By Najib Rahman
Source : Sunday Times Sunday 6 June 2010
0630:TWO men, possibly hewn from granite, one slightly taller than the other but looking dangerous in both gait and looks, sat at a table at an Indian tea stall near the start of a narrow road in the busy heart of Kuala Lumpur. Faces taut and tanned, noticeable even in the early morning hue, they took in the surroundings.
The taller man glanced at his watch, shifted his cotton sling bag, as did his partner, then smiled faintly to himself as he relaxed. They had time.
0700: June 7, 1974 had looked set to be another languid sort of day, except that, for me, it was somewhat special. In the kitchen of our old government-owned colonial-style bungalow on Jalan Kia Peng, I was having breakfast with my father.
Nearby, huddled together, were a distinguished mix of cabinet members, most of whom I recognised.
In the mournful silence of the wake, father’s clear but measured voice seemed to crash all around the room, as he spoke, “No more talk about succession, all right. Any more of this and I’ll have all of you arrested.”
I noticed that, at each stop, on seeing father at the doorstep, the VIPs — household names they all were — would rush down to greet him, laugh and banter.
“I was with your dad in the office of the Thai defence chief,” Syed Othman said. “After a while, the discussion got down to sensitive details.
“The Thai general glanced at me, then told your father that he would be more comfortable if there were only four eyes in the room. Your dad quickly replied that he had complete trust in me.”
Neither mother nor I could forbode the darkness that would descend on our home.
Earlier on, Syed Othman had called and was told by my father not to accompany him from the house in Jalan Kia Peng as was the routine, but instead to meet him at the office.
That call was to save his life. The trip to Bukit Aman federal police headquarters was unscheduled, however. My father was to attend the Thai-Malaysian General Border Committee (GBC) meeting at the Federal Hotel in Jalan Bukit Bintang. But something urgent had cropped up, enough to cause the re-routing.
Mother had advised him to go straight to the hotel.
“Let Syed pick up whatever you need at the office and pass it to you later at the hotel,” she said.
Mother was always the practical one. Born in the lunar year of the Tiger, she was the engine that ran the house, kept the children — all seven of us — meticulously in check during every stage of our growth and steadfastly was the “push factor” in father’s career in ways that far belied her simple village schooling. It was in honour of mother’s uncanny abilities that he once hung a note in the house which said: “I am the boss of the house and whatever my wife says must be obeyed.”
Sadly, her fears would later come to bear.
08 20 : Coming down from Jalan Weld, I tried to take a short cut to Court Hill via Lorong Raja Chulan, but a policeman waved me on. I took a detour.
0822: Driving past Lorong Raja Chulan, I noticed to my left, that a group of people had gathered around a car. I couldn’t make out the vehicle’s model but sensed an accident had occurred. I made a mental note to check that one out later.
Looking rather distressed, she blurted out that a senior police officer had been shot. I asked, “Who?” to which she said she didn’t know yet. Immediately, my reporter’s instincts kicked in and out came the words: “Alright Kris, this a big story. Get the details while I go parkmy car up the hill. I’ll join you shortly.” I never kept the appointment.
I never found out from Kristel whether she had known all along that it was my father who had been gunned down; that she had kept mum about the officer’s identity because she thought I should be spared finding out the way I did.
Kristel died several years later of c a n c e r.
Suddenly, I felt sick. A wave of nausea swept over me. I could feel the blood draining from my body as panic set in. I started to become pale. I wanted to run, to get down to father, to help him... but my feet would not move. Iwanted to shout “Bapak” but the words died in my throat as soon as they were born.
Then, a looming cloud of darkness started to converge upon me, threatening to engulf my senses. I started to feel fear, a drowning kind of fear that I had not imagined possible. I felt my head spinning.
Summoning all my strength, I broke the clamp that had shackled my legs.
Soon I found myself “flying” down the staircase screaming “Bapaaak! Bapaaak” at the top of my lungs.
There were onlookers sitting on the steps but to me they were just a blur as I whizzed past them, yelling, “Bapak aku! Bapak aku!” (my father! my father!). As as a young boy, I had dreamt I was being tossed around by a tiger. As a reporter, I had to shake off two gun-toting Thai bandits trailing me in Betong.
