25 Jun 2010

Odds and ends

I haven't been home in Melaka for some time and I do miss being home - just lying down in bed or sitting in the little swing outside on the verandah and just look at my plants. I love getting my hands all dirty and earthy, doing the gardening, pruning trees, my few roses and my numerous green plants. We drove down today - Yatie and I, just for a night. I spent the afternoon adding fertiliser to my pot plants, repotting some of the greenies and all in all cleaning up the little bit of wilderness I call home. The tilapiah in the pond is bigger - soon some lucky neighbours will be getting fish for steaming or frying. I myself just cannot bear to cut them up but since they are getting too big for the pond we have to give them up. After this I think I will only rear the koi and the two kaloi. The Kaloi are actually very big now but I will never give them away - they are simply too beautiful to be eaten!

We are here for such a short time - tomorrow I'm driving back to Kuala Lumpur as we have three weddings to attend. LIfe is no longer simple these days - I thought after retirement I'd have the time to stay home here and relax but it looks like the opposite. No time to relax even! But I guess I'm used to being busy - even Repin. When he comes down here in Malacca he'll sleep the time away. Once he retires I wonder what he'll do. Somehow I can't see him retiring, though he may complain about having too much work, he still loves working.

The three felines that live outside our garden came by today - univited or not I still feed them. Actually I'd love to adopt them, which in a way we are since we feed them while we are here. I guess somebody feeds them when we are not around. There's one particular six month old which I like - a ginger male. He's cute and friendly unlike his sister the black one, which is very whiny. I don't particularly like the mum which doesn't really know how to look after her babies. Now she has another litter - 3 originally, but one died I think while we were away. They are cute but a bit wild I think since they've been out of touch of humans. The moment they see me they run and hide under one of the bushes or go next door to the neighbour's garden. I wish we can adopt them but there's no place in the apartment in KL, what with 5 cats already there! And also Karupin and Momo out two male Persians wouldn't like them I think. Once Karupin almost mauled Ginger, the one I adopted in Desa View. She was so tiny then, and so skinny and dirty. To look at her now you wouldn't believe she was that scrawny kitten we took in.  And she is also just as possessive with her territory - even Black cannot enter our room! She 's our room cat - as she stays inside at all times since her fight with Karupin. We dare not let her out unless Karupin is locked inside one of the rooms. But of all of them she is my favourite - she actually has a great personality and she talks back to you if you ask her a question! Believe it or not.

20 Jun 2010

Heroes and heroines

Sometimes a character stays in our our minds long after we have finished reading the book. We think and rethink of  his or her exploits, wonder why he did or didn't do certain things and all in all treat them as if they really lived, which they did actually - in the writer's imaginations and also in their readers'. Who are your favourite heroes and heroines? I certainly have a number - but I think number one among them is Mr Darcy, of Pride and Prejudice, although when I think of Darcy, its the movie version of Darcy that comes to mind - the one who acted with Kiera Knightley.

Then there's Ashton from The Far Pavillions - one of the most romantic novels of all time, on par with Gone With the Wind and Dr Zhivago as well as All this and Heaven too.  I first read The Far Pavillions  by M.M. Kaye way back in the 70s and fell in love with the handsome, brave, loyal Ash. Set in India in the 19th Century against a background of war and splendid Indian palaces, it is a long saga of the life of an orphaned boy Ashton Pelham- Martyn who was brought up as an Indian - Ashok - up till the age of 12.  In fact he never knew his parents who were both killed during the Indian Mutiny and he was rescued by his Indian nurse who to save his life, brought him up as her own. When he was discovered by British troops and they realised that he was actually an English boy - he was taken away from all that he loved in India and sent to England to be "educated" and "civilised". Because of his fluent Hindi and his knowledge of India he was sent back to India after he graduated from university to act as interpreter in the British army. This is a richly woven tale of intrigue, love, betrayal, friendship and loyalty. I find Ashton one of the greatest heroes ever found in writing. A truly great read which I have read over and over again over the years.

