In 2011, I was in Makkah performing Haj with my wife and eldest son when I received a message that mother, then 88, had had a stroke and was in critical condition in hospital.
All rituals had been completed and while waiting to return to Malaysia, we prayed fervently in the Masjid al Haram for mother’s speedy recovery and hoped we would not be too late. Our trip as guests of the Almighty had to be cut short but Paradise lies under the feet of our mothers.
When we arrived, mother was still clinging on to life. Miraculously, her condition had stabilised. When she was conscious and stronger, we brought her home. Mother was, however, unable to walk or talk.
Except for a hip injury she sustained in 2008 and poor health during the war years, mother was blessed with robust health and vitality. Suddenly, after the stroke, she was so helpless and had to have all her personal needs looked into.
After a while, she made progress and was happy to be able to interact with everyone again. Amazingly, mother was able to articulate some religious phrases. Before long, she could attend birthday parties and go on holidays to her favourite destinations, Penang and Port Dickson. If there was discomfort and pain, mother never complained.
She was mentally alert and adjusted to her new situation and was able to continue her role, albeit in a subdued form, as the family’s no-nonsense matriarch.Three-and-a-half years passed so quickly and we chose to ignore all the signs indicating that her internal organs were failing and that she was slipping away. We wanted mother to be with us longer. She was no longer lucid by this time and was not responding.
On April 26,2015, mother passed away peacefully, a few months short of her 93rd birthday. Mother was survived by seven children, 15 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.
My mother, Cheragh Bibi Rahmat Ali or Bibi as she was fondly called, was born in 1922. Her parents, Rahmat Ali and Kholdi Fatihdin, were simple folks. We don’t know much about mother’s childhood except that she lived in the police barracks in Birch Road (close to Stadium Medeka today) since her father was serving in the police force.
She was the eldest of five siblings (four sisters and a brother).
Mother grew up to be a pretty, fair-skinned lass and in 1940, at the age of 18, she married my father Sher Mohamed Allah Baksh, a dashing and ambitious policeman.
While father was a hero, my mother was a superhero.
Mother gave birth to seven children (three sons and four daughters) who were all born during our country’s turbulent war and emergency years.
Mother did not receive any formal education while growing up and was not able to read or write. She however received religious education and was able to recite the holy Quran beautifully.
Mother realised the importance of education and encouraged us to study hard. She especially wanted her daughters to complete tertiary education in order to be financially independent, and saw to it that they did not spend too much time in the kitchen.
Having gone through the school of hard knocks, mother’s decision-making ability, interpersonal and leadership skills were something to marvel at.
My parents were broad-minded, religious, god-fearing individuals who maintained good relations with everyone regardless of their religious faith or ethnicity. This explains the mixed marriages in our family. As the world changed after the war, they were able to move forward with the times by being flexible and open-minded. They never demanded that we conform to their worldview or values.
During father’s career as a police officer, mother stood by his side through thick and thin. In 1954, when father moved up the ranks after the war, mother rose to the occasion by quickly adapting to her new role as the wife of an officer, learned to drive (her first car was a Morris Oxford) and became a role model for others. She also learned to communicate in English and began confidently mingling with the wives of other senior local and British police officers at official functions.
As life for mother finally got more comfortable, she developed an interest in gardening and tailoring dresses for her girls using her faithful foot-pedal Singer sewing machine and later the upgraded electrical version.
Mother always took care of her appearance and always looked presentable. Whenever she went out, she was a picture of elegance in her beautiful baju kurung with matching tudung.
Mother lost her beloved husband in 1996, just two months after their 55th wedding anniversary. With father’s demise at the age of 81, mother was the embodiment of resilience. She suppressed her grief and was a solid rock to all her children during the period of bereavement.
For the next 15 years until her stroke, mother kept herself occupied with family activities and her network of friends. Mother’s Day celebrations and mother’s birthday, celebrated on the same date as father’s, on Oct 1, brought the whole family together.
She was a most loving grandma. Nothing brought her more comfort and joy than being surrounded by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and seeing them tucking into the delicious meals she had prepared.
During festive occasions, mother would prepare her specialities: nasi minyak, chicken curry, beef rendang, pulut kuning and our all-time favourite, wajik. Her colourful butter cakes with red, green and brown stripes and the rose jelly and kuih loyang were never forgotten.
Mother loved shopping. When we were young, we often accompanied her to Petaling Street and Globe Silk Store on Batu Road. My mother and sisters would even take the night train to Singapore whenever there was a sale going on. Mother insisted there was more choice and better quality goods at lower prices there.
If anything excited mother more than shopping, it was gold jewellery. She regularly visited the jewellery shops opposite Bangkok Bank in the 1960s and, years later, Poh Kong. Mother had great negotiating skills which she had mastered over the years from haggling with the goldsmith bosses.
How could I forget mother looking after me 24/7 when I contracted rheumatic fever as a child, her distress and phobia of flying and yet she went for two Haj pilgrimages, several Umrahs and to London twice, how protective she was of her flock, defending us from anyone who tried to put us down and her Hari Raya kain pelikat (sarong) gift for her boys, which she personally selected every year.
My parents raised us with incredible love, kindness, gentleness and was always supportive of us.
Their love will remain with us till the end of time.