Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Woman, handicapped in both arms and both legs, finds her man, makes six children

This is a story that I wrote for NST's Life & Times. It appeared in March 2006.

My editor Joan and I were extremely proud of this story, because it made a difference in this woman's life. Ever since the story came out, Aminah has gone on a trip to Makkah to perform the umrah, courtesy of an NST reader. She has also had her life story published in a book.

Although my editor and I made a difference in her life, she in turn made a difference in countless other people's life by inspiring them.

Raising six children as a single parent is no mean feat. Now try doing the same but without hands and feet. Gutsy Aminah Md Tahir tells her story to RIDZWAN A. RAHIM.

It's a love story that you won't hear every day. Boy meets girl. They fall in love but here's the punchline: the woman is handicapped. She has no hands or feet. Not only that, they're from different religious backgrounds. She's Muslim and he a Hindu.

She keeps questioning his choice, given her disability but he persists. The feeling between them grows stronger. Eventually, they get married and live happily... for a while.

After 12 years of marriage, tragedy strikes. He dies. The woman is forced to raise their children - all six of them - alone and with much difficulty. But she never complains.

This is the story of Aminah Md Tahir.

Born in Segamat in 1935, Aminah received a traditional Islamic education, attending Segamat Arabic School until Standard Three. It was at the school that she overcame her handicap and taught herself to write in Jawi.

Her right leg is more like a stump while her left leg, which is slightly longer, has something that looks like a foot, and barely at that.

When she walks, she limps.

The youngest of four siblings and the only one in the family who is handicapped, Aminah spent most of her time at home helping with chores. She did not have many friends. At 15, she enrolled in a cooking school in Johor Baru for two years. She was in her 20s when she met Abdul Rashid Abdullah @ Maniam Ramanair, a Segamat hospital attendant of Malayalee origin.

Aminah was teaching the Quran to children of the workers at the hospital where Rashid was working. Before long, they fell in love.

"Kenapa nak kawan dengan saya? Saya nie orang cacat. Ramai lagi perempuan lain. (Why do you want to be friends with me? I'm a handicap. There are so many other girls.)," she would ask him. But those words only fell on deaf ears.

So what exactly attracted him to her?

Aminah was shy about details about their courtship, but judging from old photos of her, she was a good-looking woman.

"Dah jodoh (It was fated)," was all she would say.

Maniam converted to Islam and they married in 1963. She was 24 at the time.

He proved to be a kind and gentle husband and they had no problems at home. Aminah was to a large extent independent and she did everything on her own - washing, ironing, cooking, sewing.

She was proud of the fact that she never sent any of her husband's clothes to the dhobi.

However, 12 years of marital bliss came to an end when one day, somebody broke the news to Aminah that Rashid had died after an asthma attack while in Johor Baru. He was buried at Mahmudiah Muslim Cemetery in the city.

After her husband's death, Aminah supported her family by working as a maid for a family friend.

Every day, she would walk barefoot along a gravel road to the house. It was just 1km away but for somebody with her disability, the journey took half an hour.

There, Aminah did the usual housework and also took care of the family's two children. She was paid about RM150 a month. She gained the trust of her employer and was favoured for being a meticulous and honest worker.

Aminah's children, all of whom are normal, are grown up now and successful in their own right.

Two of her children, Abdul Rahman and Suseela, are hoteliers while sons Samsuddin and Abdul Razak are self-employed.

Another daughter Shakila is a housewife. Jaleel, the youngest in the family, is head of PR and media for H2O Sports Sdn Bhd, the organiser of F1 Powerboat in Malaysia.

But when they were growing up, the family was poor. Chicken for dinner was a luxury, and there were times when they had to survive on rice eaten with salt water.

Aminah broke down while recalling how she had to walk to town or travel alone to Johor Baru and Kuala Lumpur to seek assistance from the Government.

Her relatives and employer had been kind though. They chipped in by donating rice, sugar and other essential goods, and new clothes for the children when it was Hari Raya.

But asking for help wasn't something she liked to do.

Jaleel, who described his mother as fiercely independent, recalled one incident where she really blew her top after finding out that he had been eating at a friend's house.

"She was very angry. When I got home, she beat me with a belt and pinched me with both her arms. She hated it if people thought she could not feed her own children," said Jaleel.

He said his mother would always insist that her children be neatly dressed all the time.

Even if you're poor, you don't have to let the whole world know, she would tell them. And what he said after that contained some clues about how his mother managed to get her man.

"Mak is a stickler for nice clothing and she'll try to get herself new clothes as often as possible. She used to tell me that being pretty is important, and also the way you carry yourself.

"You also need to have a pure heart. My mother doesn't like to beat around the bush. She's always truthful about how she feels and expects the same from others. Kalau suka, cakap suka (If you like me, tell me so)," said Jaleel.

After meeting this remarkable woman, I can only say, "Yes, suka."