29 Sep 2008

My latest read

I realize now how eclectic my taste really is. From History to Religion to popular science to chick Lit to the classics to romance and many more. Jeffery Archer has always been a favourite, right along John Grisham, James Clavell as well as Ludlum and Dan Brown. I just finished reading A Prisoner of BIrth by Archer last night, or maybe early this morning to be more accurate. I couldn't put it down. I think Jeffery Archer is a master story teller, a real wordsmith. In this novel a young man, Danny Cartwright, is accused of murdering his best friend whose sister he is engaged to. In spite of his innocence and his girlfriend's testimony he was found guilty by the jury,just because he was from the working class and the 4 people who accused him were from the upper class. Danny was sentenced to 22 years in a maximum security prison - a place where no convict had ever excaped before. His cellmates are an army officer, Nick Moncrief, who had been courtmarshalled and his driver, Big Al. Where one is cultured, refined and a gentleman, the other is uncouth and crude. Big Al however is also kind, honest and loyal. In prison Danny vows revenge on the 4 men who had put him there - a barrister, a famous actor,an aristocrat and the youngest partner in an established firm.With Nick Moncrieff's help, Danny changed his image from a slum rat to that of an aristocrat. This part reminds me so much of My Fair Lady with Danny trying to speak without dropping his "H's".
The story is slick and fast paced, full of suspense and excitement. If the characters tend to be a bit idealistic and the coincidences too surreal to be believed, it is definitely still a great bedside book. For those who have never read Archer - I'd recommend this book.

27 Sep 2008

Raya Preparations

Its already the 27th day of Ramadan. I'm still in Malacca with my maid and mother in law and this is the longest yet that I've stayed in Malacca. Well apart from that time when Sara had her attachment at GH. Its kind of nice - the pace is more relaxed yet the days are full. I love waking up early with mum and Yati for the Sahur, and stay up until the dawn prayers. Then its garden time with Chichi and Ginger. I'm always fascinated by the koi in the pond - just staring at the golden red and orange shapes swimming or gobbling food. Then its TLC time with my roses and talking of roses, I wish somebody out there would tell me what to do about those horrid little creatures in the earth (not earthworms) - they're whitish, fat and look like maggots. Perhaps they are? I don't know what they are and they're killing my roses from the inside out - through the roots.I've changed the soil, picked them out one by one and yet they are still there. The roses die a slow death - first the leaves will fall and even when there are buds, they wont open but just dry up and fall. What can I do to get rid of this problem? Mildew and blackspot I can overcome. Even bugs can be killed. These aliens seem to thrive on insecticide!

On Raya preparations - this year Raya will be at our house in BB so we're preparing a lot of food. WE have the buka puasa feast for Raya Eve for the whole gang (about 30 of us) and the 1st day raya feast too. I'm catering the raya day food but we're cooking all the rendang, sambal, urap kelapa, lodeh etc for the buka puasa feast. Just thinking of it gives me a headache but I'm lucky I have yati. She's quite efficient and works without complaints. THis year I gave her a gold chain for Raya - for helping me with my mum in law who can sometimes be a real trial.Not that I dont love her - she's the only mum I have after all.

23 Sep 2008

A new book

Well several new books actually. I've recently got a book entitled "The Heirs of Prophet Muhammad" by Barnaby Rogerson. This book is about the cause of the split in the Ummah beginning with Ali, the Prophet's (Pbuh) cousin and son -in law and Aisha his beloved wife. Rogerson's account is interesting. It gives us an insight into the Sunni- Shia schism that is to split the Ummah not long after the Prophet(pbuh) passed away in AD632. Rogerson's account is full of verve and zeal, turning the history of Islam into an epic that is both real and engaging. It traces the time of the Prophet's death and the inherent differences that arose between two of his favourite people. He traces the beginnings of this deep enmity between the prophet's wife and his favourite companion as starting from the time of Aisha's late return from a trip in which she was left behind by the caravan. Being the good wife that she was she stayed where she was and waited to be rescued. Unfortunately nobody knew that she had been left behind and while waiting she fell asleep. She was discovered by Safwan, one of the Prophet's men. Worried that she might be molested or even kidnapped by desert tribes he politely told her he would accompany her back to Medina and so began the whispers behind her back that she and Safwan were in fact lovers. Things came to a head and the Prophet was asked to decide what to do. After prayers he asked the opinion of his followers and one by one gave their answers. Most vouched Aisha's innocence and Ali, even though he did not doubt that Aisha was innocent told the Prophet :"God hath not restrictd thee and there are many women besides her." This frank advice told Aisha how much he was jealous of her closeness with the prophet and she never forgave him for it even though later a revelation revealed her innocence.

