Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Since the beginning of time, endless stories have been told about how 'maternal love' influenced the lives of billions. Everyone has stories to tell, and none of them are ever the same.

For a mother, each pregnancy and delivery is different from the other. To feel a life growing and kicking in the womb, is a miraculous feat designed by the Benevolent Creator. Irrespective of whether the pregnancy is desired or otherwise, it is an experience that no mother can erase, and no child should ever forget.

How could a mother dump her foetus in a garbage bin, or suffocate her infant at birth? How could a child not love the mother who was conjoined by an umbilical cord that gave life, and provided nourishment from her own milk?  Surely, there are no generalized answers to these questions, only the actors themselves could probably justify their actions!

Irrefutably, love creates an ethereal bond between the giver, and the receiver.  Love is without doubt essential for emotional growth.  When love is deprived, a child can grow feeling dejected. It can leave a trail of unhappy stains in a child’s life. Fortunately, nature does provide substitutes.  A mother with no biological tie such as a foster mother, godmother, grandmother, and stepmother can give such love to a child, as she would to her very own. This same love can be lavished on a pet, as one would to a human child, and this can bring about the same happiness and contentment!

Fortunately for me, I enjoyed the benefits of an exquisite love of a mother from two angelic persons, and several more, who left a dramatic impact in my life.

Mariah - my beloved mother 
She was often admired for her natural beauty and poise. A mixed ancestry  of  Malay/Indo through her motherline, and a Dutch fatherline.  She was reserved with strangers, but when relaxed, she was friendly and chatty.  

She blessed me with her exceptional love.  She gave me strength and the aptitude to strive, and succeed in life.  She encouraged me in my studies, and in my pursuits to be a singer, and actress. Most of all, she was instrumental in my quest for spiritual knowledge. She sacrificed her life for everyone she loved, in many countless ways.

Knowing her high expectations of me, I tried hard not to disappoint her. She was alive to see that I had fulfilled my pledges to make her happy, and proud of me, in my own way.  
Che Puteh - the grandmother that I knew   
She was of Indo-Malay origin, born and raised in Kuala Lumpur. I was told that when she was born her parents could not decide on a name for her.  She had very fair complexion, and they named her, Che Puteh. I often teased her and called her  'Snow White Grandma'.  Heheee, sorry grandma, I'm still cheeky!

(Photo left) There's a stain on my poor face, that I can't do much to rectify. Seated next to me was  grandma/grandaunt, and mum standing behind. I was 3 years then,  and everywhere they went,  I was their only mascot.

Even though her role in my life was short-lived, she was important to me in my early years. She was mum’s auntie. My maternal grandmother Che Mah and her, were sisters. That made Che Puteh, my grandaunt. They were from Kuala Lumpur, and  moved to Penang, after marriage.  

"Penang's prosperity attracted people from far and wide, making Penang truly a melting pot of diverse cultures. Among the ethnic groups found in Penang were Malays, Acehnese, Arabs, Armenians, British, Burmese, Germans, Jews, Chinese, Gujeratis, Bengalis, Japanese, Punjabis, Sindhis, Tamils, Thais, Malayalees, Rawas, Javanese, Mandailings, Portuguese, Eurasians and others" Wikipedia 

Long before I was born, Che Puteh (my grandaunt) married my paternal grandfather Capt. Baba Ahmed JP., who was a widower.  By this marriage, she also became my grandmother - the only grandmother that I knew. They had six children from their marriage.  After her last child, there was a gap of several years before I was born. From the moment she set her eyes on me, she loved me instantly, and took over a motherly role. I grew up in my grandparents’ home, and she was always around fussing, and favouring me over her own kids. Living under the same roof, I benefited by this all-round affection, smothered on me by both grandparents, and parents. 

(Left) This was the last time I saw my grandmother. She passed away a few months after my visit, in 1988.

(Right)  Mum standing on the left with her mother (Che Mah), little 
brother, and 
elder sister.

