Friday, August 21, 2015

And then there were three...

In April of 2010, I posted an entry where I introduced my brothers to the readers of this blog. The short entry, titled Four Brothers, included a photograph of the quartet of men whose maximum age difference is only six years apart, with yours truly being the eldest.

Only three of us remain today. On this day last week, the 3rd brother Azhar, left us... quite suddenly.

It was early morning of last Friday when I received a phone call informing us of his unexpected demise. Apparently, he had woken up that morning, feeling a bit under the weather. He had asked his elder son to accompany him to the clinic. Since there was a paramedic post at the next apartment block, the son suggested that they get the aid of an ambulance to go directly to a hospital. As they were walking towards the post, my brother collapsed and fell on the sidewalk, just a few yards short of the post. A paramedic on duty saw the incident and rushed to provide CPR assistance. My brother could not be revived. However, they still put him in the ambulance and took him to the nearest hospital, just to be sure. But it is God's will... I was to lose a brother. The death of the closest family member I have experienced thus far.

My brother did not have any history of serious medical problems, which is why his departure was very much unexpected. And because of this absence of medical record, the doctors at the hospital which first received his body would not sign off the death certificate. An autopsy had to be performed at the Singapore General Hospital to determine the actual cause of death. This meant that the burial ceremony could not be carried out as soon as we would have liked.

The post-mortem examination could only be carried on Saturday morning. This delay put additional stress on my sister-in-law, the widow. I also had a  bit of trouble keeping my cool as some relatives were pressing us to secure the release of the body as soon as possible. Nonetheless, with the help of my two other brothers, we handled the situation as best we can by dividing tasks. One of my brothers arranged for the burial process with our local mosque committee while the other was stationed at the coroner's office to update us on the progress of the autopsy.

The autopsy was completed around 12.45pm. The official COD was listed as coronary atherosclerosis. In plain man's language it means that there were blockages to the arteries that supply blood to the heart. In other words, my brother died of a heart attack. He was only 49 years old.

The due process of the burial requirements proceeded immediately after the body was released from the coroner's office. My brother's body was brought back to his home in Choa Chu Kang where it was cleaned, shrouded and final prayers offered, before burial at the Pusara Abadi Muslim Cemetery at around 4 pm. Praise to Allah swt for the reasonably smooth process and the pleasant weather.

The most difficult part was actually the day earlier... how do I break the news to our mother? At that time (and even till today), she was warded at St. Luke's Hospital in Bukit Batok for physiotherapy treatment following her heart attack which happened in June. While the death had occurred in early morning, my two other brothers decided to wait for my arrival from JB in late afternoon for me to tell our mother the sad news. It is probably the gloomiest moment in my life to date. I could not imagine the sorrow going through her heart to be told that one of her offsprings has departed ahead of her.

As I sit now and contemplate the recent conversations I had with my late brother, it becomes inevitable that certain ironic instances come to the surface. I'll share one such example.

Some time ago, my youngest brother (no. 4) created a Whatsapp group for the 4 siblings to facilitate the sharing of news and family updates. It is a convenient tool because we are located in three different countries (Singapore, Malaysia and the UK). However, the group has only 3 members because Brother No. 3 could not be added. At first we assumed that he was still using a normal mobile phone. When I met him in June at the time our mother was admitted to hospital, I saw that he actually used a smartphone. So I told him that we have a Whatsapp group for the brothers and it is a convenient way to communicate, citing the particular example of the present situation where our mum is in hospital. Why don't you install the app, I asked. His answer then, was quite surprising. I don't believe in social media, he said. I don't have Whatsapp or Facebook or all those other stuff. I am using this smartphone only because it is the cheapest phone on contract offered by the telephone company.

Indeed. I guess our Whatsapp group for brothers, which started with 3 members, is destined to remain at 3, at least for now.

