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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, October 02, 2022

Cast From The Herd: Excerpt # 48: Unexpected Deaths In The Family

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #48: Unexpected Deaths In The Family

In contrast to Adzman, my youngest sister Jaharah was born at home. It must have been the weekend as I was not at school. One morning the midwife came to the house and my mother asked me to go outside and play. An hour or so later I heard a baby cry. Soon the midwife emerged with the afterbirth.

Tradition has it that whoever buries the placenta, the baby would take after that person. As such there was much thought on the matter. My mother chose my cousin Azizzah for that honor. As Jaharah grew up, I saw minimal similarities between her and Azizzah. Later when Azizzah had her first child, Julia, she asked me to do the honor. Sure enough, Julia bonded with me! Whenever Azizzah could not stop her from crying, she would bring Julia to me, and as soon as I picked her up, she would stop crying and begin cooing. 

My parent’s two youngest babies, both boys, died in infancy. The older, Adnan, also born at home, was healthy at birth with a hearty cry and sucking well. A few months later he was struck with a high fever and sore throat. He succumbed a few days later. He died in my mother’s arms after a last desperate gasp. She remained calm, saying a quiet prayer in between her soft sobs.

I remember the funeral; it was on the same day of the neighbor’s son’s wedding. The host came by many times to apologize and convey his condolences. He turned off the music of his public address system during the funeral procession. That morning my Uncle Nasir gave me some coins to console me. I went to the store and bought one of those candies pinned on a cardboard where if you were lucky you would get a bonus toy. It was my luck that day to win a rubber ducky. God was soothing my loss.

A year later came Azmi. He too died in infancy with similar symptoms. I remember the public health inspector coming to our house the next day and how ashamed my parents were when he scolded them for the poor hygiene around the house. The next day we were trotted to the public health clinic in Kuala Pilah for our shots. My father treated us to a nice lunch after that.

A few days after the second funeral, a distant aunt visited my mother. She told her that she should not have chosen such closely-sounding names like Adzman, Adnan, and Azmi as that would confuse God. After being shamed by the public health inspector, my mother was now being blamed for the wrong choice of names.

Today with my medical knowledge I know why my two baby brothers died; they were struck with diphtheria, an infectious disease preventable with immunization and good hygiene.

The second death was hard on my mother though there were little overt expressions. She took me to the grave often to leave overnight a bottle of water. The next day she would bring it home to wet her hair and rinse herself. With that she washed away her melancholy. The power of rituals based on faith is amazing.

After that second death my father renovated the house. We had a new kitchen installed that eased my mother’s chores and enhanced the cleanliness. He put drains around the house so there were no longer puddles collecting.

Both my parents were later promoted to be headmasters at different schools in the area. Both lasted only a few years in that position, my mother a wee bit longer. They requested to be “de-promoted.” Those bureaucrats must have been stunned by that unusual request. My parents decided that the extra pay and whatever prestige did not compensate for the added responsibilities and headaches. Most of all they missed the classroom.

Next:  Excerpt # 49:  Dreams Crushed 


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