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.
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.