Category Archives: Rafizi Ramli

More Discipline With Blog (ha ha)

This blog is dilapidated for the last one month (or so). Things took the turn for the worse when one after another event came along the way, that this blog has ended in utter neglect.

But just like everything else in life, all it takes is an adjustment. I recalculate the time I spend every day on e-mails, FB, reading news and Twitter and realise that with some streamlining, all it takes is just half an hour every day to put my thoughts here.

Or when I am waiting for something or when time is idle – eg. waiting for lift, at clinics or for food to be served, I guess there is enough time to blog. After all, blog is supposed to be what is in your mind naturally.

The only trick is not to be tied to a laptop and wifi.

I have been trying to configure blogging through email but that did not work well, I messed the code quite a bit (Note 1).

But someone (a young friend – Baang) pointed out that there is already a wordpress application for Blackberry – so suddenly blogging is at our fingertips and mobile too.

So here I am, hoping that my response time to issues, comments etc will be a lot quicker after this.

For now, Pakatan Convention is next weekend and there’s plenty of work (ha ha which somehow finds its way to you last minute *wink wink*) to be done in a short time. Sigh.

Welcome back to the blog 🙂


I did Electronics & Electrical Engineering for a degree, a large portion of which involved programming (C or C++). I used to hate programming so much in uni and at one point (in my final year) went to see the Head of Faculty telling him I wanted to change from EEE to History (he laughed of course).

But at the height of reformasi, suddenly programming (via HTML at the time) became a necessity as we scrambled to find a room to contribute.

And that was how I reconnected with the technical side – while finishing my accountancy exam in London, a great portion of the free time was spent relearning programming languages, especially the ones relating to websites and databases.

The one person who first coined the term “necessity is the mother of any invention” is one of the most gifted among us 🙂


Time moves very fast especially when all that you need most is time.

It’s been quite a while and as I desperately hope the fall-out from the fiasco of pulling out at the last minute (that one, ha ha) quietly dies off, I can’t help but revisit certain things that you subconsciously forget before.

In the midst of the fast-paced events of the last 2 months, I missed out one important date/event that I had never failed to remember before. A close friend, who was as good as a brother to me, passed away silently in his sleep due to a cardiac arrest on 22 October 2007 at the tender age of 31. I was overseas at the time and it was a race against time flying back and chasing kereta jenazah so that I could see his face before he was buried – I didn’t make it and that experience (losing somebody so important in your life) haunted me. Each year, as 22 October approaches, I usually go through a somewhat peculiar calmness, as I revisit his life and death and try my best to honour him with prayers and Quran recital.

This year, I missed it completely – didn’t even send an sms to his widow and 4 children left behind.

The budget, shuttling between one place etc quickly eclipsed the personal and spiritual journey that I carefully observed these last few years.

Now that November is around, the clock ticks again as I wait for 24 January, the date when a great mentor and friend passed away. Allahyarham Adlan Benan Omar passed away on 24 January 2008 due to various sickness. In my mind, he is irreplaceable as the most talented and brilliant intellectual giant of my generation. You can google him and you will feel how special this person was from all the tributes people made about him.

Hopefully 24 January 2011 that marks Ben’s 3-year of leaving us will not pass uneventful.

Politics, public life and everything takes a toll on us. In 2009, when I decided to walk away from the promise of corporate high-flyers life, I wanted to take a 6-month break so that I could observe Ramadhan peacefully and then write a book, maybe a memoir of my time with the late Adlan Benan Omar. It never happened as I began to receive many calls.

After the tumultuous events of the last 2 months (which was private and personal to me despite the whole campaign being public), I learnt one important lesson, which I hope to share with the young and budding politicians out there, wherever you are.

A public life does not mean you have to lose your originality. Being a public figure and a leader is about being transparent – the moment you change who you are because you want to suit to what you think the public wants, then you are a politician; often will be viewed with disdain in the future for the fork-tongued image often associated with politicians.

The public does not want more politicians, they want statesmen and leaders. A statesman and a leader leads even if he/she is not in synch with what the society’s trend and opinion is at a particular time. But that’s why he/she is a leader – because the task entrusted upon him is to lead towards change; not to propagate what is already accepted or popular with society.