But I had not felt such terror as I was experiencing now.
Only this time, I felt terror for my father, thinking “I must help him, I must save him”. Hitting the ground, I charged towards the car, half screaming and half crying, “Bapak, Bapak!...” I had nearly reached it when I ran smack into a wall, in the form of the burly frame of famed crimebuster Deputy Superintendent S. Kulasingam (who has since passed away).
Wrapping his huge arms around me, Kula literally lifted me off my feet and whispered, “Najib, Najib, it’s all right, it’s all right, we’ve sent your father to the hospital.” Through my tears, I looked into his eyes and saw
that he, too, was tearing up.
After a while, Kula put me down and I made for the Mercedes. Somewhat calmer, I examined the car. Both windows to the left of the driver and the left side of the back passenger seat were shattered. Clearly, the attackwas launched from the left side of the road. I peered at the back seat where father must have been
sitting. The backrest, seat and floor were stained with fresh blood, father’s blood.
I had just started to imagine a picture of father lying motionless but breathing heavily at the back seat, uniform soaked with blood, when Kula pulled me away and whisked me into a waiting police car, an Alfa Romeo. At high speed and with sirens wailing, the crew rushed me to the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital (now HKL).
Arriving at the hospital I noticed that a large crowd had totally engulfed the foyer and the entrance to the accident and emergency unit. A patrolman ushered me in. In the car, I had wondered about father. Was he badly hurt? Was he alive? Or was he...? The last thought, I quickly banished from my mind. It was unacceptable.
From a distance, I saw him lying on a trolley, face and arms exposed but covered in a piece of white sheet heavily stained with blood. Several police officers stood quietly nearby, ashen-faced. My heart was pounding as I walked towards father.
Reaching his side, I called out to him, I shook him, touched his face, held his hands and ran my fingers over his. They were limp and lifeless.
Then, almost unbelievingly, at the cold realisation that he had returnedto the merciful embrace of Allah, I fell over his body, hugged him tightly and repeatedly cried out “sorry”... sorry that I wasn’t there to help him just
when he needed me most.
The two gunmen, according to the official story, were communist hitmen.
Standing side by side, they fired automatic pistols towards father and his driver, Sgt Omar. The sergeant took a nick in the neck, opened his door and fled the scene.
But father never had a chance. I suspect he must have been reading his files, like he usually did, when the bullets ripped into his body. The lacerations, the tearing away of the flesh from the fingers of both hishands that I saw at the hospital, could only mean that he was trying toward off the bullets with his hands. He was just 51.
The duo allegedly responsible for father’s death were eventually caught, but only after they had summarily dispatched another highranking police officer, Tan Sri Khoo Chong Kong, then the chief police officer of Perak, in the same year.
And while the two men were hanged for the murder of Khoo, they were never tried for the killing of the IGP.
Riding the memories of a murder for 36 years is a long time. But for me, each year, as the anniversary off ather’s death draws near, I pause to reflect on questions that simply will not go away.
Father was very committed to his work and the force. Once, he asked me to write out his speech where he had mapped out his blueprint for the force he had been entrusted to lead; a better esprit de corps, to improve housing and welfare, better educational facilities for children of policemen and, most importantly, an insurance protection scheme to help families of those slain on duty.
I know that the last point was very close to his heart as he often visited the families of slain Special Branch officers, and felt their loss. He often got personal with those he had handpicked to run dangerous missions.
Summoning them to his office, he would say to them words like: “Tan, I want you to do this for me. Don’t worry about your family. If anything happens to you, I will take care of them.” He always kept his promise.
It was unfortunate that his plan for better welfare for his charges could not be realised soon enough to help his own family. Following father’s death, three of my brothers had their studies disrupted.
I might add that father knew he was a hunted man, that a contract had been placed on his life. So he took out an insurance cover for RM1 million. But he died on the day the confirmation letter was laid out on his desk for him to sign. Was that the reason why he went to Bukit Aman that day? We will never know.