Monday, March 28, 2011


Could one feel dearly for someone one hardly knows? Asha found the answer in the small hours of one morning when she received news of his death. A strange and tender sadness blanketed her and she prayed that he may rest in peace. "To Allah we belong and to Allah we shall return. May God bless your soul.....dear brother", she whispered, in the dimness of her room.

Asha remembered his arrival for the first time at her father's house. He smiled broadly as he emerged from the car with his wife and their three little daughters. He acknowledged her with a warmth and a questioning nod of his head as he mentioned her name. Asha returned it with a friendly smile while baby Min sucked his thumb in her arms.

Ken was cheerful, comfortable in his own skin, totally without traces of resentment, assumption or expectancy when he joined Asha, her husband, children and her father in her father's home that evening. Asha was pleased her father had agreed willingly, at her prodding, to invite Ken and his family for dinner. She had made the suggestion because she knew her father had needed to settle this emotional gap, this unfinished business of his life. He was getting old and needed some closure. And a little guiltily she did it out of her own curiosity. 

She knew though that he had wanted this for a long time but could never find the courage or the confidence to do it alone. At least, she thought, on this evening she could be there to ease the anticipated awkwardness in this most delicate of situations. But she realised that she needn't have concerned herself because Ken turned out utterly pleasant and agreeable in an almost innocent, naive and delightful way. In a way that Asha thought only children could be.

She watched and listened to him talk and politely enquire and was especially blown away by his tenderness when he turned to his step daughter, the oldest girl, and spoke to her like she was the most delicate of beings. Like a fragile butterfly he had rescued and treasured. At that point Asha wondered what in life could have caressed his heart so. She wondered what could have made him utterly gentle in this way. She wondered what he thought of life and what he made of destiny or whether he even believed in it. Could he be this gentle a soul in spite of a fatherless childhood? No bitterness and no hurt? At the least he should have had some questions...... for heaven's sake?

But she supposed he knew, was told and understood. She supposed he had accepted the past, his destiny and the circumstances of his birth and had no more questions to ask that could be answered. Perhaps he was grateful even; for all those years of acknowledgment in name and for the financial support, at the the spite of all the questions and doubts her father had harboured in his mind. For decades.

He was a musician and Asha could sense that her father was silently pleased. For he was so inclined as well. Having heard word that Ken would be performing at the Hilton her father had dressed smartly one evening and headed out to watch Ken perform with his guitar. 

"A natural ", her father had commented smiling and swaying his head in satisfaction when he returned home. If only he had said that to Ken himself it would have meant more. But Asha knew it would have been too awkward a thing for her father to do.

Asha couldn't help but think that they looked quite similar. Her father and Ken. So perhaps her father's fears were unfounded after all. Perhaps he finally believed without a doubt. Was convinced. She hoped. For Ken's sake. For her father's sake. For closure. In both their lives.

Ken had this childish and amusing belief in ghosts which he expressed openly and without fear of judgment. In an uncomplicated way with a candour and a lightness and a frankness that made them smile rather than frown with skepticism. And he clearly believed death was the end. So when Asha's father had died several years later Ken assured her that all was well. 

"Be happy." he had said. "Don't be sad."

For father's problems were over and he is now in peace Ken had told her. 

"He is sleeping like a baby." 

How charming. How quaint. How stark, clean and uncluttered he was, Asha marveled.

Asha did not know her half brother well enough to know his weaknesses. But whatever imperfections he may have had she knew that they could not be greed, presumptuousness, spitefulness, bitterness or envy. Guileless, honest, sincere with not a smidgen of righteousness in sight...he seemed not much different from her father really Asha thought. 

Asha looked down and all she saw and smelt was a moist, sweet, glistening mound of red earth. Freshly dug and piled. Over Ken. She wondered if he had been happy and content with his destiny. She hoped he had been. Just as she hoped her father had been when he died. Two men. One heart. Surely they must belong each to the other. Then she knew they did. She felt the same quiver of grief and tenderness for both.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


When I fell fast asleep amidst the raucous roar of Godzilla with tiny screaming humans at its feet a few years ago I realised that I was heading towards serious trouble.

Fast forward. 

Tonight a few years later. It’s two in the morning, almost three, and I’m still up. I reflect and realise, at the ripe age of fifty three (or whatever), that life can be categorized into two main phases. The deep-sleep phase and the no-sleep phase. I have come to be aware, literally, that keeping awake at night is no longer a struggle or an option. It is a fact of life. Middle aged life. I cringe at the word middle age but use it I must. For in denial I live not.

Gone are the days of those deep, sonorous sleep sessions. When an earthquake would have failed to rattle me awake or the screeching wail of a baby would have whizzed past my ears and make me snuggle even deeper into my pillow. 

