Mother’s Day is an important time to celebrate Grandmothers, too!
Editor’s note: A few months ago a man in the UK wrote to us saying he’d come across a photo of his Singaporean grandmother, who lived through the Japanese occupation of Singapore during World War II, and wanted to write a tribute to her. There’s of course no better time than Mother’s Day to celebrate the special women in our lives, so please read on for this loving story from a grandson.
This is my story about my Grandmother Sella (Durai) Lewis , who was born in 1928 in Singapore where her family lived on Jansen Road. Her mother came from Malacca and her father was Tamil of Sri Lankan origin. She married a British Army officer and came to eventually live in the UK, where she gave birth to my mother and her sister.
It’s with much affection that we remember her, talk about the funny anecdotes and stories because we are lucky to have so many. She was a character who had a fierce determination and a sharp mind.
Singaporean culture has always been a part of our lives because she was keen to share it with us and celebrate our Asian heritage.
Birthdays and celebrations were her favourite times, and these in particular reflected the energy and love that she shared. She loved making these events ones to remember and would create anything we wanted for them.
We all know food is the heart and soul of every Singaporean and it’s with food that culture is shared and celebrated. My Nan was passionate about food, and was someone who had exquisite skills when it came to the creation of a tapestry of dishes.
The little humble curry puff was a piece of joy that I looked forward to; each one was a great festival of spice that was made with true love. I even had special ones made just for me — these were much spicier than the others; only I could handle them.
An important aspect of Nan’s life that talked to us about were her personal stories of what she and Singapore had endured under the horror of the Japanese occupation. In particular she spoke about how radically life changed in a mere blink of an eye and freedom was taken. This was a time where food was scarce; she detailed how desperate times called for measures where anything had to be eaten in order to survive. She spoke about how her sisters were removed from school and made to become secretaries for the Japanese.
As everyone knows, it was a time of terrible suffering. She knew the importance of telling us about this time in history that was painful for so many.
The attributes that defined her as a person were that she was creative, loving, caring, a good listener and passionate about helping others who needed it. She was a community-minded person who thoroughly enjoyed being involved in community activities and making food for any and all occasions and events.
Being creative was something she utilised to great effect. She was the master of crochet, producing plentiful amount of blankets that were given to the charity Oxfam for children in Africa.
My grandmother sadly passed away in 2015. She lived a life that was hard at times, but gave it everything she had and was loved by many for all that she contributed and gave.
Holidays to Singapore are something we relish with much joy. For us as a family it’s a home away from home. Within the culture, in the sounds, in the atmosphere and in the vibrancy of its people we find our grandmother.
Alex Lewis-Jones lives in Cardiff, Wales. He’s passionate about tackling human rights causes, particularly the issues of forced marriages and women’s rights. He’s a lover of Formula One, a major foodie, and is passionate about Asian culture.
Lead image by Stuart James