By Aznan Mat Piah
Last week I was happy to receive a complimentary copy of a latest book from my senior colleague Prof. Saodah Wok who is listed in the book as one of the editors.
“Ordinary Women Extraordinary Lives” – that’s the title of a book that contains a collection of 26 thematic essays written by a group of women, who between 1969 and 1971, attended one of Malaysia’s premier all-girls boarding schools, Tunku Khursiah College (most popularly known by the abbreviation TKC).
The male equivalent of this all-girls boarding school is Malay College Kuala Kangsar or MCKK. Just like MCKK, I have known TKC during my early days as an elite school where students are considered creme de la creme. Not surprising most of those who attended TKC later pursued good education in different fields of study and ended up venturing into successful careers, holding professional and leadership positions in the government sector, the universities / academia or the corporate sector.
Bonded in friendship and sisterhood during their early teens at the boarding school, the women had earlier planned writing a memory book about their college fraternity, reminiscing the times they spent together at the boarding school, and sharing their life-long experiences.
But one would quickly learn from the editors’ note that their very idea of writing the book had reignited a passion of writing from among them as they became intrigued with the idea. So, with great enthusiasm they wrote multiple essays on diverse subject matters that go beyond their college days, reflecting on their journeys of life after leaving the college, sharing their life-long experiences in their respective fields and professions they have ventured into, and touching on activities some are currently involved after retirement.
The book finally saw a collection of 26 thematic essays including an interview with the first woman Deputy Prime Minister (also TKC alma mater), apart from 11 essays reminiscing of their days at the boarding school, and eight stories documenting memories of those among their schoolmates who had earlier departed.
It carries a foreword by Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, wife of former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. In her message, Tun Hasmah says the book offers inspirations and motivation for women young and old. It is a book of exploration of journeys of a group of ladies groomed together in their teens, who made their lives fulfilled with ambitions and dreams.
Indeed, the book gives insights into these exceptional women. It reflects overall on success stories. It tells about sacrifices and tribulations that shaped their aspirations and destinations. They became leaders in politics, experts in their fields of research, champions of healthcare and sustainable environment, advocates of human rights, entrepreneurs with business successes, educators of distinction, and writers of passion.
They adhered to strong principles and teachings of Islam to influence their values and practice in their daily lives, in their work ethics and in their societal commitment to help others. Most of all, it reflects on their role as mothers of masterpiece families.
I found all the articles beautifully written reflecting their early beginnings, from kampung, bandar and istana, their life-long experiences and encounters in career and professional involvement after leaving TKC. They shared experiences in pursuit of knowledge at universities and institutions at home and abroad. They reflected on hard work, disciplines, dedication and commitment they had acquired from their days at the boarding school.
Interestingly, an article shared on working and living experience in a zone of war and conflict in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Cambodia reminds mankind of the atrocities and the value of peace. While another wrote about a journey on Trans-Mongolian Express from Beijing to Moscow sharing glimpses of village life as the train snaked across Gobi Desert and the Steppes. Yet another write-up shared an experience of being shipwrecked in the Indian Ocean while on a fishing trip close to Maldives. One shared her experience on obsessions, tribulations and challenges faced in politics, the syariah law and matters of family concerns.
A few shared experiences on their roles and challenges faced as academics including one portraying her desire to be an academic and an activist at the same time. There are also stories shared of being a teacher, an educator, a mentor and a trainer for teachers. Others are about sharing research experiences on agricultural crops like ginger, rice and chilli and on bio-diversity issues. One article shared about the journey of becoming a nuclear scientist. And another sharing is on a day in a dentist’s life. While another focused on the threat of COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown impact on mental and emotional state of the individuals.
Above all, the book has been able to capture feelings, passion and memories in the most concise and precise of words that were expressed so eloquently. Their write-ups somehow portray them as ordinary women, living extraordinary lives, and going the distance despite the odds and challenges faced in their profession and life.
The essence of the book lies in the friendship, the special bonding and the spirit of camaraderie that exists between the writers, the absence of which would not have materialised what they have set to achieve.
The book is highly recommended not only to the younger generation of women but men alike who would find it inspirational. It would be an eye opener to women of present generation in their aspiration to achieve greater heights in contributing towards mankind while simultaneously sustaining a full life amid trials and tribulations. ***