Today, I’m in the no-sleep phase of life and I can now empathize with older folks who fall seriously asleep in the middle of an animated conversation. Without warning. Or when their heads tilt back as they sit on a couch. Not with dignity but with sleep, their mouths gaping as if in awe. I feel for them. Sleep becomes elusive but at the same time creeps up on you without warning, usually in public and in embarrassing places, in a middle of a noisy conversation or even while clucking playfully at a grandchild. I’m no longer the giggling youngster entertained by an old man comically dodging sleep during the day and willing it to come in the middle of the night. I no longer find it amusing or worse laughable. I repent. For I might just get there.

Six hours, claim my middle aged friends, is the maximum stretch of time that they can sustain sleep. The clock inside of you sets for six hours of sleep but you’re up before it goes off and beat it at its own game. You win every time and yet you’re still a loser.

The click of a switch or the rustle of clothing as someone walks past, the faint padded footsteps and the sigh of your partner all become unwelcome companions as you struggle in your bid for sleep. You wonder if you should have separate beds or separate rooms or separate lives. So you can court sleep again without struggle and without pain. 

Now I know why my father was up at a ghostly five in the morning, every morning while I slumbered on to ten or eleven. Ten hours of sleep when I was young was a luxury that I took for granted then. Ten hours of uninterrupted sleep now would only mean one thing. A coma.

As my husband and I drive past mamak shops during sleepless nights I marvel at those young men and women who deliberately take the option of keeping awake to sip, nibble, drink and eat their sleep away into the small hours of the morning. Unaware that one very old day they would wish they could have it all back. The sleep I mean. I feel anxious for them.

Past fifty sleep becomes a word that smatters conversations with your friends during your eternal waking hours. It becomes foreign and distant and desirable like some knight in shining armour or a desirable damsel in distress for aging males. It becomes simply a word, a desire, a wish, a hope, a yearning, an obsession, that keeps you awake.

How I envy those who sleep like dolls, like dead men, like trunks of trees. How I resent those who find comfort in their pillows and in the crevices of their bed. But I tell myself that there is another phase yet to come when I would most probably wish that I could live on even if it means a lack of sleep. So I thank God that He keeps me awake. Still. After all there is more in life than there is in sleep. 

Image taken from here.

Monday, March 14, 2011


The Malaysian peninsula’s ecosystem is considered to be perhaps the last of the ecosystems in which such species still thrive. They are often described as ‘those blundering and voracious little mammals that strategize little but brim with dense joy and determination’ so that their thrusts over the plains at specific times of the year are watched in endless amazement, worry and disbelief. 

Nowhere else in the world do migrations of such madness occur except in the valleys and plains that carpet Malaysia. And in no place on earth have there been witness to movements of beasts in such deranged droves and manic unison that leaves one gapingly awed. These migrations begin in the weeks before the onset of the Great Feasts.

The migrations could involve about several million beasts of three or more species at any one time. They speed and stampede along the same worn paths each year. By instinct they bolt in clumps, each made up of two adults and three or four young ‘uns, and it is in this formation that they start off in unison and with but one insane mind. 

Peculiar only to this region, a big number are victims of their own follies, for they are their own predators and victims all in one. The spectacle of this suicidal phenomenon can only be understood when seen in person and only then will it be comprehended as the Seventh Blunder of the Modern World.
This manic migration is a dramatic story. It takes place amoung the various states of Malaysia and is the greatest, brainless show on earth. Amoung the open plains of the West Coast and the East Coast, the North and the South and all the crevices in between these foolhardy Mammalaysians get into gear and stampede blindly at full speed in almost all directions and head for the backwaters of Everywhere.

With a show of camaraderie some will band together at certain stops to embark on the journey in groups of twenty or thirty and spend hours huddled in a tight pack. If they are lucky they will arrive at their destination intact and then disperse into smaller flocks. Those unfortunate enough to have totally incompetent leaders, who lead them like blinded and lobotomized freaks, may never see the light of a living day again.

The precise timing of these migrations changes annually, according to the waxing and waning of the moon, the occasions being very spontaneous, auspicious and natural events. While on the trip to the backwaters of Everywhere wild hoots of “Balik Kampung! Balik Kampung! Balik Kampung!” often accompany them and with this they grow manic and crazed and get out of control. So driven are they that it is not uncommon to see many of them entangled and splattered in fatal accidents resulting in sad but not unavoidable deaths.  

Before the onset of each migration, wild life patrols often attempt to regulate their movements with warnings of dangerous patches along their journey but these warnings, as always, fall on deaf beasts. They prefer instead to expose themselves to danger and throw caution to the wind in romantic and problematic waves and sweeps.

