I actually don’t know how to greet you. Is it “Hi”, would “Good evening” be proper – sometimes it is as if everything was frozen in time the day I could not decide whether to give you the birthday card or not about one year ago; as if the indecisiveness and helplessness of that night continues until today.
It has been one year today. I counted the days since the last few months, each day the countdown in my head got louder and louder. Every day, in my car while travelling to and fro work, or when I walk on my own, or when I struggled to finish the little run that I try to have every now and then, or when I try to sleep – I think of what I would tell you on this day – one year after you have left.
I thought I had arranged my thoughts perfectly. I thought the words were all there. But when the day is finally here – I am actually lost for words. There is so much to tell, so much to share – never in my life for the last 19 years that I did not speak to you for such a prolonged period. Usually even if we were half the world away, you would never fail to write or call. Or even when I was thrown in the middle of nowhere in Scotland, I would always spare my allowance for coins to call you on the public phone – apart from Jita (who had a large reserve of 50 p coins to call his girlfriend), many times I was a permanent feature at the phone booth too.
But never mind – we can’t change things that has been pre-ordained like this, we can only make do with what is given to us.
So maybe I’ll start by telling you what had happened over the last one year.
Let’s start with politics, perhaps the part you would have liked most. Pakatan Rakyat actually managed to deny Barisan Nasional a two-third majority in Dewan Rakyat (oh by the way, Pakatan Rakyat is the new name they coined for what was before Barisan Alternatif. I thought Pakatan Rakyat sounds more palatable – it doesn’t sound as reactive and ad hoc as Barisan Alternatif, though I wouldn’t say it is that original ha ha – we did have Gagasan Rakyat in 1990!). Many of your acquaintances from both sides got elected either as MP or ADUN – including Nik Nazmi! Apart from SN, there are Puad Zakarshi and many others.
I felt so inadequate and burdened when you were no longer around at the time your skills and intellect were needed most. Many times I had to cover and there were so many things which were beyond me. There was a time when SN was updating me about the supposed takeover plot of 16 September until the wee hours – in the middle of his excitement explaining about the legal and constitutional options, he paused and silently said to himself “kalau Ben ada kan senang, dia mesti ingat and tahu semua ni..”
It’s ironic that it takes your departure to shake me that there are times in life we have to swallow our pride and do what is expected of us; that sometimes we are not entitled to live our life by our whims and fancies. After you have left, I realised I am practically on my own and the one person who would have paved the way in the past, is no longer there. It was difficult to pick things up almost from scratch initially – but I have spent a lot more time lately with people that you would have wanted me to spend time with for the past few years. Finally I relented that my time of doing things at my own pace and according to my interest is up – the sad thing is you were not there to see it, because I know it would have put some smile on your face knowing that you knocked some sense in my head at last.
Frankly speaking, I wouldn’t know how you would have reacted to the haloo baloo after 8 March 2008. Things have not settled down even after almost a year and threats of coup de tat after coup de tat continue to dominate the nation, at the time when we are facing what can be the most severe economic downturn of our generation. There were many issues that I could not make my mind up – and it is during this time that I miss you so much. It was a lot easier before because for things I could not decide on my own, I always have you to defer to and you always have a way to make sense of things.
It breaks my heart sometimes to reflect that you had given away the promises of good life (that ultimately led to your early, untimely departure) to sustain keADILan, reformasi and AI in whatever capacity you could – because no one would have remembered you or your contribution. Your memory evaporates not even a year after you had gone and looking back – I wish you did not choose the path you had taken because while it is a lot easier for them to move on and consider you as another casualty, we (who care most about you) are still stranded here, unable to move on.
Our mistake at the time was believing that ideals would have saved the day. While many of us were spared the fate you went through because we did not give as much as required of us (for our selfish reasons), you gave away everything for your ideals. I sometimes feel that people take advantage of your health – because you always feel that you were running out of time, it was a lot easier for people to make use of that to compel you to give more and more, at the expense of yourself.
It broke my heart then and it still bleeds me to remember that despite giving up everything that you could have had – not so many people turned up at your funeral. You went quietly, unceremoniously and one year after, are almost totally forgotten while the people after you, who did not have to give up as much continue to celebrate 8 March 2008 and what came after that.
Perhaps the biggest irony is that you had to go away in this way, as if to give the final lesson in life to me – before I have to be on my own. And like everything that we had ever learnt together, this too I shall not forget.
Luckily there are also good news since then.
