An In­ti­mate Di­a­logue

Malaysia Tatler - - STYLE -

Dur­ing our photo shoot in Shar­i­fah Menyalara Hus­sein’s home, pho­tos of her grand­fa­ther Tunku Ab­dul Rah­man caught my eye. A gen­tle­man politi­cian known for his diplo­matic skills that se­cured our coun­try its in­de­pen­dence in 1957, Tunku’s face is one that ev­ery pa­tri­otic Malaysian knows.

To­day, he re­mains a beloved fig­ure for what he stood for: unity, equal­ity and in­tegrity. “He had no racial bias to­wards peo­ple, he ac­cepted them for who they are. He was ide­al­is­tic, pa­tri­otic and brave; there’s never a sense of ego about him. Ev­ery­thing he did was for the coun­try he loved,” re­calls Menyalara, who is af­fec­tion­ately called Lara by her loved ones. Lara’s mother Tunku Khadi­jah Tunku Ab­dul Rah­man sec­onds this ob­ser­va­tion. “He would talk to sweep­ers and gar­den­ers the same way he would to a VIP,” she said. Hav­ing lost her mother at a very young age, Tunku Khadi­jah was close to her fa­ther and was a fil­ial daugh­ter.

“My mum would al­ways be hon­est with me about her prob­lems and strug­gles. She never hides her mis­takes from me so I can learn from them. No mat­ter how tough it gets, she keeps grow­ing”

“De­spite his pro­gres­sive think­ing and val­ues, Tunku is old-fash­ioned in some ways. He never forced me to fin­ish my stud­ies be­cause he be­lieved that, as a woman I will be taken care of when I am mar­ried. In­stead he en­cour­aged me to pick up skills such as cook­ing and hair­dress­ing. I once owned a hair­dress­ing shop in Alor Se­tar that I closed down af­ter I got mar­ried. My hus­band Datuk Syed Hus­sein Syed Abu Bakar was a diplo­mat, so I would travel with him to all of his post­ings abroad,” ex­plained Tunku Khadi­jah. Tunku Khadi­jah is mother to three daugh­ters: Shar­i­fah In­tan, Shar­i­fah Hanizah and of course Lara, who is the youngest. Lara was named by Tunku af­ter his beloved mother. “My fa­ther loved Lara dearly. Ev­ery time he was on the way to his own res­i­dence, he would al­ways stop by my house to pick up Lara, to spend time his grand­daugh­ter,” she says. The fam­ily was aware they were shar­ing their fam­ily pa­tri­arch with their fel­low coun­try­men; there were al­ways vis­i­tors clam­our­ing to meet Tunku. “He was not only my fa­ther, he was the Fa­ther of Malaysia,” says Tunku Khadi­jah proudly. Lara agrees. “Tunku was never like any other grand­fa­ther. He was not a grandpa you sit around and have small talk with. You nat­u­rally just want to lis­ten to him talk. He had an aura about him that was so ma­jes­tic —he just com­mands re­spect.” In her child­hood, Lara fol­lowed her par­ents abroad dur­ing her fa­ther’s diplo­matic post­ings. “Lara had al­ways been ac­tive and cu­ri­ous about new things. Once, she learned cro­chet in a class filled with old ladies. It never both­ered her at all be­cause she just wanted to learn some­thing new,” says Tunku Khadi­jah. It was dur­ing her fa­ther’s work in Can­berra, Aus­tralia, that Lara found a hobby she fell deeply in love with—horse-rid­ing, which she would then pass on to her own daugh­ters. When she was older, her par­ents sent her to France and Eng­land to fur­ther her ed­u­ca­tion. There, Lara de­vel­oped from an ac­tive pre­co­cious child into a

“Natasha’s work is in­tense but she knows that time and ef­fort are nec­es­sary in cul­ti­vat­ing a ca­reer. I don’t tell her to come home early when she works late. I al­low her to do it be­cause that’s life. I don’t pam­per her. She needs to know that to suc­ceed, you must pay your dues”