The movement back is just as dramatic albeit with less enthusiasm for the climax of the great migrations have been achieved. From then on, the migrations take on a downhill dip but with no less number of crashes and splatterings. Their reckless bravery culminates during these seasonal migrations, when they turn into feverish, sub-normal Mammalaysian wildebeests.

The casualties each year are high but do nothing to discourage a repeat performance the following year with the exact same casualties, in almost the exact same spots, for the exact same reasons and in the exact same witlessness,  And thereon we witness, in awful disbelief, the migrations of these two legged, dying-to-be-dead Malaysian Wildebeests.

"Balik Kampung" may be likened to the original sentiments of " Take Me Home, Country Road". The difference being that this happens at least four times a year marking every festive season and its family reunions in multicultural Malaysia. It is particular only to Malaysia and its inhabitants. Me wildebeest.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Backpacking is an activity that marks no prejudice. I say prejudice because I had thought the backpack fit only for the backs of men. I'm always amazed at the sight of female backpackers. Their backpacks so huge they appear almost mule-like carrying them. So when a female backpacker crosses my line of sight I would usually watch her a little longer. Totally in awe of her male-like virility and wishing that I had some of it. Just in case.

But I fathom the sense of adventure that these backpackers yearn for. Driven by the thirst of curiosity and the hunger to experience the authentic. Without a doubt it is exciting. An escapade for exhilaration if not weariness. If I were twenty five, twenty six - seven or simply young, unmarried, unattached and hyperactive I imagine backpacking would be something I would live for. So when our daughter N announced that she was going a-backpacking in India I didn't collapse. After ten days she returned home from her trip. Thank god. She looked tanned, toned, trimmer and tired. She slumped into her bed and awoke only for dinner. Listening to her saying how tired she was I, being mother, joked that she needed a holiday to get over her holiday. Then I giggled at my own clever joke. Only to hear Miss N announce adamantly that it wasn't a holiday that she had had... but backpacking, italicized and bold.

For curiosity...or was it for authencity... and guided by the Lonely Planet guide book her backpacker friends and she took the local bus in India, the local train at rush hour, ate at roadside stalls, suffered Delhi belly, visited the Taj, rented a van with driver to Jaipur, Goa, et cetera, scoured Mumbai's art galleries with a local who had kindly offered N the tour, interacted and exchanged emails with fellow backpackers from across the globe, stayed at rest houses and budget hotels but the climax of her journey, to me at least, was ...she had had her hand henna-ed.  Although not necessarily all in that order of course. But it was beautiful. The henna I mean. (I'm sure the Taj Mahal was too. But since I wasn't there.........). It was a Rajastan's bride's wedding henna. It started from the tip of her fingers to about three inches beyond her wrist. I admired it. The curlicues. Then my eyes moved further up and I noticed a darker design on her upper arm just below her shoulder line about four inches long and one half inches wide. I felt a small shudder of alarm breaking through my belly. 

Aloud I wondered if it was a tattoo while  silently I was praying that it wasn't. Of course, Miss N proclaimed that she wasn't that crazy. I looked at her. Of course not. Just a hard nut to crack. Resolute. Untameable. I looked at the creature I had created. In sync with H. (Hey, I'm not taking all the blame). But on the other hand she is also determined, hardworking, loyal and kind. Well... perhaps I will.

So what did this stay at home mother learn for the day? Rush hour in India is just that. RUSH. Spelt S.T.A.M.P.E.D.E. Instead of getting off the train when it stopped N and friend were warned by a lady passenger to stay on it, to stand back and to allow passengers to embark before attempting to get off. Of course I imagined the girls had their puzzled eyebrows busy at work as well because they did think it was silly to exit after new passengers embarked. In a minute they learnt why. A stampede swarmed into the carriages. Much like swarming bees into a hive I imagine. It was a good thing there are seperate carriages for men and women in India. When the stampede had settled down to a buzz and to relative stand still they then proceeded to squeeze themselves out of the carriage. Like toothpaste, I am imagining. I'm glad she survived that. But what if the train had left before they got off? What if they had gotten crushed? What if they had never found the exit amoung all those bodies? What if.....???? But these are what ifs potential-for-breakdown mothers should never dream of. Ever.

Invested with more foolhardy motherliness I then proceeded to ask N how had she gotten her clothes washed while she backpacked. I looked at her and waited for an answer expecting something along the lines of "Oh I sent it to the laundry." Nope. Silence. A mumble. Then I heard the word backpacking, italicized and bold.

Come April N the girl/woman will be going off again on a short trip. Come May N the boy/man will be trekking miles through the jungles of Pahang, crossing rivers, befriending leeches, slapping mosquitoes, sleeping in tents and climbing Gunung Tahan, the highest point in Peninsula Malaysia.

