apart from the rare occasions when we catch a glimpse of them to nod our heads and wave our hands, do we make a real effort to foster good neighbourliness? Do we really love our neighbours as our holy books implore us to? No – because we are told not to be busybodies and we’re convinced privacy is of the utmost importance.

One can imagine how little Nurul Nadirah’s climbing up and down the four flights of stairs and walking the extra stretch to shop for family groceries would have probably been considered “normal” among her family and the flat dwellers.

After all errands such as this are what children are asked to do in familiar neighbourhoods and friendly communities. What one cannot imagine is that there were unfriendly eyes watching her every move.

So how do we move from this gruesome and heart-wrenching episode that now tugs at the national heart strings? How can society ensure that these despicable crimes are not allowed to penetrate the traditionally safe areas of family and neighbours?

How can the police, Rela and rukun tetangga consolidate their community watch? How can there be better security and surveillance in residential areas be they housing estates, flats or luxury condominiums? How can parents and families be educated to observe the greatest care when managing their young families?

When the abduction of a child or young person has taken place, do we have an effective system to quickly mobilise our resources to prevent the worst from happening. Does Malaysia have an efficient child abduction alert system benchmarked against internationally accredited models like the Amber Alert established in Texas in 1996?

Wikipedia states that:
“AMBER Alerts are distributed via commercial radio stations, internet radio, satellite radio, television stations, and cable TV by the Emergency Alert System and NOAA Weather Radio[4][5] (where they are termed “Child Abduction Emergency” or “Amber Alerts”). The alerts are also issued via e-mail, electronic traffic-condition signs, the LED billboards which are located outside of newer Walgreens locations,[6] along with the LED/LCD signs of billboard companies such as Clear Channel Outdoor, CBS Outdoor and Lamar,[7] or through wireless device SMS text messages”.

Is our own NUR Alert established by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry in collaboration with the police and other enforcement agencies working efficiently?

Without pointing fingers, can Malaysians just get on with the business of promoting good neighbourliness? Please mind one another’s business.





Mak died in the wee hours of the morning of Monday 9 February 1983. It must have been just after subuh when her heart gave way – untimely and unexpected. When Bah woke her up for breakfast she was gone, heart pills gripped tightly in her left fist. She did not have the time.

No time for the goodbyes she must have wanted so much to say that Sunday. Her heart must have missed several beats as she anxiously watched the driveway for one of her children’s cars to appear. She must have felt so alone then, so rindu and pilu when no one showed up.

Mak’s heart was vulnerable for the love she felt and the care she gave – deeply and quietly. We saw it in the gestures of kindness extended to the less advantaged members of her extended family; the generous hospitality shown to her friends and guests; the enormous comforts laid out for her husband, children and grandchildren. She did not have the heart to turn away anyone even if it meant huge personal sacrifices. It was not in her to say no.  

 It is said that to care and love deeply, one must have experienced much of the same in one’s life. That love was Khadijah’s gift from her father Sidang Abdul Manan, the village chief, who doted on his 5 year old daughter when her mother died at childbirth. The care came from her favourite induk in the remote Minangkabau enclave of Kampung Mantai. Ijah was their little pet and they were her surrogate parents. Such is the virtue of rural kinship.

Born in 1914, Khadijah was the oldest of Abdul Manan’s children and grew up to be not only the kampung beauty but their pride and joy. At 17 she left home  to undergo  a two-year training in the prestigious Kandang Kerbau hospital in Singapore  returning home a qualified midwife or bidan at 19. Abdul Manan was indeed a man before his time for allowing his beloved daughter to be educated across the causeway and to escape a badly arranged marriage. And so for many years Che Jah, as people knew her, was on call carrying her rattan beg bidan and attending to the home births common in those days.

Khadijah’s marriage to Mohamed Said on 9 April 1932 was borne out of an amorous courtship in Singapore when she was a midwifery student and he, a medical undergraduate. They fell deeply in love and allowed their hearts to reign despite the adat obstacles, for she was a lass from a Minangkabau suku and he, a lad from a Bugis clan.

