27 Sep 2010

Books Galore

Just imagine - I've run out of books to read! Finished all the ones I bought last month and right now I'm "revising" some that I'd read years ago. Which is one reason why I seldom borrow books from the library - I always want to re-read them. Pride and Prejudice, for example, I've read more times than I can say - what with using it as a text in school, teaching it when I became a teacher and re-reading it on my own just because I love it so much. Another one I've re-read more times than I can remember is Wuthering Heights. There is always something new to see or understand in that book. I've got so many favourites actually, even Anne of Green Gables is a favourite and I really don't mind reading it at least once more.

During the week prior to the Eid Holidays, there was a book sale at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. I wasn't able to go because I was already in Melaka by then but Repin, my other half went and bought a whole box of books. Of course they were his favourite types, which were travelogues, books on travel and  books on countries. He already had 4 books on India, but he came home with 2 more - A History of India and Nine Lives. These were not really travel books but somewhat related. The one on the history of India is actually quite fascinating. Written in an easy style with lots of descriptive passages and interesting anecdotes, it's really very readable - reads like a documentary. 

Another book that I really enjoyed was Tahir Shah's  Sorcerer's Apprentice. No, this is not a fantasy - but neither is it a book documenting sorcery etc. Tahir Shah's style is always engaging and provocative with a lot of humour thrown in. Like many of his other travel books, this is a quest to understand the secrets of illusion and magic of Indian Saddoos. Beginning with his childhood in England, it takes him from England to India to the guardians of his great grandfather's tomb, to the temples of Kolkatta and Mumbai. Some of the adventures he goes through are quite bizarre but it gives us an insight into an India which is seldom seen by foreigners.

26 Sep 2010

Nadia's engagement

Yesterday one of my nieces got engaged. Nadiah who is my sister Azizah's older girl is a lovely child and I'm glad that she's met someone nice. Before the ceremony, on Thursday I had called my sis. who was in deep panic mode. Crying and sobbing loudly over the phone she told me that the workers she'd called to renovate the house had not finished. The kitchen was in a shambles and there was dust everywhere. The wiring hadn't been fixed and there was no electricity. I just listened quietly and tried my best to calm her down. Since I was away in KL and would be home only on Saturday, there was nothing I could do. But I called all my other sisters and told them about Aziz's problem. "No problem, " they said.
And by Saturday, everything had been sorted out. Well we can't help about the kitchen but the wiring was done by Nan, my brother and so we had lights. The others took over the cooking job - Leila cooked the rice. Ita cooked the rendang and dal curry, Marina and Nyah Mila, an aunt, came over and helped clean the house. Jasmine did the cakes and biscuits for the bridegroom's side and Min, my sister in law prepared the vegetables. Since everything was done in their own houses, we didn't really have to use Aziz's unfinished kitchen - not much anyway. That's sisters for you and never was I glad and proud to have sisters like these. Yesterday I saw that the boys (all our nephews) were very helpful when guests started arriving. While some of them ushered the guests, the others cleared tables and more others washed the used dishes. We didn't even need outside workers! It was a totally family effort and I felt so proud to see them.

One of the gifts for the groom                                                             Nadiah's future mum in law putting the ring onto her finger

You see both our parents had passed away when we were all fairly young. I was in my 30s but being eldest I had to take over the job of being mum and dad to a family of 13, three of whom were still in college, the youngest was only 18 years old and had just finished her SPM.  When my youngest sisters got married, it was my sister Leila and I who arranged everything - and we did it without the usual fights and arguments that normally abound even in families with both parents intact. So yes, I'm proud of them - my younger brothers and sisters. We're a tight bunch and even my own cousins are envious of us. We  have planned family days - at a resort somewhere where we have games and karaoke sessions and prizes to be won - all sponsored by everyone in the group who could afford it. Sometimes I wish our parents were alive to see us - I'm sure they'd be very proud. My dad would have been about 78  now and mum would have been  75.

17 Sep 2010

One Season of Sunshine

I was actually attracted to this book because of its cover! I had never read Julia London previously, though I did browse through a few of her regency romances a few times.  This book however caught my fancy because I'm always a sucker for young children in stories and when I saw that this book had a five year old boy, I immediately took it and I'm glad to say that its a book worth reading - the plot is interesting though initially I was quite irritated by the heroine, Jane, who never seemed to know what she wanted. 

