What Two Brothers Taught Me


Last weekend I found myself in the kampong where my father was born; a secluded little village called Parit Nipah, near Muar. Now, after a week has passed, why I was there in the first place is no longer as important as what I had experienced with my friend, Jamil, while I was there.

Jamil and I grew up together. But life – being what it is – had not dealt him very many good hands through the years. Though he works hard, and is in many respects smarter than I will ever be, he has never managed to make it out of Parit Nipah. Today, he supports his wife and five kids by tending to a small plot of rubber trees and doing odd jobs in and around the village.

On my last day at Parit Nipah, I was walking with him and his two sons to the local surau. The elder boy, Din, is six and the younger one, Zam, is four: both polite and respectful little boys. Having spent time with both of them day before, I knew that Jamil – despite the disadvantages he faced – had brought them up well. I was as proud of them as if they were my own.

The walk to surau took us past a small, dusty provision shop. That was when the trouble began. The boys had fallen behind, and Zam (the younger one) was throwing a tantrum. I urged Jamil to turn back and investigate. He just shook his head slowly and asked to let the boys be. As usual, I ignored him and went to see the boys anyway.

From the distance I could make out that Zam wanted a small Kit Kat – the two-finger variety that cost RM1.20 – and his brother, Din, was trying his very best to pacify him. It was then that I heard Din pleading with his younger brother. As he was rubbing his brother’s chest he said “Adik, please don’t cry. Ayah bought that for you just after Raya, remember? Ayah doesn’t have money to buy us everything we want. Please don’t make Ayah sad. Ayah is sad enough already.”

That was when my heart broke. In front of me was a six year old who was more concerned with his father’s feelings than anything else in the world. Before I could rush into the shop to get him his Kit Kat, Din had managed to pull Zam away from the shop. As they walked past me, I heard Din whispering to his brother “When Ayah as money, he will buy you the Kit Kat, OK? Come, along now. Stop crying. Please don’t make Ayah sad.”

After prayers we walked home, all four of us, together. When we got to Jamil’s house, I excused myself and went out to get a whole box of Kit Kats for the kids. When I got back, the kids were already asleep. I handed the box of chocolate to Jamil and asked that he give them to his children. I could see the gratitude in his eyes. But there was also something in them that was disturbing.

“Why? What’s wrong, Jamil?” I asked.

“I was afraid of this.”

“Why? No harm in giving them chocolates once in a while, right?”

“You don’t understand, my friend! What if they get used to this? What happens when they want this and you’re NOT around?”

At this, I almost broke down. I put my arms around my friend and told him that as long as I lived, his children will always have chocolates.

That trip to Parit Nipah reminded me that life, despite its twists and turns, has been very good to me; but at the same time, I had taken too many things for granted for far too long.


34 thoughts on “What Two Brothers Taught Me

  1. Zakat……mamak !!!!!!!!!

    W’ aki munassalat wa’atus zakat .
    (Perform your prayer and contribute your zakat)

    That’s an order people !!!!

    Pak Tuo

    How right you are.

  2. heck, this story brings tears to my eyes.


    I am sorry if the story made you sad: it wasn’t meant to do that. Instead, it was just a story that I thought I should share with everyone

  3. Brother,

    I know how your Jamil feels – kids, heck, people for that matter get used to life’s little luxuries and we all know that in reality, life ain’t a box of chocolates. Now where have I heard that before?

    Then again, I have friends who have been out of work for some months with only the wives and close friends know about it. The guys still go out – but only to “ngeteh” with with me. Some of the more spirited discussions over TT involves how to evade car repossessors, or how to stall forclosures on their homes. I found out it was easier if you are bumi and the land your house sits on is leasehold. This means with some pull you can stall the meets the plaintiff’s lawyers had planned with the district office…

    Now I worry about their kids. They’re so used to the frequents trips to KFC’s and McD’s or Toy’s ‘r Us… and now what?

    By the same token, I, who have brought my kid’s up in relative affluence, (come on, I just bought my 8-year-old a Thomas Frischknecht Scott race replica MTB complete with front and rear derailleurs and front fork with 5o mm travel) should know better.

    Like Pak Tuo said, do your zakat. And then blow the rest on whatever makes you happy. Me? I’m now now lusting for either a Trek Fuel 8 or some big hit Norco Freeride with 7″ of travel.

    We can only do so much bro’… now I have to put off buying that coveted L-Series or Taylor in view of so much misery around. I’ll just play Rosie on my old Kapok… tuning that mutha is a bitch, but then so’s my voice. 🙂

    E A B E A
    … that it’s who you look like / not who you are



    I guess singing Rosie will take some of the sting off.