According to the writer this was the beginning of the Sunni - Shia schism that afflicted Islam until today. Well written and shows a depth of knowledge about Islam's early history. Really worth reading and in fact so touching in places it literally reduced me to tears. Especially the part about Ali's assasination and the prophet's grandson, Husseins's martyrdom.

Other books I've been reading are 1421 by Gavin Menzies - another historical account but of the Chinese sea voyages of discovery. These occurred long before Columbus "discovered " America. Menzies accompanied the book with photos and other proofs that it was the Chinese actually who discovered the world, and not the Spanish or the Portuguese.

21 Sep 2008

Ramadan in Banda Kaba days

Since coming back from Singapore, I've been in Melaka with my mum in law. I love staying here for the fasting month because its so easy to go for Tarawih and the neighbours are great. We always get cake exchanges - just as in the kampungs of old. Tradition has not died here - or at least this tradition is still very much alive. I remember Ramadan when I was young, living with my grandma. Normally we'd be woken up by a guy who goes around the kampung beating a drum or gendang. THis would be about 4 am. He'd call up the words, " Sahur!" as he walked. Then Grandma would wake up and cook the rice, fry some fish and heat up some curry from the previous meal. By 5am we'd have woken up, my sister Laila and I. Then we'd all take the sahur together - my grandparents, Lela, Yusof and myself after which we kids would go back to bed while my gran waited for the fajar prayers. This was the norm throughout my growing up years. The guy who went around waking us up was Ismail Botak - from infront. At that time I think he must have been a teenager but I wonder where he is now. Breaking fast also has a tradition. We'd normally gather at the dining room, where the food is already spread. There were no tables or chairs in those days - we all sat cross legged on the mengkuang mat and waited for the siren from the fire brigade to sound off the time for breaking the fast. WE'd start off with a date each - in the tradition of our reverred Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Then only would be allowed to eat. Grandfather was a stickler for rules and traditions. He'd normally recite the prayers first before slowly taking a date from the plate. Once he had taken his date, then only were we allowed to take one each. We'd have to chew slowly, sipping water only after the date is completely eaten. As a child you can imagine my impatience to really start the meal and gulp down a whole glass of water! After the meal, he'd do his maghrib prayers then get ready to go to the madrasah. This would be for the Tarawih prayers. Girls, especially the young ones were not encouraged to go because it would be crowded and there wouldn't be enough space. I only went for Tarawih when I was in my teens. Walking back after Tarawih is also a memory much loved. The madrasah was quite far - just outside the kampung, next to the Fire Station in Jalan Banda Kaba. WE'd have to pass a huge Bunga Tanjung tree, which was reputed to be haunted by Langsuyar - the eerie and frightening looking vampires that preyed on young men! We'd be deliciously frightened as we passed this dark lane filled with shadows of the tree. There was no light in this part and it was very dark. Heart beating fast we'd dare each other to pass the tree alone until one of us would run past the tree with the others following suit, laughing and shouting loudly because it was known that langsuyars are afraid of noise.

After I got married and moved away from the kampung, this was one of the things I missed. There is no place that has all these traditions anywhere in Malacca I think. Raya is always best in Banda Kaba. At least it was when both my parents were alive.

On the eve of Hari Raya we'd all be very busy. The house would have been ready by then - spring cleaned and painted, new curtains hung and new cushion covers for the living room chairs. My dad and brothers would be busy stirring the dodol, which is sticky paste made of coconut milk, the brown sugar from coconut which we call gula tuak and glutinous rice flour. This would be mixed together and stirred for hours over a huge wok called a kawah over a slow open fire, usually made of coconut shells and coal. The end result is a sweet sticky brownish paste called dodol. This was my mum's specialty. She made such good dodol that neighbours and relatives from everywhere would ask her to make it for them. This would also be the day for us to boil the ketupat, prepare the sambal and rendang as well as the urap kelapa - the special accompaniments of our special dish - the ketupat. Ketupat is actually rice - cooked in specially made coconut leaves woven to form a squarish shaped container.

The rice is put into these and boiled until cooked. Picture of ketupat below:


Its eaten with the sambal - chilli cooked with prawns or anchovy, rendang and urap kelapa. On the first day of raya all the houses will have this favourite dish, plus special raya cakes. Normally my parents would hardly sleep on the eve of raya and neither would us kids. The excitement and suspense and general happiness at the ending of a month of self -deprivations would make us kids so full of excitement that sleep seemed impossible. Then there would be the fire crackers and fireworks that everyone would be playing. It was like a fiesta. The whole village would be alive with the laughter of children running here and there, shouts of "hari raya" filled your ears, interspersed with the sounds of the Takbeer. Just thinking of those happy, carefree days makes me nostalgic.