Rizal is now a happily married man and I was the best man for the day (albeit the worst best man ever, as I was told over and over again by Dany). He was so happy on the big day and my thought could not help but wonder how you would have felt if you were there with me. I remember when we were in the university you used to tell me and Rizal that you would have bought him a big wedding gift on his wedding day. Most probably, all of us would have been so happy looking at how happy Rizal was – for all the tragedy and tribulations that all of you had to go through for the past 10 years. He is a nice man through and through and deserves every break and happiness from now on.
After you were gone, Rizal, Dany and I suddenly got quite close now that the one glue that had held us together was gone, so we had to “glue” us ourselves. Initially Rizal and Dany were quite concerned on the “what’s next” question, so there were many times that we sit down to discuss. Despite being in their company more often, sometimes during those sit downs I always feel so lonely and miss you even more – because if you were around, this would not have happened. As untimely your departure was, the change in plan on my side was also untimely – but we have to do what we have to do.
After your passing, I realised how much I didn’t know you. There were many things that I only discovered after you were gone – it broke my heart so much for not being able to do something about it when you were around. After the many conversations that I had with Dany, it made me realise that throughout our entire friendship you had never confided your problem even once to me. You had absorbed everything – all my anguish, anger and sadness – yet you never gave any sign of your own anguish and tribulations. I had grown up thinking that you were beyond any of the problems that we, the mere mortals go through, that you would always be there to hear me out.
What I found out after your death questions how much I knew you all this while. Sometimes I feel that I don’t know you at all, sometimes I feel I only care to know what I want to know or to believe. Many times I had to seek reassurance from Dany that I meant a lot to you and that you were not angry with me in the last month of your life. I guess I would never find out and have to live with the questions forever.
You didn’t have to be superhuman all your life for people to know that you were extra-ordinary. You could have told certain things and I would have done things completely differently – I would have been less arrogant and less selfish, if only I knew. It would not have changed the esteem that I hold for you, even if you share me all your anguish.
Because the guilt that I have to live, for not knowing when I could have made a difference, is a lot worse than any deeds that would have been expected of me while you were alive.
(I think I digress – I should be telling you some happy news.)
The debaters are all grown up. Everything is in place and I can finally withdraw slowly in peace – if only you are still alive, I would have been able to spend more time with you. They miss you so much too. I brought Izzat, Fido, Rashad and Fendy to ziarah you on the anniversary of your passing. Izzat must be the only person alive who wrote about you after the first year of your death – even earlier than me. I hope you understand why I spent more time with these kids than what you thought I ought to do in the last few years – because I have always felt that they would remember us more. When we were young, I think we were so driven to change things so that we can touch people’s life for the better. After a while I realise that while politics offer greatness, it lacks sincerity (on both sides of the fence) and there were many other ways that I could touch people’s life. The time you spent on these kids was well rewarded beyond description, though you would never witness them grow up the way we thought we would. For whatever it is worth, you can be sure that until all of us grow old, we will not forget 24 January and I will personally make sure that generations after generations of debaters will not forget you.
Your dad passed away this weekend, exactly one year and one week after you were gone. The news did not come as a big surprise to me, though I could not help but wonder how Jun must be feeling. In one stroke, within a space of about two years – almost all the male heirs of your family were gone. I didn’t dare to go near her that day, she looked very sad. Whatever the rest of us were feeling about you – I don’t want to imagine what went through her mind all the time.
Auntie continues to amaze me beyond reasons for her strength, yet it is that strength too that wrenched my heart without fail. I cannot describe how poignant it felt that she actually looked happy to see Dany and me during Uncle’s funeral – it must have been terribly lonely for her since you were gone, that anything which remotely connects back to you brings some happiness to her; as if she could relive or remember some of the days seeing all of us together. And it killed me softly knowing how bad I was at visiting her – that despite the promises I made to myself and to you, I did not visit her as much as I should.
Yet her strength is a reminder of you – I was reminded that this was the lady who carried you for 9 months and each bit of her strength flowed through you in your short life. Even after you are gone, I continue to draw lesson that for all the bad things and unfairness that I thought I had to go through – your mother stood steadfast and smiling in the midst of this calamity, masking whatever hell she had to go through. How dare the rest of us complain about our little inconvenience when she has lost you for the choices you made – and most of us were partly responsible for that choices.
Ezam was the only person from your past adventure who was there. Whatever people say about him and his political game, I will value him because he has the one thing that many others do not have – loyalty. He was loyal to your memory to the end and I will remember him for that, though I don’t say it too often.
Anyway Abang, I could go on and on with my frustration, the what ifs and others. On one hand I desperately want to move on, yet I can’t. Sometimes I am angry that you had to go too early though I am not sure at whom I should be angry to. But mostly I am sad especially when I am alone and I miss you so much.
