Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Tuesdays With Bapak

Love And Death -- February 5 2008

I was never close to my paternal grandmother. But I loved her just the same. As she did all her grandchildren.

She died when I was about eight or nine.

Her name was Aida Majid and she was a daughter of a Javanese merchant in Singapore.
Don't ask me if she was beautiful because all I remember was that she was very very old.

She was "Jawa tulen" or pure Javanese and was proud of it, we were told.
Purer than Datuk' s lineage. Datuk had Persian blood "tainting" his Javanese ancestry.

In his old age, Bapak now looks very much like Nenek, though I don't remember that he ever did. Perhaps I wasn't that observant or never noticed details such as how his eyes, mouth and shape of face are so similar to his mother's.

Nenek was a matriarch. She was revered by her children and kin as well as the kampung folk.

I was told that when I was born, I looked like her mother. I had "her chin", they told me. My great grandmother's name was Aina. So that's how I was named Nuraina.
Kak Eda - Noraida - was named after Nenek.

Nenek was so protective of Bapak who was her first surviving son.
Bapak's family called him "Chomel" because when he was born, he was so tiny, so "chomel".
But, basically, they wanted him to live and survive any illnesses, so they called him by another name as was the practice of the Malays in those days.
This practice of calling children by names other than those they were born with for survivability, may even still exist today.

Bapak is "Chomel" to this day.

Nenek doted on him, in the way people of olden days did.
It was not the way today's parents "manjakan" their kids. I don't think it was a physical kind of doting.
I don't think her love for her son was displayed so openly or in the physical sense.

I think it was making sure her first surviving son did not hurt himself while playing -- which is pretty impossible. Which means either he was not allowed to play with the village kids or that he was always chaperoned by an adult.

He was overly-protected. He was not allowed to cycle, swim or play the usual rough-and-tumble games.

Nenek was afraid that he'd injure himself or fall ill....and well, die. As his elder brothers did.

I remember her to be gentle but someone whom we would not want to cross. She was petite and soft-spoken. But, she seemed to me -- in all her delicateness and fragility - a firm figure of authority.

Whenever, we went back to Singapore during the school holidays, we were instructed to stop over first at Nenek's house at Jalan Yahya in our Kampung Melayu.
We were not to venture out elsewhere without meeting her first and having a meal or two there.

Although Nenek's house is long gone - demolished in 1981 along with some 1,300 houses to make way for re-development -- I remember it to be big and grand with lots of candies in bottles in the kitchen.

There were "khat" paintings adorning the walls throughout the house. They were, I later found out, my grandfather's art works.

I also remember that it was no fun being at Nenek's. But, I don't remember why.
Perhaps because I was closer -- far far closer -- to my maternal grandfather who lived at Jalan Sudin just a few kilometres away.

Kak Eda and I had more friends at Jalan Sudin. The cousins who were around our age and with whom we were close were on my mother's side. They were all at Ompong's (grandfather in Mendaling).
And that would be where we were throughout our holiday.
Much to Nenek's displeasure.

Kak Olin was close to Kak Ana who is my youngest aunt's (Bapak's sister) daughter.
She'd be at Nenek's. Besides she was Wak Aichon's "daughter".
"Anak Wak Aichon", they called her.
Wak Aichon was Bapak's older sister who took care of Kak Olin while Mak was at work those days when we were growing up in Singapore.

Kak Olin and Kak Ana would always spoil our fun.
They'd often make an appearance in the evening - always at the wrong time when we would be hard at play.
They'd bring with them a message from Nenek.

"Nenek panggil suruh tidur rumah Nenek malam ini", Kak Olin would tell us.

Oh, killjoy!
We would protest. Very meekly, of course.
But, aah.. we knew better than to hurt Nenek's feelings.

Nenek enjoyed having all her grandchildren around her.
She'd be seated on her huge bed in the family room. A television set was in front of the bed.There was also a radio.
And all the grandchildren would be seated on the floor either watching TV with her, or listening to the radio, usually a "cerita seram".
Oh those "cerita seram".
We would all be in suspense listening to every move, every sound. And would all be screaming in unison when the haunting music peaked to a crescendo.
The radio....it had that amazing power to make you imagine things with the sounds emanating from it.