There are so many more favourite characters - many from Julia Quinn's Bridgerton series, some from Georgette Heyer's novels and a few from Nora Roberts.My love has always been for historical novels and I find that heroes from these books are normally very dashing and I love them not only for their looks but for their sense of humour, bravery and intelligence. One such is Eugenides, from Megan Whalen Turner's series - The Thief, The Queen of Attolia and the King of Attolia and last in the series - A Conspiracy of Kings.

Women characters who act as the main protagonists too are many - and like Darcy in Austen's beloved novel, Elizabeth is a wondefully lively character. She reminds me a bit of Jo in Little Women. Or Rosalind from Shakespeare's As you like it. I never really liked the bossy Emma or the quiet Fanny from Mansfield Park, though I enjoyed the books nevertheless. And way back in my childhood days - I still remember Julian from Enid Blyton's Famous Five series, as well as George who was actually Georgina. I'm sure everyone has her/ his own favourite characters -  in fact, when I was growing up Julian was my hero - at laest until I met other heroes in my teens.

17 Jun 2010

English class

Actually its been some time since I wrote about my English class. THis time I've got a bunch of kids from China, mainly. What can I say about them? They're fairly hardworking, even the boys (unlike our Malaysian boys I'd say). Some of the girls are quite passive - quiet, with few ideas and fewer words. One or two are quite loud and always ready to give their views. But my favourite is Zhang. She's quiet but is actually one of the better ones - fairly good English, clear pronunciation and always comes on time. Her partner Li Yu is the same, though Li Yu can be talkative at times. I had Zhang last semester too and she was the same - does her work and hands them on time, sometimes quite brilliant ideas but fairly quiet, as if she'd rather hide her light under a bushel.
When we started early last month, most of them had never read a full novel and all of them had never heard of any of the old classics. We didn't have time to do a whole novel but I did a number of excerpts and entry points with a few really good novels - Steinbeck, Dickens and Hemmingway. I hope that they can get on from there. If only we had more time... there's so much I want to do but we have only 7 weeks since its a special semester. That's the best I can hope for. However they really loved the poetry class and when I asked them to write their own poem, at first they all said - How can we... but after I showed them that they could write a poem, they were surprised to find that they  really could. It's so satisfying when they get excited about their own work and we even managed to build a folio so that they could have a collection of  all the poems written by their class.
THis is the last week of class - next week is the exam and after that they start their holidays. But since this is the special semester, they get only one week break before class begins for the next semester. I loved the previous group - Simulated Teaching. That was a lively bunch of girls. The only boy in the class was Kudret from Turkey. And the girls loved to bully him but I think he kind of enjoyed it too. I do hope I get to teach the Simulated Teaching again - really enjoyed the experience of training young teachers.

12 Jun 2010

Memories of Mami Timah

The last member of my father's family passed on today. She was my dad's younger sister and was 74 when she died. Mami was my only aunt on my father's side and she was very sporting. I remember when we were teenagers and wanted to go to the cinema - she would be the one to take us there. In those days girls were not allowed out on their own and if we wanted to watch a movie, we had to have a chaperone. And who would our chaperone be but this favourite aunt. Like us she enjoyed Hindi movies and didn't mind taking us to the cinema.
I remember the time when she lived at the army camp in Kulai, Johore. My cousins and I went to stay with her for the school holidays and we had the greatest time there. She wasn't very strict - just expected us to wake up early and make our own beds but otherwise we could do very much as we please. Those were really happy and care free days - sliding down the drain (in those days there were no lazy rivers or Sunway waterparks) in the rain, climbing the huge rain trees behind the barracks, playing rounders ( a kind of baseball game), eating satay, playing police and thieves (a kind of game like catch) or just lazing around telling stories. It was one of my happiest holidays. Mami loved kids  and even though she already had 3 of her own - all younger than me - she didn't mind having us for the holidays.