head­strong, in­de­pen­dent woman. De­spite her tena­cious streak, she re­spected her grand­fa­ther and an­swered his sum­mons to re­turn home to Malaysia af­ter she fin­ished her stud­ies abroad. “At that time, he wanted me to serve the coun­try via for­eign ser­vice. I had my reser­va­tions, but I wanted to please him, so I re­turned. I went for in­ter­views to work as a diplo­mat but be­cause I have spent my whole life abroad as a diplo­mat’s kid, I spoke lit­tle Malay and couldn’t qual­ify for the job,” she re­calls. As a re­sult, she stum­bled into ad­ver­tis­ing by chance then worked her way up in the in­dus­try, and is cur­rently the MD of M&C Saatchi KL. “When my daugh­ters Natasha and Natalya were born, I was so happy. Moth­er­hood was what I wanted, and they gave me a pur­pose. I ded­i­cated my whole be­ing to look­ing af­ter them. They were my mo­ti­va­tion,” she says. Ad­mit­tedly, jug­gling fam­ily and work de­manded a lot out of Lara, but she per­se­vered. “I am the type of per­son who needs to get things done. For me, it is do or die. This drive has de­fined me and built my ca­reer. Was it stress­ful, be­ing a work­ing mother? Of course! But I was fo­cused. I knew I was never go­ing to quit my job be­cause I wanted to give my daugh­ters the best ex­pe­ri­ences life has to of­fer,” she says res­o­lutely.

Natasha ad­mires her mother, de­scrib­ing her as a li­on­ess—coura­geous and pro­tec­tive. “My mum would al­ways be hon­est with me about her prob­lems and strug­gles since I was young. She never hides her mis­takes from me so I can learn from them. No mat­ter how tough it gets, she keeps grow­ing,” she shares. In turn, Lara is proud of her two daugh­ters. “I have been very lucky with them. I never had to tell them to work hard. They see it from me. I was never a mum who was sit­ting around, putting my feet up and do­ing noth­ing; they prac­tice this to­day. Natasha’s work with Bos­ton Con­sult­ing Group is in­tense but she knows from watch­ing me that time and ef­fort are nec­es­sary in cul­ti­vat­ing a ca­reer. I don’t tell her to come home early when she works late. I al­low her to do it be­cause that’s life. I don’t pam­per her or her sis­ter. She needs to know that to suc­ceed, you must pay your dues,” she it­er­ates. The spirit of be­ing fear­less is in­deed strong in Natasha, a Durham Univer­sity grad­u­ate of eco­nom­ics and pol­i­tics. When we met her for the photo shoot, she had just re­cov­ered from a bro­ken rib af­ter fall­ing off her horse. “Show jump­ing is chal­leng­ing but it is worth it. Of course it gets dis­heart­en­ing some­times. Some days you win medals, then some days you do badly and fall off a horse.

“My fa­ther loved Lara dearly. Ev­ery time he was on the way to his own res­i­dence, he would al­ways stop at my house to pick up Lara to spend time with her. She had al­ways been ac­tive and cu­ri­ous about new things. She al­ways wants to learn some­thing new”

But it makes you stronger, es­pe­cially since I am quite com­pet­i­tive by na­ture,” says the pretty 24-four-year-old with a laugh. To­gether with her beloved Dutch warm­blood, Wacintha—whom she af­fec­tion­ately refers to as Wally—natasha trav­els to Europe for com­pe­ti­tions, on top of her day job at BCG. “To say I am proud of Tasha is an un­der­state­ment, she knows what she wants and she goes af­ter it. She has this busi­ness savvi­ness to her that helps guide her path,” says Lara. Their shared strengths led to a book called Di­a­log: A Book on Tunku’s Time­less Think­ing, launched in Au­gust, an ini­tia­tive by M&C Saatchi KL and the In­sti­tute for Democ­racy and Eco­nomic Af­fairs. Fea­tur­ing 23 es­says from con­trib­u­tors and bun­dled with colour­ful il­lus­tra­tions by art stu­dents from The One Academy, the book was a labour of love by these three women. “I al­ways felt I never re­ally ex­pressed tan­gi­bly what Tunku meant to me and Malaysians. I of­ten won­dered why is it only dur­ing Merdeka that peo­ple re­mem­ber him?” ex­pressed Lara with a tinge of sad­ness. Natasha chimes in, “I agree with mum. It is im­por­tant for young peo­ple to­day to know more about our his­tory. So that’s why I be­lieved it was im­por­tant to have young voices such as Harith Iskan­der and Al­timet to con­trib­ute to the book along­side stal­warts like Tengku Raza­leigh Hamzah and Tun Musa Hi­tam.” The book sparked con­ver­sa­tion, which pleased Lara as she hoped his le­gacy is pre­served in the right way. “Tunku in­spired so many peo­ple be­cause his in­ten­tions were pure. He was a fighter, and yet he was com­pas­sion­ate and full of in­tegrity,” says Lara as our in­ter­view wrapped. With­out a doubt, he has passed these traits and val­ues on through his de­scen­dants—these women who are strong, fierce and fear­less.

GIRL TALK Lara and Natasha are in Sport­max sweaters,tunku Khadi­jah dons a Michael Kors shirt; jew­ellery is by Degem

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