    But yesterday I almost punched the lights out of a guy who was bitterly complaining that times are hard: his Mercedes had been re-possessed and he’s down to only two cars now (both are BMWs). He had the cheek!

    The way I see it, he’s got no right to complain at all – its not as if he’s got to walk to work – when there are 4 year olds out there who are crying because their fathers can’t afford to buy them a ruddy bar of candy that costs RM1.20!

    Then, when I recalled the 6 year old Din and his noble heart, my faith in the human race was once again restored.

  4. MB, this past week too have taught me a lot. Walking back from the cemetery, with children of arwah – our friend who died suddenly. The memory of the 13 year old boy , reading the yassin by his father’s cemetery, plunging in the stick to mark the place, and now assuming head of the family.
    Our stories may not be similar, but both – menyedarkan. During his lifetime, arwah never failed to take his children to religious classes and to the weekly tazkirah. Last week, all that paid off – a 13 year old son reading Yassin every night when we had tahlil.
    The fathers of these children taught them well.

    Kak Teh

    How right you are, ma’am. We (at least I do) always forget that what we teach or children is infinitely more important than the little luxuries we give them.

    That super-hot Sony Playstation or latest gadget-laden mobile phone may help them become appear cool and hip among their friends; but those things will be no help to them at all when it comes to reciting Surah Yassin by our graves.

    Like my friend says: Our job as fathers is, first of all, to teach our children well: not just feed them well!

  5. my tears were drying up when i was reading the first 3 comments, but kakteh’s brought it all over again.. yesterday hubby and i started listing down our savings/assetts and decided on a guardian for my children should anything happen to the both of us..

    the ceramic designer

    Yes, ma’am. Making provision for our children is commendable – imperative, even. But after all is said and done, whether or not we see His hand in it, it is still the Almighty who provides for us all.

    By all means, plan for the worst. But at the same time, lets also ask – if all this should still prove be insufficient – that He will help our children to make ends meet and be able to lead normal, happy lives.

  6. seriously touching… thanks for telling us this. Sometimes we, the fortunate ones forget how fortunate we really are.

    ms ulat buku

    I am glad you like this posting, ma’am.

  7. Great story. I never say no to anything my son wants, so much so my wife says I bend over backwards to achieve this. In many cases I guess this is true because I know (as many of us do) the pain of growing up and wanting something so bad which your father could not afford. Maybe I am doing it for myself, to avoid the guilt of not being able to shield him from this experience. He’s going to be 21 this year, thank god he’s grown into a completely level-headed guy. I’d like to think he appreciates my efforts and never abuses my love for him. Like they say – I am not the best parent in the world, only the best that I can be.


    I am so glad that your son has grown to become a fine young man. However, his fine qualities is a testament to the fact that you have been a good father: not just a good provider.

    Well done, sir

  8. bro, u & all yr frens touched my core making my mind & fingers numb i cant type what i feel here now

    dak ah bau

    This, my friend, tells me that you are the owner of a gentle and kind heart.

  9. Salam MB,

    This story, reminds me when Adnan Kashogi was a young boy, he invited a beggar into his house and feted him with a feast within the splendour of the dining room. When Kashogi the Father returned, Adnan ran joyously to him and recounted what he had done. The father, instead of patting him on his back, slapped his face and said “You may not realise it but you have spoiled the man’s life unnecessarily”.

    Between sadakah and the reality of life, I guess its up to us make judge and make the difference. Saidina Ali r.a., once gave the only manggo fruit he had to a beggar on the street. The fruit was bought from the market for his wife.

    You did fine, bro. May Allah s.w.t. reward you accordingly.


    Of all people, you should know best where I am coming from. Considering where I’ve been and where I am now, I have much to be grateful for. Sometimes I lose track of this.

    Din and Zam has taught me a lot.

  10. i worry for my litttle girls…who does take kit kat for granted….but i will read them this story…from time to time, these reminders are necessary!

    Thanks Mr B!


    I am so glad that this story had been useful to you. I, too, shall continue to learn form it.

  11. shite, you make me cry!

    mat, little din taught you a precious lesson. and us, by extension.

    of course all the chocs in the world cannot pay for somethin like that. so think of your box of kit-kats as a token.


    I didn’t mean to make you cry, ma’am. This was such a compelling story that I thought I ought to share it here.

    I have every confidence that little Din will grow up to be a fine young man.

  12. Mat

    No joke from me this time out of respect for your good deed and kind nature.

    Your concern for an old friend, your compassion for the children. Good on you.

    If only most people are like you (I don’t expect a vast majority), the world would be a much better place to live in.

