Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My father, my hero

Two Malaysian heroes passed away a year ago, sadly unbeknownst to many. They were Tan Sri Ahmad Noordin Zakaria, the Auditor-General for ten years (1976-1986) and the former Chief Secretary to the Government, Tun Abdullah Salleh.

Abdullah was also the founder of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and the chairman and chief executive of the then newly-formed Petronas in 1978.

Ahmad Noordin was an already well-known figure when I reported for work as a newspaper stringer in Malacca in 1985. He headed the commission which investigated the Bumiputra Malaysia Finance (BMF) scandal, Malaysia's first outstanding financial scandal, when government owned Bank Bumiputra, through its subsidiary, lost some RM2 billion by dubious lending in Hongkong in the late seventies and early eighties.

One of the auditors sent by Bank Bumiputra to investigate the case in Hongkong, Jalil Ibrahim was murdered and his body dumped in a banana plantation. Jalil was a Malacca boy from a kampung in Tanjung Kling, some ten kilometers from Malacca town.

One day, sometime in 1986, my boss ordered me to look for Jalil's aged mother in that kampung when news went around that the authorities didn't look after the plight of the woman whose son had given his life for the sake of the nation.
Well, that was some 20 years ago. Even though the story I wrote was about the auditor's mother, I had to dig the file about the BMF case and Ahmad Nordin's name is familiar to me to this day.

So when Ahmad Nordin's death went unnoticed, I felt sad and strange why a truly great Malaysian hero like him slipped off easily from the minds of the people. It is really a great pity because he was an outstanding icon for all upstanding, incorruptible and dedicated civil servants.

Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang described Noordin as "an outstanding Auditor General who made his office a byword for accountability."

"He was outspoken, intrepid for accountability in his association and his role as chairman in the BMF inquiry.

"That role made him most famous and he became a symbol for accountability and transparency."

Ahmad Nordin's daughter Nasirah, 54, when asked what it was like having a public icon of integrity for a father, said: "My father was our hero. We admired him greatly."

To me, Nasirah was right in every sense. Her father was her hero. She used the words, 'our hero'. In my opinion, 'our' meant 'the family' or 'the children'. It didn't take me long to realize that in life 'my or our heroes' are very near and close to us, yet we don't give a wimp until the persons vanish (are taken away by God).

As children we don't put much effort and courage to admit that our hero is actually our own father or mother not until they pass away. I liked an article written by Mona Abu Bakar in the Sun recently where she declared that her father was her hero and wished him the best during Father's Day.

Among other things Mona wrote: "While my mother's figure continues to loom large in our lives, Dad shaped us and taught us lessons in life in his own quiet way. He was not of the unapproachable and preachy type of father. Not of the present but absent variety either. And it was a bit too early for the Sensitive New Age Guy Dad. Dad molded us not so much by the things he told us but by being the person he was. His lessons however would not kick in until we reached adulthood and started our own working lives."

I too would like to confess here that my hero is my father. Even though my father's formal education ended at Year Six and he was just a primary school gardener, he and my housewife mother gave us the best that saw all of us (I have eight siblings) go through university and college.

During my schooling and university days I had never once heard my father or mother grumble or complain that they had not enough cash to pay the numerous fees and the needs of life.

He and she were always there whenever we needed them most. Of course at that time as growing children, teenagers and young men and women, we were only good at asking for money, money and money. In the olden days, the term 'Fama Fund' (Father and Mother Fund) was popular among the university students.

I too had never seen my father and mother locked in conflict with each other. Either there was no misunderstanding between them or they did it accordingly to the Muslim way of life.

Actually it is rare for people to live together under one roof without any argument and some kind of dispute, but reconciliation is better and correcting oneself is a virtue. What shakes the unity of the family and harms its infrastructure is the bringing out of conflicts into the open before the members of the family.

It splits the family into opposing camps, not to mention the psychological harm that to the children, especially little ones.

Think about a home where the father says to the child, "Do not speak to your mother," and the mother says to him, "Do not speak to your father." The child is confused and filled with turmoil, and the entire family lives in an atmosphere of hostility. We should try to avoid conflicts, but if it happens, we should try to hide it. We ask Allah to create love among us.

So when I became a father of several secondary and primary school going children, only then did I realize it was a very heavy responsibility to see my boys and girls get the best in the very competitive and challenging world. And as adults, we found out that it was hard to turn off our emotions during conflicts.

The most unforgettable incident that touched my heart about my father happened some 30 years ago when I enrolled as a Form One student for the Prep School, Malay College Kuala Kangsar. To go to Kuala Kangsar, my father and I took the bus from Malacca to Tampin and from there took the express train.

Since that journey was the very first time I left to some faraway places, I just couldn't sleep all night long so I just stared at the darkness of night from my seat. All I could see was distant lights and when the rain roared in the jungles and estates, fire flies in the dark night kept me busy and excited.

We reached the Kuala Kangsar station at 3.00 a.m. There, we waited for the early signs of the day and then marched to the grounds of the college. It was more than a kilometer away. It was a sight when I saw my father carrying a flour sack stacked with my two small pillows on his head and a big bag in his hand.

When we reached the living room cum registration office at the Prep School, my father and I sat on the hard long bench instead of the cozy cushions with our luggage (the flour sack) in front. Looking around I saw the other boys' fashionable bags. Nowadays when I think about it, I can feel how humble or down to earth my father was on that big day when he chose not to use the comfortable seat.

It seemed that only my father and I arrived at the prestigious college by train and then continued on foot while my friends and form mates came in cars, some in flashy ones. I felt very small in the new world and I didn't know what was inside my father's heart.

But I sensed he must have been very proud to have a son at the college. It was because before we departed from our kampung, I heard some family members say: "Congratulations to have a doctor, perhaps an engineer or may be a prime minister in the making!" (They were referring to Tun Abdul Razak, the then Prime Minister who was an old boy of the school).

Remembering that memorable event in 1975 brought me close to tears but I don't shy away to declare that my father is my hero!

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