Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali launches her memoir, My Name is Hasmah, on July 20, 2016 and shares some gems for a good life at the book’s pre-launch press conference.
My Name Is Hasmah: Tun Dr Siti Hasmah's Gems For A Good Life
She walked in the room with a bright smile and a cheeky sense of humour. “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, so these are my interrogators," Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali greeted everyone present.
She sure has a way with witty quips and broke the ice in no time. Accompanied by daughter Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, we spent the next hour chatting about her past, present and hopes for the future.
“My mum is turning 90 on July 12, 2016 and she wants to hide it but I think it’s an amazing milestone, so we’re shouting from the rooftops. Sorry mum! In conjunction with that, she’s releasing a book called ‘My Name is Hasmah’…”
“…and I’m not a terrorist,” Tun Dr Siti Hasmah piped in, citing the famous dialogue from Shah Rukh Khan’s box-office success My Name is Khan. Her remark elicited laughter from the room.
“The book has all her stories from her childhood, as a medicine student, how she met my father, serving the country as one of the first female doctors, having children, being a Prime Minister’s wife and a few afterthoughts after that. What’s unique about this book is that is written in my mum’s voice and her own way of telling a story,” explained Datin Paduka Marina before her mother took the floor.
The book took six months in the making and is expected to be an interesting read, a piece of history full of old and new photographs and an interesting narrative about the wife of Malaysia’s longest-serving Prime Minister. The book will be launched on July 20 at a birthday tea party organised by her family in Kuala Lumpur.
Here she shares a glimpse of the book and some anecdotes on her upbringing, career in medicine, role as a Prime Minister's wife and the secret to her youth.
My Name is Hasmah
“People have been asking for a long time about a memoir of my own, especially after we’ve retired and my husband has written his book. I’m very fussy. I have to be focused, I have to have a proper place, pen and paper. And I cannot be interrupted, so my train of thoughts are not disrupted.
I was forced to start last year. It was good to have someone pushing me to get the chapters ready but I have one complain though. My husband took eight years to write his book but I only got six months. The editors at Salt Media are very cruel, they’re slave-drivers. Nonetheless, I am very thankful that I am able to complete the book.
This is the one book that covers the whole of my life. And I hope the public, especially the women will take interest in reading it because there are many things that pertain to women, loyalty to husband and family; and career.
Some stories in this book are not known to many, including my children because it happened during my childhood, school days and before I was married. May this book be a guide to my children and their children, especially when there are questions about how my husband and I lived our lives.”
Career as a doctor
“There were very few public health officers during my time and we were often posted to rural areas. Working in Kedah was challenging because it was less developed compared to where I grew up and the dialect, culture and way of life too was different.
In the beginning, the people there were very suspicious of me. They didn’t understand my language and I didn’t understand theirs. We had an interpreter but everything eventually worked out.
One of my proudest achivements (in my years of public service) was when the Kedahans accepted this Selangor girl. From the Sultan to the tok penghulu (village head) and the bidan (midwives), they all accepted me as one of them and as someone with the objective of changing their lives for the better.”
Interesting chapters in my life
“The best chapter in my life is marrying my husband and having my children, of course. My whole life can be broken down into the different decades – childhood, Japanese occupation, studying medicine, meeting my husband, graduation, marriage, having my children and so forth. There’s just so much to share each decade.
When I became the Prime Minister’s wife, I had the privilege of meeting people of all level, ethnicity and nationality. I don’t have a problem mixing with the rural folks because I have worked with them and they welcome me. Other privileges included travelling overseas and meeting women from other countries. Now that was really interesting.
It gives you great understanding of who you are and how lucky you are to be a Malaysian because we were at the top tier of all the developing countries. It was easy for me to relate with some of the nations we visited as we went through the same process after independence.
I also had the privilege to serve in BAKTI, a welfare organisation comprising wives of ministers and speakers to help the people from the constituency that helped vote our husbands into office. We formed many sub-committees on education, sports, field visits; and that's how we started our badminton team. I was playing competitive badminton until the age of 75."
Mahathir, my husband
"I’m very fortunate to have a husband like (Tun Dr) Mahathir (Mohamad). He’s always very calm and patient. And he is a very good listener. He claims that our teaching (as doctors) gives him that guidance. The key to a good husband and wife relationship is love and fresh air. [Laughs] Love and trust is very important.
My husband always says when there is a conflict, negotiate, arbitrate before going to the international court. [Laughs] If you are at fault, apologise quickly and get over it.
Sometimes I forget who he is. I still remember when I took him to the hospital after his first heart attack many years back, I knew I was talking my husband for treatment but when someone told me that I should inform my family and the Deputy Prime Minister, that’s when I realised I was also taking the Prime Minister to the hospital."
"My parents taught me good moral values, honesty, respect and caring for others. I’ve passed on these lessons to my children with the hopes that they will carry them through life. I don’t have any legacy to leave behind but I hope my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren (I have one great grandchild) will follow the same training or guidance they’ve had from their parents.
They must be educated and must improve themselves by seeking more knowledge because the world is changing and you have to move along with the times. Globalisation and intermarriage brings about cultural exchanges, so we have to be mindful of the differences. Always take the good as part of the process of development and drop the bad values. "
Secret to youth
"You have to have a happy mind and happy attitude. Come and sit with me during breakfast and dinner and see the number of medicines I take. Watch your diet, rest well, have a good mental attitude, keep smiling and exercise please.
Meeting young people keep me youthful too. I love talking to people and young mothers with a child are my favourite targets. I always ask them two questions – how many children they have and if they’ve been vaccinated. It is very important they go through the immunisation so babies are protected from diseases that kill them before they turn one."
Excerpts from My Name is Hasmah
I never thought my medical studies would be easy, but it proved to be more difficult and took longer for me to complete than I expected... I had a hard time understanding Physics and Chemistry, which I had never studied before. I always got the colours wrong where chemical reactions were concerned, so much so they even tested me for colour- blindness the first year. And then came my hero Mahathir. Macam hulubalang (like a warrior), my knight in shining armour who stepped in and took on the responsibility of helping me—this bodoh (stupid) Malay girl—learn and pass my exams.
Raising a Family
A Prime Minister can tell you which news publication sends the toughest journalists to a Press conference. Parents, on the other hand, know that the most difficult questions in life often come from their own children.
Carrying The Torch For The Country
At my age, do I not find this exhausting? Of course. But what are we doing? We are trying to help rebuild the confidence of the rakyat in leadership. We want to help re-establish trust. We want to remind people about transparency, accountability and other principles of good governance. All this requires effort, but it is worth it, for the future of Malaysia.
Tun Dr Siti Hasmah was recently spotted at Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir's 'Knight in the Legion of Honour' award ceremony.