18 years and counting: A family's Hari Raya welcome for all

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat joining Mr Abas Abdul Rahman (standing) and his wife, Madam Ratnah Mohari, at the couple's annual Hari Raya dinner at the void deck outside their ground-floor Tampines flat yesterday. Mr Heng, an MP for Tampines G
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat joining Mr Abas Abdul Rahman (standing) and his wife, Madam Ratnah Mohari, at the couple's annual Hari Raya dinner at the void deck outside their ground-floor Tampines flat yesterday. Mr Heng, an MP for Tampines GRC, and Madam Ratnah are flanked by grassroots leaders of the constituency.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

A day after he referred to her in a speech at an international interfaith conference here, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Heng Swee Keat joined Madam Ratnah Mohari for dinner at the void deck outside her ground-floor Tampines Housing Board flat yesterday.

Holding an open house and dinner for friends, relatives and neighbours of different races and religions has been an annual tradition during Hari Raya for Madam Ratnah since she moved to Tampines 18 years ago.

Mr Heng, who is an MP for Tampines GRC, cited Madam Ratnah's hospitality and generosity in a speech at the International Conference on Cohesive Societies on Friday as an example of what individual Singaporeans can do in building a "democracy of deeds".

The phrase refers to a society where citizens work in partnership with the Government, taking action to solve problems and make a difference. It was coined by pioneer leader and former DPM S. Rajaratnam in 1971.

Madam Ratnah, 56, first invited Mr Heng for dinner in 2013. Yesterday was the first time he joined her and her family for the dinner since recovering from a stroke in 2016.

"We started doing this because it's good for all the neighbours to know one another and for everyone to be closer to one another," said Madam Ratnah, who used to run a restaurant but is now retired.

Her husband Abas Abdul Rahman, 63, added: "Most of the people around the area know us. Every morning we sit outside to have breakfast together and when the neighbours pass by on the way to the market they will say 'hi' to us."

Mr Abas has been an SBS Transit bus captain for almost 20 years.

The couple have two sons and a daughter who are all married. They have two grandchildren, the older of whom lives with them.

Madam Ratnah estimated that 200 people turn up at her open house every year. Of these, about half are friends from her alma mater, Kaki Bukit Primary School. Not all of them are from the same class or even batch but they have stayed in touch through mutual friends.

"We split up for many years and then we found one another again through Facebook about 10 years ago. (Ratnah) is one of a few of us who organise reunions," said Madam Yanna Salleh, 55, who used to run on the school's 4x100m relay team with Madam Ratnah.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 23, 2019, with the headline '18 years and counting: A family's Hari Raya welcome for all'. Print Edition | Subscribe