The Queen Within

Datin Harveen Kaur speaks to and Mariel Chow about the trials that have shaped her as Mrs Malaysia and how she became a true woman of substance.

Ybhg Datin Harveen Kaur - May 7, 04:11 PM

Datin Harveen Kaur was crowned Mrs Malaysia on September 7, 2017. An operation theatre nurse by profession, and a mother of three, the 38-year old has always valued discipline and determination. This is reflected not only by her new crown, but also in how she carries herself and raises her children. Datin Harveen was named Mrs Malaysia Ambassador in 2016 and because she wasn’t able to clinch the crown, the go-getter chose not to rest on her laurels and decided to compete once more. Suffice to say the idiom ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’ applied, because she won and is well on her way to competing in the Mrs Malaysia World pageant in Johannesburg this December. 
Datin Harveen shares that despite losing her father at a young age and being devastated by the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide, she has her mother, husband and these harrowing experiences to thank for her unwavering determination in achieving her goals no matter how far-fetched they may be. In this cover story, Datin Harveen speaks candidly about her life growing up in a single-parent home, her philosophies as a mother and wife and the many trails and tribulations she had to endure to become the woman she is today – Mrs Malaysia World 2017. 
Datin Harveen Kaur
 How did you become a nurse?
My father passed away when I was very young and because mum had to support three daughters, she couldn’t afford to pay for my tertiary education. In order to give my sisters more opportunities, I decided to apply for scholarships and found a newspaper advertisement for nursing students with the Pantai Hospital Group. As a small-town Ipoh girl, I was adamant on studying and living in Kuala Lumpur because the city – especially Bangsar – was all the rage back then. Furthermore, because I studied hard in high school and acquired good grades, my application for a full scholarship was approved and the rest was history. In addition to my local education, I also undertook a Post-basic in Operation Theatre Nursing in Curtin University, Australia for six months. Although I was tied to Pantai Hospital for five years due to the stipulations of my scholarship, I only worked with them for two as I opted to shift to Gleneagles Hospital – the medical facility where my husband was employed as a Consultant Anaesthesiologist. 
Your life was far from easy as your father passed at an early age. What can you tell us about living in a single parent household?
My mother has always been very conservative and strict because we didn’t have a man in the house. I wasn’t allowed to hang out with friends or even watch television. Of course, boyfriends were out of the question. I lived with my mum, my grandmother – who’s still alive – and my sisters in Ipoh after my father’s passing. We were always a close-knit family. Mum continually ran a tight ship, as discipline – in her opinion – came above all else. Even when most teenagers believed they would finally have some freedom in university, mum followed me to Kuala Lumpur to keep me in check. 
Back when I was still studying nursing, my salary was only RM950.00. We had no choice but sleep in the same rented room to keep food on the table. Later, I applied for additional part-time jobs caring for geriatric patients and after scrounging enough money; we had enough cash to rent a small apartment. Although times were indeed tough, mum kept me grounded and taught me important life skills like understanding which company to keep and how to be frugal with my income. While I was allowed to go clubbing or pubbing with friends, I was 18 at the time and therefore was given a strict curfew and disallowed from smoking and drinking. At the end of the day, while mum was extremely stern, I appreciate the teachings she’s imparted on me and these are lessons that I now teach my own children.
You must have worked a lot during your younger days. Did you have any fun at all?
Of course I had fun! You need to work hard and play hard to have a balanced and enjoyable life. I’ve always been adventurous and loved to travel. Before I met my husband, I would save all my bonuses and extra income so I could go on vacations. I remember mum constantly nagging me back then, demanding to know where all my money went. In which I would cheekily reply, “I’m not giving you any more money mum, I want to go on holidays!” Although I would give her half of my monthly salary, there was no way she would get a penny more. Fortunately for me, and because mum’s a saint, she never used any of the income I gifted her and returned every cent after I got married. Anyway, like I said, my friends and I loved to travel. With what savings I had, I would fly to Bali, New Zealand, South Africa, Mauritius and many more. Due to my love for adrenaline and adventure, I even bungee jumped in Auckland! After I met my husband, our love for travel never waned and we even vacationed when my sons were only babies. I regrettably haven’t been travelling lately due to my responsibilities as a pageant queen but my family will be joining me in Johannesburg for the Mrs Malaysia World 2017 pageant. 
Why did you decide to work with the Gleneagles Hospital and how is it working with your husband?
I decided to move to Gleneagles where my husband worked because the salary was not only higher, but also because we had a family home in Taman Melawati. I didn’t explain this before, but my family and I actually lived in Kuala Lumpur before my dad passed, and because of his death mum made the difficult decision to move us to Ipoh.  The house in Melawati was never sold and since I was to work in Gleneagles, mum decided it was best the entire family – including my sisters – move back to the home we grew up in. 
I met my husband at a Pantai Hospital function and after exchanging numbers and dating, he requested that I move to Gleneagles. Many couples choose not to work in the same facility – let alone the same operation theatre – because disputes can be constant. While my husband and I had disagreements at home due to work arguments, we must have thick skin at the workplace. For example, I would ask him, “Why did you scold me in front of the other nurses today?” In which he would always reply, “At work, you’re a nurse, not my wife and I will treat you as such.” I have to confess that this hurt my feelings in the beginning but now; it’s absolutely fine because we are employed in a medical setting and must recognise how to separate personal and professional matters. 