Al-fatihah untuk allahyarham Azhar Bin Isma Yatim. Kembali ke rahmatullah pada pagi hari Jumaat, 14hb Ogos 2015M, bersamaan 29 Syawal 1436H. Meninggalkan seorang isteri, 2 orang anak perempuan dan 2 orang anak lelaki. Semuga Allah swt mengampuni dosa beliau dan menempatkan roh beliau di kalangan para soliheen.


Same photo from the April 2010 post. Allahyarham Azhar is seated right.
Final resting place...

Thursday, August 13, 2015

What a coincidence

Last weekend saw me and my better half travelling north to Kuala Lumpur to visit relatives and friends. On such long drives, I would usually have the walkman of my mobile phone playing a selection of mp3 songs piped through headphones. Radio reception via the car's stereo is inconsistent because the station frequencies change as we travel.

One of the songs on my playlist is Purple Rain by Prince. I was listening to this particular song when I drove past a large advertising billboard at the side of the highway. The image that caught my eye was this pretty young lady dressed in racing-driver garb standing next to a sports car. It was an advertisement for Prince Lubricants. Well, not quite Prince the music performer but it was an interesting coincidence nonetheless. (By the way, I googled the product and the hottie race driver is called Leona Chin).

Such coincidences have occurred quite frequently to the extent of making me wonder if they have any meaning at all. The phenomenon has a specific name - synchronicity. It is a concept first proposed by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. One definition of this concept, as given by Google, is as follows :

synchronicity (n) ~ the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.

So what has prompted me to be writing a blog post on this subject? Of course it has to be that another synchronistic event happened again, right? Well, not one... but two. Last night.

1. Mellifluous

I was watching this new TV series on National Geographic called Innovation Nation. In one segment of the show, the host Mo Rocca, was explaining that the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan, USA has a very large collection of items that many are not displayed but kept in their extensive archive. Among these are a few precious Stradivarius violins. Among the adjectives Rocca used to describe the Stradivarius was its mellifluous quality. Rocca mentioned that he would explain the term later towards the end of the show.

Not wanting to wait that long, I opened the Dictionary.com app on my tablet. Lo and behold, without even the need for me to type in the word to search its meaning, the app opened with its customary 'Word Of The Day' page and there in bold is displayed the chosen word... mellifluous. Which, by the way, means sweet-sounding.

2. The Tower of Babel

After watching Innovation Nation, I was still not sleepy and so switched to the History Channel. It was showing an episode of Ancient Aliens. Not one of my favourite shows actually (too much conjecture and too little proof). This particular episode touched on the story of the Tower of Babel, as mentioned in the Book of Genesis. The tower was supposedly built by the people who survived the Great Flood and reached a height of 300ft. To have the skill and technology to be building a structure of that height at that time, the programme explores the possibility that aliens may have provided assistance of some sort. Seriously?

I couldn't hold my interest much longer so I switched off the TV and thought that it was time to doze off. I still could not sleep so I picked up the book I was currently reading. I am halfway through reading The Story of English (authors Rob McCrum, Robert MacNeil and William Cran). It is the story of the history and development of the English language and its spread to become the global choice of written and spoken communication. I had paused my reading at the part where the authors were telling of the Scouse accent unique to the region of Liverpool in north England. Resuming my reading, the book then went on to the chapter called 'Black on White', where it describes the effect of the black African slave trade had on the spread, variation and usage of English.

A sub-chapter of this section is called `The Tower Of Babel'. It caused me to pause in surprise. The authors chose to use this phrase as a sub-heading because they quoted a line from a 1744 writing by Captain William Smith named A New Voyage to Guinea. Needless to say, this coincidence caused me further difficulty in falling asleep.

(Note : My further reading about the ancient Tower of Babel, indeed is related to the story of languages. But let's leave that for another day.)

------------------------------------------

In my haul of inexpensive books from the Big Bad Wolf sale in JB earlier this year, I picked up a book called The 7 Secrets Of Synchronicity written by the husband and wife team of Trish and Rob MacGregor. I have not read it yet. But with these recent occurrences, I guess I'll start reading it today.

