Friday, January 11, 2008

Benan IV

I have promised Abang about putting down words on the 'Net (as opposed to 'putting pen to paper'? :-P) since last November, about the one and only time I met Ben in London but enough to leave a huge mark on me.

It was early April 1995, middle of spring time. Well, to be exact, the stamp in my auld passport told me that I flew out of Heathrow to Prague on the 10th of April 1995, so it must've been a couple of days prior to that, that I first met Ben in London.

I came down from Edinburgh to my childhood mate's place in London as a transit before catching a flight with the rest of the class for our annual study trip to Europe. One of the days I was there, that childhood mate of mine, Romie, took me for a breakfast at the Malaysian Hall.

"I've a friend to meet up. He's from Cambridge. I tell ya, you're gonna be in great awe at this guy. He's simply awesome..." and on and on Romie went about 'this guy' which included how this guy even managed to secure some RM2mill in fund for smthn that I couldn't quite recall (it was prolly for his alma mater i.e MCKK) and looked set to be our future Prime Minister.

"Even the PM Mahathir sendiri cakap personally ke dia, 'I think one day you're going to fill my shoes'..imagine that! We call him 'Benan' by the way."

"Wow he can't be that brilliant can he? How old is he anyway?" I asked Romie. Tak percaya lah aku ada budak terror macam ni kan. heh heh.

"Setahun tua dari kita kot... 23! And he's doing a double degree in Cambridge some more!" laa dee da.

Okay laaaaah, aku terima aje apa Romie kata, kan. After all, I see no reason why Romie had to lie about his friend.

And so we met up at the Malaysian Hall. At first hullo, he was awroite. Pretty burly guy. Rambut that needs trimming badly. Pretty beefy, funny but yet too humble for me to imagine him what Romie told me that he was.

For lunch, we decided to walk down to the Chinatown (I think, lah. Ke, naik tube ka. Tak ingat. Dah la aku tak hafal London tu.) and have lunch at one of the Restaurants there.

He ordered ducks, I think. Can't remember what Romie and I ordered.

Nevertheless, it was here at the restaurant that he started to leave a mark on me.

We spoke about politics (well, Romie and Ben, rather. Aku diam je.). We talked about history, he told us about his Professor hadiahkan dia a set of centuries-old History books as a gift for his excellence in his year, he told us about his centuries-old room with huge old oak door that he managed to live in (live in the room, lah. Not in the oak door :-P. Apparently the room is only reserved for Top Scorers or somethin' like that) laa dee daa.

And then, he spoke Latin to us! I was like, Wayyyyy too much lah this guy, kan! Amazing gila!

And then he recited us a poem that he wrote both in English and B.M.

"I shot an arrow to the air,
Then it fell I knew not where,
Much later in a huge great oak,
I picked it up, still unbroke...

Ku layangkan panah naik ke udara,
Hilangnya jatuh entah ke mana,
Nun jauh di kebun getah,
Bila ku ambil langsung tak patah."


I was duly hooked! Though part of the English version sounded like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "The Arrow And The Song" ('Long, long afterward, in an oak, I found the arrow, still unbroke'), but I didn't care. To me back then, he was damn kewl, man. His brains macam RAM of a super-computer!

Dengan tak segan silunya I asked him for a favour, to write me that poem on a napkin for me to keep. Dia siap sign lagi. Oh I was so chuffed! Ha ha!

Little did I know that 12 years on, he was almost, almost on his way to become the future Malaysia's PM!

It was also here that Romie mentioned to me that Ben has a younger sister named Juni, who was (and still is, mind you!) a purdy young thang and also multi-lingual. And who Ben was very protective over.

Coincidently, just a few months back, a certain Juni and friends who knew one of my housemates back then, came over to Edinburgh and tumpang rumah kami di St. Catherine's Place for a few nights (see my story in Benan III). Now, that set of ladies also made an impression on us in St.Cats ~ kami yang comot dan kebudak-budakan as opposed to them ladies yang sangat lady-like, elite, prim and proper. They all had handphones, yo. Back then in 1995, handphones were pretttttty b-i-g.

And I went loike... "Benan!!! Get out!! Juni's your sister??? But you don't look like you have a darn pretty sister, with all due respect!", and he just laughed away at my rather blunt remark.

"Dia ada handphone, woh," I added. "Where's yours, lah??"

And to that he repelied, "Naaaaah. I've promised myself, I would never ever carry a handphone UNLESS someone would carry it for me!"

I remember that line till now.

Anyhoos. As with everything else, great moments must come to an end. We all walked down to the nearest tube station and we parted there. Him back to Cambridge, Romie and I back to Romie's place.

And then I flew to Prague, the napkins still tucked safely in my luggage. And this 'Benan character' embedded deeply in my mind.

Aiyoh, buleh ka ada manusia macam ni? Impressive gila, lah! And I thought, if one day he'd be our Prime Minister, I would so second him!

Back from Prague and back in Edinburgh, I still had this Benan character in my mind, and told all my roomates about him amidst the buah tangan I bought them from Prague. Can't remember how my mates reacted to my 'this Benan guy, who is also Juni's big brother you guuuuyssss!'-story, but what I also knew I had to do quickly was to put the napkin that Ben wrote his poems on in my photo album.
I'd never know if I would, in my future life, ever see this great man again. But deep down I know he's bound to be a really great one.

