Gedung Kuning by Hidayah Amin
'It is said that one can fake a smile but never the true expression in one's eyes. And in every photo, the eyes sparkle and speak warmly of a bygone era'
Fresh out of my docent training at the Malay Heritage Centre, I was interested in all things Malay. The history of the beautiful precinct of Kampong Glam and its majestic Istana Kampong Glam which is now the Malay Heritage Centre, The glorious Sultan Mosque originally built in 1824 and restored to its present glory in 1928. But not much is known about an adjourning building in front of the main entrance of the Malay Heritage Centre - Gedung Kuning at 73 Sultan Gate. I was keen on finding out more about the history of this building and was fortunate when a fellow docent had this book to pass it on to us.
Gedung Kuning translates to Yellow Mansion in Malay. It was originally built as a home for the Prime Minister (or the Bendahara) to the Sultan, It was bought over by Haji Yusoff 'Tali Pinggang' and was their family home from 1912 to 1999. It was then acquired by the Singapore government under the Land Acquisition Act in Aug 1999. What used to house 6 families all under one roof is now preserved as a historic building under the Malay Heritage Centre.
Hidayah Amin (featured below), one of Haji Yusoff's great grand daughters revisits her childhood home. She writes about the many memories of growing up in this beautiful mansion.
This is what Hidayah had to say :
'Gedung Kuning is indeed as regal as its name and owner. It stood strong during the Japanese occupation. It witnessed the seasons of Haji Yusoff's family through four generations, births, death, graduations and weddings. It shared the joys and sadness of the family...Its mighty halls reverberated with pride to Quranic verses read during religious ceremonies. Its gate welcomed the poor who came to ask for alms. Even to the very last day when the family moved out, Gedung Kuning stood proud befitting its royal colour and stature.'
I took less than a week to read the 189 pages of her very personal account. It was well told and quite an enjoyable read. Throughout the novel, I felt the underlying sadness of the fact that its no longer her family home. Its perfectly relatable. I would have felt it too.
Overall rating : B
I picked up this book out of necessity. I was travelling to Bali in 2 days and I had just finished devouring Michelle Obama's Becoming. Though a wonderful read, I did feel she was self promoting herself and all that she and Obama had done while in office a tad too much. My personal opinion, of course.
I had no other book on standby. And I don't go on a holiday without a book. A novel to read while on holiday is to me as important as the passport itself. It is essential. Lazing around after breakfast/lunch near the pool or at the beach with a book is my favourite kind of leisure activity during any holiday.
I was in Popular Bookstore in Tampines Mall, 2 days before my trip hunting for a novel and this book caught my eye. I was more intrigued by the fact that its by the author Balli Kaur Jaswal more than the novel itself. Ms Jaswal had earlier written Erotic Stories for Punjabi Women and I thought that was rather daring to write such a controversial book for the Indian women in our traditional Indian community which frowns upon any admission of one's sexuality, no matter how advanced we are and regardless of the fact that we are living in the 21st century. India has just launched its own mission to the moon, mind you! So, why not read one of her less controversial novel for a start?
How do you determine if you would like a book? After reading the synopsis, if you are still interested, flip to the first 2-3 pages and read. Yes, just start reading. Can you continue to read without losing interest? Is the grammar, vocabulary to your knowledge and your standard of English? Do you start imagining the scene and the characters? If yes to all, you will most definitely finish the book.
I answered yes to all immediately after picking up this book. Though a paperback, I liked that its big hardback sized, so the words were not tiny and hadn't had to resort to my reading glasses. It was decent sized. I took a week to read all of its 320 pages sectioned into 24 chapters.
The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters is basically a story of 3 British born Punjabi sisters Rajni, Jezmeen and Shirina who must honor their deceased mother's last wishes by embarking on a pilgrimage to India. Most of the story is set in India with some flashbacks of their lives in Britain when they were younger.
The prologue is from the point of view of Sita, who is dying of cancer. Sita, a widow in London, is a Punjabi immigrant from India and the mother of three adult daughters. Rajni, the oldest, is ten years older than Jazmeen and Shirina. Rajni helped raise her siblings after their father died, and she’s strict and controlling. Jazmeen is struggling as an actress and is the most rebellious sibling. Shirina married into an extremely traditional Indian family and lives in Australia. Sita’s dying wish is for her daughters to make a trip to India in hopes that the siblings will become closer.
The book talks a lot about the roles of mothers and mother-in-laws from the points of view of moms, mothers and mothers-in-law to be, and daughters and daughters-in-law. The story addresses the process of honoring the positive aspects of one’s culture, but also addresses how that culture can enable abuse. There were depictions of or discussion about abuse, sexual harassment, and femicide. While none of the characters has been raped, they address the issue as a source of fear. The book also touches on assisted suicide and religion.
It examines family ties very closely, particularly sisterhood. I have an older sister so I could relate to the characters quite well. In the end, the many issues between the sisters are resolved and they strengthen their ties with each other. They remain connected regardless of their differences.
Overall, I did enjoy this book. The scenery described in the pages alone made the experience beautiful to read. There were many descriptions of the tantalizing Indian food, the gorgeous Indian fashion sold in sleazy bazaars all over India all which would require some serious hardcore bargaining. For any non Indian reader, it would want you to visit India!
Overall rating : B+