Chapter 14 – Happiness For Brother

By 1972, Brother had changed his job twice – from a laboratory assistant at the
General Hospital mortuary to a filing clerk at the Immigration Department. He
was then transferred to the Income Tax Division at the Ministry of Finance
where he stayed until his retirement a couple of years ago. Once again my
belief in fate and destiny was affirmed, as within his first year of working at
the Ministry of Finance, a female colleague liked what she saw in him and
decided to try her hand at matchmaking him with her elder sister. It was time
for Brother to finally find love and happiness – a just reward I thought for
all the sacrifices he had made for me, at a great social loss to himself.
Mother and I were invited to Marhamah’s family home at Kaki Bukit (Malay word
meaning “Foothill”) where we were briefly introduced to her sister Rahimah.
Following the Malay tradition, a veritable feast had been prepared to
perfection by the maiden in question and I don’t know about Mother but I was
certainly most impressed by her cooking ability and quiet demeanor. Of course
any talk of marriage at that time would have been considered rather crass, it
was merely an initial sussing out session on both sides. Brother of course was
not invited so he was left kicking his heels at home waiting for our reaction
to the meeting. I gave him a wink and the thumbs up sign while Mother was
somewhat reticent with her feedback. Finally, after consulting her fortune
telling cards, she reluctantly agreed to the idea of Brother taking a bride.
However, as it was with me, she was too stressed with the knowledge that she
was about to “lose” her son and therefore flatly refused to get involved…

our relatives are non-Muslims, approaching them for assistance in this matter
was out of the question. So once again, I put my organizing ability to work and
even though I was not knowledgeable in the traditional Malay custom of
betrothals, I managed to bumble my way through, trying to be as traditional as
I could. Listing the help of a couple of Brother’s Malay Muslim colleagues, I
raced around organizing the “hantar tanda” (the sending of tokens) a
Malay custom where representatives of the groom-to-be pay a formal visit to his
future bride’s family bearing gifts (“hantaran”). The number of gifts
from each side must be an odd number, and the bride in return gives an equal
number or more to the groom.

Our gifts to the bride consisted of a “tepak sirih” [decorated ornate
tray containing an arrangement of betel leaves, (“sirih” – symbol of
respect), betel nut (“pinang” – symbol of honesty and integrity),
tobacco (represents a willingness to make sacrifices), gambir (symbolizes
stoutness of the heart) and lime (“kapor” – signifying purity of the
heart)], a tray of “bunga rampai” [an assortment of fragrant flowers
arranged on a bed of finely shredded fragrant screwpine leaves (“daun pandan”)
sprinkled with rose water (“ayer mawar”)], a money tree (“pokok duit”),
a solitare diamond engagement ring (“cincin tanda”), a fruit basket
and four floral arrangements. The money tree was made using copper wire as the
trunk and branches, and currency notes were cleverly folded into “leaves”
totalling S$1001. The big day in June finally arrived and with our small
entourage of friends, we headed to the future bride’s home. During the
betrothal ceremony, the wedding day was mutually agreed upon – early the
following year – Sunday, Feb. 4th. (Mother was regretfully, “unwell”.)

Preparation began soon after for a traditional Malay wedding outfit for Brother
to be specially made, wedding invitations to be printed and sent out and so on.
As the groom’s family and wedding guests totalled a mere handful, it was agreed
that the wedding feast would be a joint affair with the bride’s family and
friends. This of course took a big weight off my shoulders… Now formally
engaged, Brother was allowed to take his fiancee out on dates. Not that he saw
her very often, mind you, once a week was about all that I can recall. Both
Brother and I hoped that Mother would get used to the idea that she would soon
be welcoming a daughter-in-law into her life. Unfortunately, as the months
rolled by, there wasn’t much improvement in her attitude.

I wished Mother had given herself a chance to get to know her prospective
daughter-in-law who turned out to be a real gem. Rahimah had the patience of a
saint, was a wonderful cook and was very humble and sweet-natured. I just hoped
and prayed that once they got married, Mother would accept the fact and at
least make the best of the situation. Mother continued to wallow in bouts of
self-pity and there was not much that any of us could do to change that. I was
determined to do the best I could to ensure that she would not bring
unhappiness to Brother’s forthcoming marriage.

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