WE don’t see much of each other these days, my schoolmates and I, but it’s always pleasant when we do.
Yes, Rehman. The last time I saw you was three months ago at Selayang Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, and how much you had changed then, no motion, no emotion, someone widely known for his smooth eloquence was trying vainly to speak with
his eyes. But given the situation and the intensely glum occasion, it still was pleasant enough for me.
Rehman, the writer and orator, died early yesterday on the same hospital bed in Ward 5D. He was 62, two years short of When I’m 64, the popular Beatle tune about aging he used to hum around, even since schooldays.
He was brought unconscious on Jan 26, when during his regular cycling exercises in Kuala Kubu Baru, Selangor, he had to stop abruptly by the side of the road and lay there without signs of movement.
He was suspected to have suffered a heart attack.
Doctors had put him on a ventilator and had been trying hard to revive him, including giving him tracheotomy to enable him to breathe properly, and to overcome problems with mucus and other secretions getting into the windpipe because of difficulty swallowing.
I knew Rehman well enough since schooldays at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar 50 years ago. Though we were not classmates as I was a year older, the bonding among those in the school was evident. And, as fate would have it, our paths crossed again in the New Straits Times where we earned our livelihood.
Rehman, a qualified marine biologist and diver, had three spells in NST, the first in the 1980s when he earned a national reputation as a gifted writer. To his schoolmates, it was simply a natural progression. He had a hugely popular column, “Scorpion’s Tales”, which as the name suggested, gave out an agonising sting to those he struck and clubbed.
He left for other opportunities, including engagements abroad, and returned to the paper into the new millennium. He subscribed truly to the dictum “Once a journalist always a journalist” when after a short stint outside, he made another return to the paper later and remained till he retired in 2010 as associate editor.
As an integral part of the editorial team, he was the polisher of items to be presented in the paper, a quality controller so to speak. He had eyes of a hawk and when gaffes slipped through, he would rush in to join the morning meeting the following day, the day’s paper in hand and mistakes circled out in red.
“Charged with murder,” he would say. “Not charged for murder.” Another is “between 2pm to 4pm” when it should be between “2pm and 4pm”. And, he would scream when he saw this news copy, “A cook was sentenced to two years’ jail for stealing from his superior by the magistrate’s court today.”
After his retirement, Rehman, who was married before, chose to live alone in Kuala Kubu Baru and that was when he built a passion for cycling.
I visited him last December with old classmates Datuk Shukri Hussin and Mohamad Ismail Ibrahim. He showed us his place on the first floor of a shophouse. The abode looked cozy with a well-stacked bookshelf and neatly arranged CDs. I congratulated him for having such a fine place, but asked him whether it would get lonely.
“At times, yes. But, then I am used to it,” he replied. In fact, he said, he seldom moved around
in the social world any more and stopped going to wedding receptions. “I don’t do weddings,” he would say. In fact, he looked
like someone turning into a recluse.
“I like this place. Only during weekends and school holidays does it get crowded.” His bicycle had a pride of place in his home, hung just before the staircase to be used most regularly as he routinely worked out across Kuala Kubu Baru where almost everyone knew him.
But, staying away from the limelight has somewhat brought out a renewed creativity in him. He had two of his books published within a short period.
One, Peninsula, is a sequel to his 30-year-old bestseller, A Malaysian Journey, a social commentary. The other, A Small Town, is about Kuala Kubu Baru. And, he told us more would be coming soon.
If I were to look back at my own journey of life, I know I have covered the distance on Rehman. He had the gift of the gab from the beginning. So articulate was he that he was the mainstay of the all-conquering school debating team when he was merely in Form Three. Probably he developed an eloquent personality that early with a husky voice, plus a tall physical exterior to match.
Rehman wrote the preface for the commemorative coffee-table book of the MCKK Class of 1972. His departing words: “Some of us have departed but their grandchildren are here. Many of us have sent sons to MCKK and many of us remain involved in and contributors to the school’s welfare and prospects in one way or another, nurturing new generations of collegians.
“And so the wheel turns, rolling over vast distances and often difficult and uncharted terrain, but for the most part staying true.”
The wheel keeps turning, Rehman. From Him we come, to Him we shall return.