AS I sit here at my home in Penang at 4am on April 17, waiting for my driver to come and pick me up to go to the Ipoh Hospital, I felt numbed by the shocking news relayed to my wife Betty through my sister Hui Ying an hour earlier. I had gone to bed early as I was unwell and was still groggy when the import of her words sunk in.
DAP National Chairman Karpal, who meant so much to us, was gone. A man filled with such vitality, brilliance and energy was no more. A leader who gave forth so much strength, vision and guidance had left. A true friend in our darkest days, whether in the depths of prison cells or the abyss of electoral defeat, had departed. A loving father and an even more loving husband had suddenly passed away in the early hours of this terrible rainy April 17.
As the messages and tweets on the handphone flashed back and forth, scattering my thoughts everywhere, I could not find the words to describe my acute sense of loss. DAP leaders are shaken because it was so sudden and unexpected.
Karpal left before his time when he still had so much to contribute.
I will miss hearing the cheer in Karpal’s voice, the optimism that comes from doing the right thing and the fighting spirit no matter how highly impossible the odds. But I can still hear Karpal’s voice – undaunted and forthright with a deep sense of humanity.
Karpal was one of those rare voices who spoke his mind, respected by friend and foe alike and completely fearless. Even Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had personally told Mrs Karpal when he paid his last respects that “politics aside, Karpal was a great man and very bold”. Indeed Karpal was not afraid to offend anyone no matter how high and mighty, how wealthy or powerful if he felt he was right. And he forgave easily those who could not live up to his exacting standards, but he never forgot.
He was a lawyer’s lawyer upholding the basic tenet that everyone had a right to a fair trial and counsel. That was why he was more than willing to defend former foes who were victims of injustice. Truly, there are no permanent friends nor enemies in politics, only permanent principles.
He reminded me from the time we shared our dormitory in the detention camp in Kamunting in 1987-88 when we were both detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) or in his visits to my dingy Kajang Prison cell in 1998-99 when I was serving time under the Sedition Act, of the importance of distinguishing the true believers from the unreliable ones.
The true believers were the ones who anchored their beliefs simply in terms of right and wrong. The true believers were incorruptible and fought on even when all was lost because it was the right thing to do. They continued the struggle because they had to as human beings, for simply to live and permit such injustice and corruption, was unacceptable.
He never feared defeat. He told me that to lose occasionally is good for you as it puts iron in your soul, where you learn to climb back up quickly. “After all, I lost electoral battles, Kit Siang had lost too and both of us are still here,” he reminded me with a twinkle in his eye. He said defeat is merely a test of your mettle to see how quickly you bounce back.
Even when his body failed him after the 2005 traffic accident outside his house in Penang, he refused to bow out. He did not allow his wheelchair-bound body to still his voice but focused his brilliant legal mind totally on improving the law and righting wrongs.
We had bonded in Kamunting Detention Camp and the years after as only comrades in adversity could. I learnt from him, was guided by his wisdom and refreshed by his iron will and spirit. We shared the same travails, whether persecuted or prosecuted under the ISA detention without trial or Sedition Act. And indeed it only made us stronger and more determined.
He shared his passion for DAP and his open brotherhood with my father Kit Siang as well as his comradeship with Sdr Dr Chen Man Hin, the late Sdr P. Patto and Datuk Chian Heng Kai. His belief and trust in Kit Siang and faith in Sdr Dr Chen was the bedrock which the party pulled itself up and built upon the ashes of defeat.
This trinity of Kit, Karpal and Chen in the DAP would never yield and submit to a corrupt and authoritarian regime. They were all prepared to be broken, as men with honour, who preferred to live by dying on their feet rather than survive on bended knees.
I will miss you, Karpal. I am honoured to be your associate.Malaysians will miss Karpal too and salute a towering Malaysian patriot who made every citizen proud of his country and gave hope to the dispossessed, weak, defenceless, poor and voiceless.
Your greatest legacy is not the honours bestowed by leaders or tributes by famous personalities overseas or locally. What moves us are the tears shed by the many ordinary Malaysians who do not know you and whom you never met, but yet are touched by the sacrifices you have made.
Rest In Peace – you deserve to, after all you have done for the party, nation and people.
LIM GUAN ENG