    On boring long distance flights, one’s sober thoughts sometimes linger into doing organised good deeds for society. But procrastinations pushed them into the far corner of the mind. Your story rekindled those thoughts and the desire to translate them into action.

    Good one, mate.

    Dry Humour

    But sir, any good in my heart (indeed if here is any at all) pales into comparison to that which exists in the heart of little Din.

    May you have success in the good deed that you plan.

  13. The first time I felt chocolates are cheap was when I left Malaysia to study abroad. They are even cheaper than the vegetarian sandwiches!
    I like stories like this, it keeps me grounded.


    We all need grounding every once in awhile, ma’am.

  14. Ya Allah, what a mature 6 year old. The story taught a lot. Tears still in my eyes.


    All I can say is that the father brought up that 6-year-old really well. And without the help of over-priced kindergartens and the like. I can only wish that I can be as good a father as he is.

  15. Touching indeed. A reminder to all of us who may have come far, to remain rooted & be reminded of our humble beginnings and be prepared for any eventuality, to the best that we can.




    And never forget also that we can learn things even form a 6-year-old.

  16. awwww…,

    this is sooo touching.

    bila budak2 kecik beriya2 berjimat sbb kesiankan mak dan ayah, it does makes your eyes water.

    versed anggerik

    You can say that again, ma’am. What that boy did was really something

  17. Bro,

    Sedekah itu Pembuka Pintu Rezeki.

    Yakini lah.. itu satu J A M I N A N dari Al Razak, Empunya segala alam & isinya.

    Continuation of cakapaje’s Story re Ali r.a.’s Sedekah:

    Ali went home & told wife, the Prophet s.a.w’s daughter, what he just did.

    Maam didn’t kick a fast for not having any dinner again that night; in fact, she agreed that both just have to fast the next day.

    Feeling awful, Ali went out once more that evening — to try borrow money to buy ta pau food for the day.

    Round the first corner, he met a desperate herder pleading him to buy this one unta from his herd.

    [That unta, now grown up, was still sucking milk from this she-camel that had 2 new born kids…perhaps laa heheh]

    With no money, he can’t ..

    The herder insisted that Ali only need to pay him X dinar (below cost) & sell the camel in the marketplace for whatever profit he can make — a simple task he can’t do himself bcoz he had the rest of the herd to tend to.

    Thus, Ali was extended credit — with aqad, ie contract/promise, to pay Vendor upon sale, whenever that may be.

    Round the next corner, he met this badwi man with a stack of bundled goods on the ground looking terribly desperate as nightfall set in.

    The man was so very happy to see Ali with his camel & immediately offered 4X dinars for it.

    Ali didn’t need to drive a hard bargain becoz the man was anxious to catch up with the rest of the caravan that had left without him.

    Well, in those days, noone, not even Lip Man, dare venture alone to foreign lands laden with precious goods to do business with people they don’t know. They all move together in a flock. & if you just have too many bundles and 1 less camel.. well, too bad.. someone will get left behind — no matter what goods he carry or how much arbitrage profit could be made in the other city.

    4X dinars quickly changed hands, and the badwi rode off into the setting sun chasing after his kins with a wide grin on his face.

    Happily, Ali too went in search of the Vendor to immediately settle his cost of sale.

    He can’t sleep that night after having had dinner with dear wife. He wasn’t thinking about his next business venture with the balance of the 3X dinars.

    He was just too worried if it was H A L A L to make that much of profit — which was more than the herder’s.

    To the Prophet s.a.w. he goes the next morning with his poser.

    You know what bro.. Nabi assured him that it is H A L A L .. In fact, the herder was Mikail, the bringer of rain/rezeki whilst the badwi was Jibrail himself in disguise.

    & the reason for this parable/incident is to bring hope to others to give sedekah freely, expecting to be repaid in multiple sums by Al Razak Himself — for surely He will order bountiful rezeki to appear dari pintu yang tak disangka-sangka bagi sesiapa yang tawakal.

    Sori bro, me taking up yr space. Just wanna retell this hadith sahih to everyone. A good deed like yours certainly deserves another:)

    dak ah bau

    No need to be sorry, my friend: good things are meant to be shared. I am certain your story has benefited many readers who have come to this blog.


  18. Mat-san,

    There are plenty of the Jamils`, the Zams` and the Dins` around us .In fact, Din reminds me of me when I was about his age…almost similar circumstances.

    Sometimes, when I look at my own kids, I do wish on some ocassions that they had some of that baptism by fire that kids like Din and Zam were compelled to go through .They say, it`s when you are really in the pits, when you can`t fall even an inch further , that the only way to go is up.

