My Greatest Teacher.

mum and me at her 89th birthday
Almost all my memories of mum involve gardens. Mum always loved flowers and leaves. When I was growing up,  our family home was on the beautiful island of Penang, where it was incredibly hot, but tropical downpours were heavy and constant and it was easy to have lush gardens.

Ours was magnificent! I remember masses of plants and flowers that seemed to be chosen not just for their fragrance but it was as if mum had a little competition going with herself as to how many different colours of leaves she could grow in one garden.

Later, when she joined us in Australia, I still remember her delight at finding beautiful leaves on her daily walks. She would go into raptures over their shape or colour, always so present to the wonder of it all. Mum didn’t need an epic wilderness adventure to get her thrills. She found awe and beauty in a single leaf.

Mum has Alzheimers now. I see her about once a week, and we have hilarious conversations. She never tires of observing,

“You’re not wearing lipstick!” or asking me indignantly, “Why are you wearing BLACK, who died?”

To which I invariably reply, just to appease her, “Greg died, mum. Do you remember my husband Greg?” (as if that explains why I’m wearing black, which is doesn’t!).

And then she always says, “oh Greggo! He died-ed. That’s sad.”

Greg and Mum at her 80th birthday

So, inexplicably, she remembers Greg … Even though, she is often completely taken aback when I remind her that I am her daughter, mainly it’s because she can’t believe she has a daughter who in her eyes, is so old.

I kind of get it, in her state of child-like wonder at everything, it makes no sense to her that she should have a grown up daughter who has a daughter of her own.

Mum was and remains, my greatest teacher. She didn’t teach me to paint, in fact I never saw mum paint in her life. But it was her wonderful attitude to life that I learned most from. It was an attitude of gratitude (before attitude was the buzzword of the day). And mum was a creator. She rarely remembers this, but she created magnificent gardens, amazing flower arrangements, beautiful cards of pressed leaves and wonderful publications of stories, quotes and prayers. She was a brilliant photographer and developed all her own images in the dark room my father built for her at the bottom of the stairs. I spent my childhood in the dark with her, watching the magic of images appear in the photographic solutions.

Her brain might be a little bit different now, but there is a core of serenity, a love of beauty, (and a cheeky sense of humour) that is very much intact. Just a few days ago, I caught her charming the receptionist at the doctor’s surgery with, “my dear, I HAVE to tell you something important … you have the MOST beautiful eyes!”

And when she comes over to my house, she always exclaims how much she loves my paintings, never failing to ask who painted them, always seeing them as if for the very first time, every single time. It’s frustrating to have to repeat the answers over and over… but how wonderful to be in such a constant state of awe and wonder.

(I’m slightly miffed, I have to admit, that she is always taken aback when I tell her that I painted them.)

“You’re a clever girl, you are!” she says … to which I reply, “I learned it all from you, mum” and she looks at me, eyes wide in disbelief … I’m not sure if she is incredulous that I learned such things from her, or if it’s because she’s astonished that some strange, old, mildly familiar Indian woman just called her ‘mum’ 🙂

Leaves and flowers and textures appear in so much of my art, and if you ask me why they are there, it’s because of my mum. She turned 90 on April 6th.

What a lady.

mum with texture


If you enjoyed reading my story about my lovely mum, I want to hear about yours! Leave a comment over here.



Comments 30

  1. Dear Malini , so lovely sharing your story about your mum. My mum is 91 and I so related to what you were saying. My mum also has the beginnings of dementia but it has taught me so much about patience and love. Listening to the same thing over and over is testing but I am honoured to have the joy of,firstly still having her in my life and secondly giving back the love and care she has always done for me. Thank you xxxxxx

    1. Post

      I’m sorry to hear about your mum Sue. But it is great that you have such a positive attitude towards it. I often remind myself that we reap what we sow, so I’d better be patient with mum… cos who knows what I’m going to be like?!! x

  2. Your Mum is such a beautiful lady inside and out. My Mum didn’t quite make 90 although she was in her 90th year when she left this earthly world. She was my greatest teacher too and my role model. We are both truly blessed to have had such strong and inspiration Mums! xxoo

    1. Post

      Yes, what a blessing, Moira. So many people don’t have a good relationship with their mothers and I feel terribly grateful to have this funny, special lady as my role model — and one to 100s of others too. xx