So, does all these coincidences have meaning? Let's find out, shall we...

Meaningful coincidences...

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Down with dengue

In the slightly over half-a-century of my life, I have so far only required in-patient hospital treatment on two occasions. The first time was in 2001 (I think) when my tonsils were so inflamed that they were causing breathing problems and my doctor advised to have them removed. That particular operation was carried out at an old government military hospital in Kinrara, Puchong. How I ended up undergoing tonsillectomy surgery at a military facility, which today is no longer in operation, is perhaps another story on its own.

The other time I had to be warded in hospital was last week. I was suffering from high fever, headache and muscular pain all over. When the illness did not recede after 4 days, I went to see a GP who quickly suspected that I was down with dengue and suggested that I go to a hospital for a blood test. The next morning, I went to the nearby Puteri Specialist Hospital. Upon registering, the doctor's assistant asked me how long I had been ill. Five days including today, I said. She immediately arranged for a blood test even before the doctor had time to examine me.

By the time the doctor checked in to his clinic after doing his morning rounds, the test results were in. Confirmed I had dengue. Based on the blood platelet count, my condition is not considered too serious. The doctor gave me the option of whether I wish for outpatient treatment. If so, I have to ensure I rigorously take in sufficient fluids and come in daily to do the blood tests. Not wanting to take any risks, I chose to be admitted.

There is actually no specific treatment for dengue fever. The standard medical advice is to drink lots of water. The non-standard advice are many... consume crab soup, drink pomegranate juice, take in lots of isotonic drinks and perhaps the most frequent advice of all, as suggested by well-meaning friends and relatives who have suffered the same, drink the juice extracted from papaya leaf shoots. I tried them all... but the papaya leaf juice takes the cake when it comes to comparison of tastes. I managed to down one small glass of the stuff. It was the most bitter liquid concoction I have ever swallowed. All good medicines are bitter, they say. But this one is right up there on the bitterness scale.

The first night I was in hospital, an IV drip was inserted in my left hand. To further aid recovery, I drank copious amounts of plain water. This regime meant that I visited the toilet more often. Dragging the IV stand to the toilet every time I had to pee was somewhat inconvenient, but what to do. At first, I kept count of how many times I got up to relieve myself but when I pass the figure of ten, I stopped counting.

Alhamdulillah, my blood platelet count improved after the third day and I was allowed to go home. I am now resting at home and recovering well. Dengue fever in Malaysia is reaching alarming proportions. According to the Ministry of Health, the number of reported cases for the 6 months of this year has reached more than 56,000, a 34% increase over the same period last year. There have already been 162 deaths.

Very serious indeed. Please take care. Thank you to my dear friends and relatives for the kind thoughts and prayers.

IV needle attached to left hand
Crab soup. Normally delicious but when you have no appetite..
Papaya leaf juice. Top of the bitterness scale..

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Aidilfitri 1436H / 2015M

The aidilfitri celebration, like most other religious and cultural festivals in Malaysia, is a time when family members gather for the chance to reinforce or renew relationships. It is a time when sons and daughters, who work in the city, make the trip back to their respective home-towns or villages to spend the first day of Syawal with their parents. For those whose parents have already departed, it then becomes a day of remembrance and reminiscing the memories of hari raya days of a long time ago.

I am very lucky to still have both father and mother to celebrate this special ocassion with. However, for the past two years, the annual family gathering had been a bit different. Last year, my father spent his hari raya in the ward of National University Hospital in Singapore. He was suffering from pneumonia and was hospitalised for a total of 42 days. This year, on the third day of fasting, my mother had a heart attack and was transported to the same hospital in an ambulance. She was discharged just 2 days before Aidilfitri, after undergoing treatment for 24 days. She is now staying with me for a short while before I have to send her to be re-admitted to another hospital for further therapy.

Praise be to the Almighty. I am counting my blessings each day.