As I revisited Gandhi or Naidu (Sarojini Naidu, to those who may not know), I am reminded that they never lose their humanity in spite of living their life in a glass. Gandhi was more remembered for his kindness and thoughts, more than his open defiance of the British rule. Naidu was not remembered for her genius (she was considered a child prodigy and a genius) but for her words and exemplary choices she made to defy the norms of her society.

So let us remember that one should not lose oneself in search for a place in the public life.

With the reminder, I re-post one of Arwah Adlan Benan’s many writings on history (which I am sure he typed over a plate of goreng pisang in 10 minutes!) so that I can be reminded of the great people before us, whom we seek to follow on this path.


Assalamualaikum and Salam Sejahtera Dr Aman et al,

Re: Dr Aman’s previous e-mail. Thank you for the notes.

The role of the Bendahara in a succession was so important not only because he was the most senior noble and officer of state, but also because often he held the largest fiefdoms.

On the death of Mahmud Riayat Shah III of Johor in 1813, a unique situation occured. Except for Tengku Long (later Sultan Hussein Muhammad Shah) and Tengku Komeng (later Sultan Abdul Rahman Muadzam Shah I), sons of the deceased Sultan, no other blood princes of the line of Sultan Sulaiman Badrul Alam Shah I (1722-1760) were alive.

The Johor monarchy had no settled system of succession. Before 1699, only three of nine successions were of sons succeeding fathers. The eldest son, or a porphyrogenitus (“anak gahara”) did not necessarily have a better claim than his brothers unless nominated so by their father during his lifetime. The bearer of the title Tengku Besar was
usually considered to be the heir apparent. Neither Tengku Long or Tengku Komeng was so named.

The Bendahara, the senior member of the Royal Family (being a direct descendant of Tun Abbas, ELDEST son of Sultan Abdul Jalil Riayat Shah IV d. 1720) could have proclaimed Tengku Long as Sultan. In fact he did not do so, though Tengku Long was in Pekan getting married to his daughter. Probably the Bendahara was unsure what to do. As was Tengku Puteri Hamidah, the dowager queen of Mahmud III but mother of neither princes. Obviously, Mahmud III had not named his successor.

A precedent existed. When Sultan Sulaiman died in 1760, he also left two sons. The eldest, Tengku Abdul Jalil, was away in Selangor at the time of his father’s death. The younger prince was in Riau. But as Tengku Abdul Jalil was Tengku Besar, he was proclaimed Sultan Abdul Jalil Muadzam Shah V, even while he was at sea. Sultan Abdul Jalil in fact died at sea, before reaching Riau, to be succeeded by a six year old boy as Sultan Ahmad Riayat Shah, reigning for less than a year. In turn, his only surviving brother, Mahmud, aged less than two years, duly became Mahmud Riayat Shah III.

But Tengku Long was not the “Tengku Besar”, and as such may not have been considered his father’s choice. The precedent was not followed and the rest, as they say, is history.

Several Bendaharas have determined the succession in the Melaka-Johor dynasty. Bendahara Seriwa Raja Tun Perpatih Sedang gave his consent to the coup which placed Sultan Muzaffar Shah (1446-1456) as Sultan instead of the boy ruler Sultan Abu Shahid (1444-1446). Bendahara Paduka Raja Tun Perak insisted that the murderous Crown Prince Raja Muhammad of Melaka (d 1475) be replaced and exiled. He was also instrumental in replacing the next eldest prince Raja Ahmad with his younger brother Raja Hussein/Radin. One of the Bendaharas of Johor, either Paduka Raja Tun Isap or Seri Maharaja Tun Khoja Ahmad was instrumental in placing a Pahang-Kelantanese prince Raja Umar as Sultan Ali Jalla Abdul Jalil Riayat Shah II of Johor in 1571, the only case in Malay hisory of a father succeeding his own son as Sultan, and thereby supplanting the Melaka dynasty with a rival ruling house.


Adlan Benan Omar

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri

Terima kasih kepada rakan-rakan dan taulan yang menghantar ingatan, baik dalam bentuk kad raya, SMS, emel atau telefon. Saya mohon maaf kerana agak terlewat membalas, ditakdirkan ibu saudara yang sangat rapat meninggal dunia di pagi raya. Urusan jenazah disempurnakan di rumah ibu bapa saya memandangkan ibu adalah anak perempuan sulung dalam keluarga, maka hari raya pada tahun ini disambut dalam keadaan muram dan insaf.

