Mothers are often a child’s first teacher, passing on knowledge and wisdom to her young, keeping families together by continuing traditions, and by starting new ones. Whether it’s passing on values or skills, mothers bond with their kids through shared interests and customs.

Cooking With Love

In their teenage years during the 1990s, Nornadiatul Akmal and her two elder sisters would grumble about helping their mother make kuih. Their mum, Masitah Ismail, ran a food stall at the Kuantan police barracks and needed her daughters’ help with all the cooking and baking.

Though the girls didn’t fully understand the burden their mother shouldered, looking back now, Nornadiatul says, “It was tiring but we had so much fun. My sisters and I worked as a team despite our usual squabbles. And we enjoyed listening to emak’s entertaining stories of her younger days.”

“It was a great bonding time between my mother, my sisters and I,” adds the kindergarten supervisor.

Masitah, now a 60-year-old grandmother of 14, says she wanted to teach her children how to handle a kitchen because she regretted not learning the craft from her mother.

“Before my marriage, I was into outdoor things like gardening and planting paddy instead of cooking. After marrying,  I slowly learnt how to cook from my mother and aunties in the kampung. We couldn’t turn to Facebook or Instagram for recipes back then,” she recalls.

Masitah also made sure her daughters learned from her mistake. “If I don’t teach my girls how to cook traditional dishes, who will? It is important for mothers to pass down our recipes because it is part of our culture and heritage.”

Masitah now lives in Ipoh and a stone’s throw from her youngest child’s house. Her other girls, 34-year-old Norhidayah and 36-year-old Norbhaizura reside in Kuala Lumpur and Pantai Remis, Perak, respectively.

Masitah has retired from the food stall business, but she still takes home orders for kuih, as do her daughters. Nornadiatul, 32, says she appreciates learning the art of kuih-making from her mum, and that her siblings and her are now custodians of their family’s recipes.

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Masitah’s girls say learning to make kuih koci from their mum is a childhood memory they treasure.

Today, the sisters have mastered various Malay cakes and deserts, and can make about 15 types of sweet delights including kuih dangai, kuih koci, kuih bom and badak berendam.

They are among the few modern women with an interest in Malay kuih and its rich heritage. Fewer and fewer youths know how to make traditional treats like kuih bengkang and seri muka. Meanwhile, foreign fares like pancakes and waffles are now more familiar to kids today.

The perception is that traditional kuih is time-consuming and difficult to make. “Nowadays, working mums don’t have time to make traditional cakes or cookies. They’d rather buy them from supermarkets or order them online, even though these don’t come cheap,” says Nornadiatul.

“But I’m grateful my mum for passing our family recipes down to my sisters and me. This is my heritage,” she adds.

Meanwhile, Masitah is excited for Mother’s Day with her daughters on Sunday. “Mother’s Day is during Ramadan this year, so I’ll be in the kitchen finishing up customer orders. All my daughters will be coming to help me. Having them home is the best gift money can’t buy.”

Bonding Over Arts And Craft

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The bond that a daughter shares with her mother is priceless and Dwarkha would choose her mother over anything.

When Sureka Pradeep was a child, her mother taught her the importance of the 3Rs – Reuse, Reduce and Recycle. She, in turn, is now also teaching her two daughters how to turn waste into useful craft items.

“When I was younger, my mother ensured that waste material, cloth and objects were turned into shopping bags, decorative items and accessories. In those times, most people make it a point to recycle things. It helps promote the recycling habit,” says Sureka.

Her daughters, Dwarkha Pradeep, 15, and Dharmika Pradeep, 13, have been taught how to live a sustainable and ethical lifestyle since they were in kindergarten.

Used boxes, decorated with cuttings from saree cloth, are turned into items like drink coasters, TV remote control holders, pot holders and readymade kolam. Old newspaper and magazines are given a new lease of life as decorations.

With growing problems like global warming, plastic pollution and habitat destruction, Sureka feels anyone can do their part for Mother Earth.

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Sureka (right) lending a helping hand in donning an earring on Dwarkha. Both the earrings and the necklace that she is styling are handmade by them.

“All it takes is creativity. Thanks to YouTube and Instagram, I have managed to explore many new ideas on creating crafts using recycled items. These items look great and helps me stretch the ringgit further,” says Sureka, 36.

The housewife is also teaching her girls to make Indian terracotta jewellery, a traditional art passed down the generations.

“Besides gold and silver jewellery, terracotta fashion jewellery is a popular choice among Indians. There’s a certain uniqueness about its rustic and earthern look,” says Sureka, who learnt how to make terracotta jewellery from her mother. Airdried clay is moulded into jewellery pieces like pendants, earrings and chains. The items are then handpainted using fabric and acrylic paint. Some of their items have been sold at bazaars.

Her daughters are also learning how to paint different Indian artworks, including warli tribal artwork from Maharashtra, North India, kathakali painting from Kerala and paisley motifs.

“India is a country rich in ancient folk painting and styles. While teaching these painting techniques, I also explain the history behind each geometric pattern and its enchanting folk lore and culture,” says Sureka, who was born in Tamil Nadu in India, and moved to Sri Lanka as a young girl, and then to Malaysia in 2015.

Her girls get to play with clay during school holidays or long weekends. To make it more fun, their neighbour’s children are also roped in to join in the fun.

“Among all, I love terracotta work because they can be made into beautiful Indian jewellery. Plus, it gives me a sense of satisfaction to create something from scratch rather than buying it off the rack,” says Dwarkha, who studies at a private school in Sentul.

Sureka counts her blessings for her daughters and her share a similar interest in arts and craft. It also provides her with an avenue to further strengthen her bond with her offsprings.

“It is important to invest more time with my growing children to ensure they get love and attention. My daughters are my life.”

Dwarkha and Dharmika don’t have any plans for Mother’s Day. According to Dwarkha, Mother’s Day should be celebrated each day.

“We don’t celebrate on a specific day because we worship our mother every day. We look up to our mother and love her very much. And that’s what matters the most,” says Dwarkha, who plans to make a card, most probably from recycled material, for her loving mother. – Additional reporting by Amielia Karim