The novel opens with a fiery accident - an accident which unravels a lot of things later in the story.


 Jane Aaron was adopted as an infant and  throughout her growing up years she has wondered about her biological mother and why she was given away. So she decides to go to Cedar Springs to look for her birth mother.  While there she becomes nanny to two children who had recently lost their mother in a terrible road accident. In the beginning Jane dislikes Asher Price, her handsome employer, but as time goes on  and she  spends time with the family,she finds she is fast falling in love with the children who still miss their mother, especially little Levi, who needs a mother's love.


But Jane also finds out that Susannah is not the "perfect wife and mother" that she thought she was and that she was drunk when she had the accident. When Riley, Asher's teenaged daughter
finds out about her father and her nanny, she goes beserk  and tries to break them up. Jane has to decide whether she wants to stay and win this troubled girl's love or go back to Houston and her teaching job. 


This is an ok book for an afternoon's relaxation - there are no twists in plots or surprise endings but a fairly good reading nevertheless.

15 Sep 2010

Rice Pilaf

This is our family's traditional recipe and although you can find numerous pilaf recipes this one is slightly different because we often cook the meat inside the rice. I'm using ingredients for more than 4 people so if there are only two people you can halve the recipe if you like.



Rice pilaf with vegetables

The Rice

2 medium cups Basmati rice (soaked for two hours in plain water)
1 teaspn salt to taste or as you like
1 cup milk - fresh or evaporated
1 cup water
6-7 shallots (sliced thinly)
4-5 garlic (sliced thinly)
1 inch ginger (sliced thinly)
2-3 star anneseed
some peppercorns (5-6 )
piece of cinnamon stick
2-3 tablespoons of ground jintan manis mixed with dash of water
two large onions cut in slices
1 carrot - sliced about 1 inch length
baby potatoes or 2 medium sized potatoes
cauliflower (cut into small florettes)
peas
two small tomatoes cut in half
oil for frying - ghee is nice but not necessary. You can also use margarine or butter.

(Optional)

Chicken or other meat - to be cut into manageable pieces and fried slightly or  until half cooked

Method:

1. Fry the onions, ginger, garlic ,cardomom seeds, star aneseeds, cinnamon and jintan manis until light brown.
2. If you are using meat, then you may put in the meat now and fry them together with the above.
3. Mix in the vegetables - fry the harder vegetables first and keep the softer ones for last.
4. Once the potatoes are semi cooked, put in the rice, milk and stir lightly. Keep the flame at low heat.
5. Let the rice boil a bit , then mix in the water. Cover pot and let it simmer until rice looks fluffy and soft.
6. If you have a rice cooker you can also transfer the rice now to the rice cooker so that it can be cooked and left warm.
7. When rice seems done, put in the rest of the vegetables - tomatoes, peas and if you like you can add some raisins.
8. Rice is ready when it looks soft and fluffy, yet grainy. Serve either with chicken curry or dhall as a side dish.
9. Slice some large onions, tomatoes, and cucumber and add a dash of salt and vinegar and a little sugar for a side dish.

Post holiday blues

Well the Eid holidays have come and gone and life is back to its more relaxed pace. We had our Raya Open House on the first day as usual. The usual number of people came - my brothers and sisters, Repin's friends and a few of mine. This time around Yatie and I decided to cook ourselves instead of getting a caterer and oh boy, was it tiring! We had made the usual ketupat ( bought the ready made leaves from the market), made the rendang (both beef and chicken), as well as the rest of the accompaniments. Apart from that we made pilaf rice which was a hit with almost everybody and my sister Leila asked for the recipe.

Actually pilaf is very easy since its a one dish meal and can be eaten either on its own or with a curry as a side dish. We made the curry just in case somebody wanted gravy with their rice, and since it was the first to finish I guess most people did. They came in a steady stream - almost non stop since we began at 11 am, with first my sisters, then Ranjeet and Jaswant. I think I didn't have a break at all until nearly 7pm, when the last guests, Hamzah and his wife, left. All in all, it was a great day - tiring but entertaining.

I always say that I won't have an open house but then still have it. This year there were fewer people who came compared to last year. Only 3 of my old classmates turned up but other friends came. Repin's old friends came too - quite a few of them- An Min, John, Chow Fatt and Hamzah and their wives. Of our family - most were away this year. Alan and family went back to Perak to Kahdijah's house and Jemi went to Penang. Even Denan didn't come home this year and neither did Jijah.

