I am a Muslim by birth but I never understood my Muslim background. I went for my religious classes dutifully when I was quite young in elementary school without comprehending nor questioning the real purpose. I had assumed it was a natural journey for me and my siblings. I learnt the Quranic verses by heart for my prayers, learnt the methods of the 5 daily prayers and when I wasn't afflicted by my Crohn's disease yet, I used to fast during the holy Muslim month of Ramadhan.
It was only when I was around 15 and was forced to take Islamic Religious Knowledge as a compulsory subject in secondary school, that I learnt the immense depth and true meaning of Islam and what being a Muslim entails. The story of how the archangel Gabriel came to Prophet Muhammad in 600AD in the mountains while he was quietly meditating and asked him to read and came to reveal the first verses of the Holy Quran caught my breath,
'Read ! Read in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher who
Created man out of a clot of congealed blood
Proclaim and thy Lord is most bountiful
Who taught by the pen
Taught man which he knew not'
I was so fascinated by this verse that I had printed it out and pasted a copy on my mirror so that I would read it everyday. That was the sudden Muslim fanatic teen in me at that time. I still remember my newfound stoic loyalty to Islam and how I would have arguments with my girlfriends in school who would question Islam. But as time passed, I grew less passionate about Islam but I still did my Muslim prayers regularly.
Then, after school and while working in Ernst & Young Singapore, I met my husband Anand, who is a Hindu. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would meet and marry a non-Muslim and all the more, someone who will not convert to a Muslim (he is a devout Hindu)! My 15 year old me would have been shocked that our marriage may not be recognised in Allah's eyes and our children could be illegitimate!! But I was in love and totally blinded. Maktub - in Islam we say what God had planned out for us. We got married in a civil court - neither of us holding any religious wedding. My mom was devastated because she had assumed that I being the most faithful staunch Muslim among my siblings, that she would be going to Mecca with me for the compulsory Haj pilgrimage. But she grew accustomed to the idea with the assurance of my sister who said that of all the guys I had dated [I have had my fair share :)], this Hindu guy was the best.
So, I began visiting temples at the insistance of my husband and my girls were brought up under Hindu customs. My husband doesn't mind me doing my Muslim prayers, he actually encourages me to pray more. That's very sweet of him. When I went through a painful period a few years ago and when even with all my deepest faith in Islam, my problem couldn't be resolved, I turned to Hindu Gods particularly to Vinayagar, the Elephant God. I remember weeping in the Vinayagar Temple in Ceylon Road in Singapore one evening so oblivious to the crowd around me. My husband was there and I remember him saying when he saw me crying ' Good. Let your tears flow. Reach out to him and lay your deepest thoughts and problems with him.' He knew what I was crying over. Over time, I returned to my Islamic faith. It occurred to me that I was born as a Muslim and I should never forsake my Muslim prayers. I hadn't visited Vinayagar for a while.
Today after many moons, my husband asked me to accompany him to the Vinayagar Temple. I didn't want to disppoint him so I went along. It was crowded because we were in the midst of a Hindu Festival that goes on for 9 nights. There was a performance on one side, ladies dressed in beautiful vibrant sarees sitting on the floor watching, others going about doing their Hindu rituals, priests putting garlands on the Hindu deities, kids running around with their maids chasing them. Crowded but all so familiarly blissful. I paused and took in the moment.
Vinayagar was as usual beautifully decked in jewelry and gold shawls. My first prayer when I saw Him? 'It has been 4 years since I first prayed to you asking just for that one thing. Was it never meant to be?' It was a beautiful nostalgic moment. I remembered my tears and started welling up but I held them back in time. I have mostly embraced my issue and kind of accepted it, but I do have my moments of weakness like then. But I realised that this time, I was much more calmer and I looked at Vinayagar with new eyes, smiling. Let God do what he has plan to do for all of us. He will never give us anything we can't handle. I returned home with a smile on my face and with a certain calmness within me that just can't be explained.
I witnessed something so sweet just the other day. I was running errands at a neighbourhood and while walking quite hastily, I saw two little girls. They were at most 4 years old. Their prechool teacher was nearby keeping an eye on them. They were wearing their school uniform, carrying cute little pink backpacks and holding hands. One of them was talking animatedly to the other while the other was listening and smiling. What's so special about that? This is a regular common happening in a preschool setting, isn't it?
I had not seen a close friend for a while. She is a good person but we are both in a very difficult situation where we can't really say what we truly feel. I thought I might see her yesterday evening. It wasn't planned. And I did. I was happy. As I mentioned earlier - I hadn't seen her for a while.