As Mohamed Said vividly describes Khadijah in his unpublished manuscripts:

She was of medium height and had a full rounded body generally described in Malay as “gempal”, meaning neither fat nor thin. Her complexion was what was described in Malay as “putih melepak” i.e. extremely white. For a Malay girl she had a finely chiseled nose, not commonly observed among the Malays. Her moderately wavy hair fell to the level of her waist, when loosened from the chignon at the nape of her neck, which was the way she chose to wear it. The only flaw in her features, if it can indeed be described as a flaw or defect, was that instead of having the large lustrous eyes of the typical Malay, the cast of her features included eyes that resembled those of the average Chinese girl…

All of which added to the romance in their relationship:  

…I had fallen head over heels in love with Khadijah. I told Munah that I intended to marry her as soon as possible after my graduation…Munah must have told her of my intention to marry her, for soon after she began to blush whenever she met me in the labour ward and sometimes to smile sweetly at me. She even went further to indicate that she was beginning to fall in love with me. What she occasionally did was to playfully threaten to hit my head from behind with the obstetric forceps that she had been told to sterilize…

 Wasting no time the freshly qualified doctor braved himself to face Khadijah’s father and ask for her hand in marriage – something quite out of the ordinary for a young man to do in those days. Adat would have required a family elder to act as the mediator and spokesperson and to make several tedious trips along the one hundred miles that separated the two remote kampung  Linggi in Negeri Sembilan and Nyalas in Melaka. But the pragmatic doctor waved aside tradition in pursuit of the love of his life. And the village chief was not too reluctant to be persuaded.

 And thus Khadijah became a medical officer’s wife during Dr Mohamed Said’s long service as a government doctor in pre independence Malaya, serving in the states of Selangor, Pahang and Negeri Sembilan. She bore him seven children – six daughters and a son – five of whom were born during their 11-year stay in Pahang. After the war when her husband left for two years to pursue his specialist training in the United Kingdom, Khadijah was to singlehandedly care for her young brood.

Mak loved her family dearly – husband, seven children and seventeen grandchildren. Her greatest comfort was to have the family gathered around her – husband teasing, children bantering, grandchildren frolicking. Her greatest joy was to see us tucking into the delectable dishes she had cooked, baked, fried, steamed and boiled, relishing the lauk-pauk – ikan goreng asam, udang peria, pencuk daging salai, pucuk labu tumis air, masak tempoyak petai and the kuih-muih –  genggang, kesui and lompang made regularly for lunch, dinner and afternoon tea. And then there were the speciality recipes – rendang rempah, kuih bakar, dodol labu and puding nangka – made for special guests and festive occasions.

As the wife of the Menteri Besar of Negeri Sembilan (MBNS) from 1959 -1969, Khadijah’s culinary skills were well tested and honed as state guests and visiting dignitaries were regularly feted at 4 Lake Road, Seremban the official residence. Even when the guest list ran into hundreds, Khadijah would ensure the menu included her own special recipes – the savoury rendang rempah of beef and innards, the sweet kuih bakar  baked between smouldering  sabut embers and the steamed puding nangka being the three favourites.

Khadijah undertook her official duties well, complementing her husband’s role as head of the state administration and Ketua UMNO. In those days it was customary for the MB’s wife to be the Ketua Kaum Ibu as the women’s wing of UMNO was then called. From the early days, the UMNO women played a largely secondary role lending moral and physical support to the male-dominated political party, especially in the months and days leading up to the general elections. And so Khadijah’s party loyalty was entrenched.

But it was in her domestic role as a loyal wife and doting mother that Mak’s legacy will be most cherished.  Her only son will not forget how she painstakingly saw to his every need. Her daughters will remember how Mak looked after them during their confinement, making sure both mother and baby had the best post-natal care, the best sup ayam and hati masak kicap. It was during these periods that Mak’s knowledge of Western medicine and nutrition, acquired no doubt from her doctor husband and her own training as a midwife, overruled the traditional herbs and healing practices. And thus, the women in the family grew old believing more in the dietary potency of vitamins and minerals than the magical powers of jamu and majun.

Mak’s values were old-world yet modern as she accommodated the changing patterns of life, the transition from the feudal  kampung culture to the more democratic milieu of town life in the post-independence society. Assisting Bah in his private practice at Said Clinic, she was to encounter patients from all walks of life. Her own children were educated in the Seremban Convent and King George V School and regularly intermingled with their Indian and Chinese classmates and friends. Her neighbours in Hose Road were the Goh, Lee, Sundram and Thamboo families. Mak welcomed them all into our home.

Mak went about her ways quietly, without fuss or ceremony. She was up with the larks and by nine in the morning, groomed and dressed in her crisply starched voile baju kurung and cotton kain batik lasam. Always she would have an embroidered hankerchief  tucked in her pocket. Her hair was always sleekly oiled with minyak Zam Zam, her chignon sometimes embellished with a sprig of her favourite flower the kenanga. Her skin was smoothened daily with Nivea crème or Hazeline Snow and finished off with a pat of bedak batu. Always she smelled of her favourite scents Blue Grass or Chanel No 5.

As she must have been that Sunday. The image of Mak sitting by the louvered windows in the end room till senja, looking out for a car that would stop at the gate of Teratak Jasa haunts me to this day. My heart weeps to think how dejected she must have felt not to see her beloved children and grandchildren and how much she must have missed us. To this day I grieve for Mak’s grief!

Halimah Mohd Said

14 January 2012




A question of


love and honour


WATCHING the war drama epic War Horse at the cinema with five of my 11 grandchildren I wondered about many of the themes which the movie evoked – the spiritual bonding between a horse and his master, the devotion of a woman to her family, the unshakeable pride of a man, the honour of war and the patriotism of the military. The most poignant of all must surely be the belief and faith in oneself and the sacrifices one makes to this end.

True to his reputation as a movie maker, Steven Spielberg has produced another classic in the tradition of the old-world movies so dearly missed by the baby boomers, septuagenarians and octogenarians among us. The movies we watched as youngsters had simple story lines of undying love, profound loyalty or devastating betrayal. Stark white virtues such as honesty, commitment and integrity were pitted against charcoal black vices such as deceit, injustice and dishonour. But good always triumphed over evil.

Thus, seeing through the piercing eyes of the war horse Joey and feeling through the young man Albert’s bleeding heart, my grandchildren and I watched the plot unfolding. The financial problems of the Narracott family caused mainly by Ted’s pride and drinking lead to his son’s perseverance in teaching his horse to plough the family’s ravaged land. All to no avail as war breaks out and Joey is recruited into the cavalry to endure its extreme dangers and hardships. But as fate sometimes makes up for its cruel beginnings, Joey the war horse and Albert the soldier are later reunited amid much rejoicing in a military hospital.

A simple enough tale readers may say, so why my self-indulgence?

What struck me most about the movie and what Spielberg was able to convey through the protagonists, were the attachments that humans form as they plough through life’s vicissitudes. Inherent in the human spirit is the need to bond with something or someone, and for that feeling to be reciprocated. We need to feel appreciated for our efforts no matter how menial the tasks are. In congenial, familiar and family settings we need to feel loved as much as we give and show love – unconditionally sometimes.

For some, a pet animal’s responses which they painstakingly bring out demonstrate this special bond. We witness this reciprocity of emotional and even spiritual and mental bonding between Joey and Albert. Horse and young man seem devoted to and protective of each other.

For parents, what greater fulfilment than to see your children manifest all that you’ve taught them in their personality and character, and of course in their worldly achievements. As parents we strive to bring up our children with the values that we ourselves believe in. These are the family values that were nurtured in our own upbringing – influenced by our customs and traditions, strengthened by our faiths and belief systems, and consolidated by our education and training.

However much against our will, we have to admit that the world beyond the home with its numerous challenges has a way of overtaking us. Peer pressure, work requirements, corporate and social ambitions impact our basic values and sometimes change us drastically.

It is necessary for the most impeccable among us to take a step back ever so often to remind ourselves of our raison d’etre – the most important reason or purpose for our existence. Here, I shall not even attempt to be holier than thou by breaking out into a religious sermon but focus on pragmatic matters.

In day-to-day living, at home or at work, we have to be sure of our objectives. Whether we want to ensure our children have the best education or the best career prospects, we have to remind them and ourselves that these are worldly attachments to be pursued without compromising our integrity.

It’s a personal challenge not to think that work and career achievements are the end-all and be-all of our existence, especially when we are faced with a barrage of affirmations on the national transformation plans. Outstanding are the pronouncements on economic development, financial and fiscal management.

Every day there are schemes and programmes being announced to give financial aid to deserving Malaysians for them to eke out a decent living from these government incentives. It seems as though their every need is being addressed and managed.

But it seems as though there is no comprehensive transformation plan for the moral and ethical development of the nation and its rakyat. Corporate governance here, integrity pledges there, declaration of assets and regulations on political funding. They are all coming together it seems.

How can we convince Malaysians that the attachments sealed by economic and material advancements are ephemeral while those inspired by love and human bonding, and kindled by honour and integrity are the most enduring? How can we tell Malaysians that these values are worth every sacrifice?

March 2012