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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Towering Malaysian

A Towering Malaysian

Though I was initially going to write about the debacle at the Bar Council auditorium on Saturday, I decided against it. What more is there to say that we do not know already. It comes as no surprise that radical and extremist elements exist in our society or that political opportunists will seize every perceived advantage where it benefits them to do so, even when it is completely against reason.

What is crucial to understand is that all things said and done, the extremist is the exception and does not define the norm. One has just to look around to appreciate the truth that all our lives are the sum of a collective of varied experience in which no one person is more significant than the other. From the durian seller on Jalan Alor in Kuala Lumpur to the elderly Indian Muslim junk shop owner off Chulia Street in Penang, and everyone in between, we all add hue and colour to the rich tapestry that Malaysia is. That is something that can never be taken away from us.

This was however not the principal reason I chose to leave aside the events of Saturday. Early this morning, fellow Penangite and friend, Azmi Sharom, informed me that a former teacher of ours, Mr Tan Har Yong, had passed away at the age of fifty-four.

I wish I could present a glowing eulogy of the man, his life and triumphs. The sad truth is that I cannot. I cannot recollect the last time I saw him. I cannot tell you about the paths his life took him on nor the journeys he made. Periodically, friends had relayed our greetings to each other. Through this, I came to know only of his having become a pastor and that he was apparently, and somewhat mysteriously, satisfied with what he had managed to achieve with those of us he had tutored. I cannot tell you whether he was happy or fulfilled, though blogs I checked this morning suggested that he was for the fact of his having given himself over to the bigger cause of shepherding those who were guided to him.

And that he did.

Like many others, I first met Mr Tan when I was twelve. I was in Form 1 and his was the comforting presence that allayed my concerns and anxieties about being in a new school, with new people. It was his smile - ready and quick, mildly bemused – and the deadpan expression, that said it all: we were not to take ourselves too seriously but it was perfectly acceptable, natural even, to feel nervous and uncertain as everything would sort itself out.

I remember that smile principally because there was a photograph, a close up, of it. Some of us in the first and second forms had decided to present a photo-feature spoofing the school at a dinner. Apart from a slide of Azmi Sharom stripped to the waist looking like he had just been severely caned, tomato ketchup smeared across his back to emulate blood, there was this slide of Mr Tan. Under it there was a caption that read: “Why is this man smiling?” The next slide offered a wider angle, revealing three students pushing his car, faces contorted by the strain. The caption on this one read: “He saves petrol.”

Over time, we learnt of his uncompromising adherence to fairness and right over wrong. He was rigid at times but for all the correct reasons. His even temperament, compassionate nature and sometimes strange sense of humour ameliorated what few effects there were of this characteristic. He reinforced what many of us were being taught at home. To him, it did not matter that we were Chinese, Indian, Malay or of any other ethnicity. He made us see that though each of us was unique and different, we were all the same for each of us being deserving of the respect of the others.

And so, when we laughed, we laughed together. And when one of us felt pain, all of us felt it too. He made us see that we were family to each other and that even though some of us did not really get along with some of the others sometimes, there were times that we did, all of us.

I would like to think that this had a profound impact on those of us who came to consider him a friend and mentor. He touched our lives and showed us in his own inimitable way that we could achieve anything that we set our minds and hearts on. It is no coincidence that there are a string of lawyers, activists and professionals, all contributing to the shaping a better Malaysia in which race, religion or creed do not matter, whom Mr Tan nurtured as a teacher.

And as I write this, I find myself wondering whether those who decided to disrupt the proceedings on Saturday would have done things differently if they had had a Tan Har Yong in their lives. Perhaps so.

God speed, Mr Tan. You were a towering Malaysian.

(Malay Mail; 12 August 2008)



Anonymous said...

Dear Malik Imtiaz,
Thank you for your kind words for the late Mr. Tan Har Yong. He was my cousin's husband. I will endeavour to get word of your tribute to his immediate family and our church.
Civil society will thrive in Malaysia if our society allows it to.

