Thursday, January 24, 2008

Farewell Old Ben...

It is a rare occassion when both my father and I lose a friend to the hereafter on the same day, and it happened today. I am saddened by the passing of my old friend Adlan Benan Omar, better known as Ben Omar to many, but I was also relieved, having seen how he suffered in dignity when I last visited him almost 2 weeks ago.

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:
  1. 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.

  2. Founder and I believe first Secretary of the Cambridge University Malaysian Society (CUMaS).

  3. 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...

  4. Secretary General of Party KeAdilan Rakyat Youth.
I am sure I have missed many other achievements. Ben also had a student, then professional life in the midst of many quests in leadership, but it is to my regret that I am incapable of chronicling these as we grew apart from the final year of our studies abroad. I understand he chose to be a banker over becoming a lawyer or historian as he was schooled, yet again bucking a typical Malaysian trend.

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

1973 - 2008


chong y l said...

thanks for from-de-heart sharing. i wish'd we culd have met and bantered a li'l though VVe might have disagreed aMore than nodding' our heads. Still, second hand sharing is badder than none at awe! May thy GOoDfriend's soul rest in the arms of de Almoghty, however VVe deem Him to be. Amen/Amin -- Desi

A Voice said...

I wouldn't have done a better obituary than this, if I had written it. I was motivated to write of him but realised I had only met the person on only several but impressionable occasions. Thus, it's better that I post a comment here.

I first met him for the first time at the launching of the book, "Malaysia And The Club of ... Doom" by TDM at the last remaining months of Kelantan Delight at KLCC. This was just after TDM's first entry into IJN.

Although, prior to that, I've heard of him over the grapevine and googled him, I did not get into my usual reserved and sometime prejudicial mode over his Keadilan association in that encounter.

After that meeting I managed to meet him again for a short personal chat at the Grand Season some weeks later to provide him some information on some historical research he is doing. FYI, he was compiling a history of Malay royal families throughout the Archipelago as his "legacy when I go".

The biggest imprint he had on me was in one closed private discussion at the home of one political personality last Ramadhan. During the discussion, one fella decided to turn devil advocate to provoke the discussion with a what-make-you-say-you-won't-do-it-when-you-are-up-there remark. That brought a spontaneous response from Ben. As I looked into his eyes, I saw sincerity and compassion in him as he uttered this exact words:

"... I will never ever betray my country, my religion and my race ..."

The usual response most would have expectedly make to such provocation would have been a defensive or occasionally offensive response, rather than making such overused turned cliche-ish declaration. The gusto and bravado of the response actually struck on me then that isn't that supposed to be in the heart of every red blooded Malay Malaysian.

I strongly believed his demise is a great lost to the nation. As a friend who went to pay his last respect to Tan Sri Megat Junid yesterday said Ben's death really moved him. He confide that it is regretable that a potential young leader, who could have contributed immensely to this country, dies so unceremoniously.

As they say, good people die young. Perhasp, Allah love and want him more than we may actually need of him. His return could actually to protect him. And he will be remembered in perpetuity as a young man with that vigour of intellect and sense of purpose.

I was told that he will be buried this morning in Seremban. I wish you ... Farewell young man! Farewell! Al fatihah!

(I will be reproducing an article written by him I found amusing but profound on my blog. Care to take a peek.)

Rockybru said...

al fatihah. my loss to have never known such a fine lad.

Ghostpipe said...

AMU, I just read of our old friend's demise in this post. Over the years I've been wondering how to get hold of him (and you as well as the others).

Didn't manage to see him for the last time.

May he rest in peace.

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Unknown said...

I was at school with Ben. In fact, I was a member of his election committee, and had the privilege of regularly sharing with him - or, I should perhaps say, 'conceding to' - the debating chamber. A strange series of coincidences led me to wonder what had become of him, and I am very sad to hear of the passing of such a charismatic and passionate orator. He was... a lot of fun.

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