To my surprise, she revved her car back and forth looking away when I was waving frantically to get her attention. Did she not see me in the dark? Or should I overthink this and ponder that she is perhaps avoiding me? She did later carry a conversation with me when our daughters were there. Did she not want to be alone with me, for fear of stirred up feelings? Did I do something to garner such a reaction from her? I returned home with a heavy heart all confused. Just when I thought things were going well between us...
It has been 4 years since our fallout. Interesting that she can still be so affected when I'm alright and kind of accepted the nature of our friendship. I have managed to go on with my life on my own. I wish I could help her but I can't if she doesn't allow me to. My hands are tied if she doesn't open up to me. She thinks I can't see her awkwardness and her sudden change in behaviour when she sees me unexpectedly. She thinks I don't notice, but I do. She thinks that I don't know that I am discussed often. And with whom I am discussed with. But I do. It is alright with me, if it helps her deal with her emotional rollercoaster. Actually, I'm glad she has someone who got her back.
How do I know? Intuition - its God's way of reaching out to us, to give us a heads up. I hope and pray that the day will come soon when she realises that she is stronger than she thinks she is. I can't stress enough how much she needs His guidance to fight this insecurity regarding our friendship.
May God bless you with strength and I wait for the day when you will open up your heart to me.
Update early Oct : I bounced back in 2 days but couldn't stand the suspense and the nagging thought in my head. So, I asked her. She was honest and told me that yes, she did see me then but perhaps she was busy answering messages or dressed in her drabby home clothes which prevented her from stepping out. She added that she is quite comfortable with our friendship :) and that she wasn't doing anything intentionally to avoid me. She even apologised for troubling me. I found that very sweet of her. I am glad she was honest about the whole thing. Again, I am guilty of overthinking. Gosh! When will I change ?
Oh, what a busy day! I had signed up to become a docent of NMS - National Museum of Singapore. And today it was our first field trip. We had a whole morning planned out to walk through Fort Canning Hill. I am a Singaporean and I thought I knew everything of Singapore but there is so much more to learn of Singapore history that I wasn't aware of!
We met at 9.45 at NMS as planned at the designated spot. It was drizzling and was a cool 26 deg C. Beautiful weather to start off a walk. Our Volunteer Guides Hillary (Canadian) and Stephanie (French) were wonderfully adept at explaining all the different spots on the hill. Fort Canning Hill is one of the few remaining high spots on this island and there are only a few places in Singapore where the layers of history go deep as this hill.
We were first introduced to a moss covered brick wall which looked rather innocent enough till you take a closer look. The headstones of many tombs have embedded into the brick wall! Apparently, Fort canning was once the first burial grounds for the Christians in Singapore. Between 1822 and 1865, more than 600 burials have taken place at Fort Canning and out of them, around 200 were Chinese christians.
Fort Canning went through a few name changes before it got its current name.
It was first called Bukit Larangan or Forbidden Hill as the locals believed that the hill was haunted by the spirits of the Malay Kings who passed away there. Then, when Sir Stamford Raffles landed in Singapore in 1819 and built his house on top of the hill, he called it Government Hill. It was only in 1861, it was renamed Fort Canning when a fort was built on this site and named after Lord Canning, the Governer and First Viceroy of India. 'Why named after this Canning man?' I asked. Apparently because Singapore was still controlled by East India Company based in Calcutta, India at that time.
We also came across the site of the first Botanical Gardens now relocated to Napier Road. It is a small spice garden now with spices like nutmeg, laksa leaves, pandan leaves present.
Heritage Tree - Kopok Tree which can grow as tall as 40 metres!
Our field trip culminated at a lunch at The Fabulous Bakerboy restaurant, next to Fort Canning Hill. All in all, a lovely field trip that was quite informative. And of course a bonding session with fellow docent trainees. Sweet friendly women from so many different countries. English is not a first language for many of them but they have bravely come forward to learn and train to guide in English. Kudos to you ladies!!
For a long time, I have shied away from sharing my thoughts and feelings online as it became too personal. But I recently realised how much I have missed writing, just writing. It helps to write things down. It helps to lighten the load in my heart and feels like I am talking to someone. I guess that's why psychologists make a lot of money. People need someone to just listen to their woes without making any judgements. To offer an insight into their thought process and to dish out advice. So this is me talking to a shrink in you.
I am now at a major crossroad in my life. I am 45 and kind of lost in the vast wilderness of life. My girls are now 13 and 15 and even though they are not totally independent, I feel their reliance on me is reducing. I feel a tinge of sadness because my babies are growing up and they don't need me as much but I do realise its about tim. I am finally regaining my temporarily lost life. I have time for exercise to regain my lost figure. I have time again to pursue my interests like jewelry making, food blogging and my passion for reading which led me to start a book club last year. And I started on my docent training for the National Museum of Singapore just last week.