Che Mah - my actual maternal grandmother  
The late Che Mah (photo on the right) was the elder sister of Che Puteh (photo above).  I know this segment is a little confusing,  please read on!  I was not so exposed to Che Mah (my actual grandmother) when I was small. Only in later years that we became more acquainted, and closer. There are many fond memories of the short stints, when she stayed in my house in Kuala Lumpur. 

What I remember specifically about her was her mannerism, and etiquette, that many people can learn from. Each time she heard that I was in Penang, she would walk miles to visit me at my mum’s house.  She preferred to walk rather than wait for me to visit her. She had no income of her own, yet, during each visit she would never come empty-handed.  She would cook my favourite recipes, and bring them along with the usual grapes (her trade-mark gift). I  remember how happy she was when she saw that everyone thoroughly enjoyed the food she prepared.

Ancient knowledge
My mum’s grandfather was Indonesian-born, renowned for his knowledge in ancient health therapies. He lived in Kuala Lumpur until a ripe old age of 108 years.  I remember him clearly when I was a little girl, because he often visited his daughters (my grandmothers) in Penang.  I was exceptionally intrigued by him.  

After leaving the entertainment world,  for 12 consecutive years, I delved deep into investigative research, and study of alternative therapies. I have them all to thank for, because they sowed the seeds that spurred this interest.  I later immersed myself in humanitarian activities that benefited many.  

The wedding
My father had seen, but never spoken to my mum. His step-mother, Che Puteh,  was my mum’s auntie. My father was the only man that mum had known and loved. They fell in love after marriage - a love that grew and sustained throughout their entire lives. 

This was the first time a wedding was held in my grandfather’s house.  It was a double wedding for the sons - my father and his elder brother.  (Wedding photo below). The couple on the right was  mum and dad.  

My paternal grandfather Capt. Baba Ahmed JP.,  was a prominent person in the community. Inevitably, the invitation list became longer by each day. It turned out to be a meritorious occasion, like a fairy-tale wedding. 

Mum moved into my grandfather’s house. Of course, like in every household, there were minor rifts with in-laws her age. She was like Cinderella, envied for her beauty. Fortunately, her fairy godmother Che Puteh, was around to ensure that the home-front was cordial, and conducive.

Her characteristics and traits
Mariah was remarkable for her determination to make possible, the near impossible. She had to struggle in her early childhood, and that turned her into a survivor.  She was  sincere -  call it frank or outspoken,  but totally generous, zealous, self-taught, and enterprising. She believed that people should try, and never to give up, without trying. To her, this was the key to success.  

She once engaged an assistant, and sewed 50 uniforms in a week. This job was contracted by a small factory, through a family friend. Within weeks, she became a proficient part-time seamstress, operating from the house.  She even designed, and sewed some beautifully embroidered evening dresses for my TV shows.  (Right) - The outfit was designed by me, and sewn by mum.

She could have been a famous designer of this generation.  Some of the clothes that she designed, could easily outshine many that are paraded on catwalks today. To her, it was more a challenge, and not the money. Once she succeeded, she would normally move on. 

There was an occasion,  when she wanted to learn to create floral mini replicas from bread, and this person refused to teach her. She was determined to produce her own creations. She spent hours experimenting, and finally turned out these masterpieces (right).
Not only were these made from bread, but some had trimmings of pearls, and other accessories. This was certainly a surprise to everyone.  I still have a few, kept as mementos.

Mum could get bored easily, and often preferred to experiment new things, and hobbies.  Once, she started collecting mini cacti in different varieties, shapes, and sizes. This, she was not bored. She tended to them like they were her kids, until she passed away. Surprisingly, these cactus thrived under her loving care, and those that I took back with me to Kuala Lumpur, did not survive.

A great cook
Mum was a great cook.  She would experiment different dishes and create her own recipes. She was able to duplicate any dish, from any restaurant, or cafe, which were to us, much tastier and visually more appealing.  She was happy to lavish the family with food, and each day was something to look forward to.  No one could duplicate her dishes, except me (grinning)!

Mum once told me that “the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”. Funnily, food was never the criteria for my father. Only after she departed that he really missed her cooking.