Kematian sewajarnya membawa keinsafan kepada kita. Mayat yang terkujur kaku, selain kesedihan dan sebak atas kehilangan yang tersayang, juga membawa pelbagai persoalan yang tidak ada jawapan dalam masa terdekat.

Perasaan kesal kerana terlalu banyak peluang untuk mendekatkan diri dengan Allah SWT disia-siakan.

Perasaan takut kerana masa kita juga mungkin sampai tanpa kita bersedia.

Perasaan sedih menyedari bahawa ibu bapa sekarang sudah berada dalam peringkat umur subsidi, kita tidak tahu sama ada ibu bapa akan sempat melihat anak cucu tua bersama-sama mereka; seperti yang digambarkan di dalam iklan-iklan raya pada kebiasaannya.

Saya dilahirkan pada 1 Syawal 33 tahun yang lalu, jadi sebelum ini 1 Syawal juga lebih bermakna kerana ia ulang tahun saya dilahirkan (berdasarkan kalendar Islam).

Selepas ini, 1 Syawal juga akan membawa makna yang sayu, kerana ia mengingatkan saat ibu saudara tercinta yang pergi meninggalkan kami buat selama-lamanya.

Mohon disedekahkan al-Fatihah – daripadaNya kita datang , kepadaNya juga kita akan kembali. Moga-moga kita kembali dalam keadaan yang cukup bersedia.

Allahyarham Adlan Benan Omar (1973 – 2008)

I managed to squeeze some time to pay a visit to Allahyarham Adlan Benar Omar’s grave in Seremban, together with an old friend Adany Ismail on Merdeka Day. Together, we witnessed his deterioration from the genius that he was to a dying man in his last few months in late 2007.

Death comes to all of us. Different people handle deaths and the loss of loved ones differently. To most of us, the death of our loved ones changes us forever.

There were times that I keep thinking how life would have been different if Ben had not gone so prematurely. Many things that I am doing now will not be mine but his.

I once wrote a long tribute about Ben, which I reproduced here as a reminder for us not to forget those who had left us. It is a reminder that we are but one of the many in a long line of people over the years who search for conscience and truth – just as we come unannounced, we should live and leave unannounced when our time comes; because truly our real tryst is with Allah and Allah alone.

It is also a reminder that in the end, any struggle is only a path to Him. I remind myself and people around me, constantly, that one day it will be our time – and it could be tomorrow.

To those who know Adlan Benan Omar, please sedekahkan al-Fatihah for him – may Allah blesses his soul for the wonderful person that he was. I wish I had more time with him, yet at the height of the turmoil in 1998 we usually said “wamakaru wamakarullah wallahu khairun maakiriin”. I should have known better.

This piece was originally written in March 2008, 2 months after his death. I reproduced here for the benefits of those who might not know Allahyarham Adlan Benan Omar.


Much has been written about the late Adlan Benan Omar (Mohd Shah, Class of 90) and you only need to Google him to find out. This account is not intended as an obituary of his colourful life; rather a reflection of the 17 years that I spent with him from the days of Malay College Kuala Kangsar.


“.. so how did you know him?”

“..well, he was appointed late as a prefect so one assembly, there was this huge prefect receiving a standing ovation…”

The conversation took place between me and Rizal (an ex-Cambridge lad who look after Ben all this while) on 15th January 2008 at the UMMC around 10 pm while Ben was having his routine dialysis. By then it was very clear that he (Ben) might not be around for long unless miracles happened.

I would remember that conversation with Rizal until my last breath, because despite our individual closeness to Ben, Rizal and I actually did not communicate much. I love him for looking after Ben all this while – a responsibility that I know was partly mine all along but was very bad at it; he (Rizal) must have felt the closeness by virtue of my closeness to Ben. But our relationship was awkward to say the least.

So the fact that we started to reflect the initial days that we knew Ben somehow signaled the resignation that the ‘end’ was near. It was poignant because both Rizal and I knew by then that it was a matter of days before it could happen.

My first recollection of Ben was a ceremony to appoint one Adlan Benan Omar as a prefect in my first month in MCKK. It was memorable because the name “Benan” was uncommon; plus he received a standing ovation while making his way to the stage.