15 Sep 2008

Back in Singapore

Well I'm back at the island state - this time to see my sick uncle. He's at the Singapore General Hospital because of the Big C. Its already 4th stage and doctors are not giving him much of a chance. One thing he's already 70 so I suppose that isnt helping. He's a stalwart guy though. Last time I saw him was about 4 months ago and he'd just been diagnosed. At that time the doctors said that he had a 50-50 chance. And looking at him then one would hardly think that he had the Big C. He was the one who opened the door, welcoming us and talking animatedly about everything. He helped Mami with the cooking, frying the fish for our lunch and carried in the drinks. So normal. Yet somewhere inside him this "thing" is growing.

I remember that even before the days of husbands helping wives with the house work he was the one who was helping Mami in the kitchen, cutting the fish they had just bought at the market, putting away plates and dishes, vacuuming and so on. I love watching them together - they're a good couple. I remember years ago when I was only 8 years old and Mami was dating Uncle Isa her first boyfriend. They sometimes took me with them on their dates. Then it was no longer Uncle Isa but Mama Hashim - she met him when he came to KL for a work visit and I guess the better man (or the faster one) won the lady, ie. Mami Milah. And she was quite a beauty in her youth - typical anak mami looks. When I was in Tun Fatimah, they were the ones who would visit me at the boarding school, bringing fruits and biscuits. Looking at him, pale and frail looking at the hospital ward brings a pang to my heart. I know that life goes on and death visits us all, but I hope his will be a painless one.

Being in Singapore means being with my grand daughter - Sophia. The little one is now walking all the time, albeit not very steadily. Just yesterday I spent some time with her in the pool - and does she love the water! Watching her splashing her mum in the pool makes me want to hug her and never let go. She's such an adorable baby, always happy and laughing. She can be naughty too - she's no angel. The picture above shows her hugging Pixel the patient cat.Though sometimes she pulls his tail, slaps his big fat butt intending to "pat" and generally "loves " him to distraction. Until he can't stand it and runs away.

12 Sep 2008

Ramadan in Melaka

I cannot believe that Ramadan is already in its second week going on to the third week. We've been travelling to and fro between Malacca and KL, partly because my mum in law is with us. Good for me in a way because I get to stay with my plants a bit longer. And my fish. Oh yes... my koi can be seen to be growing. This time around I'm making sure the waterfall stays on all the time. I hope to see my koi grow bigger. And the other day I saw the sucker fish that I thought had died. It must have been hiding all this while. Even the two jelawat that I bought last month have grown slightly and that really gives me a lot of satisfaction. Last year all my fish died because my nephew forgot to turn off the tap when he topped up the pool. Also maybe too much chlorine went in.

We're thinking of putting up a brick border for my roses. I called Lai, Repin's cousin and he gave me a rough estimate of the cost which would be about 1k. Hopefully it'll be ready for raya. Probably my brothers and sisters in law will come here for raya because mum is here with us. Quite a change for us - most of our previous rayas we were in Semabok, especially for the first day.

Frankly I miss the old Semabok house. The new house is too soulless, with no ambiance.

Anyway today is the 12th day of Ramadan. OUM had its Ramadan dinner this evening and I met this fascinating young girl who is the International champion for this year's Women's Quran reading competition. And she is a Hafiz too. I wish one of my children is a Hafiz. Wan could have been I think. When he was in primary school he won the district Quran reading competition. Anyway this girl that I'm talking about is not just good at reading the quran, she's also an engineer. And beautiful. What more could a mother want?

7 Sep 2008

Kuala Lumpur

The rains have come to Kuala Lumpur again.The leaves on the trees by the roadside droop in weary acceptance. They sigh, they bow their heads before the howling winds against the sullen background of a grey leaden sky. There is no sight more melancholy than rain dripping on window panes or dark cloudy skies. We do not think of a tropical city up to its knees in rain water. When we think of  the tropics  it conjures images of beaches drenched in sunshine and a sky that is a perpetual blue, not grey.

The sight of Kuala Lumpur, dazzling city of lights, bowed under rainy weather is something else. Deprived of sunlight, KL loses some its colour, but never its vitality, and its passion.

Despite the rain and the floods, life goes on here in KL. I look out the car window and watch the yellow turbid torrent in the Sungai Gombak rushing gleefully towards the sea. People - young and old - walk on pavements sheltered under colourful umbrellas. The raindrops bounce cheekily about the roadway, as if playing a game of catch. They run in little rivulets towards the monsoon drain. Traffic slows down to a crawl. Flashflood warnings come on every twenty minutes on the radio. Everyone is rushing home, like bats to a cave . The day's work is done.