What I didn't forsee is that my husband also saw the absence of my major responsibilities and my newfound freed up time which led to him asking 'What are you doing with your time, now that the girls don't need you as much?' or 'Why aren't you working and contributing to the household income? You are a graduate after all. You shouldn't become obsolete' I didn't want to go back to work. I mean why would I want to sit in an office 9am-9pm? When I would rather be busy doing something I like? But I had to try. I know I'll become bored if I don't. How will my mornings go?
So, with a frenzy I spruced up my resume and dusted the cobwebs off my school certificates and sent out numerous job applications. In the last 6 months, I didn't get any response and worse - I got an immediate rejection. All these were not surprising. I am 45, not having worked for the last 17 years, totally out of touch with the working world, haven't done anything to update my skills. Why would anyone hire me? Heck, if I were a HR manager , even I wouldn't hire me!
So I am now contemplating on what my next move should be. You must be thinking - you are already doing so much, your blog, your docent training, jewelry biz (quite dormant nowadays) and your also your painting classes with Sherin ( a close friend). Why do you want to get behind a desk and join the exodus of office workers who work day in and day out? I feel I should do something with my time. Whoever is reading this - please don't mistake my family's financial situation. It's not like we are in dire straits. I am grateful to God for that. But who wouldn't want more money? Who wouldn't want to see a heavier bank balance? For those who have it all and more (I know a few), they won't know what I'm talking about. They have no idea how fortunate they are and how thankful they should be to God. But for those who just have it and those who don't, my ranting here will touch base.
What do I do now?
Take up a postgrad diploma in HR and Organisational Psychology. I majored in HR while doing my bachelor's degree in Business Admin from NUS in 1995. This Postgrad Diploma will help me to get an idea of what's going on in the HR field now and probably help secure a HR job. Or pursue a Masters after that. Beautiful plan, isn't it? See below.
Pitfalls - I may not get a job. Getting a cert doesn't guarantee you a job. And the other more important question, how will I finance these courses? I don't want to ask my husband. Its his hard earned money. I have no claim over it. Yes, I do look after our kids and the household, but I just can't attach a price to it. A friend of mine gets an allowance from her husband based on how much she would have earned if she had not given up on her career to look after their kids! I wonder if promotions and payrise are also factored in :) What other financial sources do I have? The bank says I have to work full time in order to get a personal loan. These guys don't understand my dilemma. I need the loan to get a full time job!! Then, my sister asked me - Is this really what you want to do? HR? Good question June. Honestly, I am not very sure. That got me thinking and I halted this option for the time being. I don't want to borrow and spend $6K on a postgrad diploma and then do nothing after that. And should I study HR, Counselling or Psychology?
Become a kindergarten teacher. For this option, I ticked most of my conditions for my ideal job. It won't be as stressful as a regular office job. I love working with preschoolers - they are the littlest most adorable angels around! :) The pay won't be great but its an honest reputable profession and the hours won't be very long which still leaves me time to pursue my interests. So, I printed my application form two days ago all ready mentally and my husband turns around and says - 'You are a people person. You should be in a job that requires you to have meaningful interaction with adults. Somehow, I can't see you as a kindergarten teacher'!! Thanks hubby- now I am confused again. Back to Square 1.
This is the one closest to my heart. Start my own cafe cum culinary school. Nothing big. Something small. Something cosy. A friend of mine Nisha who went on a temporary vegan diet recently cited difficulties finding vegan food in Singapore. So my idea is to open a vegan cafe. Many doubts and fears pop up in my head when I ponder over this option:
Where will I get the capital?
What about a business plan? How do i do that?
Will it do well?
Am I ready to sacrifice so much to start a cafe? Can I face the long hours and the hardwork of running a cafe?
Am I willing to work temporarily for a while in a cafe to study the ins and outs of running a cafe?
So many questions. No answers yet. I want to do something worthy. Something validated by myself and something that will keep me busy. Something other than being a home maker. Something that will enable my girls to view me as a role model. What do I do, shrink ?
Care enough to help answer?
On a whim I started a book club last Aug and we started off with only 3 members - Sherin, Angie and I. Now we are 7 members strong and in the words of my 13 year old - 'I'm surprised its still going on'. Like most book club meetings, we begin with the discussion of the books but mostly our conversation will veer towards non book at hand topics. Like the discussions about the recent rapists in India article. or sometimes personal problems that require a listening ear will surface and ladies being ladies we'll come up with a bucketfull of well intended advice. We have grown close all of us - Sherin, Angie, Vijaya, Aparna, Anu and Kanica (newest member) and I.
Congratulations ladies ! We have crossed the first year milestone! Here's to many more book club anniversaries!!
My home is
usually in a mess and has dust settled on almost everything. But I believe laughter and love will win the day. In 20 years, my girls won't remember how messy the house was but will remember the time we spent together and the love they felt...