Over the months, Ben had a lasting impression on me because of his oratory skills. To others in my batch, he was one of the kindest prefect-on-duty (together with Azizan Din) during the prep time inspection. Unlike some prefects who would tear our desk cover or punished us for the littlest mistake, Ben spent more time correcting our English (e.g. once someone wrote “Silent is golden” after which he spent some time explaining why it should have been “silence”).

It was these two traits – his oratory (and intellect) and kindness that eventually made us some sort of a tag team in many adventures that we had had together; from the college days all the way to the reformasi experience and beyond.


“..Third, if the objective is to win PPM vicariously, I and Dany have already done it in 1992. To us, it was a greater achievement because of the long dearth of MCKK win (since Sefudin Dolloh in 1980), we had putty to work with (Badak), a great debater (Kechoque) and a turtle. So there’s really nothing for us to gain out of all this, except more bother. Lagipun kitorang MCOBA and all MCOBAs are sworn brothers, betul tak, Shahrol?”

– email 31 March 2004, discussing the merit of coaching MCKK debating teams

I had been a school debater since my primary school days – apparently I never know when to shut up. In MCKK, each year the senior debaters would carry out a “screen test” to select new debaters for his batch to progress to represent koleq in future years.

As a Form 1, I never knew my “potential” (as it was referred to by Ben over and over again in my junior years) but I realized a string of interest from the senior debaters of my ability to speak; after a few months in college. While some others were more forthcoming (e.g. Dany wanted me to go to PPM – those days it was unheard of that a F1 could go to PPM); Ben kept a distance for a while. I remember that he smiled all the time when I debated, though he rarely said much.

But as a debater, he was to inspire a generation of debaters that MCKK had produced. I remember the inter-house competition in 1990 – on Saturday night he represented MS in the English section and won; the next night he won the Malay section. He was the first bilingual debater I met in my life and he was legendary in both.

In the 90s, the PPM was won repeatedly by RMC helmed by one Arulkanda Kandasamy. Later on we crossed path as the three of us were all in UKEC in the UK – and Arulkanda (the legend of the Malaysian debating circles) used to marvel endlessly at Ben’s debating prowess.

Ben went to Abingdon in Oxfordshire for his A-Level and became the first Malay head boy elected by popular votes.

Throughout the 2 years he was at Abingdon, our correspondence increased. He used to write on monthly basis to me – encouraging me to work hard to recapture PPM (which was last won by the newly minted YB of Temerloh, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah in 1980). PPM by then was becoming a Holy Grail that every debater in MCKK spent our lifetime trying to win.

The friendship (between a legendary figure by MCKK’s standard and a junior who barely uttered 10 words to him while he was in MCKK) grew as our letters went back and forth (and this was during the snail mail era between Oxfordshire and Kuala Kangsar).

In 1992, I had my first ‘cap’ representing MCKK as a first speaker – a Form 3 leading a debating team, which was not so common in those days. It was a combination of Ben’s “wasiat” to the teachers as well as the teachers’ own pragmatism to promote meritocracy and break the stranglehold of “seniors-come-first” mentality. The correspondence increased as I kept sending him request for assistance with our points. He never failed to come back with a list of issues and facts for us to consider in our debates.

Nobody paid attention to us – not budak koleq, not the old boys, not even the school – as we were a bunch of first timers. Most of the attention went to the Cagers and English debaters. We were expected to lose in the first round.

Suddenly against all odds we broke the curse of 12 years and went to the final against the defending champion – all thanks to Ben. Fortunately the final was carried out annually during the summer break, so he came back from Oxfordshire to coach us.

It was only in August 1992 – after 2 years’ worth of correspondence – that I had a decent conversation with him for the first time. I remember he drove me (he was 19 years old then) in his old Saga to buy food to and fro Sekolah Alam Shah (where we were staying) throughout the preparation and looked after us.

He would explain the issue and then related the issue to the facts – so that we (myself, Badak Class of 92 as the second speaker and Kechoq Class of 93 as the third speaker) really understood the flow of thoughts. Then he would drill us with the rebuttal training – a bombardment of rebuttal upon rebuttal impromptu to train our “reflex” when dealing with opponent’s arguments. In the end, more than 90% of our text and argument was his – the only remaining 10% was what we had to come up for ourselves if the opponents went off-track in their arguments.

