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Mama and Papak, picture taken in the 
early seventies.

It has been almost five months since the passing of my beloved Mama and more than seven years since that of Papak. I had thought that I had more or less gotten over the loss, alas it is not to be. My sister Yan, whom Mama had stayed with after Papak's death, and I, had the task of going through her personal things, sorting them and distributing them so that each of my other siblings would have mementos of her to keep. 

The task was far more daunting than I thought it would be. There were objects, notes, letters that brought on memories and of course, melancholy. There are still many things that I don't know about Papak and Mama; Papak was a very serious man who didn't talk very much and Mama was always occupied with something. She had always kept herself busy with cooking, gardening, sewing, reading, and yes, she wrote too. She and a sister, arwah Hajjah Esah Hamzah, had written two text books for Domestic Science students back in the seventies. 

Going through Papak and Mama's certificates and thinking about their struggles, hard work, commitments and achievements, made me realise that I haven't done any justice to their sacrifices. Papak especially, had made a quantum leap where his standard of living and quality of life are concerned.   

Mek, my grandma
My late grandfather's house in Beta

From a small remote kampung in Kelantan called Kadok, he had risen up the economic strata, managed to save and buy a detached house in Damansara Heights back in 1969, which became a prime location very soon after. He did this by equipping himself with education and knowledge, with honest, hard work and keeping to a very strict money management policy.

Tok Ayah, my grandfather

Though his parents had a lot of land, they didn't have very much money. They (Papak's parents, my grandparents) themselves didn't get any education besides writing and reading in Jawi, but Mek, my grandmother, apparently was a driving force where education for her children was concerned. Her unconventional teaching methods were related in a comment on Facebook where my aunt, Papa's youngest and only sister seemed to reminisce with much wit and warmth, despite the seemingly harsh treatment from her brother and mother. 

My grandma's teaching methods on my aunt apparently were nothing less than effective - she later went on to become the Dean, Faculty of Education, University of Malaya. Read all about Professor Dr. Datin Rahimah Ahmad here. Papak was very proud of his little sister and had once said to me, "Ja, make Ciksu your role model." 

Having been promoted to the status of the eldest child after the death of his oldest brother, Papak had to study and work very hard to make sure that not only he, but also his three younger siblings got their education. At a very young age, he had to ride a bicycle made for an adult so he would be able to use it for many years. The distance to the nearest school was five miles (eight kilometres) and he had to leave home at 5 a.m. in the morning everyday. 

He eventually left home on his own initiative to attend secondary school at the renowned Penang Free School. Despite the odds, he had attained results that were good enough to earn a scholarship for further education. My aunt believes that he was the first Malay student to obtain Grade 1 in the GCE examination at PFE. 

He had wanted so much to go overseas to study. But during the interview the education officer then had told him, "I can't give you the scholarship (to go overseas), I don't know your parents."

Papak was devastated, but the bitter disappointment and humiliation taught him not one but a few important and valuable lessons about life. From then on, it spurred him to make massive changes in his life. He was not bent on being discriminated by being a "nobody" and let it become a reason for not getting an education overseas. He tore himself from his roots and made his own way into the city, where he gained excess to more knowledge and opportunities. He exposed himself to western cultures and adopted the finer things in life as much as he could afford to, and learned the art of of table manners and social etiquette. 

Most of these are Papak's books, comprising the holy Quran, the translations and other kitabs by Muslim scholars and famous ulamas. He had made notes, underlined or highlighted important points just as a student would while studying a text book.  I volunteered to be custodian of these books as they are relevant to my practice. He also had a collection of novels; his apparent favourite was Jeffrey Archer, and possibly had all the titles in his collection. Besides religion and politics, Papak was also very keen on management, namely business and finance.   
Papa learnt the English language by reading books, lots of them. He made all his children speak in proper English at home and fed us with reading material only in English. He was passionate about reading right up to his old age. He kept up with the latest in every subject, and was ahead of many people generations younger than his where IT was concerned. He was even reading the newspapers online. At the age of 74 in 2005, he was in contact with some of his grandchildren studying overseas and some friends by Yahoo Messenger.

On a lighter note, I did get quite excited because I had also found things and memorabilia that had escaped my attention and interest before. For instance, I never knew that he had obtained two masters degrees. He was constantly at his study table writing and reading some thing or other, and little did I know that he was doing long-distance learning! 

Mama was no less passionate about learning and education. A teacher herself, she later went on to become a headmistress and then an officer at the Ministry of Education. She was responsible for designing the curriculum, syllabus and the setting up of vocational schools for girls in Malaysia in the seventies. She used to travel all over the country to oversee the running of these schools, often driving in her Morris Mini Minor alone.

Mama went to Kirby Teacher's Training College in.England and my dear cousin and family historian had provided me with this link which leads to an article which mentions her name. This article dated 25th May 1953 was published in The Singapore New Straits Times.

One of Mama's memorable moments was when she was the principal in Sekolah Menengah Batu in KL. She taught the Domestic Science students to make karipap pusing  or curry puffs. When HRH Princess Anne of England came to Malaysia in 1972, she paid a visit to this school. Mama and her students had served her royal highness with these curry puffs and at the end of the visit, her aides had whispered to Mama requesting for more to take back with them. 
Pix of Karipap Pusing taken from Wattie's HomeMade

Amongst their children, it can be said that only my eldest sister Professor Azni follows the tradition in education and academia. She became the Deputy Vice Chancellor of UiTM after Papak's demise, but I know for a fact that he was awfully proud of her even when she had graduated with a PhD. He'd normally not show any emotion, much less pride for any of his children's achievements, but I guess by that time he had mellowed and just couldn't contain his happiness any longer - his eldest daughter had fulfilled his dreams. 

As for me, I was a very late starter; but I do hope it's not too late though. After my SPM, Papak had secretly arranged and literally forced me to attend a  matriculation programme. Little did I realise that I was sitting in a class for pre-medical students until advanced Biology and Chemistry were being taught! I immediately called him and pleaded with him to bring me back home so I could pursue my own choice of studies which was Business.

At that time, to him, anything that's not science, is not studying. My refusal to study medicine was much to his dismay, but he just couldn't see his youngest daughter so forlorn. So he relented, but ironically, twenty years later, I had started attending classes to fulfil an unexpected desire for an education in Alternative Medicine. 

It was the beginning of the turnaround in my life. Of course I realise the wisdom of Papak then, how right he was about the potential and the future of his children.

Papak, I'm sorry but I have not been able to achieve that much, I'm not even anywhere close to what you may have expected of me, but I promise that I will try and do my best in life, that should make you proud just as muchThat would make all your sacrifices worthwhile and all your efforts justified. 

And now, living with a husband who thrives on books, knowledge, literary skills and intellectual stimulation, it's like coming to a complete cycle in my life. I have finally come home. 

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