Andrew said...

Dear Malik Imtiaz,

Indeed, Pastor Tan is a towering Malaysian. I'm glad Pastor Tan touches your life as he did touches mine.

Anonymous said...

Such a contrast to the racist "35-year-old history teacher from SM Telok Panglima Garang" who's been 'promoted' for her BTN-inspired behaviour.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Tan was like a mentor to me..i really miss him..i remember talking to him on saturday nite at eleven..and i summore said i wud c him the next week..but God had other least he is in a better place..

malayamuda said...

Dear Malik,

From one towering Malaysian to another.

You indeed are great. We need more people like you in this world

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with you Malik. In another 20years to come, though I may not be around, I'm sure there would be Malaysians who would share the same thoughts you have shared. But their thoughts would on few good gentlemen like Malik and Azmi who made the difference of being good Muslims.

Malaysia would certainly go long way if it had people like you, Azmi, Mr.Tan and many other good souls.


jlshyang said...

May God be with his family and loved ones. Mr.Tan is my childhood best friend's dad and i have known Mr.Tan since young. His passing came as a shock to me as well, he has touched many lives indeed including mine and nurtured many great personalities including yourself and Azmi Sharom. He will be greatly missed by all.

BareSheen said...

Dear Malik,

Seeing this sort of violent reactions and reading obscurantist blogs like Mahaguru58 is despairing.

Despairing simply because it confirms the ever widening gulf between the races, between believers of various religions.

It would seem Muslims in this country is forever under seiged. From what, I have no faintest idea.

Do you?

Past few days have been a sad day for me as a non-Muslim Malaysian in this country. In fact, there were countless other similar sad days.

Again and again and again, we non-Muslims are made to feel like, sorry for the language, bastards in this country.

We are expected to be mute and dumb, blind and deaf to all things Malay and Islam.

To sweep and sweep everything under the carpet. Pretending that all things are OK.

Does this country deserve me?

Stupid question, I suppose.

Nostradamus said...

Permatang Pauh Voters decide for Nation? - Appeal by Nostradamus.
Pengundi Permatang Pauh tentukan untuk Negara? – Rayuan oleh Nostradamus.

1. Voters of Permatang Pauh will vote come 26 August 2008. Who to vote for and What to vote for?
Pengundi-pengundi Permatang Pauh akan undi menjelang 26 Ogos 2008. Mengundi Siapa and mengundi untuk Apa?

2. 50 Questions to test your Conscience at
50 Soalan untuk menguji Suara Hati anda di

Starmandala said...

A glowing tribute, charged with feeling, to a man I never knew or even heard of. A big hug for this one, Imtiaz.

Whoever posted that long Confucian tract seems unconcerned about making others scroll all the way down just to leave a comment. The thing to do is create your own blog and upload it as an article; then tell us about it and provide a link. Mark of good governance in the blogosphere.

To "baresheen" - the time is past for us to simply lament the rotten state of affairs; time now to consciously engage your energies with helping us pull through the transition to a new government - one that's responsive to public and private feedback, and believes in decency.

flyer168 said...

Dear Malik,

With the Daily sickening "Charade" in this Bolehland, It sure is nice to bring about some "Sanity" & you have come out with this very touching article.

May God Bless his soul & it is indeed a true "Legacacy" that he has left for us to emulate at times like this.

I would also like to share this article with you & your readers:-

The Star Online - Citizen's Blog
Monday, May 19, 2008

Regarding the late Tun Sardon Jubir - he was proper brilliant

Posted by: engleberthumpadink

Quote: "I've just finished reading the biography of a truly great man. And yet now I've finished I feel nothing but sorrow as I look at the people that run the country now.

Tun Sardon was a man of the people, ok he felt more affinity for the Malays, as he was a kampung boy himself, but the Tun Sardon Foundation that still bears his name was started to help the poor and disabled from all races, without prejudice.

