Monday 29 March 2010

Goodbye, Ruby Ahmad

This tribute to Ruby Ahmad appeared in my column today (29th March 2010) here.

I’M EVERY WOMAN: Goodbye Ruby Ahmad

Last week, the blogosphere was stunned by news of the sudden passing of one if its gems, Ruby Ahmad. 

It took everyone by surprise as there, still staring from her eponymous blog, is Ruby Ahmad, with her famous ravishing smile, the epitome of optimism and exuberance. Sms-es were coming from all corners of the world, from shocked and stunned friends in cyberspace. After a few phonecalls and messages, I cried myself to sleep and woke up hoping it had been just a bad dream. But more messages on my handphone confirmed the sad truth.

By morning here, entries dedicated to the late Ruby had sprouted in the many blogs of those whose lives Ruby had touched — those who had known her through her writing and “meetings” online and those who had actually met and enjoyed a friendship with her, no matter how brief. There were many.

But who was Ruby Ahmad? The brief description on her blog simply says: “I’m a ‘go for it!’ kind of person. I act on impulse and am a great believer in tackling any problem head-on. Being an eternal optimist, I believe the nitty-gritties will sort itself out at the end! “I place great faith in the positive aspects of human nature and that we should all work in this light so as to live in a humane and just society.” 

Ruby was one of many bloggers who had no qualms revealing her identity. Her pictures of networking with her former Tunku Kurshiah college mates, socialising at charity events, promotions and concerts tell us she enjoyed life to the fullest. She gave as much as she could offer and in this she was almost tireless and selfless. In most of her writings as in her media interviews, she propounded and expounded her belief that we should strive to live in a humane society. She shared whatever she had to motivate the young, gave her input on cluster schools and many more. 

Through her writing and pictures, her readers had the impression of a person who had acquired her wisdom through travels far and wide. She rubbed shoulders with people in the corridors of power, and those in the periphery. We know more of Ruby from her interactions online and in comment boxes. Her continuous banter with Uncle Lee in Toronto, her wise and considered advice to student Daphne Ling and words of sympathy and motivation to cancer sufferers. The nature of online interactions is such that it makes it possible for us to piece together the tracks one leaves behind in comment boxes and put together the person behind the writing. But we could be wrong.

Last week I realised that I did not know Ruby yet like others, I also felt I had somehow known her for a long time. This was the contradiction that was hard to take, and my heart ached as if I had lost someone very close. Ruby Ahmad, the blogger, qualified architect, wife, mother and grandmother, had managed to hide something from all of us right until the end. She had the dreaded breast cancer, which had spread to her liver. This was what took her away from us. On receiving the news, we scoured our mail boxes and comment boxes and even her entries to see whether she had left any clues. Nothing.

I met Ruby in early 2007 after countless interactions online and by phone. She was exactly as I had imagined: outgoing, exuberant, gracious and impeccably dressed. We met many times during my visits home and during these meetings, she revealed a bit more of herself to me. I had seen her work the Ruby Ahmad magic. We were at a dinner table after a concert and she chatted and listened to someone everyone else seemed to be ignoring. She gave this person her time, which I believe, was much appreciated. At a gala night, like two naughty schoolgirls, we approached a minister who had somewhat admonished women bloggers, and introduced ourselves: “Datuk Seri, we are women bloggers,” after which we ran off and had a good giggle. This and more is the Ruby I want to remember.

Last week, she was taken away from us. But in a special corner of my heart, she will always be there, urging me “Kak Teh, go for it!” Goodbye my friend.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

The Big Rice Jar

Often times, Mak would take us to Lorong Pintu Sepuluh and point to a dilapidated wooden house where, she said, I was born. I couldnt imagine living there, for when I saw it, it was almost leaning dangerously to one side. And much later, of course, it was bulldozed to the ground to make way for some big buildings. But I do remember the house with the iron gates next door. It was painted yellow with brown shutters. It had an iron swing and lots of guava trees. I remember this house well because this was where I used to play and be doted on by the kind couple who, I was told were childless. I remember the sweets, the kind words and most importantly the big gold medalion that they bought me and which I wore proudly around my neck to pose for a studio photograph. I remember  too the big rice jar, by the window in the kitchen. On our visits there, Mak always said, "Look at the jar. It is always full. Their rezki is always full." Until today, I am always mindful never to leave the rice jar empty.