  3. Hi Malini,

    Allah’u’Abha. What a beautiful dedication about mum. I will never be able to do justice trying to recollect my memories of dear Aunty Shanta but here it goes. My early memories of her was in the 80s when she used to come to our little town of Kulai Johor. She was an ABM then and right along her was always my mother who would translate her talks into tamil. My mother developed a very close relationship with her so much so that each time Aunty Shanta came back from Australia, she would bring back necklaces or gifts for my mother and my sisters. I think among her warm and loving personality, what really stood out for most of us Baha’is in Malaysia was her lethal memory and that she never forgets to write to so many of us. Her Baha’i songs were also a gift to so many of us. Every time she visited our home, she would always ask my dad, a former chain smoker on how he had quit smoking in order to get Dr.Chelly to quit smoking too.

    My very personal memory I have of Aunty Shanta was in one of the winter schools in the 90s where my friend and I decided to play a joke on her. We pretended to have no money and were starving. We asked her if she would buy my watch for 20 ringgit. Thinking she would fall for the trick we tried to be a s convincing as possible but she turned the table and the joke was on us. She sat me and my friend down and asked us if we had contacted our local spiritual assembly of our predicament. A good 20 minutes of advise, guidance and lecture ensued and when we finally broke it to her that it was a prank, a further 10 minutes lecture followed. Our intention to prank mummy fozdar after Aunty Shanta quickly diminished also fearing what could come out of a knight of Baha’u’llah

    After so many years and returning to Malaysia from the US, I had the privilege of meeting Aunty Shanta again the early 2000. I drove her around, got her her favorite Indian breakfast, send her to the airport and take part in her deepening classes. I have so much of love for this great lady and I miss her dearly. Please give her a big warm hug for me.

    By the way Malini, thank you for sharing the Journey’s End album, I pretty much spread it across Malaysia so the friends could download the songs.

    Loving Baha’i greetings

  4. Hi Malini, you won’t remember me, but I love your mum, dear Mrs Sundram very very dearly.
    She had a great influence on my life in Malaysia and I still have to this day, some precious letters she wrote me.
    I am very touched by your beautiful article about your mum. God bless.

    1. Post

      Thank you so much Usha. Mum mentioned your name often, and still remembers it now. I’m so glad and honoured that you read my thoughts on this precious lady 🙂 x

  5. Thank you for a charming story, and the incentive to recall my own mother who always enjoyed my own art, whilst lamenting her own complete lack of artistic aptitude. That was until the 93rd year of her life, in a rest home where the activities officer coaxed her into trying some acrylic on canvas. What a sense of joy and disbelief she had, in painting the same familiar flowers she used to grow in her garden when I was a child. I have always wondered just what hidden artistic ability may have been discovered, had she lived longer.

    1. Post

      Hi Patricia, how lovely that in her 90s, she found wonder in her creativity! I feel that gives me a sense of hope that it truly is never too late to learn and grow. thank you for sharing that xx

  6. Me: Aunty Shantha! I’m Saffura. Do you remember me?
    A Shantha: Of course
    Me: I’m Lily’s daughter
    A Shantha: Who’s Lily?

    Then my brother and I spent the most delightful 3 hours with your mum and sister in the orchard examining persimmons and apples and lemons and leaves, and holding warm freshly laid eggs in our hands.

    Aunty Shantha made my week in Perth something I will hold on to forever.

    1. Post

      Hahaha!!! that is hilarious! I can really relate 🙂 What a beautiful little anecdote, Safura dear, you’re the best 🙂 x

  7. I had the pleasure of experiencing many of those memories first hand. And also of hearing you tell this story to friends gathered at Mum’s 90th Birthday do. How delightful it was to see Mum visibly moved by your recollections. At a deep, deep level she was feeling the lurve of your stories, and the good-will laughter of those gathered. Thanks Mal, for putting these thoughts down:)

    1. Post

      Thank you my wonderful Sister and for encouraging and allowing me to share this story with the friends and family gathered! I had never read out my blog post ‘live’ before so it was quite strange and fun… and so lovely to see mum respond with her heart 🙂

  8. Dear Malini,
    Lovely reading your article. Aunty Shantha has been an inspiration to numerous young people of our time. Her deep spiritual insight through which was able to connect anything and everything and bring a spiritual joy and mindfulness. It was so special and Pohyean to meet her again last summer in Perth.