8 Sep 2010

"Evening is the Whole Day"

Preeta Samarasan's book Evening is the Whole Day is about an Indian family in Malaysia  and has been out since 2008, but I've just finished reading it today. The book is rich in detail and  beautifully crafted though at times she does go over the top. However for a first time writer, I'd say it's a marvellous attempt and really good,  slightly skewed though it may be where the racial politics are concerned.

The novel is about  young Aasha Rajasekaran and her family - brother Suresh, Amma (mother), Appa (father) her sister Uma who at the beginning of the novel leaves for the US to study and the grandmother, who has died but has returned as a ghost. No its not a ghost story, but Aasha who is 6 years old at the beginning of the story, for some strange reasons, seems to be able to see spirits. Most of the events in the story are seen through the eyes of Aasha, who seem to be left alone much of the time and who longs to be heard and played with by her sister Uma or even Chellam, the maid. But Paati, the grandmother has died in mysterious circumstances and the maid Chellam is suddenly dismissed without any reason given. Uma has left for a country so far away. And even if she did not leave, Uma had changed. She was no longer the laughing happy Uma who loved to talk to her little sister but a quiet, sullen older sister who neither laughed nor talked.

The book gives us glimpses of life in Malaysia in the 1960s - just after independence. Some critics say that Preeta's view of Malaysia is too limiting but I believe that she's not a historian and this is not a history text. It's a novel about a family - with all its secrets and its hopes and dreams. Its a strong novel, with no illusions and a lot of honesty. But what caught me right from the beginning are her descriptions - they are almost poetic in their beauty, whether she's describing her characters or the landscape. The stories, for there are many stories within this story, are not pretty though - they are brutally honest - men who beat their wives after drinking toddy (illegal alcoholic drink), men who have mistresses on the side, murder and incest, a father too intent on his own activities, a mother who is shallow and often cruel. The plot is sometimes complicated as the writer weaves her stories of private miseries with public events of the day and she uses a lot of flashbacks as it goes back and forth. The stories unfold like a tapestry - rich, colourful, unforgettable. A book I'd recommend to anybody who likes a well-woven tale.

The other book I'd just finished reading is Lisa Kleypas' book - Sugar Daddy. Earlier I'd read her regency romances and though they were okay, I didn't find them great, not as enjoyable as Georgette Heyer's books or Mary Balough either. However somebody mentioned that her contemporay novels were better so I decided to look for one. And after reading Sugar Daddy, I find that I want to read the sequel - Blue-eyed Devil.
Sugar Daddy is written in the first person narrative, about a girl Liberty Jones. Its more of a finding yourself type of book. A romance, but slightly different from the usual. I really liked the heroine - Liberty, who is spunky, loyal and very much a fighter. We see her as a young girl living in a trailer park  with a flighty mother who has a string of boyfriends that come and go. The first time she moves to the park, she is rescued from two dogs by Hardy, a good looking, hardened boy. She is struck by his good looks and falls in love with him. But Hardy is ambitious and wants to get away from his poverty stricken life in the trailer park.So even though he cares for her, he leaves her behind and moves on. Liberty also loves her mother and baby sister, whom she brings up by herself after her mother's death.   LIke Hardy, Liberty struggles to improve her life and becomes a beautician at a well known beauty salon. Here she meets Travis, a multi-millionaire who wants her to become his personal assistant. But staying at his house she discovers a lot of things about him, including some deeply kept secrets. She meets his family, especially his eldest son, Gage, who accuses her of sleeping with his father! Just as things begin to improve for this spunky girl, along comes Hardy  back into her life. Will he spoil things for Liberty?

The style is quite straightforward, but I like her characters - they are lively and realistic, especially the kindly Miss Marva. I'd give this book a 3+ star rating. Fairly good reading, interesting plot and character development. Keepd you entertained.

