Writing a memoir is a painful pleasure

14 June 1998

Three or four prominent friends,one eminently well- known and a household name, wrote to me when I was in my second year of detention, suggesting that I write down my memoir or books about my long-years with former prime minister Tun Abdul Razak.

I had just been moved from a safe house, off Jalan Semarak (then Jalan Gurney), to Kamunting, in the outskirts of peaceful and sleepy Taiping.

I did not follow through their suggestion though I did make some notes and kept a diary. Then I found it rather difficult to concentrate, not knowing what fate was awaiting me. Ghazali Shafie, the then Minister of Home Affairs, at the height of his power, was determined - a fact, I knew was buttressed by a few friendly interrogators (who did not believe I was a communist but a victim of power play) - to let me rot in the various "earthly purgatories", the Special Branch maintained.

I was threatened time and again to rot in Batu Gajah (also in Perak). Apparently, the worst punishment a political prisoner could suffer is to be despatched to Batu Gaiah in the company of all sorts of hardcore, tough and dangerous prisoners.

Kassim Ahmad and I spent nearly five years in Kamunting, Syed Hussein Ali seven years and Abdullah Majid some four years. Abdul Samad Ismail (now Tan Sri) was kept in Kuala Lumpur throughout his incarceration. During that time there were altogether nearly 900 political detainees. When Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir became Prime Minister and Musa Hitam (now Tun), Home Minister, they not only released me but many other innocent people as well.

"Not one political detainee, nothing" a bored warder proudly told me when I visited the detention centre sometime ago.

Most people won't be seen anywhere near their old schools because they hate it, but not I. I have returned to he Malay College Kuala Kangsar many times since I left it 44 years ago.

I had returned to Kamunting to thank some friendly warders and decent officers who were friends. Several have since left the service and some retired. I bumped into one still in service at the Sultan Ismail Petra Airport Kota Baru waiting for his boss, the Director-General of the Prison Service.

Mahathir should be applauded and, praised for making Malaysia free of prisoners of conscience and for not jailing his opponents and enemies within his own party.

My friends and I are ever grateful that we no longer have insecure political predators. There were many of them in the seventies, and all of them have either died or been consigned into oblivion.

Now after so many years - 17 to be exact since I stepped out of the iron gate in Kamunting, I 'am, ready to sit down and write, my story, some of which I had been repeating to some friends -many times but some I have never uttered a word to anyone.

My five years of experience in prison should be a treasure of information about Special Branch interrogators - not all were indecent - about life in solitary confinement and beyond the tall thick walls - behind barbed wires.

I have been asked a hundred times all over the world what kept me going in prison. My stock reply: mainly the desire to prove to my captors how wrong they were; my intent to return to school, politics, making money, reestablishing myself, and becoming upwardly mobile; the love of my family which maintained me in good spirits and good health, and a busy mind thinking how to achieve my objectives.

Have I achieved my goals? Yes, though not wholly but more importantly, I am living long enough to see an unenlightened and intolerant leadership disappear and in its place an acceptably democratic and tolerant nation emerge with the advent of Mahathir's government in July 1981.

I have lived in New York for two years this month and shall be here for another two. There is my work, social life and traveling to complete two books, one being a political biography of my mentor and friend, Tun Razak.

Writing is a painful pleasure for me unlike some people who write easily using their portable personal computers (PC) or laptops. I have no relationship with computers because I am computer illiterate!

My three children and friends have been trying for years to coax me to go online. Didi, I think, is mortified to have a dad and mom who wrote everything in longhand. I write all my articles, letters, reports and speeches in longhand.