That year we won PPM and the jubilant celebration by the present and old boys at Dewan Muktamar that night was one of the most important memories of my childhood. In a single sweep – I owed Ben for the rest of my life; for giving us the opportunity to lift the trophy when all other better debaters than us had failed year after year before that.

One thing that I must mention here is Ben’s reputation as a walking encyclopedia. I know budak koleq of the later years would refer to this or that person as a walking encyclopedia – but if they had met Ben, they would have known what a real walking encyclopedia is. After all this is a guy who began to read when he was 3-4 years old and by Standard 6, I was told he had memorized the Malaysian Constitution. Gedebe (Baharuddin Hassan, the eccentric History teacher) used to tell me how he would never bother to mark Ben’s SPM paper, instead he would rather ask Ben to pick the mark himself.

So when both of us decided to take “sabbatical” break from partisan politics (having spent 5-6 years of our time during the early reformasi and keADILan days) – it was natural that we went back to coach MCKK debating teams, upon request by our ex-teachers.

From 2004 onwards, Ben and I spent a lot of our time with the present debaters. Ben never missed the team’s training or tournaments despite his failing health. He was a much better coach than I was since the team he coached made it to the final each year at the UIA National Debate Championship (in 2004, 2005 and 2006) while mine always crashed at earlier rounds. In 2004, he led the whole contingent of the coaches (8 of us altogether) for a week in Kangar for the PPM – we rented a bungalow and spent days and nights with the boys and teachers.

By the time we finally won UIA championship in April 2007, Ben was too sick to be present. I had tears – not so much because we won, but I had wished for him to be there as it would have meant a lot for him. He made his last visit to MCKK for a debate training in July 2007 – he collapsed while watching the boys doing a mock debate; then recovered and delivered his final speech to the present debaters. He passed away about 6 months later.

Looking back, there were times I felt guilty that I dragged Ben to coach the boys when I knew he was not fit physically. Yet I did the boys a great favour that they had the privilege to know him and drew inspiration from him, the way I was. In the final analysis, I want to believe that both Ben and I did not have regret for the last 4 years we spent coaching the MCKK debating teams.

I am sure that the present and future MCKK debating teams will always remember the Debating Master who single-handedly transformed our fortune and set in motion the discipline and tradition that defines MCKK debaters for many years to come.


“.. long ago I shot my bow, Where it fell I didn’t know, Much later in a huge great oak, I picked it up still unbroke..”

– letter from Abingdon, 16 April 1992

Ben was always a man in hurry, knowing that his health would be a limitation in the future. In his many correspondences to me when I was a junior, he would share his frustration of the unfairness of the world, of the resolve that we must have to do the right thing in life, of the burden to lead. He was very concerned about having people who would continue his “fight” for setting things right – whatever I understood that to be then.

Much of my worldview in MCKK during my formative years was influenced by Ben’s idea of “fighting for a just cause”. This romanticism later on plunged us into other things; which were to have a profound effect on the direction of his life.

My decision to shun prefectship against everyone’s expectation and chose the KPKM path was rooted from our shared belief that leadership is partly a question of legitimacy. An appointed prefect can never have the same legitimacy compared to an elected Union’s EXCO.

He encouraged me to explore the unthinkable in MCKK. By mid of Form 4 – as an anti-establishment KPKM EXCO poised to play a bigger role when I was in Form 5 – our discussion on what I should do when I was in Form 5 grew more intense in our correspondence. I bounced a lot of ideas on what I thought at the time the necessity to undo the “power structure” in MCKK dominated by the Prefects Board – he always gave feedback and advices on the need to be magnanimous and considerate when dealing with opponents.

I received an ESSO scholarship to USA before I sat for my SPM; however I went on to take PETRONAS’ scholarship solely because I wanted to join Ben in the UK. By that time, Ben was already in Cambridge reading History and Law.

We always discussed the “adventures” of doing something different for the good of the people; so when eventually he founded UKEC (a coalition of Malaysian students associations in the UK) I got very excited. Through UKEC we hoped we could change the landscape of student activism in the UK – from one that was partisan and a mere vehicle of the political masters in Malaysia (e.g. Kelab UMNO, Kelab MIC, Hizbi) – to one that promoted intellectualism, openness and the spirit of volunteerism.