This man lived and died for Malaysia, his hard work and lifetime of sacrifice produced benifits that each and every Malaysian still feels the effects of now - he was a key player in the Merdeka movement, he personally visited every single hospital in the nation and made sure they were all improved, he oversaw the construction of Stadium Merdeka, the building of the E-W highway, expansion of Port Klang and Penang port, improved telecommunications here, was the UN envoy and pushed forward the development of Penang whilst governor, as well as being involved in charity projects and visiting a different masjid every week in order to be always with the rakyat and hear their problems.

Here was a man of the people, by his own admission, a man. He came from humble kampung roots - his father worked hard and got together enough money to send him to London to study, even though Sardon was elligable for a grant. Tun Sardon worked every hour god sent as a student, then as a lawyer and after that as a politician.

He never stood there with his hand out saying, "where's my one?" he made sure that what he got was earned through hard work, long hours, sweat and campaigning. And yet, when he died, he died in debt. Why? Because he gave it all away to those who were less fortunate.

Would you believe a government minister giving it all away to the poor and needy? Hmmm, let's have a look at those so called "elected reprasentatives" who are currently driving the country off the proverbial cliff, would they give away any of their millions? Would they give away all of it?

Ha ha ha

Where have all the educated politicians gone?

Where has all the kindness and compassion to all races and religions gone?

Where have the "elected" leaders who care about something other than their own power and pockets gone?

Will we ever see his sort again? I sincerely hope so" unquote.

Beanoo said...

Having been in the same school that Malik Imtiaz was at, I too have not had much opportunity or contact with Tan Har Yong. But I have these words to say about him.

He who has taught me how to add, subtract, multiply and divide.

He who has taught me incomprehensible formulas to make numbers out of thin air.

He who has taught me the words of the Holy Bible.

He who has given me the building blocks in life to see beyond the face of religion into the people behind it.

May he forever Rest In Peace.

Seng said...

Dear Malik,

I simply has to agree with Antares - you have written a wonderful tribute to a man whom I have also never knew or heard of, but touched me very, very deeply for its human-ness. Thank-you.

And also in line with Antares - whoever posted that long, long article - please think of others and consider creating your own blog and upload it as an article; then tell us about it by providing the link. That would be a good blogging practice to adhere to.


Anonymous said...

Hi Malik,

Many of your pieces had stretched me intellectually. It is always good for the mind.

This piece touched my soul.

Wong Fook Meng

Anonymous said...

MIS - I am sure Pastor Tan will be most pleased to know that his tutelage and nurturing has guided some of his young students to become some of the fair thinking adults of today.

Because of him, the rest of us in society has also benefited from the various causes his former students is standing up for.

Thank you Pastor Tan, for making a difference to so many lives - directly or indirectly.

May he rest in peace.

Jerng said...

He was a family friend. Interesting that you know him too. :)

Unknown said...

Mr Tan indeed did impact many lives in his own way.

When I was in school he would actually be the school barber to cut any student's hair which got too long. He was an exemplary teacher and person.

You have run the race of life and finished it well. Rest well, Mr Tan.

Unknown said...

Your tribute to your teacher is touching but I would like to go back to one line at the top of this piece

'Extremist is the exception..'

So why is our top leaders agreeing with the exception? Are our leaders the exception or is our society hostage to the exception? How can a society that is determined by the exception continue for long? Does it say more of us or them?

Anonymous said...

Dear Malik,
Indeed touching and handy at these times. Racial & Religion cards are used time & time again to break Malaysians' spirit!


Anonymous said...

I hope there are many more towering Malaysians out there.

i like chopin said...

Dear Malik

Wish this Mr Tan had also touch the lives of those who protested outside the Bar Council and also those UiTM students.

xenobiologista said...

Yup...I don't remember much about Uncle Har Yong but he was definitely one of my father's close colleagues. Thanks for writing this eulogy.

The fact that Malaysia is a small country is, in my view, a good thing - people who've never met are still linked by shared experiences and friendships. I wish everybody would realize that.

Anonymous said...

RIP Mr Tan
You will be missed.