PENANG: Housewife V. Krishnamal used to have five young children in tow when she left for work in the wee hours 27 years ago.
They would walk from their Jawi estate house at 2am to a factory and spend four solid hours de-shelling prawns there.
Krishnamal, now 61, had no choice but to leave her youngest child, who was only five years old then, with her mother.
Her eldest son, S. Kesavan, 43, recalled that he and his siblings who were aged between nine and 16 then would help their mother peel at least 12kg of prawns a day.
Back then, she was paid about 10 sen for each kati (600g) of prawns peeled. So, she would just do her best to earn more money, he said.
According to him, his mother would return home about 6am to cook for the family, before leaving to work in a sugarcane plantation from 7am to 4pm.
She slept a maximum of five hours a day, but on some days she only slept for three hours.
She did not know the meaning of entertainment, said Kesavan, a teacher.
He said both his mother and father, K. Sinniah, 77, a former estate worker, practically sacrificed their days and nights to put food on the table.
And no matter how busy they were, they always made sure that we children did our homework and studied, he added.
Krishnamal's sacrifices saw three of her six children graduating from local universities, and earning her the honour of being named the Mother of the Year at the Sri Murugan Centre's 11th Kalvi Yathirai (educational pilgrimage) at the Arulmigu Sri Bala Thandayuthapani Hilltop Temple at Jalan Waterfall here yesterday.
Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon presented her with a family portrait and RM1,000 on behalf of the centre.
Some 50,000 Indian students and their parents attended the pilgrimage, held in Penang for the first time. For the past 10 years it was held in Batu Caves, Selangor.
The event was meant specially for those taking the UPSR, PMR, SPM and STPM examinations.
Prayers began at 8.01am, followed by the pilgrimage, which saw students carrying a chembu (vessel) filled with holy water and flowers, and climbing the 297 steps leading to the temple.
The centre's director Datuk Dr M. Thambirajah said although the pilgrimage attracted mostly students from the northern region, students from as far as Johor, Malacca and Selangor also attended.
In his speech, Dr Koh said striving for educational excellence through a combination of discipline and religion was a unique approach that should be encouraged among other communities.
Citing the case of Malaysia's top squash player Nicol David, he said students must persist in their pursuit of excellence all the time and not just for a short period.
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