Ben achieved with UKEC in two years what other student leaders before his time could not achieve for a decade. He elevated the voice of students at the national arena so much so that ministers began to court UKEC (and directly him). It was very human to be impressed with Ben’s talent and ability, so before long he was very much the darling of the establishment. By 1996 – UKEC counted among its Honorary Members the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, scores of ministers, intellects and corporate leaders.

Consequently, Ben found himself in Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s circles when he came back from Cambridge. In the early days, he sometimes got very frustrated with the manners things were done in our society; when sometimes the most basic issue of fairness was easily put aside. He feared the direction the society was taking – much of his fear back then in one way or another manifested itself later on; especially on the part where “one day we shall be governed by our inferiors”.

He used to write a lot and telephoned me (I was in Leeds at the time) to share his frustration; nevertheless he trudged along serving IKD (Institut Kajian Dasar).

Then came the economic crisis and 1998; which was to change his path completely. While I struggled as UKEC Chairman in the UK to calm the students community due to various rumours of a possible recall by the government; Ben lobbied in Malaysia for the government not to over-react. We collaborated with MBM and PKPIM to put forward a common voice in dealing with students’ reaction to the economic crisis to resist suggestions that overseas scholars were relocated locally (among other issues championed); made possible through the MCKK connection (MBM President was Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, Class of 78 while PKPIM General Secretary was Ahmad Shabrimi Sidek, Class of 91). The collaboration eventually led to a lasting common ground between local and overseas Malaysian students and propelled us to the heydays of reformasi in 1998.

By 1998, the political landscape changed so much. Ben and our circles had various discussions on how to navigate but we always ended up at the same point when it came to the most appropriate response – speak our mind without fear or favour. Things snowballed and by 2 September 1998, Ben chose the irreversible.

With the benefit of hindsight, he could have chosen the easy way out. Somehow I feel human beings will always find good reasons to justify the decisions they make – so if Ben had wanted to ignore his conscience; he could have opted to go with the establishment that abandoned Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. He could have seized the vacuum left and emerged as the frontrunner among the young faces in UMNO eventually, given his unrivalled intellect, charisma and oratory skills.

Yet he was never interested in power for himself, only in power as a tool to do the right thing and to effect changes. When power by itself is in conflict with the greater purpose for which the power is supposed to be exercised; he chose to abandon the prospect for power. He chose reformasi and conscience.

Ben spent his years after 1998 on a rollercoaster of adventure – the reformasi type of adventure. Our objective as concerned activists and collegians was to keep the Anwar Ibrahim story alive – in our own small ways, together with Raja Petra, Q (Class of 95) and a few others – we were among the motley crew of people who manned the last frontier inaccessible by the reach of power of the ruling regime: internet through various reformasi websites. Ben also contributed a lot to the overseas campaign to keep Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in the limelight; given his many contacts abroad.

Eventually he did return to Malaysia and was one of the early pioneers of Pemuda keADILan, until his last posts in the party as a member of the Supreme Council (MPT) and Youth Secretary. In 2003, Ben and I decided to take a “sabbatical” leave from all party posts and went on our separate ways (as far as politics and activism was concerned). He remained very close to the opposition political pulse and frequented Kota Bharu in advisory roles on economic matters until his health deteriorated.

There were many times that I looked at Ben in melancholy especially in his final months. He was content with spending time with his little niece or entertaining some of the present debaters – what a stark difference to what could have been; for someone with gifts like his. Many times I wished that he had not chosen the path he took in 1998; so that he would be at a place where I thought he deserved. I grew restless sometimes that the society idolized certain personalities who were no match to Ben’s intellect and charisma; because the society never had the opportunity to know him in the first place. On a number of occasions, I wished that Ben had shown some sign of remorse that he had forfeited the promise of influence, power and popularity – in exchange for conscience and peace.

Ben that I know however never had a single regret of the path he had taken. Till his dying breath, never once I heard he expressed regret – his concern was always that the interest of the people and country must come over and above everyone else’s; and this he expressed with sheer eloquence in a meeting with YTM Tengku Tan Sri Razaleigh Hamzah (perhaps his last political meeting) in October 2007.

With the passing of Ben, I lost a person I regard as the best intellect and the most charismatic leader of my generation – and many who have had encounters with Ben from near or far would have agreed with me.

