Jour­ney’s end

Rehman Rashid: Jour­nal­ist, au­thor, Re­nais­sance man.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - People - By TER­ENCE TOH star2@thes­tar.com.my

IN Rehman Rashid’s much loved book, A Malaysian Jour­ney ,he de­scribes his months-long jour­ney through the na­tion, vis­it­ing ev­ery state in Malaysia. De­scrib­ing the sights, sounds, smells, and souls he en­coun­ters, Rehman con­tem­plates the colour­ful ways of the coun­try, pon­der­ing on is­sues such as our cul­ture, iden­tity, unity, and fu­ture.

His book was writ­ten in 1993 – al­most 25 years ago. But peruse its pages, and you’ll dis­cover that some of the things in it could have been writ­ten yes­ter­day. It’s no won­der that the book is a mod­ern-day non­fic­tion clas­sic, ce­ment­ing Rehman in the an­nals of Malaysian lit­er­ary his­tory.

Yes­ter­day, the vet­eran au­thor and se­nior jour­nal­ist died, aged 62, at the Se­layang Hos­pi­tal, Se­lan­gor. He had suf­fered a heart at­tack while cy­cling in Jan­uary, and had been warded ever since.

His pass­ing is mourned by many, who re­mem­ber Rehman for, among other things, his colour­ful per­son­al­ity, his love for life, his brusque frank­ness, his rich and elo­quent vo­cab­u­lary, and his nu­anced way of look­ing at the world.

Rehman was born in Taip­ing, Perak, in 1955, and stud­ied at the Malay Col­lege Kuala Kangsar (MCKK). He re­ceived a de­gree in marine bi­ol­ogy at Univer­sity Col­lege of Swansea in Wales, and worked with the Fish­eries Re­search In­sti­tute in Pe­nang and Univer­siti Pu­tra Malaysia’s fish­eries and marine sci­ence fac­ulty. In 1989, he mar­ried Rose­marie Chen, a lawyer. She died in 2015; the cou­ple had no chil­dren.

He be­came a jour­nal­ist in 1981, and spent seven years as a leader writer and colum­nist with the New Straits Times (NST), be­fore join­ing Asi­aweek mag­a­zine in Hong Kong as a se­nior writer. Rehman then left to work for a year in Ber­muda as a se­nior writer with Ber­muda Busi­ness mag­a­zine, be­fore re­turn­ing home to Malaysia.

Rehman was named jour­nal­ist of the year in 1985 by the Malaysian Press In­sti­tute, and Ber­muda’s print jour­nal­ist of the year in 1991. His books in­clude Pangkor: Trea­sure Of The Straits (1990), A Malaysian Jour­ney and Penin­sula (2016).

Be­fore his death, Rehman was based in Kuala Kubu Baru, a town he loved so much that he paid trib­ute to it in his last book, Small Town (2016). An avid fan of div­ing and cy­cling, he lived an in­ter­est­ing, ac­tive life­style to the end.

Writer, film­maker, and pub­lisher Amir Muham­mad, who first met Rehman while he was writ­ing his famed col­umn, Scor­pion Tales ,in the New Straits Times, said he would al­ways re­mem­ber Rehman as a larger than life fig­ure, whose love for the writ­ten word and love for the coun­try were not only gen­uine, but in­ex­orably in­ter­twined.

“Many of us younger writ­ers were in awe of his wit, eru­di­tion and, of course, awe­some vo­cab­u­lary. We kept in touch over the decades but I don’t sup­pose I ever got over that ini­tial sense of awe. He made writ­ing about Malaysia seem like a swash­buck­ling ad­ven­ture,” Amir said.

Jour­nal­ist Melizarani T. Selva said Rehman served as one of her first gate­ways into jour­nal­ism, both fig­u­ra­tively and lit­er­ally. “I will al­ways be grate­ful for my time with you (Rehman) at the New Straits Times’ Writ­ing for News­pa­per work­shop when ev­ery­one laughed at my novice ques­tions and you said, ‘She is do­ing what a jour­nal­ist is sup­posed to do. Ask­ing ques­tions. There is no wrong ques­tion. But none of you asked,’” Melizarani wrote on Face­book.

