I was browsing through Facebook post-subuh today when I chanced upon a friend’s excited whoops at having found some forgotten dough.
The young working mother had thoughtfully stashed away a substantial amount of cash to meet the expenses of her kids’ new school year, and had promptly forgotten all about it.
The money had been languishing in an ang pow packet carefully slipped between some stuffs in a bottom drawer. For how long, I know not, perhaps months.
Naturally she was elated at the windfall, and at this time of the month too, when “whatever’s on hand is cukup-cukup makan aja,” as she woefully admitted on FB.
Many women I know, especially the stay-at-home ones, do this; regularly frittering a small amount from duit belanja rumah (household expenses), and setting it aside for that proverbial rainy day.
It’s a practice not alien to me, considering that for the longest time the family wasn’t in the best of health moneywise, particularly in the years following my divorce, when the kids’ education took precedence over practically everything.
It became so habit-forming that I couldn’t see a coin without wanting to chuck it into an empty balang (glass container) or small tin, just so we would not be caught off-guard, completely and absolutely broke.
I think women in general are like squirrels. It’s a natural instinct to scrimp and save to ensure the family won’t go hungry.
Speaking of scrimping, I am reminded of my late grandmother, the fiercely independent, no-nonsense Puteri Habibah Megat Ibrahim, the woman of fiery temperament who raised me and loved me unconditionally.
Widowed in her early twenties and with four little kids in tow, Opah had refused to return to the family fold in Kuala Kangsar and be married off to some Megat guy within the family, whom she hardly knew.
Instead, she chose to struggle alone in her adopted land, Kelantan, the land of her late husband, that she had grown to love as much as she had loved him before death claimed him at 25 in the early years of the Japanese Occupation of Malaya.
There must have been something about Kelantanese men that she had found intriguing, or endearing, for she chose to wed another Kelantanese; my strong, silent Tok Ayah, a scholarly man who introduced me to the wondrous world of Reader’s Digest when I turned 7.
Although life was quite comfortable following her remarriage, Opah never rested on her laurels, preferring her own hard-earned cash in addition to Tok Ayah's regular paychecks.
For as long as I could remember, Opah continued to generate side-income by baking, catering and sewing. A woman of exceptional culinary and sewing skills she certainly was, none of which I inherited.
I remember in the late 1960s when the neighbours started getting TV sets. I had asked for one for the house and she had dismissed the idea as frivolous.
[I watched TV for the first time in 1967, in the house of an uncle in Kuala Lumpur, during a school term break].
“Mana ada duit?” she had retorted. Of course that had silenced me big time. I felt so guilty for asking. Tok Ayah had, by then, retired, and Pah was running a school canteen.
What I had not known till much later was the fact that she had asked her engineer son, my Ayah Cik Ali, to buy one for the house.
“Mana ada duit?” duly became her oft-quoted mantra so much so I came to believe it. Of course with the benefit of hindsight I could see that was not quite the whole truth.
Not only was there money, there were quite a lot of it too, only that the dear old lady, for some unfathomable reasons, had not wanted to part with it.
This was brought home days after her death in Dungun in 1980, when all her children (led by my late mother, her eldest), myself included, went through her belongings to take stock before returning to our respective lives.
Stashed between the layers of her large and precious collection of Indonesian batik panjang were wads of cash; we kept pulling out fifty ringgit notes by the tens.
In all, there were more than RM15,000 hidden between the folds of those 50-odd pieces of batik alone. If my memory had not failed me, a few more were found elsewhere.
Pah, oo Pah.. "mana ada duit” indeed.... :-)