One person was constantly on my mind as the phone kept ringing and TV channels were flipped from one another on the night of 8 March. He was not around to witness the coming of age of fellow Malaysians – a dream that he pursued relentlessly throughout his relatively short life. Before I slept that morning, I reassured myself that though many will not remember his contribution that made 8 March 2008 possible; at least those who had worked with him will know that the choices he made had not been in vain.


“Time passes by, Raf, and may soon overtake us. But the love is constant and only goes stronger. Even when I am gone, I will watch over you as full of pride at you as I have always been. But then you know I have always, and will always, love you above all else..”

– SMS 24 October 2007

Most articles written on Ben revolve around his intellectual and oratory prowess. I would have understood it since Ben was always a larger than life figure who left a lasting impression on people. He was truly a shooting star – most did not have much opportunity to know him better, but they will always remember the witty genius they once met.

In that perspective, I can consider myself extremely blessed to be so close to him personally since 1990. Our relationship evolved from one of a senior-junior to a mentor-apprentice to partners in crime and finally to brothers.

Initially our relationship always revolved around “work”. In MCKK – it was always about winning PPM, restructuring the “order of the day” or succession planning, then in UKEC it was always about pushing for more moderate voice with reasons beyond racial and religious lines to the point that in 1997, he once wrote to me that sometimes in the future we (he and I) should spend time to catch up on personal matters and not just work.

But of all so many virtues that Allah has blessed him with – Ben’s greatest asset was his kindness. He had a kind heart that on many occasions he never thought twice to take from his pocket and give it to others; and he never gloat about it.

He started a charity project called Kalsom with other friends in the UK to provide guidance and assistance to excellent students from rural areas in 1994. The project had been continuous since then and each year hundreds of Form 4 students from all over the country benefited. Some of these students have long started working; some of them benefited financially from Ben’s assistance during their years in university.

Fazurin (another close friend to Ben and a fellow debater) and I had always agreed that Ben “suffered” from superiority complex. Given his intellect, in public he was a larger than life character; impressing and dazzling people to the point that he could appear remote sometimes. Yet he was a gentle and considerate person in private – a trait that perhaps many did not have the opportunity to witness.

While growing up, many of us went through ups and downs; myself included. Luckily Ben was always around and would support me in any means necessary. Once when I was going through a rough patch as a young accountant struggling to qualify for my CA in London – after a messy breakdown in relationship and barely able to pay my bills with my meager pay – Ben flew all the way from Singapore just to give moral support (and took me out for dinner etc. to cheer me up) and paid my bills until I could get back on my feet. He never once mentioned about the money he paid for my rent and bills during those days in London.

And I could not be the only one whose life he had touched. There were many others; because unlike many of us – he invested in people. He believed in potential and in people’s ability to continue the good work that he had done. Somehow he always knew that he would not live long; so his energy was spent considerably in influencing and touching the lives of others whom he hoped one day could accomplish things he did not have the time to do.

Looking back, he should be proud. There are some Malay Cambridge graduates who would not have been in Cambridge without his help. He left behind a band of junior debaters in MCKK who went on to represent Malaysia (among others) and accomplished many things none of us was able to do. The UKEC as an organization produced many outstanding professionals (having benefited from the training that UKEC provided as a platform) whose contribution to the nation will continue to grow in the future. He worked tirelessly for the cause to release Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and he held the fort for Pemuda Keadilan (together with other activists) in the face of onslaught from the opponents; so that the people after him could bring the party where it is today.

I wish many of the successful Malays would have had a passion for investing in people like him. I was partly motivated by him to start a string of projects with MCKK with the broad objective of moulding exceptional talents among our students. We follow these talented students all the way through university and into their first job. This is our only way of saying thanks to Ben – by making sure we touch many other people’s life the way he had touched ours.

I only have one regret with Ben – that I never reciprocate his time and efforts for me, as I was too busy pursuing my own things. After we took the “sabbatical” leave from partisan politics, we went separate ways. I concentrated on my duty as a corporate slave and part time MCKK coach, he was with his stuff. Along the way his health deteriorated and he kept it from me (and I was never bothered to check up on him regularly). We still talked on the phone once in a while, but the frequency got less and less over time.

After PPM 2007, I wanted to see him just to vent my frustration with the way things were – as I was frustrated with the system, MCKK and even the team. It was only then that I knew he had just been out of the ICU. He had always been in and out of hospital and I visited him once in a while, but that was the first time he was discharged from an ICU.