This is the time of the year that I  specifically miss my mum’s recipes.  She would create her own cookies for the festival. I would be perspiring profusely  in the confined kitchen while waiting for the mouth-watering cookies to be baked. Today, no one could duplicate her recipes, not even me. I often wonder if she added some secret ingredients that she forgot to tell.

Well groomed
My mum was very particular about her personality. No matter how busy she was, right on the dot, an hour before my dad came home from work, she would be dolled up. He was not much of an eater, but nonetheless, she would have something on the table, for him to nibble.  She once said to me: -  “Aside from looking after the husband’s stomach, a woman needs to be groomed and sweet-scented for her husband. A proud and contented husband, will not look at another woman”

Her generosity
Mum had many good qualities, but her main persona was her generosity. All visitors to our home, even those who came unannounced, were served with a meal. Her family members were showered with gifts, clothes, and any money that she could spare. No one left the house empty-handed. 

(Below) Mum with her 
late sister Sabariah in the 60s

She had other sisters, but the one she loved most, was her younger sister, Sabariah. They were like identical twins, both beautiful, and fashionable. They often wore similarly designed clothes, and would regularly talk on the phone, or visit each other. Those days, when I watched them together, I often wondered what it would be like to have a sister. Anyway, I did not really feel deprived. After all, I enjoyed the attention of being the only girl in the family!

Auntie Sabariah was close to me, and I have many fond memories of my days with her.  Mum told me that my auntie would scout around the record shops for my new albums, on her behalf.  She would immediately inform anxious mum, whether the original or pirated versions were on sale. Sometimes, they were together on these searching sprees.  About my albums, mysteriously, on many occasions the original versions  would appear a week after the release of the pirated versions! 

Childhood memories
This baby story when I was  a few months old, never fails to amuse me. When asked if I loved my father, and grandparents, I would stretch both arms out-wide, indicating that I loved them enormously. When asked how much I loved my mum, my outstretched arms would shrink, and touch each other, showing that I loved her less.  

I seem to recall clearly, early memories with my father. However, memories of my early years with my mum that I can vividly recall, are not too great. Perhaps, it was because grandma was always around to pamper me.

I was around 5 years then (right). Mum was obsessed about cleanliness. Bathing time meant running around and hiding, because I was terrified by her shampooing. By the time I was caught, her patience was exhausted. I hated the stinging soapy water that she poured  over my hair and face, while I gasped for air. I would scream and wail for my grandmother, who would immediately run to my rescue. She would reprimand mum for her impatience. This regular ordeal certainly made mum and I, very unpopular with each other. 

We became bonded
It was in my teens that we really became bonded, and appreciated each other more. We moved to our own house,  and there mum became my confidante. She taught me all that I needed to know on how to be a lady.  She was eager to impart her material and spiritual knowledge, consistently.

Most supportive
My mother was supportive from the first time she watched me performed on stage at age 5. I remember how excited mum, and grandma were, when they stitched the dress for my first school event. On that day, when I delivered a welcoming speech, and sang, I  could spot them, smiling from their seats.  In later years, I was active in sport, and badminton. At every competition, mum and grandma would be grinning proudly, each time I received a trophy and medal. 

Mum encouraged me in every extracurricular activity that I participated in. Soon, all activities were drastically halted,  because she was also adamant that I should do well in my studies. This, I did, and excelled fairly well.

Mum knew all my songs, and even suggested songs that became hits. She confessed that each time I was on TV, her heartbeat would race with excitement, and the tension was sometimes too much for her heart. 

(Below)  'Teruna jiran tetangga' written by composer, Akbar Nawab. The song  was irrelevant, but  just hearing me singing out “mama” got her so excited.  The song is about a girl who was asking her mother for advice, when she fell in love with the boy next door.

Her last visit
My mum visited me for the last time in 1992.  It was an unusually short visit.  She was not herself throughout the entire 5-day stay.  Mum had always been intuitive, and on many occasions her visions and dreams turned out correctly, as foreseen. That trip, she felt that she was seeing me for the last time, and I felt the same way too.  