Pak Mat and Mak Teh were my foster parents. I was always their 'cek' and 'sayang' and in their eyes, I could do no wrong. Apparently, before I came into their lives and into their house, a brother a little older than me, had been their frequent visitor. He was their ray of sunshine. Pak Mat even promised to buy a car to take the three year old around the small town of Alor Star. But it was not meant to be for my brother, Izham, was taken away one night and Pak Mat and Mak Teh were inconsoleable. Pak Mat took delivery of his new car, ripped open the top and took the small coffin in his car for a final ride around the small town of Alor Star.

So, it was after his sudden death that I took his place in their hearts. And even after we moved to the house that Pak built the other side of town, we'd make frequent visits and I'd play on the swing.

Anyway, when Pak Mat died, Mak Teh was cared for by some of her relatives. We kept visiting her, and even after my move here, I never forgot the couple who gave me so much love and treated me like their own child. But during one visit, I was told that she no longer lived in that house with the iron gates. She had been taken away somewhere. Her rice jar, apparently was completely empty, so to speak. I was distraught and when we found her, she was in a house, very much similar to the house that I was born in. In fact it was worse. I found her lying very flat on the floor, unable to move because of old age. And she couldn't see me. But upon hearing my voice in between sobs, she asked, "Bila cek balik, sayang?" Suffice to say, I couldn't say much. I couldn't talk but held her frail hands until she fell asleep. We left and that was the last time I saw her.

On this important day in my life, apart from remembering my mother and late father, I also want to remember Pak Mat and Mak Teh, neighbours who became family and gave me so much love.  When I see a full rice jar, I always remember Mak Teh. Sadly, towards the end, hers was left empty.

Saturday 20 March 2010

And I was there too! (2) - skyping all the way to the wedding!

It was way past six am and I was already late for the wedding.  Grabbed a tudung, (what is fashionably known as the emergency tudung), slid under the duvet again and turned on the Skpe.

So, there I was in my baju kelawar, under the duvet and yet at the wedding of my nephew Zhafri, in Bangi.  Within minutes, I was in my sister's lounge.  Saloma was singing the song 'Selamat Pengantin Baru", the children were running around, my siblings were making themselves busy and I was just a fly on the wall, watching it all happen.

And a feeling of sadness crept in as I watched the merriment and the banterings.  It would have been too costly to go and we had just been back.  But we sent a representative and her friends to the wedding.  Rehana and two friends arrived a few days before the wedding and spent at least three days shopping for the right clothes for the wedding.

One by one, siblings and uncles and aunties came to the screen to talk to us in London.  Such is the wonders of technology.  Then, Mak slowly entered the frame, at which point, I choked back my tears.  She called my name out loud several times but obviously couldnt hear my reply.  Then she said she was at a wedding and was about to go home.  She thought she was just visiting.

That is Mak.  She is so forgetful now.  Rehana said she asked her 'Mana Mak?'  We have come to the conclusion that Mak in her old age is the most diplomatic person to walk this earth.  She asks general questions and yet, people think she remembers.  When my friends visited me when I was home, she'd say, "Laaaa, lama tak nampak!" which is of course true.  But Pak Lang came online to me to say that she repeatedly asked Pak Lang (her brother) when he arrived.  But that is Mak. And I am so happy to see her standing upright and enjoying yet another kenduri of another cucu.
As I had missed the bersanding, the newly weds oblidged by sitting on the simple dias again, just so I could take photographs.

Aaaah, I was there too, witnessed the bersanding, took pictures, heard the wedding songs and felt the excitement in the air.  BUT I didnt get to eat the nasi kenduri!!