There were other memories - of her sitting at the verandah, gossiping with my mum or just sitting there with her sewing. By the time I was in my teens, mami was back in Banda Kaba, living in the house next to ours. Her husband - Baba Jalil was by this time retired from the army and with his pension they built their house on the land next to ours. Mami was good friends with my mum, sometimes passing on food that she had cooked to us, often making raya cookies  together . In the evenings I loved to sit at her verandah and just talk. She was the aunt you could talk to because she always understood your problems. We didnt need an agony aunt - she was always there for my cousins and me. Kakak Rosnah who at the time was interested in a second cousin of ours, talked to her about it. When others scolded and gave us advice telling us to study and not look at boys, she was more practical and offered advice that we didn't mind listening to. When I felt my own mum was too harsh or too old-fashioned she was there too - the kindly go-between.Coming back from boarding school, hers would be the first house I'd go to, after my grandmother's. She always had time to listen to my stories of boarding school life, its highs and lows.Sometimes she'd comment but more often than not she'd just listen, a sounding board for most of my juvenile yearnings and complaints.

Some how in my busy schedule I'd forgotten how close I used to be with her. In the last few years I had not even visited her - just because I didn't like her son, my cousin. But today, after the funeral was over, I just sat and reminisced those days, so long ago and felt a pang. Its no use regretting what is over, but I wish I had visited her, and told her how much I love her.

6 Jun 2010

Fairy tales - re told

On my way to Indonesia I finished 3 books - Fairest by Gail Carson Levine, Ella Enchanted by the same author and the Princesses of Bamarre, by the same author. They're all re-tellings of the fairy tales we've read and loved so much - Snow White, Cinderella and Snow White and Rose Red.

Here in Malaysia we also have our favourite folk tales. One of them is Bawang Putih and Bawang Merah. Like Snow White and Rose Red, Bawang Putih (white onion) and Bawang Merah (red onion) are sisters but there the comparison ends. In the Malay folk tale, Bawang Putih was the daughter of a simple farmer. Bawang Merah was also his daughter but from his second wife. The first and second wives hated each other and were often envious of each other. Envy and a desire to be the only wife,led Bawang Putih's mother to kill her co-wife, the mother of Bawang Merah. After her mother's death Bawang Merah had to do all the menial work of the house, so much so she had no time to rest. One day while crying over her fate, she heard a fish from the pond talking to her. It told her that it was the spirit of her dead mother and that if she felt sad or wanted to talk to somebody, she could always go to the pond and call out to the fish. So for many weeks Bawang Merah went to the pond and was consoled by the spirit of her mother. One day, Bawang Putih's mother, her stepmother, heard them talking together. So without telling her stepdaughter, she killed the fish and fed it to Bawang Merah. That night Bawang Merah got a dream and in it her mother told her that she was no longer a fish. She said that Bawang Putih's mother had killed her. The only way she could come back to console her daughter was if Bawang Merah got the bones of the fish and buried the bones in the garden. So Bawang Merah took the fish bones and buried it.

The next day the bones had become a huge Beringin tree, its shady branches hanging low. There was a swing on one of the branches and the moment she sat on the swing, it moved on its own. Bawang Merah was so happy she sang a song about her dead mother and how the tree is now her solace. As she was singing, the crown prince of the country who was out hunting with his men, heard her and came looking for the maiden with the golden voice. But her step mother, seeing her opportunity, shoved her own daughter - Bawang Putih instead and told the prince that it was her daughter who sang. The Prince asked her to sit on the swing then and sing a song for him. However the swing refused to move and she could not sing a single verse,instead croaking out the words " Move swing... for I am to marry the prince!"

The angry prince demanded the mother to produce the real singer, and quietly Bawang Merah was pushed out. The moment she sat on the swing it began to move on its own and Bawang Merah forgot her shyness and sang the song she was singing when the prince came. Entranced by her beauty and her golden voice, the prince proposed to her and she accepted. Of course by this time her stepmother realised her mistake and at once reminded Bawang Merah that they were her relatives. Bawang Merah was too kind hearted to tell her stepmother of the many unkindnesses she had suffered under her and agreed to allow her to live with them in the King's palace.