You’re a working mum but maintain that family is your first priority. What can you tell me about your children and how you balance work and home life?
I have a pair of identical twin boys who are 13 going on 14 and a daughter who’s 11-years-old. My family will always be my number one priority so I make it a point to leave work on time and not take up on-call duties. Nurses employed in the operation theatre normally work throughout the night and after having children, I chose to cut down work hours as my focus is more skewed to raising the kids. Furthermore, because my husband and I work in a medical facility, our schedules aren’t fixed. To ensure that everything at home runs like clockwork, we’ll need to have weekly meetings regarding schedules since the kids have to be picked up and dropped off from school and extracurricular activities. In general, my part-time nursing hours allow flexibility and hence, I’ll only agree to cases which end before 3.30pm or before my children’s school days end. My husband however, is a full-time father and doctor. Not only is he required to drop the children off every morning; he’s also based in two hospitals – Gleneagles and Prince Court – and is on-call as well. Admittedly, being a nurse and a doctor’s wife can be chaotic but what’s important is understanding how to find a middle ground and be there for one another. My husband has always been supportive of my dreams and back when I first enrolled in pageant training, he had to take over the reins because an adult was needed at home. Now, that Mrs Malaysia is more or less over, he has returned to work full time and is taking on more patients and cases to make up for lost time.  
Your family suffered a landslide in Bukit Antarabangsa. What can you tell me about this harrowing experience?
The landslide happened in 2004. I remember waking up in the dead of night because of the heat. After realising the electricity was suddenly cut off, I woke my husband up as something felt amiss. Within seconds, the house started rumbling and shaking. We leaped out of bed, rounded up the troop and tried to flee out the back but were unable to because the door wouldn’t budge. Looking for a way out, we tried to run out through the front door but that wouldn’t open either. We were trapped. Moreover, the house began tipping and we all screamed for dear life. Fortuitously, the rumblings stopped and after waiting two hours, the fire department finally arrived to pry open the doors. This horrible tragedy affected our family in every way. Because my husband had just bought that home, we lost all our savings and had to start from scratch. We rented a small condominium in Jalan Ampang and had no choice but to squeeze seven bodies in a small two-bedroom apartment. Moreover, my children and mother were constantly getting sick from the pollution, and since making the mistake of not insuring the Bukit Antarabangsa house, my husband and I had to start saving up to buy another house. After a year, we bought our new home in Taman TA and have been living here ever since. This experience has taught me to be grateful for everything I have because life is fleeting and fates can change within seconds. Despite suffering a truly challenging year, the landslide made us stronger as a family and allowed us to appreciate each other and our blessings because other families were not so lucky. 
Why did you decided to apply for the Mrs Malaysia beauty pageant and what kind of training did you have to undergo?
My husband was actually the one who encouraged me to apply. After looking up the competition on Facebook, I sent an online application and got through. If you’re asking me how the pageant processes were, I must say it was crazy hectic but of course, fun and memorable. When I applied in 2016, the training only lasted three months, but this year it took six months. Although pageant proceedings were madness, we only had to endure weekly or bi-weekly classes because Sabahan and Sarawakian participants weren’t able to fly to Kuala Lumpur every day. The few classes or courses we had to master were makeup application, personal grooming and runway strutting. My personal experiences competing in the pageant were incredible. I broke out of my shell and apart from that, doubled my self-confidence and learnt how to build my image. Unlike what many assume, beauty pageants aren’t catty. There were no fighting and backstabbing between contestants. We respected each other as teammates and I’m glad I made many friends and gained lasting relationships. 
You were awarded Mrs Malaysia Ambassador in 2016 and Mrs Malaysia World in 2017. What are your responsibilities and did winning come as a surprise?
When I applied for Mrs Malaysia last year, I wasn’t crowned but was named Mrs Malaysia Ambassador 2016. My responsibilities as an ambassador were to maintain and uphold the affairs of the pageant winner if she wasn’t available or competing overseas. After the year was up, I decided to not give up on my dreams and competed once more. I was very fortunate to be crowned Mrs Malaysia 2017 because if this year didn’t happen, I’d probably hang up my heels and move on. While I was unsure if being crowned was in the cards, I was definitely more prepared because mistakes were learned and I further understood how to correct my flaws. In a way, I had an upper hand because I knew what was needed to win. 
Winning the pageant came as an utter shock. All my competitors were not only positively slim and stunning but also educated and well spoken. As a pageant competitor, I’ve always imagined myself to be average. Neither did I believe I was the worst, nor did I think I was the best. I didn’t have any expectations this year and kept reassuring myself that losing didn’t make me a loser. At least I tried, right? I emulate this approach with my children. While they should always reach for the skies, I always remind them to be prepared and not be disheartened if they don’t win or aren’t the best. 

