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  • My Grandma was a very traditional sort of grandma when I was a child. She seldom spoke to me directly, except to correct or remind me, did not offer hugs or kisses (only Westerners do those things!) and I had to give up my favourite spot on the couch when she visited as it was also her preferred television viewing spot. Her Malay was heavily accented by the Javanese that she spoke; she used to laugh gently at how I'd butcher the grammar and my miserly vocabulary when I tried to speak to her in her mothertongue. Girl children of her generation were not sent to school; like many she knew only enough to write her name, she memorised the prayers she recited faithfully and most of her knowledge were practical in nature, rarely theoretical and never book-learned (except from Japanese embroidery pattern books).

    Her blunt fingers with their ruthlessly trimmed nails were wonderful at crafting beautiful crochets and embroideries. She made a wedding bed cover at my sister's behest; a pale bronze lace concoction that glowed beautifully atop the satin spread. Though her hands were trembly (a number of her children also inherited this trait, of which one of them is my mother), her crocheted lace were always neat and flat and even, her embroideries delicate and beautiful.

    Reading books written in the West and watching films and shows from Hollywood and the Pinewood Studio gave my sister and I ideas of how grandmas should be. So we hugged her and we kissed her and we made her talk to us. She spoke about the regimented and labour-filled life under her strict stepmother; the gentle and taciturn Grandfather I never knew; of her old and dead friends and where she learned needlework. She stopped flinching when we embraced her and laughed away our clumsy and sticky kisses.

    My younger cousins only knew her as the generous grandma who open her arms whenever they visited, who would buy them little gifts that caught her eye whenever she went to town, who verbalised that she looked forward to their arrival. I never begrudged that I never experienced that side of her when I was their age; rather I was glad that she could be free enough to be loving and demonstrative to them because we showed her that possibility. I still keep a pair of fluffy yellow hair ornaments that I got from her; the only thing I have ever asked her to buy for me. My niece probably kidnapped them already.

    She often reminded me to be good to my mother, to obey my father and to be nicer to my sister. She taught me how to make ketupat satay; I still make them every Eid when the coconut leaf is too short for the regular style. One year, to distract her from her foot injury, my sister asked Grandma to teach her how to make bahulu, a traditional sponge cake-like sweetmeat made from eggs whipped to a froth stiffened by sugar and flour. My sister still makes the rempeyek, a cracker-like snack using my Grandma's recipe.

    After she has passed away, I sometimes dream of Grandma. In my dreams, she never said a word, but always she looked serene and smiling. Even without words I hear her admonishments; I only dream of her when I've been especially naughty. It was only this year that I could visit her grave without having to surreptitiously wipe the tears off my cheek.

    Nenek, I miss you.


    Note: The lawn of her first home in my memories were once festooned with orchids of various colours and shape.
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