Friday, June 8, 2007

The good die young

One of the simple pleasures I often look forward to is the chance to meet up with my old school buddies. For an assortment of a hundred and thirty or so boys who don’t have much in common in the beginning I could say we developed a formidable bond throughout the 5 formative years we spent growing up in a government penitentiary that is, to the rest of the non-incarcerated population, a boarding school. However, the gathering we had two days ago we could have gladly given a miss. For just the day before, one of us, even before reaching his 40th birthday, departed this life.

Most of us received the news that Farid passed away on Wednesday morning when we were well into our working day. My phone was constantly ringing with people asking “What happened?” The facts were hazy at that time but it turned out later that Farid died of “nontraumatic subarachnoid haemorrhage”. Some call it an aneurysm and some just simply refer to it as a blood vessel bursting in the brain. It was one of those causes of death where no amount of medical checks could provide advance warning.

By late morning quite a few of us were applying for emergency leave and canceling appointments to perform the ziarah at his family home in Kelang. He died in JB while on a work assignment and the jenazah was due to arrive only at about 4 p.m. It looked certain that there was going to be a reunion of sorts for us.

My first thought was how would we conduct ourselves this time? Our get-togethers have always been lively and revelrous affairs. These were the opportunities to relive those outrageous schoolboy episodes (and some adult ones) over again.

By lunchtime, about 10 of us were already gathered at a restaurant nearby while waiting for the jenazah which was still a long way away. It didn’t turn out to be a morose gathering after all. Apart from the expected theorizing about how our friend died, everybody took turns to relate some amusing anecdote about Farid and we were in stitches. The thing was, he was quite a low profile fellow, not usually in the limelight but in a boarding school no idiosyncrasy would go unnoticed.

It turned out that Farid, for all his quiet temperament, turned to orgies of destruction as a method of stress-management. At least once he trashed the Yellow House recreation room furniture for no ascertainable reason (and had to go into hiding for about 2 hours after it drew the attention of the House Warden). There was another time that he, with the help of some equal-minded friends, flattened a loaf of bread into a very big thin slice by rolling a ground leveler (imagine a manual steamroller) over it repeatedly. Again nobody could remember for what reason. Personally I feel that if a small animal was at the receiving end, the results would have been more spectacular and memorable.

I think I speak for everybody in the group in thinking that this was the type of wake we would like to have when we go. I would rather be the source of amusement than sorrow. Wouldn’t you?

We also did the very Malay thing of identifying any peculiar behaviour or incidence that occurred just before Farid’s death. And here I did not disappoint. It was only 5 days before that I met him. I happened to be in the area where he worked and I thought it would be nice to drop by for a chat. It lasted 2 hours. Nothing strange about that but for the fact that I had never spoken to him alone for more than 10 minutes as we weren’t particularly close. We talked about all kinds of things - friends, family, work, politics. He even related to me the story of how he chatted up the manager of a Bata outlet when he went to buy shoes for his first job interview and he ended up marrying her. I felt we finally broke the ice after all these years.

Then I heard somebody say, “Are you going to blog about this?” which caught me by surprise. But it was directed to Mr Akula who said, “I’m composing it as we speak,” while shooting a knowing glance at me. I said, “Yeah, how can you let this pass?”

By Asar, we were all gathered at his grandfather’s house to read the Yassin and recite the necessary prayers. His jenazah arrived at 5.30 p.m. It was heartbreaking to see his wife and 11 year old daughter following in a daze behind the van. By Maghrib it was all over and our dear friend was laid to rest. I can see why it makes sense for Muslim funerals not to be long drawn events. The loved ones just need to grieve and move on with their life.

Over the next few days I shall have to ponder on my own mortality and on how everything can be gone in an instance. And to my friends – don’t worry, I won’t make any surprise visits very soon. Promise.