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri to all my friends and readers. May all of you be in good health and joyful spirit.

Masjid Ubudiah in Kuala Kangsar, Perak. Pic taken in May 2015.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Cave of The Seven Sleepers

On the outskirts of Amman, the capital of Jordan, there is a historic site where it is believed that seven young men hid in a cave to escape religious persecution from their tyrant ruler. They fell asleep for what they thought to be a day or so, but turned out to be for a much longer period. Upon rising from their slumber, one of the youths went out to the nearby town to buy food and when he wanted to pay for his purchase, the shop owner discovered that the coins offered came from a time when a different emperor ruled many years earlier.

This story of the People of The Cave or As-habul Kahfi, is well-known in Islamic teachings and even has a parallel in Christian tradition. The story is mentioned in Surah 18 of the holy Al-Qur'an, beginning from Verse 9 to Verse 26. While popular accounts put the number of the young men at 7, the Qur'an does not give an exact figure. Verse 22 indicates the possible number at 3 or 5 or 7, but with a gentle reminder from the Almighty that such an uncertainty should not be leading us to arguments amongst ourselves. Only the Lord knows... plus a few others. And who might these few others be, I wonder.

Another interesting aspect of this story is that the young men had a dog with them. This pet canine kept watch at the cave's entrance, possibly deterring any unwanted parties from venturing into the cave and discovering the hiding place. Such a loyal trait that has been recorded in divine revelation.

Within those 18 verses that tell the story of the cave-sleepers is perhaps another important lesson for the Muslim faithful. Verse 23 and 24 are translated as such :

23 - And never say of anything, "Indeed, I will do that tomorrow,"

24 - Except [when adding], "If Allah wills." And remember your Lord when you forget [it] and say, "Perhaps my Lord will guide me to what is nearer than this to right conduct."

The said verses impart to us the need to cite the phrase `Insha Allah', meaning `if Allah wills' whenever we mention our intention to carry out something in the future. There is an interesting backstory to this.

Prophet Muhammad (sallalahu alaihi wa-sallam) faced a lot of scepticism and doubters during his early days of preaching to the people of Makkah. The leaders of Makkah sent two of their men to check with the Jewish rabbis of Madinah on Muhammad's claim of being a prophet. Since the Jews are people of the book, they would have more knowledge about such matters. The men described the new prophet and his teachings to the rabbis who then told them to ask Muhammad (s.a.w.) three questions, the answers to which would reveal the proof of authenticity.

 "Ask him about three things which we will tell you to ask, if he answers them then he is a Prophet who has been sent (by Allah); if he does not, then he is saying things that are not true, in which case how you will deal with him will be up to you. Ask him about some young men in ancient times, what was their story? For there is a strange and wondrous tale. Ask him about a man who traveled a great deal and reached the east and the west of the earth. What was his story? And ask him about the Ruh (soul or spirit), what is it?"

The men returned to Makkah and relayed the questions to the Prophet (s.a.w.) who accordingly replied, "I will tell you tomorrow." He had neglected to add, "Insha Allah".

The Prophet (s.a.w.) waited for Allah's revelation to enable him to give the answers. A whole day passed and the revelation did not come. As more days went by without any divine assistance, the people of Makkah made more fun of him and accused him of not keeping to his word. The Messenger of Allah was very sad to face such ridicule. It was only after 15 days that the angel Jibreel (alaihi-salam) came to the Messenger with the revelation of Surah Al-Kahfi which had the answers to questions posed by the rabbis. Indeed, also contained within the surah is the subtle reminder on the proper etiquette when promising to do something. Allahu-akbar!

And so my friends, what about the questions concerning the man who traveled a great deal or about the Ruh? Perhaps I will explore the answers to these questions in future postings... insha 'Allah.

Signboard at the cave site
Entrance to the cave located at a hill slope

Footnote : Apart from this place in Jordan, another site in Turkey called Ephesus also claims to be the Cave of the 7 Sleepers.