***

A year or so ago, Abang mentioned to me about his friend who has the mind like a sponge. This friend could read and read and can conclude and weave all the info that he reads. With his sponge-like capabilities, he writes politics, economics, history... practically EVERYTHING and ANYTHING. Abang was clearly impressed by this friend of his.

Apa nama dia, I asked.

Benan. Adlan Benan Omar. We call him Ben. Abang said.

No way! I've met him in London once, you know! I told Abang. We called him Benan, and I still keep his poem that he wrote on a napkin!

Alahai, kecil dunia ni, kan???

Why Abang mentioned about Ben was because he heard that Ben tengah sakit masa tu. Abang was very upset. And Ben was still down working in Singapore or something.

And on the 18th November 2007 that Abang (Saifud)Din, Abang and I visited Ben at Sunway Hospital, it was the first time after 12 years that I met him again, on a very different circumstances - he was deteriorating health-wise, but his mind seemed as sharp still.

In the hospital room, there were his mom, his best friends Rizal & Dani, and Ezam.

When the three of us walked into the room, I let myself trailed the last. While Abg Din and Abang shook hands with Ben, Ben peered over and looked at me, and I smiled at him.

He looked like he's lost so much weight. Later on I was told some 40 pounds of him.

Abang introduced, "That's my wife. She said you two have met once."

He pondered some 2 seconds. And then to my surprise, he said, "Yes, I remember you. In London."

I was truly honoured that even after 12 long years, he still remembers me. Truly, truly honoured. And never thought our paths would cross again.

And soon we were to part. We had to make a move; Ben had to have some cleaning-up to do.

But before saying goodbye, I reminded Ben of that handphone incident.

"You know Ben, masa kat London dulu, when I asked you why did you not own a handphone like everybody else, you said..."

"... yeah, I said I would only own one when someone else would carry it for me. Tu..." * cepat-cepat tunjuk kawan dia Rizal*, "...dia la yang tolong bawakkan untuk I!" he said.

And we all laughed.

"Hey I kept to my promise didn't I?" he asked me back.

"Indeed you have, Ben. Indeed you have." I said, masih tergelak.

Ah, he has been a fighter indeed. Not being his closest comrades, I've only heard about his stories of perjuangan. And as how it has befallen to other fighters too, of how his perjuangan had affected the lives of his beloveds. Hopefully soon not to end as another urban legend. I hope someone would take up the task to compile stories about him.

Oh, did I mention that he mentioned to Abang and friends that the doctors had actually put a date on him? His days was supposed to be marked only until the mid-September 2007. And for him to have survived this long just proves that he's still the fighter that he has always been.

Betul kata Juni. We may sound selfish, but really, none of us are actually ready to let Big Ben go just yet... He's just way too big in mind and at heart.

Ezam, Ben, AbgDin, Abang. 18Nov2007.

I tried googling about Ben after that 18th Nov visit, and I found these:

1. Ben's rather imaginative piece
"The Day Hang Tuah Walked Through My Door"
2. Ben's article
"Nasionalisme Haprak Menunggu Mati"
3. Ben's contribution of facts to the furore over Negaraku anthem.
4. Nik Nazmi's own story about Ben,
"The guy who brought me in the movement".

f~

2 comments:

SAY said...

Benan oh Benan. For some reason I've been trying to call this guy for the past few months, and the only number I have is his Spore mobile. He truly is an amazing guy. Pls do keep post updates.

I was his senior at Abingdon School in England back in early 90's, he was sensational right from the first week he joined the school - the headmaster personally congratulated him during the assembly for swaying the votes at the school's debating society weekly debate with just one comment. and i heard he was made the head boy the year after i left - the first foreigner to be such appointed in that 500-odd year old english public school. the schoolboys thought he was weird, but everyone could see that the teachers were really impressed (and i mean beyond the usual levels that you see from teachers towards students) with him. we used to leave him alone with the masters when he started to discuss history/politics/that sort of crap with these mostly-doctorate-holders who taught at the school. hey we were only 18 then... i also remember him as the guy who laughed at us who took A-Level Maths, calling us suckers for "free A"s... well yes A-level Maths was pretty much a free A :-)

i accidently met him again in Singapore in 2002, had many lunches and dinners with him then, for about a year plus. this guy could even remember my nasi goreng that i used to cook for our clan (in a rice cooker no less) for sahur in Abingdon. me and Adin, my dear roommate used to ask him to stop trying to 'drink' (well he did use a straw) the oil from the king plawn flied lice from the only chinky in Abingdon. to that, he said he wanted to die young... but he also wanted to be Agung (another one of his ramblings).

anyway, all these years i've been describing him to people as the most amazing personality that i've ever met. my mom's very fond of him although maybe more from blogs than my stories. to this day, he remain the most amazing guy i've ever known.

Pls keep updating these pages with his condition.

Roti Kacang Merah said...

mr. say
thanks for dropping by, and thanks ever so much for sharing!

ha ha ha if only he knew my strategy of getting As back when I did my A-Levels, mesti dia kata i ni big time sucker of the entire universe.

I dropped my Physics and Pure & Applied Maths (PAM), and instead took up Statistics and Pure Maths in order to score all As, hahaha! Cheapskate betul.

Do share your Benan stories in your blog with us! Please do!

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