Search This Blog

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

An Ode To My Mother

An Ode To My Mother

A few days ago, a friend of mine was telling me about how her six-year-old son was beginning to assert his individuality in a quest for increased autonomy. An inquisitive and highly intelligent child, he could not see why his being prone to illness and the fragility of technology should stand in the way of his sole custody of the remote control to the air-conditioner in his room. No slight matter, this was a question of sovereignity as he could not, in his view, feel secure in his possessory rights until he had control of the remote. Needless to say, two remotes and several bouts of fever later, his mother has a very different view of things.

Leaving aside the fact that in my considered view his insecurity was not unreasonable, bearing in mind the recent decision of the International Court of Justice on Batu Putih, it got me thinking. About personality, identity, the what and why of who we are, and the bonds that keep us together.

I remember an early attempt to wrestle with the nature of my relationship with the world at large. I was about five, in the back seat of my mother’s car, on the way home from somewhere, and I suddenly wondered what would happen if I opened the door. There was only one way to find out, and so I did. It was amazing, a real ‘Ben Hur’ moment for posterity; wind in my hair, ground flashing by, the neighing of horses in my mind’s ears. My mother took a different view. Till this day I have not figured out how she was able to slap me, into the car and not out of it, close the door and lock it, all while she was driving.

This was to be a recurring theme in my relationship with my mother; the narrowing of the eyes, the hiss of breath expelled and the sudden blur of hand, every single time my sense of individuality collided with her perspective of how things should be. Like when I decided that having hair was just too much trouble at thirteen and shaved my head or when I cut school at fourteen to conduct an anthropological study of a toddy shop.

The slaps stopped into my late teens but I still got the narrowing of the eyes and the hiss. Like when I called in from Benares during the height of the Barbri Mosque riots and tried to fool her into believing I was safe by telling her I was in a quiet, sleepy town called Varanasi. I could not see her eyes then, but I could feel them narrow, just before I heard the hiss.

One would think that when in 2006 posters calling for my death as a traitor to Islam were being circulated, there would have been much to think about. There was simply no space in my mind; I was worried about how I was going to tell my mother. A few years earlier, together with three other lawyers, I had been involved in an important Internal Security Act case in the Federal Court. We won, and got ourselves on the front page of the newspapers. I called my mother and got hissed at. The prospect of stardom apparently did not quite balance out the probability of reprisal.

So it got to a point where I thought that I had to take the offensive. I sat my mother down and told her that I was a product of bad up bringing, that I did what I did because I had been raised the way I was. And if she did not believe it, I could call upon at least five to six thousand Islamists who shared my view. She at least had the courtesy of laughing before narrowing her eyes.

To be fair, if I was in my mother’s shoes I would be having serious anxiety issues. It has not been easy for my parents and I owe it to them to acknowledge that fact and their continued faith in my knowing my own limits. Amidst the scolding, the lectures and the hissing, there was an understanding that the only way they could protect me from harm was to allow me to find myself, and that this was a journey all of my own. I think, above all, it was this that persuaded my mother not to refer me to a psychiatrist when she discovered the short stories I was writing at fifteen (she came close to it though).

I am still on that path and the eyes still narrow, though less so for my brother having dutifully, and very usefully, provided grandchildren that serve to distract. My family gives me the space to do what I need to, and the space to find my way back to them, life continuing its cycles in its own time. It is the same for my friend, her son and her family, as it is for countless other Malaysian families throughout the country.

And I wonder, when did we stop doing that for each other as a community?

(Malay Mail; 8th July 2008)



Anonymous said...

what a nicely written article. really enjoyed reading it. laughed at the image of your mom narrowing her eyes and hissing. :-)


Anonymous said...

It's love that made your mother accept you for who you are and give you the space and liberty to be who you. And it's love that we need not only in our families but in our society: to accept and trust one another, and to give others the freedom to choose his/her own beliefs and convictions, even if they are diametrically opposed to our own.

Anonymous said...

Malik,this is one of the most beautiful tribute for a mom. I am mom with four boys and I think I want to learn to hiss too but I don't need to narrow my eyes cos my Chinese eyes are narrow as it is. Thank you for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say what a refreshing article this is to read - made me laugh too.


Anonymous said...

Very sweet... MIS. Nice warm article. Enjoyed it

Arena Green said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It's a warm tale and food for thought for other moms like me.


Old Fart said...

Love, as is truth, is what sets you free...and so it was with you; and me too, I should add.

