Pak Uda: My Examplary Uncle

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My mother has eight siblings. Pak Uda, as he was fondly known to us nieces and nephews, is the second eldest son and the fourth child of the family. His name is Zainal Abidin.

Two weeks ago, we met up with Pak Uda, Mak Uda, five of my cousins and about ten of my nieces & nephews, and one grand nephew. It was such a wonderful, joyous day! My cousins were a noisy, happy lot and the chatter was endless. We obviously inherited the happy genes as Pak Uda was continuously cracking jokes that made us laugh till our tummy hurts. Beneath his candour and jokes, he never showed that he was going through inconveniences of being in the golden age of turning 90, in November 2018.

As we parted ways in the evening, I noticed that Mak Uda was carrying two bags in her hand plus her handbag. Just as I was about to help her, Pak Uda immediately took the bags from her hands while giving her his guiding hands down the low steps to ensure that she doesn’t take a wrong footing. I immediately thought that there are so few true gentlemen around these days, and my uncle was one. His little act of kindness and thoughtfulness is so rare, and a reflection of what his heart feels for his wife.

Little did we realise then, that he had been suffering from constipation for over a month before we met. Two days after our get-together, we were informed that Pak Uda had to go through endoscope just to check his health issues. Much to our sadness and against our optimism, the doctors confirmed that Pak Uda was diagnosed with 4th stage Colon Cancer.

This prognosis brought gushing, all the memories of Pak Uda and specifically my relationship with him, between uncle and niece. During our younger days, we were much closer to our two other uncles. As Pak Ngah, Pak Esa and Pak Teh passed away relatively early; we had only two living uncles to turn to for advice, family updates and political arguments. Pak Uda has seven children, thirty-one grandchildren and sixteen great-grandchildren to be pre-occupied with. However, we never failed to visit him whenever we passed by Simpang Renggam, and he never failed to visit us when he was in town.

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When we were little, we were just ears, updated through our parents’ conversations. As we matured, Pak Uda would scatter religious advice in between his conversations with us. He would share childhood adventures, and we would listen to updates on distant relatives, friends and neighbours. Being an adult now, I realise how the advice and life experiences that Pak Uda shared with us, however little, somehow moulded my thoughts, opinions and values, in its small way.When I began my cookbook writing, I gathered heirloom recipes from my relatives and realised how Pak Uda & Mak Uda’s relationship stood above all else.

When Mak Uda was explaining how to cook Halwa Maskat in her soft, gentle voice, Pak Uda will chip in with tips and know-how for each dish with great detail. It was as if he was her voice when she could not find the words, and he was her thoughts when she forgot. It was obvious that all their activities evolved around each other in a positive way. The respect and love they shared, went beyond words of affection and physical contact. I fear to think what either will have to go through when the other left. Even now, I already feel her pain.

For decades, Pak Uda has been the imam for his neighbourhood mosque and have been very involved in community services.  On the 8th of January 2018, Pak Uda was given the award ‘Anugerah Tokoh Maal Hijrah 2018’ by the Surau Ar Rahman, Simpang Renggam for his service from years 1980 to 2018. My Pak Uda was given an award for being an example figure for the community. A commendable and honourable award indeed!

My memories of visits to Pak Uda & Mak Uda’s home is the aroma of food. It is customary for us to salam & kisses our elders’ hands when we meet them. Mak Uda’s hands will always smell of some delicious food she had just cooked. Sometimes it’s Beriani Johor, other times it’s just some fried fish and omelette. That is the food we are always fortunate to savour, and that is the food Pak Uda gets to savour every single day of his life.

Whatever food it may be, the food is always delicious. Coming from a family that loves food & cooking, Pak Uda is most fortunate to have married a wife and married into a family that has the same passion. Pak Uda’s children are all great cooks and what he has left behind in his life, are part and pieces of him that will live on, in his children, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren whose lives he touched. For me, I am truly blessed to call Pak Uda my uncle.

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