But the stepmother was still angry that her daughter Bawang Putih did not get to marry the Prince. She tried all kinds of tricks to get the prince to hate his lovely wife, Bawang Merah. One day she told Bawang merah to put grass and lallang on the bed just before her husband went to bed. Of course that resulted in him itching all over his body but he forgave his young wife. Another time she threw an axe at his head as he came into the room because her stepmother told her it was one way to make him love her. THis time the Prince did not forgive her and ordered her to be executed. She was taken and bound to a stake and her head would be cut off. Just as the executioner was about to raise his sword to cut off her head, a strong wind blew and the sword was blown away from the executioner. Everyone was amazed and the Prince realised that perhaps he had been too hasty. He asked his wife again to tell him who had asked her to do what she did to him but she refused to tell him and said instead that if he believed she was  responsible  for trying to kill him, then he didnt love her enough anyway. Angrily he told the executioner to carry out his job. AS the executioner was about to raise his sword again, another stronger wind came about and suddenly Bawang Merah was no longer tied to the stake. In her place was her wicked step mother who cried out to the prince that it was she who had tried to kill him and that Bawang Merah was innocent. Suddenly a golden voice was heard in the distance - it was Bawang Merah and she was singing under the Beringin tree again. The Prince knew then he had committed an error and rushed to ask forgiveness from his wife. She forgave him as well as her stepmother who was banished to the fringes of the country and told never to return to the palace again. Bawang Merah lived happily with her prince.


My grand daughter Sophia was down for a few days recently and I took the time to visit her. On one of my visits, I told her the story of  The Three Little Pigs. It was a hit - she loved it so much and wanted the story again and again. Every time I reach the part where the wolf knocked on the door of the pigs' house, and they answered," No, No! No! I will not open the door! Not on my chimney chin chin!" she'd laugh aloud, so tickled is she at the rhythm of the words. I remember her own father loving this well-loved tale as well as Three Billy Goats Gruff and The Three Bears. All these stories have lines which are repeated and all kids, not least my own children love repetition, especially those which have a rhythm as well.

Those quiet hours spent reading or telling them stories have enriched them and made them who they are today. All four of them are lovers of books. Both Shasha and Rizal have grown up to be creative in their own right - writing poems and short stories. I believe that their early beginnings of being read to have shaped them to be readers too. As a teacher of English, I wish more parents would take the time to read to their children. Besides the obvious effect of nurturing the child, it also inculcates in them a love for the written word. When I was young, books were not easy to get - my parents never had enough money for these extras. But my grandmother used to tell us great stories, many of which I now realise came from the old Indian folktales. When I was old enough to join the public library my dad took me to the library for the first time. I remember my surprise and pleasure at being surrounded by rows and rows of books - and you don't even have to buy them! I thought I had gone to heaven!

2 Jun 2010

New books

Its really ironic - right now I have more books to read than I could wish for, but no time to read them. I did manage to steal a few reads though - re read the Attolia series (The Thief, The Queen of Attolia and the King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner). These are really well written books. The protagonist - Eugenides named after the God of Thieves, can beat James Bond anytime. It's a page turner all right and I've just finished reading "A Conspiracy of Kings" - a continuation of  The Thief series but its about Sophos, the heir to the throne of Sounis. (Sounis, Eddis and Attolia are three neighbouring countries in this fantasy book.) Sophos has been kidnapped and nobody knew what had happened to him in the third book - The King of Attolia. In this book,  A Conspiracy of KIngs, Sophos tells the story of his abduction himself. Like Gen, Sophos is very real - he is by turns squeamish, frightened, brave, courageous and often very unsure of himself. But as the plot develops we see him grow and change - from the quiet, poetry loving boy to a king who would protect his country at whatever cost. For those who love intrigue and a bit of fantasy thrown in, this is a really great read. Not as exciting and suspenseful as The King of Attolia though, which I'd give a 5! But to really understand the story, one would have to read all 3 books.

I have a Nora Roberts waiting (The Black Hills) and JUlia Quinn's latest book -10Things I love About You.
But also waiting for me are 16 project papers, 16 book reports and an examination question to set. So ... sigh...