    God willing, we are what we make of ourselves, Mat-san.The opportunity is always there, it`s just that some see it clearly, whilst some never see it at all,even throughout their lives.

    But, at the end of the day, you are a good man, Mat-san.In all honesty, I will proffer that for Zam`s own good, giving him just a bar of that Kit Kat would have done him a world of good in the long run, rather than the whole box.

    Why? As I`ve said earlier,I`ve travelled that road before, many, many years ago, when I was that Zam or Din,and nobody had offerred me even one single bar of Kit Kat then!But in that situation, one learns to be mentally tough very quickly, to shut out any wants or desires, and to just focus on wondering if there`s going to be at least a decent meal for dinner, or whether it`s going to be yet another of those nights when you crawl into bed with a croaking tummy. And in those days, plain rice with just plain kelapa parut and a very modest sprinkling of brown sugar is what I`d call a very decent meal already!



    I was just talking to a dear friend about this. Sometimes I think that having the means to give our kids everything they want can be a curse. As you say, this deprives them of the baptism of fire that makes them stronger. Furthermore, they will never learn the value of anything if they are deprived of nothing. In today’s more affluent society, this has become a real problem: ‘Give the kid everything he wants!’ is seen as a panacea to all ills.

    And you are absolutely spot-on about giving them only 1 Kit Kat each instead of the whole box. What the boy needed (and also wanted) was just 1 Kit Kat. The rest was really for very selfish reasons: to act as a balm to soothe the guilt and shame that lies in my very impure heart.

    Having gone through the pain of not having, we try protect our children from the same. Hence, it is common to see kids with wardrobes full of RM30 T-shirts, RM60 baseball caps and RM100 jeans. But if they don’t even know how to respect their elders (pretty basic), what good have all these things done?

    I’m ranting now. Till we meet again, my friend!

  19. Sobering lesson AbgKai. Makes me remember when us 9 kids had to share 1 bar of chocolate – 1 or 2 squares each according to seniority. It was heaven.

    Din and Zam will probably remember you forever as Wak Kit-Kat! Jawa territory ke Parit Nipah tu?

    Thanks for the story.


    I am sure that the pain you went thru has made you stronger – even though at the time, it couldn’t have been much fun. Right?

    Yes, ma’am. Parit Nipah is as Jawa as it gets. But the lontong and tempe is beyond compare!

  20. Just wondering about those icons on top right of each comment, why am I always the angry cross-eyed devil with flailing arms and tongue sticking out?


    The icons are randomly assigned by WordPress I think. They should not, in any way, be taken to be a reflection of your personality 🙂

  21. I’m speechless with emotion. Bro, this post should reach a wider audience. That way more people will have a bigger and more generous heart to help the needy get a stronger foothold in Life. Thanks for the story. Ok, I admit, it teared me up some…

    de minimis

    I got teary-eyed when I witnessed the scene, too – and I’m supposed to be a cold, unfeeling, heartless bast- Oh well, you know what I mean 🙂

  22. Dear MB,

    There are tears in my eyes as I am typing this comment.

    I am ashamed of myself for taking things forgranted in my life. When one gets what he wants so easily, he tends to lose his worth as a human being. I lack the wisdom that the boys have. Thus, I cannot call myself lucky.

    Pardon me, sir, perhaps due to years of being in the teaching profession, I believe I will not try to come close to your kind gesture of purchasing Kit Kats for the boys. Sorry sir, but in my humble view, by doing so, it is as if disapproving the discipline inculcated by the father on to his sons. Still, I know you meant well. Tak sampai hati.


    I, too, lack the boys’ wisdom and sensitivity – and I am at least 40 yeas older than they are!

    Yes, a whole box of Kit Kats was over-the-top. The boys just needed one. The rest was just a balm to soothe my guilt and shame.

    Hmmm… maybe we should always ask ourselves this: When we give to our children (things, permission, whatever), is it something that they really need (as opposed to what they want)? Or is it just a balm to soothe our conscience?

  23. Salam…
    My first time here.
    A very touching story indeed. I’m printing this out and putting it on the fridge for my kids to read.


    You are putting this story on your fridge for your children to read?

    Now I am touched.

    Thanks for visiting, ma’am.

  24. Mat,
    Humbling reminder indeed! As parents, naturally we want to give the best for our kids though at times we do so at the expense of spoiling them to the reality of life… take care bro. and salam.

    Dhahran Sea

    Good to hear from you again, bro!

    Like all things in life, its about getting te balance right, isn’t it?

  25. Salam MatB,

    I love stories like this. About friendships and human relationships.

    Some friends do not have the material wealth but they are rich in compassion and kindness. Friends like these are a treasure. Jamil and his family is lucky to have you as a friend.

