The late Bob Monkhouse, who was a British comedian, once made this funny joke about his mother-in-law:

My wife said: ‘Can my mother come down for the weekend?‘ So I said: ‘Why?‘ and she said: ‘Well, she’s been up on the roof two weeks already‘.

While I can remember my all my ex-fathers-in-law’s name, I have trouble remembering my ex-mothers-in-law’s, save for my first ex’s. They were all nice ladies, all good mothers-in-law.

My first mother-in-law was Ishah binti Puteh, who would be 70 now. She is illiterate, and uneducated, but had a heart of gold. My ex-father-in-law, started an affair with a neighbour on my wedding day, and left her a month later. She had high-respect for me and treated me very well. Whenever I go back to my ex’s hometown, she would prepare my favourite: pucuk Janggus (or Jagus, depending on whichever state you’re from) and sambal belacan. She would scold my ex for being such a lazy person, and for not even attempting to prepare meals for me, not that I ever asked my ex to do so. So, when my ex left me, taking the kids away, and subsequently filed for divorce, it was my ex-mother-in-law who tried to talk her out of it, advising her to be a better wife etc, and pleaded with me not to grant the divorce the eve of the divorce proceedings. It was heartbreaking to lose such a kind mother-in-law.

When I remarried almost 2 years later to someone I didn’t like, I of course gained another mother-in-law. A widow, she should be in her mid-70s now. By this time, I never bothered to find out what her name was, because my second ex didn’t quite like going back to her hometown unless if some special food’s been prepared by a grandaunt whom has since passed on. This ex mother-in-law of mine, was another kind-hearted woman. She would address me in the way the old Johor folks would, by adding the title ‘Encik’ before my name every time she spoke to me. Before I did my first BASE jump, she would hold prayer sessions to pray for my safety, and even made me Laksa Johor and Bariyani Gam before I went off to Mecca to perform my Haj.

My third marriage had its own complexities. However, again, I gained a thoughtful mother-in-law. Once I was working late on the eve of Aidil Fitri, and was with high-fever, she refused to let anyone, siblings, grandchildren, nephews and nieces included, to eat my favourite Hari Raya dishes – rendang paru, hati and limpa. All of them had to wait for my arrival, but alas, I was too feverish to eat anything that night. Therefore, all of them had to wait until after the Aidil Fitri prayers. When my ex blatantly disappeared with other men, coming home in the early hours of the morning, leaving a couple of hours later, my mother-in-law oozed apologies for her daughter’s behaviour. I was made to understand that she no longer makes rendang paru, limpa and hati; and every time I call her house to speak to my children when they are there, she would cry listening to my voice, still apologising for her daughter’s behaviour, and asking me not to forget her. And I feel bad, not knowing her name, except for the nickname her siblings call her: “Kak Nah.”

Such is life – I had very good mothers-in-law, but not so good wives.