I AM often asked; is there any one story that I have written that had impacted my life? It is not an easy question to answer as I look back at the stories of events and people I have met throughout these decades as a journalist, to determine one particular story or event, as each one has a degree of significance that tugged at the heartstrings — mine usually!
I thank God that throughout 2019, there were no headline-grabbing Islamophobic attacks, no big tragedies of yesteryears that claimed lives the likes of the shooting down of MH17 that I have had to cover.
Now, as I reflect on the events of the past year, what came flooding is the kindness of Malaysians at home and abroad, their generosity with money, time and commitments, precious family ties and my obsession with historical events that have made my life richer and fuller.
Around this time last year, I was fortunate to meet a group of people through some unfortunate circumstances.
This is the group of Malaysian volunteers who had come together to help stroke victim Sahrom Ahmad, a Tenaga Nasional Berhad retiree who suffered a stroke when he came for his daughter’s graduation.
Two years before, they had helped Mara retiree Mohamad Sahar Mhd Noor, who also came for his daughter’s graduation but tragedy struck at the airport when he suffered a similar tragedy.
The group of ladies Dr Sharifah Faridah, Dr Fahja Ismail and Dr Najmiah Ahmad had voluntarily assisted beyond their call of duty to facilitate arrangements for the victims’ families during their hospital stay here.
They were aided and complemented by the Malaysian team from the Society of Aeromedicine Malaysia; Col (R) Dato’ Dr Jaseemuddeen Abu Bakar from Avisena Specialist Hospital, Dr Gunalan Palari Arumugam from Subang Jaya Medical Centre and Steven Penafort, a paramedic and one of the directors of First Ambulance Malaysia who accompanied the patients safely home.
These efforts were, of course, made possible by the generosity of Malaysian Airlines, Malaysians from Malaysia and also abroad.
The same dedicated team came together again during the plight of baby Ainul Mardiah, who was brought to London later in the year for the removal of a cancerous tumour.
I am forever in awe of how strangers would come to help fellow Malaysians in need, never for payment nor recognition.
Fortunate to be ‘embedded’ so to speak, with the team, I was in the ambulance with Fahja who told Sahrom, “Pak Cik, I am bringing you home, as pro-mised”.
When baby Ainul’s father, Ahmad Safiuddin, asked the accompanying doctors during the flight the fee he had to pay, the reply was, “This is our payback to society.”
Indeed, as the year ended, we had the same dedicated team who rallied around a Malaysian tourist who collapsed in the plane on arrival.
With experience and luckily with insurance, they sorted out her accommodation, saw that her medical reports were in order and helped fill up the very complicated insurance forms.
At the same time, another Malaysian had an unfortunate incident but was lucky to have the expertise of these ladies, who have become known as Power Puffs.
She too was safely repatriated home with accompanying medical personnel.
Being in the sideline, watching these tragic episodes which brought about the best in our people, I feel there’s hope yet for humanity in a world in which humanity is sometimes a rare commodity.
I see family ties strengthened and solidified in cases like these.
I still hear in my mind, Nur Amalina reading (the Quranic chapter) Yassin to her unconscious father, Sahrom, in the quiet intensive care unit of the Charing Cross Hospital, the silence only broken by the bleeping of the machines nearby.
I hear too her whispers to her father, during the flight, “Abuya, we are going home!”
During the passing year, I saw the dedication and unwavering hopes of family members in the face of what must have been very challenging and trying life tragedies.
I see the ever-smiling face of Safiuddin as he played with his daughter Ainul, who had a tumour the size of a golf ball, as he and his wife Wani waited for the operation they hoped would change their baby’s life forever.
I also witnessed the unrelenting efforts of children looking for their ‘lost’ father, Mohd Said Mohd Amin, who served in the British Army in the sixties.
Unfortunately, the 47-year search ended with the sad news that the father, who left them with a promise to find a better life for them, died three days after they managed to track him down.
This is not a closure for Hariss and his siblings but at least they now know about his life in a distant land that he had made his home.
During the past year too, I was fortunate to make the acquaintance of Geoff King, a connection made possible by a common friend as a result of a common interest.
Geoff King was the son of Alec King, the last surviving crew of the HMS Malaya.
History has always intrigued me and I had always wanted to know more about the HMS Malaya plaque that I see hanging on the wall of the reception of the Malaysian Education office in London.
I met King, who was then 96 — his story about the last few days of the Queen’s battleship that was paid for by the Federated Malay States in 1913, certainly filled the gaps in my knowledge.
His story caught the attention Brand Laureate Malaysia who kindly gave him a recognition much appreciated by the seaman.
In the words of his son Geoff, it made the old seaman happy to see his story in print and to spend the remaining days of his life looking at the framed award on his wall.
He died soon after.
Last year, I lost a very good friend, Dato Yunus Raiss at the age of 84.
But I found a friend in his son, Alex Swan, with whom, I went on a journey during the Kirkbyites reunion.
Swan was practically tracking down his late father’s footsteps and hungry for any little knowledge about Yunus.
It was during a reunion dinner, sitting in front of another former Kirkby College trained teacher looking at black and white 1950’s pictures of their time in Kirkby, when I heard Swan say, “That’s Dad!”
I wouldn’t have missed these moments for anything.