    1. Post

      Hey Gobu, thank you for stopping by and sharing those thoughts! Mum was such an inspiration to so many all over the world, and it warms our hearts to feel like she continues to shine, even though she is so different now.

  9. My mom is 92 and she is developing Alzheimer’s. But we still have some great laughs! The other day, when we both used the same ironic word (“fascinating”) to describe housework, she expressed wonder about that. I said, “Well, you’re my mom! We think alike.” And she said, “Oh, you poor thing!!!”

    1. Post
  10. Thank you for mum had Alzheimer’s too for many years and before she stopped speaking altogether, her most often repeated sentence was:” Ach.. how good is it that we are together!”..and that somehow magically made it so much happier for people to be around her and care for her.
    She showed deep gratitude and received a lot of kindness therfore..

    1. Post

      Aaaah, then her daughter takes after her 🙂 What a lovely lady she must have been. Her spirit shines through in you and Carina! x

    1. Post
  11. She truly is sublime… like her daughter (whom she forgets)
    Thanks for putting down your thoughts and reminding us of what a remarkable person she is.

    1. Post
  12. Thank you so much Malini for this precious reminder of your mother – who also taught me so mich at strategic times in my life, when, for example, she was visiting Perth from Malaysia and I was stayingbwith Betty Fernandez – One of my most precious memories is a week of almost constant joy and laughter when your mother was working on a Baha’i publication project and seeking input from mainly Betty – I was just lucky to be there with them both.

    And you asked about our mothers: In the past 3-4 years, it has been an undescribable privilege to take care of my father before his passing 2 years ago, and now be available for my wonderful and selfless mother in the aftermath. Gven theIr 8 decades of their service to family and community, finally, I can give a tiny bit back.

    On another note – your wonderful Greg visited my father in hospital in SA, 3 months before Dad’s passing, and 3 months later Greg followed. Now they are both drinking from the wine vaults in heaven, while we are stuck here for a while longer. Your story reminds me to be more grateful for the ‘now’ and all the opportunities to connect with friends and family at a deeper level. Thank you Malini.

    1. Post

      Marjorie dear that is such wonderful sharing, thank you so much. And for the reminder of Greg’s connection with your dad – I do recall it was VERY important to him to make the effort to see your father, even though he wasn’t feeling very well himself. They are certainly having a ball now in the World of Mysteries.
      And I LOVE that anecdote about mum and Betty 🙂 xxx

  13. So much love shines through for your mother. What a beautiful post. It truly shows the power of love when it is brought into a person’s life. Happy Celebrating with your Mum. xo

    1. Post
  14. Dearest Malani, I always remember your dear mum in Susheel’s garden with her camera in a state of wonder as she framed pictures of the light in leaves and petals on the ground between her fingers before pointing the camera at them. She was delighted like a small child. Then when she tired, she took the camera and downloaded her photos to her computer which faced her bed and she delighted in them again as she rested her tired body.

    This taught me to delight in the many gifts that nature gives us each day. Now, as I take my daily walks, I think of your mum often and I don’t skip along the path and let out oohs and arrrhs but inside I rejoice in the beauty around me. I travel as widely as possible and take lots of photos which I plan to look at over and over again when I can no longer go travelling. Your mum knows how to raise her spirit. She taught me how to do so also.
    Bless her and bless you. JillXXX

    1. Post

      You know, Jill, I do EXACTLY the same thing as mum did! I’m so happy that she left her mark on your heart too. She is and was a truly special person 🙂 xxx

  15. Hi Malini,

    You may not know me but I had heard you through your songs. God is so wondefully kind to have created Aunty Shantha and her family. No fishing nylon nor the guitar string nor even any rope is stronger than the bond you and your sisters had with your mum. You are generous to share a glimpse of your countless memories with her.

    I am so blessed to have received a couple of letters from her from 1997-2004. They are precious notes of which i am reading almost everyday to regain inspiration, warm and love. Aunty Shantha has THAT MAGIC to make one feels loved and significant. In fact she is MAGIC.

    Take care and Thanks once again,
    Eng Eng

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *