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As Mohamed Said vividly describes Khadijah in his unpublished manuscripts: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


7 Responses to “MY MOTHER”

  1. March 8, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    A powerful reminder. Wow, I’ve never tasted puding nangka before. Looking forward to read the rest of the story.

  2. 2 ninitalk
    March 8, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    Come and visit and there’ll be some puding nangka for you GUiKP

  3. 3 Zaharuddin Dato' Badaruddin
    March 8, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    I remembered her when i was yea high, awak ni anak ‘Pora’ ka? she asked. my mom said that , that was the nickname your mom gave her (for Mastura anak penghulu Ripin). My mom really likd her.

  4. 4 Nong Roslan
    March 14, 2012 at 2:13 am

    Salam from Canada

    I am on a journey of SILATURRAHIM…doing a research on my FAMILY TREE for the sake of my children, grandchildren and their future generations so that they will not forget their Malay roots. According to my charts, Penghulu Abdul Manan bin Demang Abdul Latif bin Hj Ali is my step grandfather.

  5. 5 ninitalk
    March 14, 2012 at 7:35 am

    Really Nong Roslan? Sidang Abdul Manan (my maternal grandfather) later became Demang Abdul Manan, the Penghulu. After my mother’s mother died, he married three other women and their children were my mother’s half brothers and sisters. Do you know which line you are descended from?

  6. 6 nong roslan
    March 18, 2012 at 7:51 am

    My arwah grandmother is Tiamoi (Tee Ah Moy) whose marriage with Abd Manan produced a daughter named Halimah whom I call Mak Long.

  7. 7 ninitalk
    March 18, 2012 at 8:00 am

    Mak Cik Limah, as we called her, was Khadijah’s half sister whom my sisters and I saw last when we visited the sick Mak Cik Munah in Nyalas. So you and I are related nong roslan. Salam to you and family

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