Mum came fully prepared, and handed all that she wanted me to have as my heritage. Most treasured and cherished by me, was the knowledge, that she had acquired from her forefathers. In addition, she handed her valuables accumulated from savings and tokens, received from me, the past years.  Mum distributed gifts fairly to everyone, including a poor family that she sustained financially for years.

Her spiritual views
Mum was a spiritual person, but certainly not a religious bigot.  She believed that one's spirituality is private.  It is between the person, and the Creator, and should not be paraded or used for any ulterior agenda. She was vehement that no one should judge another person's spiritual values, based on the exterior. In short, don't  judge a book by its cover. 

Aside from performing her religious obligations ardently, and lovingly, she had done many good deeds.  These were mostly concealed. What amazed me most was the contents in the note books written by her, that were found in her cupboard, after she passed away.  She had written thousands of entries of her recitations, back-dating to her early years.  These were carefully recorded, and maintained. She had immersed herself spiritually, and was fully prepared for her journey to the Hereafter. Concurrently, she had performed her worldly duties, to the utmost satisfaction. 

(Above) This photo was taken on her last day with me, at my home. Like most women, mum was quite vain.  She once said to me that she hoped to leave the world looking intact and not disfigured. Her prayers were answered. This was exactly how she looked,  serene and smiling, when I saw her on her funeral day.

The last farewell                  
Mum called me the night before she was hospitalized. She had a failing heart, and was experiencing discomfort.  She was placed under an overnight observation, in a normal ward in the Penang General Hospital.  At noon, the following day, she developed a severe chest pain. Sadly, she was not attended to by anyone, although she did ask for help.  Apparently, the hospital was short-staffed.
On that fateful day and moment, I know that she would have prayed for the last chance to see my father. Her prayer was blessed.  He entered the ward, and saw her sitting on the bed. As soon as he approached her, mum held his hand, and told him that she was in severe pain. She cried and said that it was time for her to leave.  As she spoke these words, she collapsed, while he held on to her hand.  He was totally lost and distraught. This was the first time in his life, that he shed a tear. Helpless he was,  he could do nothing, but watch his beloved wife being taken, before his very eyes.

A few agonizing minutes later, he was told that she had departed peacefully.  It was meant to be that the last face she saw, was the man she loved - the man who had equally cherished, and stood by her for decades.

Mum departed in 1993, and dad joined her in 2012. He survived 19 lonely years without her, and missed her extremely,  but never once spoke of her to me.  I knew that he could not hide his emotions, and therefore preferred not to mention her.  I could see the distraught look in his eyes, whenever I spoke of her.

Her Idol
After my father departed,  I discovered that he had not tampered with mum's belongings in her cupboard. Except for her clothes that were taken away by her sisters, and other family members, other items remained intact. There were favourite photos of her and dad, family members, and birthday cards received over the years, plus other paraphernalia. 

What surprised me most, was to find a folder labelled ‘Ena’ strategically placed on the shelf, in her cupboard.  I am not sure whether mum left it for my father, or for me. The folder contained publicity clippings of my singing days from the early start,  audio cassettes of my TV shows, albums, newspaper clippings on my business and community service activities, etc. These were painstakingly compiled, and kept. There were personal notes written by her, indicative of her pride, and  admiration for her only daughter. 

I was completely baffled. I had not realized until then, that she was so proud of me!  I was her 'Idol', and she was really my most ardent fan!

The Queen of my heart
Mum left behind her wisdom, and memories to carry me through. These, will be cherished for the rest of my life. I am blessed to have a mother who was proud of me.  Sadly, I did not get the chance to say goodbye, and tell her that she was actually my inspiration and role model, and that she was indeed, the Queen of my heart.

Today, as I float on the stream of time and reminisce, I await my turn to take the same journey – the journey that no one can escape.  

I want the world to know, that a mother like her, is not just a wishful hope, but a reality!  

May my beloved mother and father be together for eternity, in the blissful Hereafter. May the souls of the loved ones mentioned here, be placed among the righteous in the Hereafter. 



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