Sunday, 22 August 2010

The woman I needed to call my mother...

The woman 
I needed to call my mother
Was silenced before I was born. 
Adrienne Rich

Ever since my mother's passing, I have wondered about her. Did I really, truly know her? 

Who was she before her name became mother? Who was the young lady who did Form Six but never got to go to university because my grandfather couldn't afford it? Who was this person who applied for teacher's training and never got it? Who was the girl who married my father? What were her dreams, wishes, ambitions, loves, hates and sorrows? Did any of her desires come true? Did they never come true? 

Who is this woman in the picture? What was she thinking on that day of her 21st birthday? Who was she laughing with? What was she laughing at? 

I wonder.

She didn't have it easy. That much I know. She grew up, got married, had her eldest child three years after marriage, helped out with the family's finances, raised three children, supported her husband, opened her house to loved ones needing food and comfort... the list goes on. 

Money was tight. My father didn't earn much as a government servant in those days, but my mother still managed. Education was a song she drummed into us her children... you must have an education to be someone someday. She strongly believed that that was the stepping stone to success and standing on our own two feet. She cajoled, pleaded, pushed, bullied and forced each of us to study hard during the exam years. 

I hated those years. (I can't speak for my brothers, as I don't know what they felt when it was their turn and I expect their experiences of my mother are different from mine.) 

Now, I think back to those years with tears in my heart and eyes. As Sarah Ban Breathnach once said of her mother and I echo here, 'From my mother I first learned how a woman unconsciously performs practical magic, turning lack into abundance with courage and gratitude. She taught me how to spin straw into gold, what to do with a few loaves and fishes, and how rising to any occasion was a feminine art form.'

The mother I knew was amazing. She cooked, baked, sewed, cleaned,  mopped, gardened, took care of all her family's needs and still had time to spare for others. Yet, I'd like to have known my 'Mystery Mother'. She is the one I miss, mourn and long for most of all at this stage in my life. 

In honour of her memory, for my dinner tonight I recreated a simple dish she used to make whenever my father brought home a piece of shark from the market. It's been many many moons since I've eaten this, and I tried to remember how my mother made it. There's no recipe for this. My mother never referred to an accurately measured recipe for this, and I will not here either. 

In our home, mummy would make this to accompany a fish curry or resam meal. Tonight, I just enjoyed it on its own wrapped inside little parcels of baby spinach. 

Feel your way through this. Pretend you are a home-cook who doesn't rely on accurately measured recipes, but rather on taste and 'feel'. Throw in a spoonful or a handful of this and that. Add in chopped fresh chillies if you want more heat, fresh coconut or anything else you 'feel' you like. The sky's the limit. Enjoy!

Sura Meen Puttu

Shark fish fillet
Turmeric powder
Chilli  powder
Fenugreek seeds
Mustard seeds
Onions, finely chopped
Curry leaves, finely chopped
Salt to taste

Boil the shark fillet in a little water with turmeric, chilli powder and salt. Once the fish is cooked through, remove from stove, put the fish on a plate, flake the fish as finely as possible with a fork and check the salt. In a wok, heat a little oil. Add mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, onions and curry leaves. Fry until aromatic, and add in the fish. Fry the fish until all the moisture has evaporated and the fish resembles little coconut flakes. Check for salt once again and add some if you need it.


  1. That was a gorgeous piece you wrote in honour of your mother. She must have been quite a lady to deserve such respect n admiration. And needless to say she is absolutely beautiful. She reminds me of Jaclyn Victor :-)

    Thnak you for dropping by witha n email. That is very generous of you n your time. You have a lovely blog yourself and some wonderful recipes for which Ill come back for. btw where can one buy the stainless steel set for storing all those spices like in one of your posts? Ive been yearning to get one but I have no idea where to look for it. Could you give me an inkling? The set is simply gorgeous and so practical.

    I got the shell press from Jaya Jusco. If youre living in KL or PJ Its teh Jaya Jusco at One Utama. just go to the household dept on teh 2nd floor. Let me know if u manage to get it ;)

    cheers, zurin

  2. Dearest Zurin,

    Thanks for stopping by! I'm so happy and pleased. :-)

    I have 2 of these ever-silver spice containers. The one you saw was my mother's. I have another that's a little smaller which I don't use that's my grandmother's. You can find these containers at the Little India in Klang. That's where mum's is from. Just look for any shop that sells ever-silver pots/pans and the Indian claypots. I'm not sure about Brickfields, as I rarely go there because it's so chaotic!

    The spice container is actually 5-7 little cups that nest in a larger container and comes with 2 covers. How many cups depends on which size you purchase.

    I live in PJ, so I"ll make a trip to 1U soon and let you know if I find the shell cutter.

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  4. looking back the past we really did not have what we have now, life was tough, same as my parent both government servants living at the wooden quarters home.

    They are superbs, Loving them always!

  5. We really have to admire them. They were/are a special generation. They survived the Japanese occupation and came up the hard way. They gave us all they could for us to survive on our own. We are very blessed.


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