“I’m very sad. I’ve known him for decades, since I was a teenager,” said writer, trans­la­tor and jour­nal­ist Ed­din Khoo who shared on Face­book that he used to hang out with the Rashid brothers and make mu­sic when he was 14.

“He was such a huge fig­ure for me to have met, I was a very great ad­mirer of his col­umn in the NST. And then I got to know his brother Rafique and mother (Ros­nah) very well, so it was a bit of a fam­ily af­fair.

“I re­mem­ber him as a very gre­gar­i­ous per­son, who had writ­ten sev­eral books that have left an in­deli­ble im­pres­sion of the Malaysian ex­pe­ri­ence. He was known to be dif­fi­cult, but in my own per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with him, he was very gen­er­ous and kind. Those are two things I will al­ways as­so­ci­ate with him.”

Au­thor Chuah Guat Eng also had a fa­mil­ial con­nec­tion: “Our fam­i­lies knew one an­other. He was like a son to me,” she said.

“I am sad be­cause he was only 62, still quite young. But he lived a good life. He had done what he had wanted to do, he had writ­ten his books.”

Ra­dio pro­ducer and pre­sen­ter Uma­pa­gan Ampikaipakan, who once worked un­der Rehman at the New Straits Times, de­scribed the late au­thor as a men­tor to him.

“He taught me ev­ery­thing I needed to know.

“After we left, we be­came very good friends. When­ever I wrote any­thing that I needed a sec­ond pair of eyes on, he would be my first stop. I would al­ways send stuff to him first to cri­tique,” Uma­pa­gan said.

“Rehman had this amaz­ing way of tear­ing you down to size be­fore build­ing you up again. He would set you straight.

“When he saw po­ten­tial, though, he would ac­knowl­edge it and be very en­cour­ag­ing. It was re­mark­able.”

“Rehman was re­ally very gifted,” agreed writer, ac­tress and trainer Fa­timah Abu Bakar, who had worked with him at the New Straits Times.

“He was a qual­i­fied marine bi­ol­o­gist, but he was much more com­fort­able with words. He was a word­smith, a won­der­ful mu­si­cian, and an en­ter­tainer who acted in plays.

“When we used to lepak-lepak, he and his brother Rafique used to sing. And he sang like a dream! Quite amaz­ing. He could be goofy one mo­ment, se­ri­ous the next. He was a very emo­tional, pas­sion­ate per­son, who didn’t mince his words. A very colour­ful and com­plex char­ac­ter, that’s what Rehman was.”

Writer and for­mer ed­i­tor Datuk Fauzi Omar, who stud­ied with Rehman at the MCKK, said he is at a loss for words after hear­ing of Rehman’s pass­ing, de­scrib­ing the late au­thor as one of the most mul­ti­tal­ented peo­ple he has ever known.

Fauzi re­called an oc­ca­sion back in the 1980s, when he and his friends were wait­ing in line to en­ter a pop­u­lar jazz lounge in Petaling Jaya, and Rehman ar­rived.

“He took one look at us, and then in his loud voice, said some­thing like, ‘Move aside you droplets of wa­ter! Let this ocean pass through!’ That was Rehman. He was funny, he was witty, he was loud.

“But while peo­ple know him as this great writer, in­side he was quite a pussy­cat!”

Photo: AZMAN GHANI/The Star

Rehman Rashid, 1955-2017

— MUHAMAD SHAHRIL ROSLI/The Star

Rehman sign­ing a copy of Penin­sula for na­tional laureate A. Sa­mad Said at the book launch last year.

— Filepic

Rehman was a tal­ented singer, as well; here, he’s play­ing Cap­tain von Trapp in a 2011 stage adap­ta­tion of the The Sound Of Mu­sic, op­po­site Ade­line Goh as Maria.

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