Fizah, welcome to the family!
 Pengantin, Mak, Rehana and the family wedding photographer Am)
Mak pengantin waving at us - dah hilang stress?

All pictures taken via Skype camera.  Syokkan?

Kak Teh Skyped here too:

Friday 19 March 2010

When Shireen Meets Zalifah

I was playing with my food when a very attractive lady approached me with a simple "Kak Teh!" She turned out to be Shireen, the one half of Fash - a dynamic duo that has made their name online recently, joining the increasing number of online business people such as Nek RockHandbaghooks , Royal Shopping Arcade and many more, selling everything and anything you want to buy but dont want the hassle of joining the crowd at the till.
It wasn't too long before we were joined by the other half, Zalifah; another vivacious lady who could possible sell ice to an Eskimo.  Sitting at their table was also Shireen's sister, Laila, who is here on a visit and a sort of unpaid staff.

It was an unplanned meeting; but I had heard of them and their business venture and their planned bazaar on 21stMarch at Stowe Centre in Harrow Road.

It is almost a year since they set up their business online and business has been roaring, as they display online their spoils after a day at Biscester, at the sales, at Jimmy Choo Couture and also at the London Fashion Week; the highlight of which must surely be when Fash did  a Birkin coup d' etat!  Well done Fash! That's the way to go.
This duo is unstoppable - although they had just met on this British soil, it is remarkeable that they share so much in common; shopping being the most important factor.  They drive cars of the same make and their husbands are in the same line of work.  And most importantly, they share the same enthusiasm and zest that's almost infectious.

That brings me to their project this Sunday.

So, if you are anywhere near London, and would rather give repeats of American Idol and Eastenders a miss, do go along to Stowe Centre, where there will be a bazaar selling everything from clothes to crystal vases and sardine rolls. 

Monday 15 March 2010

My dearest Ruby Ahmad - Al Fatehah

Al Fatehah - Ruby Ahmad - you had been such a dear friend.  I am so lost for words.  Thank you for the brief friendship that we had.

We met on the net - the go for it kind of person that never failed to bring a smile, and lift you out of your doldrums.  She had time for everyone, she'd listen to anyone.  I had seen her work the Ruby Ahmad magic on people around me. Ruby, a truly amazing gem.  I will miss you, dearest friend.
Al Fatehah.

Thursday 11 March 2010

Kak Teh at the Old Trafford - Bewitched by Beckham

Am still at the Old Trafford.
Will be back with more.

BEBERAPA JAM KEMUDIAN..masih di Old Trafford (media centre)
Ish , tie dengan tudung sama pulak colour!

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Stories from the surau

Of late, I have been regularly absent from the weekly tazkirah at the Malaysia Hall surau.  I have been missing a lot of events organised by Ustaz Erfino, mainly because I had taken on work commitments that require me to work those evenings.  But from friends who attended, I hear news from the surau.

Recently, while preparing a much delayed lunch, my BB signalled that there was a message.  The number was not a familiar one; a number from Malaysia.  The message was simple, asking for someone's name he said he had forgotten.  The name of the sender was printed below.  It was Haji Zainal, our bilal.  My heart leapt with joy upon receiving his message.  He had left for Malaysia to look after his ailing mother.  Being an only child, the task falls on him; and what a noble task. 

We had not said a proper goodbye before he left and so, replying his sms, I said a simple "I missed your takbir".

Haji Zainal's was the takbir that still rings in my ear; the takbir and call to prayers everytime we congregate at the Malaysia Hall surau for the weekly tazkirah, the nightly terawikhs and Hari Raya's and other religious occassions.  His was the melodious and soulful call to prayers that accompanied Ustaz Anwar, Ustaz Abdul Rahim and now Ustaz Erfino. It was his call to prayer that I listened to when I started finding my way to the Malaysia Hall surau in old Bryanston Square and later in Queensborough Terrace. Haji Zainal was every Ustaz's right hand man. The one to witness the solemnisation of a marriage, to witness the conversion of a new brother or sister in Islam, or to replace Ustaz when he wasn't around.  He was always around whenever we had a death in the community.  A familiar figure, offering comfort and the hand of friendship.