Nenek would smile, and quietly laughed at our antics.
She would be seated on her bed, always in her trademark white or pastel-colored baju kurung top and batik sarong.
I think, despite her authoritative image, she loved the squeals and laughter of her grandchildren.

We might have been told many a time not to tear across the room, causing the wooden floor to shake because it was something girls did not do.
But, we were never told to "hush" or "diam-diam".

The day Nenek died, we rushed to Singapore.

I remember feeling very scared to have been told that Nenek had died. I'm not sure if I was ever sad.

When we arrived at Nenek's house, Bapak was already there. Nenek's body was already prepared and was laid in the living room.

Bapak was seated on the floor, by the side of his mother's body.

I had never seen Bapak so sad.
I had never seen Bapak weep.

"My mother's gone," I heard him say. His head bowing. Helpless. A stifled cry.

I was with Mak, Kak Olin, Kak Eda and Azah.
I was staring at Nenek's wrapped frail body. Her eyes closed. She was very very old.
But, I remember she looked peaceful and serene.
I was no longer scared. Fear had escaped me.
Perhaps a little confused.
I was trying to absorb everything around me. But everything was moving about so fast.

I watched Bapak. My hand gripping Mak's arm.

That was the very first funeral I had ever attended. And one, after all these years, I can never forget.


Sue.Aleen said...

kak aina,
i've lost both of my grandmothers and my dad at our own home. my mom was like a 'menantu harapan' who could take care of my grandmothers. even how bad my grandmother (bapak's side) treated her during earlier days but still end of the days, she returned to her.

the 1st lost was somewhere around sept 1990 just month before the reception of my 1st sister. she was my grandmother - mom's mother. she was very ill. everyone seemed to do own business - i felt asleep so did my mom, some were prayed. she just went away without notice though so many people in our house as it was sunday. her face was calm as always.

like you said, i don't know whether i was scared, but more towards confused - didn't know what to do, sitting helpless on the stairs. i love her so much and of course i felt so sad.

ALFATIHAH to them all.. hope they'll be blessed by Allah ameenn

Anonymous said...

I was 5 when my beloved maternal grandfather died in 1981 after a week in hospital due to tetanus. I think he was 56 at that time.

I stayed with him and my maternal grandmother since I was a month old, so I'm quite close to both of them than my paternal grandparents.

I still remember the trip to the Malacca Hospital, the lost look on my eldest brother, the wailing and crying of my aunts and my grandmother's heartbroken wail, for she was not around when her husband pass on.

She was at home, after days waiting in the ward.

I don't recall, crying. Just a little bit confused. I know something terrible must have happened, for all of my family were there.

My youngest uncle didn't make it. He came back a little too late.

For days, however, I woke up hoping to hear my grandfather's voice urging me to wake up and get ready for kinddie.

He always sent me and fetched me from sekolah makan.

I remember there were one time I refused to go home with my neoghbour whose school going son is in the same kinddie with me.

I waited, and waited until my grandfather, tired from the work at the paddy field came to fetched me and brought me home.

For month I felt lost and missing him. My grandmother sent a bomoh to pulih my spirit and she put a pinang stone into my pillow so I can sleep well.

The only time I really cried is when my late paternal grandfather died in 1997.

I don't know why I cried, because I never close to him. But I guess the death reminded me of my late maternal grandfather.

Anonymous said...

As they said.....memory won't go..

Thank-you for sharing that.

Take care.

Bailey said...

kak ena,

i remember the funeral of my late atok. sedih sgt-sgt.

i became a change girl after that. a bit rebellious i must say.

well...afterall atok macam ayah to me.

sampai sekarang saya still belum recover sangat from the lost.

Kerp (Ph.D) said...

great TWB, as always.

i may have missed alot of TWBs but how come I seldom read late Kak Pia's name being mention here?

Pak Zawi said...