5 Sep 2010

Reflections on Hari Raya

Idil Fitri - the festival at the end of Ramadan is almost here. Another 5 days! We're home in Malacca preparing the house for the festivities. My garden needs clearing and weeding. I wish I have the time to clear up the bushes near the fence but the rain isn't really helping. Yatie, my Indonesian maid is busy cleaning the inside of the house - changing curtains, washing windows, polishing furniture and so on. By Wednesday we'll be preparing the food. My sons are both coming home and so is Shasha my daughter. All the cats are down in Malacca too. At one time we used to board Karupin and Momo as well as Blackie but Karupin especially got so stressed out because of  it, we decided not to board them anymore. But it's a bit difficult - we had to take all five of them in the Livina - each in the individual cages! Travelling with cats is such a pain sometimes but luckily this time around only Blackie whined the whole way. After a while Karupin and Momo quieted down and slept . Ginger and Chichi were used to travelling so they were okay. But once in Malacca, the moment they heard us opening the car doors there was a commotion in the various cages. Everyone wanted to be let out! Apin and Momo had to be caged again - they cannot get along with Ginger our orange tabby so off to the big cage with them until they all settle down.

The strays outside were waiting for us - I'm sure they hang around waiting for us to come home because we're the only people here who feed them. After quickly filling their bowls with cat food, I got Chi chi and Ginger upstairs, away from the other cats! Ginger is still very much afraid of both the black monsters and decided to stay inside the room the whole day. Poor Ginger.








Momo meanwhile has appropriated the staircase - he loves to sit at the top of the stairs and look down through the slats at the various goings-on in the living room. This means that even if Ginger is brave enough to go downstairs, she can't, because Momo is guarding the stairs. Meanwhile Blackie has discovered the strays outside the kitchen and is growling at them. "This is my house," she seems to say. "Get away!"

Very interesting, I thought. Blackie seems to have forgotten that she herself was a stray at one time.

Hari Raya or Idil Fitri, the festival of charity, is a big deal here in Malaysia. Like Christmas, its an important religious festival, marking the end of a month of fasting and spirituality. Most people celebrate by wearing new clothes, giving charity to orphans, visiting friends and relatives. It's a month of goodwill and charity. Many people hold "open houses", a concept that is unique to Malaysia. An open house is a day when we open our house to friends and relatives. Those who can afford it normally get a catering team to manage the food, while some cook the food themselves. Tents are put up in the lawn, chairs brought out for the occasion and there is always plenty of food. This is the day when all your relatives - from near and far will come and visit. Some you may have not seen for months or even years. Come Idil Fitri, everyone comes forward to offer their "salam" or peace and past misdemeanors forgiven. Children will get tokens - normally in the form of money in packets called 'angpow" - a term borrowed from the Chinese. The money or "duit raya" is collected and spent on toys and other things, depending on the child. At these open houses you can see Malaysians of all races, sharing food and congeniality, talking of 'the old days', joking and generally having a good time. I often think that this is what has cemented our relationships with the other races here in Malaysia - our ability to enjoy each other's festivals in a spirit of goodwill.



The family (minus 1) at last year's Raya gathering
I look out the window and try to remember past festivals, especially those celebrated with my parents and I myself was much younger. I remember collecting the "duit raya" gleefully from uncles and older cousins who were working. These would be secreted away in money boxes, marked with a big X - do not disturb. At the end of the day my sisters and I would sit in our parents' room and count the money carefully. One one occasion I managed to collect about RM150 which in those days (the 60s) was a lot of money to a child. Excited, full of plans, my sister and I would put our heads together and decide what we would do with out money. Most of the time however our parents would insist that we save some of it in our post office savings book. The rest could be spent on favourites - icecream at Tan Chong Ice parlour, a film, some books by Enid Blyton that I had wanted very much to read. All in all it would have been a very satisfying time of spending.

MY own children went through the same traditions. But for them I normally make them earn their money from us by promising them RM1 for each day that they could fast the whole day! So if they could fast for the whole month they would get RM30.00 each. Even the youngest Sarah, would fast by the time she was in Year One of primary school, that is 7 years of age. They start by fasting half a day, in which case she still would get Rm1 because of her youth. Those older ones would have to fast the whole day. By the time they are 9 years of age they were all able to fast the whole month. Good training for them. I remember telling them the reasons for fasting- they need to understand that many other people from very poor countries starve for lack of food and by fasting we learn physically and spiritually of the conditions that deprived people live in and perhaps feel some compassion.