Nice one!

Now, if only all the other women who come through our lives know this little secret! Hmmm!!

Crankster said...

Your mother is EXACTLY like mine.

WY said...

lovely writing, yet again. MIS, you may consider writing columns more often. it is way better than some of the craps we get on thestar/thesun sometimes.

"... provided grandchildren that serve to distract" << how true! ahahha

Pat said...

Malik Imtiaz, you have a sense of humour after all!!!

Speaking as a mother of two in their twenties, I know your mother is proud of you - even if she doesn't come right out and say it. I know I would be, if you were my son.

This is a lovely piece. No gushing I-love-yous and trite trivialities. I enjoyed reading it.

And I thank you for the break.

Fareez said...

The concept of freedom and independence is closely linked to the ideas of self worth and identity. An individual cannot and will not fight for his freedom unless he first has an identity and a sense of self worth. Whether the power elite want to grant that freedom on the other hand is something different altogether. In this case the "power elite" was your mother, and many would also say that this applies to the relationship between the government and the rakyat.

I however think that it should be exactly the opposite. The rakyat should be the "power elite" narrowing our eyes and hissing before delivering a resounding slap to the face for economic misbehaviour and political truancy. Civil society cannot survive otherwise.

Unknown said...

Dear Malik,
Thank you for the wonderful piece and timely reminder.

Anonymous said...

touching and beautifully written. i enjoyed reading your never fail to amaze me with your great command of knowledge.thanks for sharing...Malik!!!

Anonymous said...

Dear MIS,

Your latest piece has obviously melted a lot of the female hearts, the young and old alike. Good one.

Besides love, it takes much courage and confidence to allow a mother to give that space for her child to find himself. As a community, that needed courage and self esteem are often lacking. Hence, we feel the need to dominate.


Anonymous said...

These are from My Mom!
With Heart & Soul, My Mom told.
Do it when you sense Right.
Drop it when you sense Wrong.
With Right or Wrong, I got the direction to go!

One of the Stories I remember well from My Mom:
A poor boy took a long trip to search for wisdom to cure his mother.

On his way, he had promised an Old Fruit Tree to search for answer why he cannot fruit.
He also promised a Fairy Carp (a fish) to search for answer why he cannot turned into Dragon.
On arriving the destination, he found that he can only have two questions.
He took them all for the Fruit tree and the Carp.

On his way back, he told the Carp to take off the Pearl in his month.
After taking off the Pearl, the Carp turned into Dragon and left the Pearl to the boy.

He helped the Fruit Tree to dig up what were underneath the Tree that had hindered the Fruiting.
They were boxes of silver and gold.
The Tree than fruited well and the boxes were given to the Boy.

The Pearl cures his Mom disease and the gold and silver made him rich.
With continuous helping people, the boy and his family lived happily there afterwards.


Always think of others who are less fortinate or in worse conditions, then, all will be happier off!

No regret if one had tried his best!

My Mom had gone.
But, these the space, directions and Peace of Mind that I got remain!


Anonymous said...


o happiness is coming,
right on my TV screen
my needs are televised,
just over channel three

wide awake, wide awake
turn off the lies
wide awake, wide awake
don’t ask me why

the “truth” that you see
are the lies that they feed
and it’s not the food that you’re gonna need
don’t tell me my life’s alright (wide awake)

free speech for one and all,
wrote all the media print
your dreams’ll be realised,
just close your minds and heed

wide awake, wide awake
turn off the lies
wide awake, wide awake
wipe out that smile

the “truth” that you read
are the lies that they feed
and it’s all the goods that they’re gonna give

don’t tell me my future’s all bright
as you keep saying your wrongs are right
don’t tell me my life’s alright
as you keep binding your ropes so tight

© 1996 - Carburetor Dung

Anonymous said...

thank you for the laughs. sounds like my mum.


Unknown said...

Why, judging by the responses in this post, it appears you have just revealed a winning formula in appealing to a lot more female readers!
Beyond that, you've shown a very endearing side of your personality.
A boon to creating wider awareness of issues in social justice , for sure ;)

Anonymous said...

I have to protest your latest article. As if not enough for taking the intellectual market with your usual articulate dose of justice and left of centre socio-liberalism, you had to corner the market so far as the ladies are concerned. Are you a Barry Manilow in disguise? I think we should be told.

Malik Imtiaz Sarwar said...

Thanks everyone for the very warm feedback. Did not get a hiss, so I think the coast is clear. For the moment.