How absorbing the story is. Having a choice of which grandmother to go to can be a problem when you have established your favourite one. From the perspective of the granmother of second choice is ofcourse a sad one. How she wished she could have done better to attract the attention of the young ones. How nice of you to have chosen to go there rather than defy her requst and hurt her.

wanshana said...

K. Ena,

A geat piece - as always.

I never knew my paternal grandparents. My grandfather passed away when my Dad was 12 years old. He had three wives - all three passed away within 6 months after him, and so all of my Dad's siblings were 'distributed' amongst their uncles and aunties. That, I think is one of the reasons why his siblings are not close to each other as they did not grow up together (hence - why we are not close to our cousins!)

On the other hand, I was really close to my maternal grandparents - my Tok and Atah. Sadly, I did not get the chance to say 'goodbye'to them when they passed away.

My Atah passed away when I was still in Uni in the UK. And I missed seeing my Atok, just by one day. He passed away a day before I came back to Malaysia for good after my Bar.

Until now, I still feel that they are still around, because I did not witness their burials, etc.

Al-Fatihah to all Arwahs.

Rockybru said...

Funny. I've suddenly realised that are grand in my life have gone - my grandma and grandpa (paternal and maternal), grandaunts and granduncles. All of them. I suppose that happens to everyone but I only realised that just now, after reading your TWB. Well, actually it's not that funny.

I am someone's granduncle already, as you are too, Ena. You will be a grandma before I become a grandpa, I think. The point is, you lose that grand but you gain this grand. Am I making sense?


sualeen: So sad to know that.
Al Fatihah.

Sangdiva: For a lot of us, the first death in the family would usually be a grandparent's.
Take care.

anon@4:17PM: especially memories of sad moments...in our life.
thank u for visiting.

bailey: i can relate to that. but you were exceptionally close to you atok.
i hope time will heal the pain for you.
take care and hope we'll bump into each other again....

Zawi: grandparents today are so different from grandparents of yore.
i never knew my dad's father. I don't know whether that's good or bad. Sometimes I wish I'd known him...
I was very close to my mum's dadso much so that two weeks beofre he died, I dreamt of him and insisted on going back to Singapore to see him. I told Mak that I wanted to see Ompong. Wouldnt take no for an answer. I was so stubborn. Mak gave in and allowed me to go to Singapore, accompnaied only by a friend -- Hamidah. She did not tell Bapak. I had never gone to Singapore without a family member before.And Bapak would really ahve freaked out if he knew.
I went to Singapore just to see my Ompong, gave him some money which I earned from writing ( for the Sunday Mail), told him I'd be back to give him more and left the next day.
He died a week-and-a-half later.
Al Fatihah.

Shana: when i think of my grandparents and all my aunts and uncles who hve departed...i think of my own mortality. it is morbid, i know. i suppose, age does that to you..
I find that most people are always closer to their maternal grandparents. I think that is natural given the strong role of our mothers in the family.

take care and Al Fatihah....


kerp: kak piah died in January, 1995.

she was raised by Nenek in Singapore since she was born until she was about 16 or 17 when she came to PJ to join us.
But, she'd visit us with Nenek during the school holidays.

In the beginning, she was much like a stranger to us. I was about 6 or 7, I think, when she came to stay.
Actually I never knew what the deal was. Never felt that there was anything amiss when my eldest sibling was in Singapore when we were in Malaysia. 'All I knew was that she was "anak Nenek", meaning, Nenek raised her (and spoilt her, I imagine).

I was told that she was born just after my grandfather died, so she was like heaven-sent to Nenek who needed a pengubat rindu and Kak Piah was that.

Gradually, we got closer to Kak Piah.

And then, she got married when she was 21 and left to stay in Australia immediately after. She returned home in 1973 or 74.

One day, maybe, I will write about her.
She was a wonderful aunt -- the kids adored her.

Anonymous said...

i have always enjoyed reading your tuesdays with bapak. u are a good writer..

Kerp (Ph.D) said...

ahh, no wonder. but she was a beautiful woman, isnt she? aunty maria did a brief post of her some weeks back and it kinda hit me why not much was mentioned of her in TWB. yes, perhaps it would be great to write a little something about her. thanks!