    On a separate note, I wish you the best in that short story competition. Perhaps, if you make it to the shortlist, the organizers would allow you to correct the typos and other errors. Boleh runding tu… asalkan you tak tukar jalan cerita. Good luck.


    I’m glad you dropped by and that you liked the story.

    And thanks for the moral support. I appreciate it, my friend.

  26. sorry for being late in coming over. i have been distracted lately with certain comments on my own blog.
    now this story is very humbling as it is touching. it is a tale like this that warms the heart and reminds everyone the sobering aspects of life.
    thank you mat b for a really touching story.

    Dato’ Ariff

    I have missed you, sir.

    Yes, I understand how frenetic your comment box has been lately. In fact, there were times when I thought it got really scary – this is why I have stayed only in the background.

    I hope you found the bottle of perfume you misplaced, though.

    Its good to hear from you again.

  27. Hi all…
    The stories sounds very familiar to me coz that is what my family is going through right now. 3 years ago, my husband started a business that failed disastrously and we soon landed in the land of hardship and misery. Surviving on my salary alone was not easy. And Yes, my children were so used to Pizza, McD and KFC! At that point of time, the eldest boy was only 9. My 2nd child was 8 and my little one was 5.

    Not only that we lacked money, we have to deal with the harassments of the debt collection agents, day-in-day-out. Our house went for auctions and we became fugitive, renting somewhere that only close friends knew.

    Then, my husband got a job and a ray of light started to show a little glitter. But barely one year passed, the economic crisis sets in again and this time, it is the mom who lost the income. Back to single income again!

    The accumulated debts are still as huge as ever. And the SMART debt collection agents has succeded to trace our residence in exile. Thus the trauma returns. The akpk only manage to advise us to ‘take care of the family first’ and try to make ourself eligible for their debt management program.

    We are trying very hard. But in the meantime, there will be no open windows when the father is away (takut bouncer kutip hutang). No expensive food, no `jalan-jalan’. And my eldest boy, being 12 now… have lots of pacifying jobs to do.


    Believe me, I feel for you and your family – more than you could possibly imagine.

    But do believe me, too, that Allah swt does not burden us with more than what we can truly handle. It may look easy for me – an outsider – to say these things. But I have had my share of misery, too. In the end, Allah swt, never deserts us – no matter how it looks as if this is the case.

    He has good things in store for you and your family. Have faith in this.

  28. Hi there,


    Alhamdulillah, tersedar i dari lamunan! I rasa i banyak tersasar dari landasan yang sepatutnya dalam mengajar anak… dan diri sendiri…

    Insyallah masih sempat untuk diperbetulkan….

    Thanks ya!


    I am glad that this story meant something to you. Din is a really special boy.

  29. Mat-san,

    Your response to that comment from “theMom”..absolutely spot-on.
    I would have given a similar response.

    If I may:-

    Dear theMom,

    Mat-B`s advice to you regarding your present quandry cannot be any better.Allah SWT is truly magnanimous and omniscient..He knows about your present dire straits.Just keep on praying to him, and your prayers, Insyallah, will be answered.Try not to anticipate how things will be tomorow, and so on..just get on with getting through the day.That`s the way to remain calm and hopeful.

    Trust me..I`ve walked that path before, and salvation always comes, though in ways oft-times totally out of our current imagination.
    And there`s a hikmah already in the current situation…your kids will really now appreciate the true value of money, and how painstakingly hard it is to earn it.That, Ma`am, is a lesson that cannot be taught in any place of formal learning, and they`ll remember it for the rest of their life.This lesson, priveleged to only a few,is available only by going through and actually experiencing,the bitter portions of the vagaries and uncertainties in what we call life, and, living.

    Have faith!Insyallah,`cos He loves us all!

    Mat-san.. thanks for allowing me to “hijack” your blog.I don`t have one myself(Sigh!)

    Azman-san (Higashi-san?)

    From the bottom of my heart: Mi casa, su casa

  30. Mat-san,

    Ooops!Just re-configured my OS,Windows etc as the computer crashed, so my pre-set data had tbe set-up again..what a blooper.Well, “East” in Japanese is “Higashi or Azuma”…howzat?(But of course, being a Zen disciple yourself too,once upon a time, you already know that).


  31. Azman, Che Mat,

    Thank You, Thank You. I’m seeing a lot of ‘Din’ in my eldest boy these days.

    PS: Comforting to know that I’m not alone.
    Thanks again.


    Yes, ma’am. You are never alone – and I’m not just talking about Azman and myself. Allah swt and His angels are ALWAYS with you, too.

    May all your children grow to be fine young men and women. Amin!

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