Barry Manilow? Nope, I don't think so. Closest I'll come to it is the nose (pretty much all I got from my mother's side, they're all 6 feet tall, I'm not!).

I had a great time writing the piece, was so fed up with gloom and doom. We have to credit the resilience of the average Malaysian. Thunder, rain and lightning, and we're still lookng at ways we can laugh at ourselves and our differences. I like that about us, a lot.


Giant Squid said...

I really like this one; using a personal anecdote to address the issue of personal freedom and "Batu Putih" although that must have been furthest from the mind of both your friend and her young son.

Anonymous said...

Interesting and refereshing...the "slap" part reminds me of myself...:) I feel less guilty now...:)

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the space you had provided me long time ago!

I am sorry that you did not speak Malay and so your wisdom cannot be shared among them.

I believe you have not been moving among the Chinese for very very long time so even the Chinese they had lost the wisdom of yours.

And, those speaking others, I am sorry that I just started to communicate.

So, Mom, I am sorry that I am in a different world that you have left me.

Doing good to others had brought me a possible million RM defamation suit by the one I paid to let him earns extra-money.
I paid in advance to appreciate the seniority of a so called professional. But, nothing can prove him so.
I was battered just because they have the power and not the justice!


Anonymous said...

oh Lordy I enjoyed this so much. Your Mum sounds like ME !I do the narrowing and hissing ALL THE TIME !& sometimes end it with this'if you wish your face to be plastered to the wall ,try doing/saying that again' but just the narrowing and hissing will send the message usually. My daughter will be nodding if she gets the chance to read your piece.

All jokes aside,there is no other happiness and fulfillment than to be a mother.and no matter what my child is the pride of my life.

Thank you for the article,enjoyed it very much.I wonder what my child will write abt me(it maybe similar to you)hahhahaha


Anonymous said...


Trying to see how many will think about Right or Wrong even on what had happened in daily life?
Or, to see if you have posted in the Right Place?
With people of wisdom to say?
I think People of Wisdom in this Bolehland will only consider first
1. If it will drag them into un-convenience if they do.
2. If they will be hurting others in their crews.
3. Why Bother? (I assume this goes to the majorities!)

A fair comment could be the last consideration if it needs to come.

As a Layman with "Nature Understanding", I give my comment:

1. Altantuya was killed and blown to bits. FACTS
2. Sodomy is as evil as murder. FALSE
3. Anyone accused are innocent until proven guilty. TRUE (by Law) FALSE (by Heart & Soul)
4. Statutory Declarations and Police reports can be made to fool people. (TRUE in Practice / FALSE by Law).
5. Anyman or woman will swear on his religion or beliefs to save his own skin. (TRUE if selfishness stands) (False if they value their Freedom in the Mind)
6. Race superiority is needed to rule Malaysians. (Fiction, if People realize Malaysians stand for ALL)
7. Religious superiority is needed to rule Malaysians. (Fiction, if People realize Religious is for spiritual life with Fairness in mind).
8. All poor people need to be helped by Government. (True if Government is the cause of their poverty).
9. Corruption is a fact of life and should be tolerated. (Fact of Abuses and ignorance of Fairness. Fiction of the POWER).
10. ISA is needed because prevention is better than cure. (Fact of Abuses and Fiction of the Power).
11. Free education is a right for all Malaysian children. (TRUE. In a lot of Countries, this includes residents not necessarily citizens)
12. Free healthcare is a right of all Malaysians. (True when Human Rights are concerned)
13. Free speech is a right of all Malaysians. (True when it is taken on an Honest Believe and fair comments).
14. Freedom of religions and beliefs is a right of all Malaysians. (True).
15. Liberty is a right of all Malaysians. (True within the Framework of Human Rights).
16. All Malaysians and the world can be converted to a single culture, religion, race in future. (Possible if Human Rights are the basis and Definition of Culture, religion and Race are taken on a broader sense)-----> Cosmopolitans, I suppose!

Mom, I have done my best as part of the society to answer!
So, I still practice what you said even I am battered in this Bolehland!


Anonymous said...

Mom, I saw you last night!
And, I saw you smile!
You always smile when I am doing something I am not bright
but something I need to do it right!

With frustration I always came to you.
But with your smile I know I need again to try.
I know I can come to you whenever I need your hankerchief to dry my eyes.
And, last night I saw you have got a towel for my eyes!

I hope you will not be tired
as I may need to come to you more.
The only place where I can have my prayer tried!