I remember that day – despite his difficulty and pain, he spent some time cheering me up and going through all the jokes and experiences that we went through in our many adventures, as if reflecting. It was then that I knew that his time was short.

I was glad that I had the opportunity to make it up somehow to him over the next few months – that I spent more time with him after work; mostly to cheer him up. But things deteriorated very quickly and by end of December 2007 – doctors felt that nothing much could be done for him.

In his last few weeks, he stopped talking. I would like to think that it was his resignation that he would go away and was reflecting; though sometimes I could not help but wonder whether he was angry.

On 17 January 2008 – his last birthday – I brought him a card around midnight as we (the family and I) were not sure whether it was a good idea; but we thought it was worth trying to cheer him up. He did not read that night and the torrential tears that I had when he was indifferent to the card was the worst so far; as I desperately needed to believe that I had not let him down and he was not angry.

The next day his sister called me to tell me that he read the card twice and I cannot describe how happy I was. I thought that I could make a difference in assisting him to fight his illnesses, so I started writing a letter in the manner he used to write so many letters to me. I wanted to leave a letter each day to him to encourage and motivate him; to remind him of what a wonderful friendship the last 17 years had been.

I never managed to pass the first letter to him – by Saturday his health deteriorated so much that it became clear that his time would be in a matter of days. He passed away one week after his birthday. I was not around; I was at work.

The last meaningful thing that I said to him was through the birthday card, part of which was as follows (from whatever I could recall):

“.. I am sorry for all the years of neglect, for all the years of taking you for granted..
..You are the only person I ever look up to and I simply cannot contemplate life without you yet…
.. Once you wrote to me that when there was only one set of footsteps on the beach; that was because God carried the man through – so will He with you…
… As you always told me – “this too shall pass”…
… for whatever it is worth, Happy Birthday Abang…”

Ben left behind too big a vacuum that it is irreplaceable. Yet many will remember him for the kindness, the inspiration, the lessons, the assistance and the privilege of knowing him in the first place. Rest Ben, Insya Allah our prayers will never leave you alone.

Adlan Benan Omar, Mohd Shah House (Class of 90) read History and Law in Cambridge. He was an investment banker by career and historian by passion.

Rafizi Ramli, Sulaiman House (Class of 94) was the Union president and Carey Award winner in 1994. He was trained as an engineer and is currently an accountant by practice.

Satar Ikan!

Ramadhan mengingatkan saya kepada satar ikan. Satar ikan adalah makanan yang berasal dari Terengganu (walaupun orang Kelantan mungkin boleh mempertikaikannya, memandangkan ramuannya hampir sama dengan solok lada).

Dulu-dulu, setiap kali berbuka satar ikan adalah salah satu juadah yang wajib ada. Berbuka tanpa satar ikan rasanya janggal.

Sekarang, sukar untuk mencari satar ikan yang sebaik satar ikan dulu-dulu. Banyak yang tidak kena – ikannya busuk, atau terlalu kurang kandungan ikan (tahukah anda ada undang-undang yang menetapkan berapa peratusan kandungan udang di dalam belacan?), atau kelapa parutnya terlalu keras dan bukan kelapa muda; dan bermacam-macam lagi. Sekarang, kebanyakan satar ikan yang dijual rasanya mirip bebola ikan, cuma dibungkus dengan daun pisang! Kebarangkalian berjumpa satar ikan yang asli seperti dulu-dulu samalah seperti kebarangkalian berjumpa harta karun Jeneral Yamashita di Filipina 😉

Malaysia pun, kalau kita tidak berhati-hati, boleh menerima nasib seperti satar ikan yang menjadi bebola ikan. Kalau dikira kekayaan per kapita hasil bumi dan kesuburan tanahnya, Malaysia mungkin berada tinggi di dalam senarai negara-negara paling dirahmati Allah.

Tetapi selepas 55 tahun, kita makin ke belakang. Banyak perkara yang dahulunya kita mendahului dan dihormati, kita ditinggalkan jiran.

Malaysia kini berbanding dahulu tidak ubah seperti satar ikan yang rasanya sudah mirip bebola ikan 😉

Nota: Arwah Adlan Benan Omar pernah menghabiskan sebakul satar ikan dalam masa setengah jam!