He was also the one to come with extra food and drinks to the lady's room at the end of the tazkirah or moreh, to see if we needed anything more.  But he is there no more.

I told him so and I think we both shed a tear or two from both sides of the ocean.

Our families had known each other for as long as we have been here in London.  His wife Nariman, is a dear old friend I had befriended on a ship anchored on the Thames.  We were invited for dinner on the ship one evening and there we were: two young lasses still with no children to call our own. 

Later as fate would have it, we were booked at the same hospital, the same maternity ward for the delivery of our second child.  But again as fate would have it, she had to return to Johore but we both gave birth on the same date.  Our children remain very close friends. 

After the meals following the tazkirah, we'd find Hj Zainal, usually in his faded batik shirt and Javanese cap, outside enjoying his cigarette.  He'd say: where's my menantu? referring to my daughters.  It has always been a standing joke. And then he and Nariman would drive off in their van bearing the words JOWO TURUNAN and proudly flying the Malaysian flag.

Nariman told me recently, that without fail, Hj Zainal would sms Ustaz during every tazkirah.  He too misses the congregation, and by sms'ing Ustaz, it was as if he was there too.

Recently, I missed the Maulud Nabi which I heard went very well, with Ustaz Erfino reciting the Quran and the younger members of he surau reading a text about our beloved Prophet.

To make up for the missing Thursdays, I attend a weekly tazkirah on Saturdays at Tuk Din's, which is just as well as I gather the congregation at the Malaysia Hall is growing larger, Alhamdulillah, with the student community joining the congregation there. 

But there are other familiar faces missing too.  Haji Amin, my husband's close surau mate has been away and in hospital recovering from an operation.  Last Sunday, I busied myself in the kitchen, making sardine rolls when I heard that he could start eating normal food now.  Usually after every tazkirah, he'd sit talking to my husband and sensing my presence, he would jokingly say: Bila nak dapat makan sardine rolls pulak?

And so, with sardine rolls straight from the oven, I made my way to St Mary's hospital with Tuk Din and Midah last Sunday.  Haji Amin, Alhamdulillah was in good spirit, especially when he heard that we brought chicken soup and sardine rolls.

I heard that also missing is Kak Puteri - an old member of the Malay community in London, whose banter
with Ustaz Erfino, will be much missed.  She has gone back for a very long holiday. Still etched quite vivid in my mind is Kak Puteri taking Chef Mail to task over the issue of bolied eggs!

Pak Mat Abu and Kak Siah are also missing.  Pak Mat, once popularly known as the only Malay tube driver in London ( for he drove the tube on the Jubilee Line), had phoned me to say he and Kak Siah were going back to Malaysia as he needed treatment after his stroke.  Sadly, I couldnt make it to see him before he left and I hope he will be back shortly fully recovered.                                                       

Just writing about the congregation and the activities at the surau, makes me realise how fortunate we are to have such regular meetings.  Our ustaz for the Saturday tazkirah is a young but wise one; imparting his knowledge to us much older members of the congregation.  Alhamdulillah, we have not been short of learned ones willing to share their knowledge with us.

Kak Teh's other tale from the surau:

Saturday 6 March 2010

Calling all children and Parents of children - a chance to be on TV!

Here's your chance for your 15 sec fame on TV. Children between the age of 6 and 12 are invited to take part in a series of idents by KidsCo, the international children's channel, that brings you Boo and Me.

So, ibu-ibu dan bapa-bapa, if you think your children can look into the camera and talk about what they are passionate about (may be about family, friends, music and hobbies, environment), send an email to with their pictures and details about why they want to be in the KidsCo ident as well as a brief description of what they are most passionate about.

The idents are being produced in conjunction with Astro Productions and filming will take place in Kuala Lumpur at popular local attractions including Bukit Bintang Street and the Batu Caves between 13 and 16 March.

So, just get cracking, parents!