My earliest memories of mum are of her pretty, fair, rounded face with a nice red pottu on her forehead. Always wearing a beautiful smile, and with bright twinkling eyes.
A bit on the plump side but she was not really bothered about her size at all. Never really saw her exercise or think of slimming. Haha!
I loved mum the way she was. Always clad neatly in a cotton saree, she looked the epitome of an Indian beauty.
Mum used to say that dad fell in love with her when she moved into the neighbourhood. Of course she was not always plump, but after 10 children she gained weight. Well, that's normal, isn't it?
As far as I can remember, I never really saw her fall sick or complain of anything. Even if she had a flu or fever, she never really took bedrest. She would make sure all meals were ready before taking her much-needed rest.
Every morning without fail, she would wake up at 5am to start her day. With the radio on, and Tamil oldies playing, she would get breakfast ready.
Breakfast always comprised idly with chutney, or thosai with chutney, or paal appam, or puttu – all our traditional Indian breakfast foods.
Although it has been a good 50 years since all that happened, yet everything is fresh in my mind. For dad, breakfast was always two half-boiled eggs, with thosai made on the spot, and served with a cup of Milo.
After sending us to school or to work, mum would start preparing lunch. As dad ran a sundry shop, mum had to cook for his three workers plus us 10 children as well. Definitely a huge task but never too much for my mum.
She always had the most sumptuous meals ready for us when we came back from school. She always prepared everything single-handedly. With so many different tastes to cater for, it's amazing that she made us all happy with her great cooking. No one ever complained.
Those days, we did not have any ready-made chilli powders; everything had to be ground from scratch. Just imagine the amount of work just to make a bowl of curry.
For tea time, we would have local kuih or nice sweet porridge, whether it's greenpea porridge, wheat porridge or black pulut porridge.
Dinner would usually be the same food as lunch.
She was good at taking care of all the chickens and turkeys that we used to rear. Every morning, we let them out and fed them with maize or rice. After the hens had laid their eggs, the whole house would be noisy with their clucking.
Every Sunday, we would have chicken curry. How we would chase the chickens all over the backyard, trying to catch them!
Not only was mum a great cook, but she was also a good disciplinarian. She made sure we did our homework, were good children, polite and well-behaved. Every day from 7pm to 10pm was study time.
Mum did not get a proper formal education but could read Tamil. She used to read Tamil magazines and newspapers. Those days, without television for entertainment, the radio was a great companion to my mum. All the songs and Tamil dramas were her favourites.
Those days, local radio channels were on from 5am to 11am. Then she would switch to Radio Singapore.
I can still recall how we would all gather around the radio to listen to the dramas. Just for those few minutes, there would be absolute silence and concentration as we listened to the dramas.
When Deepavali rolled around, mum would bring out the manual grinders which comprised a heavy stone slab and a pounding component. They were used to pound and grind rice and green peas into flour. Before grinding, all raw materials had to be washed and dried.
I used to love it when mum started making traditional Indian cookies and snacks. The making of muruku was the hardest and took the longest time. We would make enough to fill two big tins. The worst thing was that we had to refrain from tasting them before the festival.
Then, one by one, all the other delicacies were also made. Athirasam, chittu urundai, ketti urundai – you name it, we made it.
Mum was an excellent cook. Chicken curry, mutton varuval, prawn sambal, sambar, ikan bilis sambal, fish curry – everything was cooked to perfection. Even now, my mouth waters when I think of my mum' s cooking. Maybe that's how I picked up cooking skills, too.
Dad never really bought any gifts for her but she never complained.
Then we children grew up and got married, and the family grew larger. She took care of over 20 grandchildren! Bathing them the traditional way and taking care of them if they fell sick by using traditional medicines. My mum was very strong and resilient.
My most wonderful and loving memory of her is when she gave me a watch and a gold chain. I'm glad she was still there for me when I got married and she took care of my two children too.
She was a very kind-hearted lady. Any beggars who came to the house never left without their tummy filled with a hearty meal and with some pocket money for them to spend too. She was well-liked and loved by the neighbours; everyone always had something nice to say about her.
She left us to be with the Lord when she was 80 years old. But the saddest part was that she had developed mild Alzheimer's by then, and could not remember any of us. I would have wanted her to leave us by giving each and every one of us a little message to remember. But who are we to decide that, all is in The Almighty's hands. Really miss my mum.
Wishing all mothers a very Happy Mothers Day!