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oleh Mariam Mahadzir  (The Malaysian Women's Weekly, December 2000)


Behind the glitter that surrounds singer Sharifah Aini is a homely person who loves nothing better than to cook for her friends.  But she's so popular she's booked until October next year that she doesn't have much time to entertain.  "This has been one of the best years of my life.  God has been kind and I'm grateful for the 'rezeki' (bounty) that He has bestowed upon me," says Sharifah, who has just released her 73rd album to coincide with Hari Raya Aidilfitri.  Her last album, 'Seribu Mawar' (One Thousand Roses), has been making brisk sales since it was released in July, snapped up by fans eager to savour their idol's heart-breaking love story behind the title track.

Single again since her second marriage ended in divorce over two years ago, the singer who inherited her exotic Middle Eastern looks from her Yemeni ancestor has no qualms about falling in love again.  "I'm romantic and I love the feeling of being in love.  But I don't go for looks as much as I go for a man's character.  I like men who are intelligent, able to converse well, broadminded, understanding, fun-loving and passionate because. I'm very 'manja'," Sharifah disclose.  That's quite a tall order for any man who admires the vivacious 40-something singer who, by the way, loves tall men.

Sharifah was married for the first time to Ali Bakar, a notable figure in the entertainment industry in the early 1980s.  They had courted for almost six years but their marriage lasted only 10 months due to 'family pressure'.  The greatest gift she got from that marriage is her son, Aliff, who is now aged 18. It is an open secret that Sharifah became the second wife of a man 25 years her senior when she took another go at marriage just months after she and Ali parted company.  The man is the mysterious 'Datuk S' whose identity she has kept a secret throughout her 17-year marriage to him.  It's believed that 'S' sent Sharifah the 1,000 roses in an attempt to win back her heart.  This inspired the song 'Seribu Mawar'.  Here, at her elegant double storey bungalow in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, she tells the truth behind their split.

Why did you keep your ex-husband's identity a secret?

By marrying him, I had hurt his wife.  I don't want to hurt her further by publicizing the fact that he husband married me.  That would be painful, too.

Were you aware that you would be his second wife?

Yes.  I knew he was already married and I entered into the marriage with my eyes wide open.  No woman, if she can help it, wants to share her man.  I used to say that I'd never marry a married man.  However, as a Muslim I don't question my fate.  I love 'S' and felt that I'd be more stable emotionally because he's older and wiser.  He was my loving husband, lover, teacher, best friend and father figure.  I learnt a lot about life from him.  I have no regrets that I married him.

Then why didn't the marriage last?
I am an idiot when I'm in love.  I was partly to blame for the failure of that marriage.  I did not execute my rights as a wife.  I blame myself for not laying down the rules from Day One.  I was very conscious of being the second wife.  I wanted to avoid being the jealous nagging wife and left it up to him to decide when he wanted to spend time with me.  It was my mistake.

Who initiated the divorce?
I did.  I began to feel that I deserved better after I came down with pneumonia for the first time in my life in 1997.  My condition was so serious that I was warded in the ICU for quite some time.  Nobody could locate my husband until the fifth day.  I was crying inside and kept asking myself why I tolerated such a life.  I had a husband yet lived like a single woman.  My 17 years of patience was wearing thin.  But still, I said nothing to him about how very hurt I felt.  After I recovered, I told him that I wanted my freedom back.  The divorce hasn't come in the way of our friendship, we are still good friends.

Do you get offers of dates?
Yes, but I don't date.  I haven't met anyone who really excites me.

There's talk that you have a foreign admirer a surgeon.  Would you marry a non-Malaysia?
If I love him, why not?  Why lose true love just because he is a foreigner.  If I move to another country, I can teach vocal classes or be my husband's private entertainer (she laughs heartily).

Besides Aliff, you've adopted children.  Why did you adopt?
I didn't want Aliff to grow up alone and not know sharing.  It's also 'amal jariah' (charity) to bring up children in need of a good home.  I love my children very much and now that they're grow up, they're friends to me.  My three adopted boys are all in their 20s and studying Islamic Law in Jordan, Quranic Studies in Saudi Arabia and medicine in the US.  The girls are now 14, 12 and 7.

Who else do you confide in?
I have 13 best friends, all female.  Eight are my childhood friends; the rest I befriended during my career.  They include journalists, lawyers, doctors and businesswomen.  I enjoy their company especially in my home where I can cook for them and share silly jokes.  There are no males because being in the public eye, my friendship would only cause gossip and misery for a man.

You look better every year.  How?
I thank God for allowing me to grow old gracefully.  It involves effort like walking on the treadmill about 5 km daily, sleeping early and staying off sugar.  My weight is right for my 1.63-m frame, I'm just voluptuous.  I also take multi-vitamins and have a once-a-week facial, massage, manicure and pedicure and a twice-monthly body treatment.

Who inspires you most in life?
My grandparents.  My parents didn't want me.  As a baby, my mother gave me away to a Chinese family in Singapore.  My grandparents found me and brought me back to Kampung Majidee in Johor Bahru.  We were poor, but I had a happy childhood even though I had to make a living from the age of seven by peddling jackfruit and 'kuih' around the village.  My loving grandparents made me who I am now.