As Mrs Malaysia World 2017, I have obligations of building a platform and inspiring other ladies regardless of status, race and background. In addition and because I’m competing in the Mrs Malaysia World pageant in Johannesburg, I have responsibilities of maintaining my diet and figure, carrying out charity work with Down’s Syndrome children and of course, continuing my catwalk training. For those who want to support me, you can catch the crowning of the next Mrs Malaysia World on December 16, 2017. 
You have a responsibility to maintain your figure as a pageant contestant. Do you agree with this? What are your weekly diet and exercise regimes?
Of course I agree with retaining a healthy weight and figure. If one desires to acquire goals they set out to achieve, you’ll need to make sacrifices. In regards to my diet, I consume two eggs every morning, have lunch by 1pm and eat dinner before 7pm. I try to have a balanced diet and although I don’t cut out carbs, I will eat only half a bowl of rice for lunch. In terms of dinner, I don’t consume any carbs and will only partake in grilled fish or chicken with lots of steamed vegetables. Lastly, I drink beetroot juice thrice a week as it is high in iron. I don’t work out everyday because being too thin is the same as being fat. However, I undertake Pilates classes on Mondays and Sundays, practice cardio on Tuesdays and Saturdays and run on the treadmill on Wednesdays. In my opinion, it’s simply pathetic that Malaysia is ranked one of the fattest countries in Asia. As a nurse and not only a pageant winner, I understand the importance of eating right, exercising and maintaining a good figure. I’ve come across too many patients who choose not to live healthily and actually scold nurses if we try to advise otherwise. If you were to ask me, these are the type of people who need discipline the most! 
You have not only won a title and crown but have even attained certificates in bungee jumping, cooking and cake decorating. Why is it important to have all these accolades under your belt?
I believe in setting goals because its important my children and other women understand anything is possible. I want to inspire mothers to step out of their comfort zones and break out of that ‘housewife’ shell. The problem I see or find with many housewives is the lack of self-esteem and individual identity. They have succumbed to the mother and wife role so greatly it seems like they’ve just given up on not only looking good but aspiring to be great. I have to admit I was becoming one of these cookie-cutter homemakers until my husband encouraged me to compete in the Mrs Malaysia beauty pageant. In my opinion, if women revolve their lives solely around the home, then self-esteem will be lost. When you set personal goals and have aspirations, you’ll find purpose outside the household and have improved self-worth. Truly, it’s high time for ladies to break out of their shell, wear their flaws as a badge of honour and be unafraid to put themselves out there as confidence is the best brand of lipstick any woman can wear. Finally, if women have the ability and opportunity, why not work? If you just sit at home waiting on your family’s every need, how are you going to hone your vocation and gain independence? It doesn’t need to be said but having a job gives you purpose and something to fall back on if fate takes an ugly turn. 
What are your opinions of cosmetic surgery?
My opinions of cosmetic surgery are fairly positive. Although I won’t get anything done anytime soon, I may consider it in the future. To be quite honest, I have thought about some non-invasive facial treatments like fillers and lasers but when I actually come close to doing it, I’ll get anxious and back out. I’ve read a few articles and understand that once you start undergoing facial treatments, you can’t seem to stop. I believe that aesthetic procedures can sometimes be quite addictive and therefore haven’t had anything done as the fear of repeat treatments do linger. Nonetheless, I have contemplated undergoing the odd treatment here and there but will maybe only try it after my forties. I’m 38 now so I have lots of time to mull over it. 
What are your personal philosophies and what advice would you give to young women?
My personal philosophies are to be able to stand on my own two feet even if my husband’s no longer here. It’s imperative I work – even if it’s part-time – because having an income is the only way I can support my family. Furthermore, I’ve always valued discipline, determination and self-confidence because these traits are building blocks for a happy, productive and successful life. In terms of familial philosophies, I value education and strictness above all else. I raise my kids the way my mother raised me. I don’t allow them to go out and only permit one hour of video games a day. They aren’t allowed to watch television either. I instead encourage activities such as music so my children have learnt to kill time with the violin, guitar and drums. In addition, my sons play football thrice a week while my daughter is a blue belt taekwondo athlete. If young women were to ask me for advice, I’d recommend they learn to love themselves, value individuality and try not be carbon copies of celebrities or models they find on social media or magazines. Be who you are, be comfortable in your skin and if you have that spark and confidence, inner beauty will shine through.

And below are some impromptu pictures and a video taken during her photo shoot.  

Photography: Grey Chong @ Aurora Studio
Make-up and Hair: Nym Yan @ Aurora Studio
Clothes: Dressing Paula 

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