Come tomorrow I the mom/woman/wife/daughter/cook/human receptacle of woes and experience-r of second hand adventures would still be mulling over the fascinating fact that a backpack isn't a burden after all. It rests on your hips, N the man told me, not on your back. backpacking a feminal thing after all? We so have hips.

PS : For all her scruffy adventures in India Miss N did not come home with mere dirt and dust on her hands. She bought me this. Oh so girly! Me love. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


I am cooking chicken curry in my steamy kitchen and I attempt to bat my eyelashes to give those very Nigella come hither glances to god-knows-whoever-is-watching-me-while-I-cook-in-the-kitchen. My mascara curdles, my make up is being reduced and my hair just got sautéed along with the onions so that they are now limp while turning a crisp golden brown around the edges. But why suffer? Cooking is getting pretty savvy and every serious cook, born or bred, needs to invest in the latest and in a hundred percent foolproof cooking appliance that will ensure gourmet meals while you look glamorously splatter proof, inspired, intelligent, sociable, famous, rich, British middle class eccentric, madly American or indecipherable Australian but most of all to revive that ever dwindling passion in the kitchen.

If you invest in this state-of-the-art appliance and adopt these savvy techniques I will guarantee you results every time and you will live never to regret it. So save up and invest in a Television Crew and plug it into your kitchen socket at all times and cooking will be really fun and inspiring.

It is good idea to look for the ones that come with a real live dishwasher attached so that it will also collect and wash all those dishes that you mess up while you put together the Thai green curry or after you fiddle and bash that plump garlic.

Be sure to purchase this appliance while it is on offer because that is when they throw in one of those beautiful built-in kitchens. You will be spoilt for choice from the down to earth, practical town house kitchens to the most elegant European designer kitchens some with French windows that seem to sprout sprigs after sprigs of fragrant herbs so that you can, at long last, alluringly stretch out your arms all the way across the island top, grasp those crunchy herbs with your cutexed finger tips and tear them apart while displaying your gleaming white teeth and pouty lips through the lens of the Television Crew.

Don’t worry about the excessive amounts of fat or oil that you use because the Television Crew ensures that it doesn’t all go to your hips and thighs or to your heart. You don’t even need to use those ugly aprons that cooks from the previous century used if they want to look good after the cooking. Wear your best while you are at it because after all if you are seen to look good, you feel good and that in turn ensures that your food will taste good.

Pour compliments all over your own cooking yourself because there is nothing like self-encouragement when you are swathed in attention. While you are thinking ‘a pinch of salt’ practise multi-tasking and pour in that sinister handful of salt instead. Add those garnishes that appear to cost so little but seems to be worth all the extra effort of chopping and mincing that is needed. After all, you do need to encourage and tempt your guests’ eye balls with colours which also happen to be so necessary to keep the Television Crew in good working order.

Have a bunch of gluttons ready at your dining table so the Television Crew can zoom in on them to show how much they love you because you invited them for a free meal and a television appearance. Never think of washing up after because, remember, the Television Crew is there. Always, always have a dish ready and cooked to perfection to speed things up. It would be very rude to keep your guests waiting or to allow the food to get cooked.

Memorize the vitamin contents of fruit and vegetables for that extra edge in entertaining so that even if you are serving foods high in cholesterol you can still save your guests’ lives by telling them about the superfluous amount of vitamins that your sweet and rich dessert exudes.

Develop that forearm so that you can ‘simply’ whack a big bar of chocolate on the counter or grind the pestle into the mortar with manly gusto. You might even lose a few pounds along the way. No guarantees though especially if you lisp. However, do learn to lisp, bat your eyelashes, develop that Australian accent and be a socialite in your spare time to give your cooking character. Oh did I say character? Swing those dirty utensils and pots and pans to the left and right of yourself, good naturedly, to bring out that highbrowed cheffy character that lies hidden in you.

Be creative. If your television crew dishwasher attachment does not manage to wash the pot or pan that you need, in time, due to a faulty brain, get it to fetch a spade from the garden shed for that fried bacon and eggs that you so eccentrically want to demonstrate. While you are at it, think mobile and get your creative and cooking juices flowing by converting your toaster into a toastermobile or your automobile into a toaster, whichever came first. That way you can drive right up to your guests’ front door and generously entertain them in your pyjamas and with your hair standing up.

 Don’t forget that embellishments are very necessary when you invest in a Television Crew, so a row of Samburu warriors in full tribal gear and mud huts will do much to enhance your passion for those exotic Kenyan dishes of the African Safari. Again, don’t worry about the washing up because the Television Crew will always be right behind you wherever you may be in Africa, the Antarctic, rumbling along on a train or strolling and gesturing between grapevines in Italy or Spain.

I guarantee you, that with this amazing appliance and all the latest techniques recommended, you will be madly brimming with inspiration in your kitchen and cooking will be ridiculously easy-peasy.