Old and alive

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI had a big forehead as a baby. In the Malay language, it is called a ‘jendul‘ – never mind that the word itself sounds comical when pronounced. Now that I am an adult, it is this ‘jendul‘ that I suspect is giving me headaches on how I over-analyse difficult issues, such as the one involving the very beautiful lady carrying the ‘jendul’-ed baby above.

My mother, as you can see in this picture taken in 1972, was a fashionable lady. I, unfortunately, did not inherit that gene. I can never carry off an outfit like that – rubber slippers, a tight-fitting batik sarong, flower-printed kebaya AND pearl necklace and bracelet to complete! Her hair was coiffed ala Margaret Thatcher and I am pretty sure a ‘jendul‘-ed baby in one hand does make errr.. a complete accessory. She was and is, a very well read lady and still bury herself in books – written both in Jawi and Malay alike. If she had the opportunity to study English, I am sure she would be reading Shakespeare now and expound theories on his writings. She used to write a lot of short stories in Malay and have them published in the newspapers. She even had her hand acting in theatre. Me? I only went as far as translating theatre manuscripts, but does not have the talent to act in them.

Twenty-three years after losing my father to a sudden bout of stroke and with all her 3 daughters all grown up – my mother has circumvented the problems of loneliness, retirement and having an empty-nest very well. If the term ‘well-balanced’ can be applied to an elderly and not just teenagers, I would vote for her with BOTH hands. For all these years, she has kept herself busy socialising, doing charity work, travelling, reading, tutoring other senior citizens on reading the Quran and many other spiritual activities with a stable network of friends and acquaintances. She lived up to her exuberant spirit, and still holds the record as the only granny I know who’d have her grandkids calling their lungs out asking her to stop swimming in the sea as it is already maghrib, and not the other way round! To me, she is the definition of ‘liberal but rooted’, a phrase I often use to describe myself when people I meet get confused by my hijab and jamming days.

As the daughter who lives with her, her independence has been a gift. I have been very lucky to be able to travel to remote and faraway places in the course of work on a day’s notice – sometimes for months. I never had to worry about her health or her getting about. Often, her own schedule is already full before mine is even half-filled.

So when I broke the news to her that I am migrating later this year to join DH, and that she may have to live with my sister in JB, the news was not an easy release for both of us.For a spunky old lady like my mother, living in a strange land – albeit only JB – means her wings are clipped. She knows she will be cut off from her friends, her activities and most importantly, the very chord that kept her self-esteem alive and soaring after my father’s death – her independence. Living in Malaysia means she will not be able to move around unless she is driven.

I reasoned that I need her to live with my sister and her meriah family, because I cannot fathom her living all alone without no one looking after her every day. I dont like the idea of a maid doing the job either.

She may not be as svelte or fashionable now that she is over 60, and walks with a slight bounce and roll thanks to overworked knees – but she gets up and down the MRT trains and buses mercilessly. She loves Singapore for that – and I know deep down inside she is not one who will content with sitting and cooking at home, she wants, in her words, to ‘hidup bermasyarakat’. Singapore’s compact living allows her to do that.

Today, Bertha Henson, who was my supervisor back in newsroom days wrote a poignant column in The Straits Times about her mum and allowing the old to feel useful. She too was raised by her mother, if I recall. Reading her piece reminded me that as days pass, the time is nearer for my mum to face her newer, more quiet life. While some senior folks may cherish that, to my mother – an active life is best. Will a more quiet life make my mum feel useful ? I doubt it.

I feel like a punisher. My jendul-ed head is not helping either, it only sets me thinking deeper on what I am about to do, de-enriching the life of an enriched senior citizen. I have yet to reconcile my nagging conscience and my action.

Who is to define what makes an elderly person happy?


  1. hey jendul…eerr i mean uja hehehe.

    i know how u feel. u feel guilty when i moved the kids and myself here. i felt like a punisher. and i still feel guilty over it.

    but what to do…we chose our life, now we have to deal with it kan?

    cayang jendul!

  2. my family had this decision to make when we decided to “move” our Tok from Alor Setar (where her “life” is) to KL where all her children are. But letting her go back to AS once in a while made her feel better lah and she soon came to terms with the fact, that it was indeed for her own well-being and its only bcos her kids sayang her. Your mom will know that too, she sayangs u what, jendul and all eh?

  3. my heart breaks everytime my mum weeps on the phone sometimes when i call her. and i only moved to the far end of sg late last year.

    and also your mummy is jamboooz…mak saya pon jamboo jugak. hehe

  4. was blog-surfing to distract from suicide-beckoning work and voila, found you. long time no hear. – mas from tj.

  5. Ely: I know it was tough -and it will be for me. So I am bracing myself for this.

    Anedra: Ah yes, I heard abt the very famous Tok from AS! Thanks for reminding me that your Tok made a further journey, AS-KL is definitely much nearer than JB-SG.

    Zammy: I get teary just ‘thinking’ about the move, macam mana nak survive the airport goodbye nie? *scratch head*

    shoe: Hey Mas, I found your blog sometime back – it was a good read, some points so poignant and funny I was rolling on the floor (ok I exagerate!) How you’ve been? Will link you up ok.

  6. uja, forgive me if i dont read the entry till the end. It started off very well and i came to the part where I myslef am having to deal with but am still in denial. have not been able to blog abt it. so, enough said.

  7. Kak Teh: So sorry if the posting made you sad. I am sure Tok has reconciled many things about you being in London by now. Your doas are much more valuable than anything else, yes?

    shoe: my email is zuzan@singnet.com.sg
    Aznan is also my neighbour btw, he lives a few blocks away. He is back in SG for good. (ok make me stop before I start rattling everybody’s name!hahahha)

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