The Germans have a tradition of saying very few words of mourning whilst reminiscing all the fine memories of friends and family that have passed on, often over drinks, as a celebration of a good life having come to a conclusion. In line with one of Ben's old tendencies to enjoy things German, I shall do this.
To have died at the age of 35 may have seem tragic to many, but as Ben had known of the likely shortness of his life since he was 18, he had driven himself to filling his life with purpose from the time I got to know him. It was evident to me as we were first introduced only months prior to the diagnosis of his illness.
Before we met, I was told by another old friend that,"You will like Ben, you'll see. He has this charisma, a way with words, articulate, very opinionated."
"He's an a**hole?",I asked.
"He's an a**hole. Like I said, you'll like him",was the response. To my relief, Ben was not a Gunners fan, which would have been intolerable, as he was exactly the type of a**hole to others that I was happy to call friend.
One could say that we were surprisingly close for potential rivals. We shared many ideals; patriotism, respect for history. He was a Minang traditionalist with intimations of nobility, which made him easy for me to read in terms of motive, if not method. He also easily appreciated my anarchic version of nationalism, which helped. (I think he felt me little better than a proper anarchist in use of words).
From Ben I better appreciated the value and joy of being different, in which he revelled. He was always the first to support an initiative, and was very good at picking winners as he judged initiatives not on the potential benefits alone, but on nobility of purpose and the values and merits of the people involved.
This sometimes gave rise to suspicion of ambition, yes the thing that got Gaius Julius Caeser killed, but like Caeser, his ambition was always with a sense of giving or ultimately noble intentions, though his methods are oft misconstrued.
His achievements in leadership are uncommon, if not unique, for someone so young. He was in turn:
- Elected student MP at the English Public School he attended as a JPA/BTU scholar for his A-Levels, Abingdon School. This was impressive for a foreign student whom had joined the school as a 6th former only months before and had won under the ticket of his own 'party', None Of The Above (NOTA), against local Young Labour and Young Conservative candidates.
- Founder and I believe first Secretary of the Cambridge University Malaysian Society (CUMaS).
- Pro-tem Chairman and Founder, then Chairman, of the United Kingdom Executive Council for Malaysian Students, UKEC (now a UK and Eire council). We founded this together with Don Rahim, Omar Siddiq, Badlisyah Ghani, Flora Romeo, Eqhwan Mokhzanee, Lim Chong Han, Munir Aziz together with others friends...
- Secretary General of Party KeAdilan Rakyat Youth.
We became 'occassional acquaintences' again over the last 5 years, when I first returned to Malaysia ~4+ years ago.
Over these last few years, Ben and I would arrange to meet at least once a year, as he strove to find a purpose that would best fill what would be the last years of his life. Whilst he had suffered disappointment in youth party politics, he never dropped his chin on our encounters. What we shared in motives and purpose seemed little changed. In meetings big and small, he made an impression.
Only months ago, I was sorry to hear that I had missed just one such event where Ben stood to give concise, precise, strong and credible opinions in a forum of political players young and old, hosted and presided by none other than Tan Sri Tunku Razaleigh Hamzah. Those few who did not know his name talked of an impressive young man standing with a stick and the dignity of an elder.
This should have come as no surprise, as during his time as a party youth leader, his sharp wit and tongue had impressed even at the prestigious forums hosted by the Johns Hopkins University in the US. There he well surpassed his Malaysian contemporaries present in open forum, frustrating the likes of Khairy Jamaluddin among others, with quality of argument.
There is a rumour, I would like to think well founded, that Ben was involved in the penning of an entire book on the machinations of KJ and his minions. That I mention it here shows that such an effort was yet again to Ben's credit.
I will miss this friend of mine, not because we were buddies or relied on each other in any way, but in just knowing a man I uniquely respected for his values, that held strong and suffered little changing over the years. Over the last year or so, Ben was busy fulfilling his Minang obligations as guardian to his niece, eventual heir to the property of his mother's line. Traditionalist to the end.
I was glad to have had the opportunity to say goodbye to Ben and hope he had understood and shared that final encounter to bind us. I write this as my second last gift in fond memory of him as a friend. My final gift will honour his memory as a leader and historian par excellence from our generation.
Adlan Benan Omar