1 Sep 2010

Some new books

I wanted to read some new writers so Shasha my daughter introduced me to Lisa Kleypas.The title wasn't really pulling me (Mine Till Midnight)  and neither did the first lines: " Finding one person in a city of two million is a formidable task..." Hmmm I wasn't attracted. But I went on reading and going on found that I did like the would- -be hero of the story, Cam Rohan. I find that Lisa Kleypas writes a moderately good tale - I'd give her a  3 star rating, though some of her characters are a bit unbelievable. Mine Till Midnight is the first in a series (Yes, there are more) and is about a family that is very unconventional in an era that is nothing but conventional - Victoria's England. Amelia is the oldest of four sisters and one older brother, who after his fiancee died, seemed to change for the worse and became a morose drunk and an inveterate gambler. Afraid that he would lose all their fortune and their home, Amelia went to London to look for him, accompanied only by Merripen, a gypsy boy their father had adopted. All kinds of danger and excitement ensues , Amelia herself meets Cam Rohan, another half gypsy. Leo the brother is brought back to Hampshire but troubles seem to dog her footsteps. Amelia tries to deal with the problem of Leo and his visions of his dead fiancee and his drinking and at the same time finds that she is very much attracted to Cam. Like most romance novels the story ends positively - its an okay book to pass the time of day, but nothing to shout about.

                                                            
The second book by Lisa Kleypas that I bought was "Love in the Afternoon." I found that I liked this book much better compared to the first one. Its still about the Hathaway sisters, this time Beatrix, the second sister. Beatrix is considered 'weird' by most of the local gentry- she wears pants sometimes, goes out into the woods all the time, rescues wild animals from sure death and even keeps a hedgehog as a pet! 
When she first meets Christopher Phelan he commented that her manners belong to the stable. Christopher is the typical dashing hero - he is handsome, charming to the ladies and  a man about town. Then Christopher is sent to the Crimea as a soldier. He writes a letter to Prudence, Beatrix friend telling her about his experiences in the fighting and its horrors. Prudence is disappointed that Christopher doesn't talk about her, or about her beauty.When Prudence refuses to write back, the soft-hearted Beatrix  agrees to write to him, using Prudence's name. What started as something done in kindness and sympathy becomes something deep and fulfilling for both Christopher and Beatrix. But the war is finally over and Christopher is a hero who has saved many lives. However he is a changed man. Will he still look for Prudence who is beautiful and conventional or will he realise that his love is someone else - a girl the old Christopher will not even look at, at one time? Its a much better read than the first book and I fully recommend it to anyone who wants to read it. When I read the descriptions about the Crimean war they reminded me so much of Tennyson's poem - The Charge of the Light Brigade , which was actually written about this war.


Thoughts on Independence Day

And oftentimes the excusing of a fault doth make the fault worse by the excuse...................................... William Shakespeare

Yesterday was  Malaysia's Independence Day -the 53rd anniversary of our becoming a nation. Watching the parade on television I wonder about some of the things my friends tell me - racism, equality, progress, politics and so on. Then there is the issue of abandoned babies. There is so much wrong going on in the country I don't even know where to start. Looking at the surface of course we don't see anything wrong - but is the problem only in our minds?

Abandoned babies - where did we go wrong there? Whose fault is it? Can we blame the teenagers and young adults who out of shame and fear of being ostracized abandon their unwanted babies anywhere. Or is it the fault of their parents who may be too busy to know that their children are pregnant. Is it the government's fault? Do  we excuse the young people and say "Oh they are afraid..." To me that is a poor excuse. If you are afraid, then avoid being pregnant. Do something to prevent it. There are so many ways to do that. Condoms are sold openly everywhere - even at supermarkets and 7-11 convenience stores. In this day and age we cannot say that we don't know about  contraceptives. And by teaching them Day  sex education we are not condoning the act, as some people who still live in the dark ages say.
 
What does Independence Day mean to you the answer they invariably say is - freedom from colonisation.  Were they ever colonised before? Even someone as old as I am never lived under the British rule. So what do they actually mean? I suppose to this young people today it means nothing - just a holiday, like any other. Watching the History Channel's documentary on the Emergency in Malaya and "Al Maunah - the arms heist of 1994" I get a feel of what Independence Day actually means to me. It is freedom, yes - freedom to be ourselves, to live peacefully and without fear. I appreciate the efforts of our armed personnel who have given their lives to give us this and wish all Malaysians a very meaningful "MERDEKA".