I miss all the chats, I miss your jokes about many things, I miss your narration about the weirdest historical details of our royal families, I miss everything. I miss your postcards, I even miss the little piglets that you use to draw everywhere. You do not how it feels to lose the emotional support that you had relied all your life growing up, there are no words to describe how lonely that feels.
I hope you are fine where you are now. If you are alive, I think you know that what is unspoken carries more weight than what we say to each other – in your death too, I wish you could read my mind so that you know everything that I wanted to tell you but could not write here, because there is not enough words for it.
I thank God for the 18 years he gave to me to know you, I wish I had longer time so that you could see I would do what I promised you – but He loves you more. I hope you are in His good care, much more than the care that we ever extended to you in your life time.
This too shall past, as you always remind us – and I want to believe that the one set of footprints on the beach is truly God’s and not mine, as you would have told me too.
Good night Abang and sleep well.
24 January – 2 February 2009
“Looks like destiny is deciding for you ha ha .....
Anyway, I forgot to mention that I have given the money to Ben's Mom together with mine so I didn't say that some of it was from you. This one, your niat will be all, no acknowledgement for it. Told her since she's arranging the tahlil in masjid, I also wanted to contribute...
At first, expectedly she refused flat out but since I said she cannot deny me paying respect to Uncle Omar because it was exactly what Ben did for my mom's tahlil, she relented and took it.....
Then she said, if we miss Ben, we should come and visit. That stroke me clear how sad she still is with Ben's departure. I suppose seeing us is a reminiscence to her of times when she often saw us together with Ben......
A year passed, I still cannot see any wisdom in Ben's departure....still only anger and sadness .....this is fast becoming a vendetta inside of me.”
“I have not made sense either - am finishing a piece on his one-year's departure and there's so much anger, I stopped a few times.
The only thing I can try to make sense is he has to go so that we can wake up and learn. I wouldn't have had the resolve I have now about what I need to do in the future and life - if he had not gone, because I always feel I will play second fiddle
We really should make more efforts to see Auntie - let's visit her next Monday, I am around back from KK and we can drop by in the afternoon (am flying to Mozambique mlam tu).
Don't worry abt the money - you know when Ben used to say that he wanted to retire and wanted rm300 from me each month, i really thot he was kidding and pulling my leg.
if he had been forthcoming and told me certain things that i discovered after he's gone, i would have given thousands of ringgit each month for him so that he can have some peace of mind.
anyway let's visit auntie next monday :-)
maybe i'll bring one of the boys too - i need them to remember ben too so that if one of us is out (died or taken out), someone will continue to remember ben. i need time before i can honour him properly, where he deserves his place in this society - but before that i just have to make sure that people will remember him, that's why i will always bring one of the boys.”
“I don't know why he had to go for me but I can offer you a small perspective why for you he had to go......
Ben was obsessed with having a 'successor' so the notion of second fiddle like you thought was not it. He took you under his wings so if anything, you were the sidekick. He saw something very special in you, always saying that you will be the successor.
How could you be second fiddle when you were at the fore front even in the beginning? The debate final was not his, it was yours. He was the tool, so if anything he was the one playing second fiddle.
Ben knew he would go early but not this early. And with him being intellectually better equipped than many others, you have his obsessive race against time, and to do so, he had to be bold, ambitious and different, making him larger than life and self absorbed sometimes. Ben did not need to peg onto another person who was also larger than life.
But some paths meet at some crossroad. And so you have Ben meeting Anwar. How Ben was actually in awe of Anwar in the beginning of reformasi, it was amazing for me to see (not to say I was wise enough then not to be under the spell myself). When someone is singing the song you wanted to hear, it's hard to deny that someone. Ben became a follower in so many ways. He stopped heeding for his own calling in life……In my view, it was the worst time for him.
Now, for someone like you or me, this is called a mistake that you learn from, a piece of education from the hard school of life. But Ben didnt have the time, this mistake was enough to derail him in life. Then, you add the consequences: the exile, the hardship to his health, the cost etc, all of these, shortened his life further.
It’s a long shot but maybe he had to go so that you won’t repeat his mistake.
But I think you know that already....
When Ben woke up from after they brought him home the first time, he said he didn't want to die. I knew he was not afraid to die and he didn’t want to live to old age either. He simply didn't think it was his time yet, so many things left unfinished. It was so heartbreaking for me when then he lost consciousness again and the next time he woke up, he was no longer himself, refused to eat and in so much pain.
I hope he was right, that this too shall pass……”
“Two three cats go running running
“It's corny, and the context was clearly homosexual in 'Four Weddings', but I can't find any other poem that says what I feel:
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
-- W.H. Auden
I remember Ben telling me proudly that he knew the poem even before it was used in the movie.
Where got like the striped one
Two three I can go finding finding
Where got like you one”