Sunday, April 27, 2014

To our 'kawan' Karpal: Farewell!

1:44PM Apr 27, 2014- Malaysiakini

To our 'kawan' Karpal: Farewell! 

Below is a eulogy of Karpal Singh by DAP national vice-chairperson and Ipoh Barat MP M Kulasegaran, delivered at the Riverfront Hotel, Ipoh on April 25.

The sudden passing of Karpal Singh has left me with a feeling of being bereft. I feel a void in the party, in my circle of mentor-friends, in the legal fraternity and, above all, in the highest arena of the land, which is the national Parliament. 
Only the day before Karpal left us in the wee hours of April 17, I left for India, to witness the general elections there. I was supposed to be in Chennai for over a week under the care of the Election Commission of India. Less than 48 hours after I had arrived, I had to return to Penang for a sad duty, which was to attend my party chairperson's funeral.
It was a most dizzying change of focus – from witnessing a sprawling democracy's rite of renewal to paying homage to and bidding farewell to one of Malaysian democracy’s more lively exponents.      
I first met Karpal when I paid visits to the late P Patto who like Karpal was detained at Kamunting under the draconian ISA, along with more than 100 other social activists and politicians in 1987. I didn’t know him well then, but when I subsequently joined the party he became a close friend of mine.
When I first stood for Parliament, which was in a by-election for the seat of Teluk Intan in 1997, Karpal arrived early on nomination day to check my papers. Nomination papers can be the most deceptive of documents; a single error can be about as fatal to one’s eligibility as the one on the North-South Expressway was to Karpal’s life.
Karpal pored word by word over what was written in the information fields on the nomination paper. As Karpal was checking the papers some impatient supporters, milling outside the DAP office, called for my presence for the blessing of the nomination papers, accompanied by the ritual breaking of coconuts.

Man of wisdom
Karpal interjected to say that here was a case where recourse to divine favor could not precede the securing of worldly sanction. This, kawan-kawan, you may recognize with me, to be a theme of Karpal’s political and legal careers - that no matter what the divinities may ordain, the wisdom of the world would have to be accorded first deference. 
This is my summary of the essence of Karpal Singh's politics and legal career which is: Make sure of the fine print on worldly documents after which you may accord the divinities their due.
I think this is the essence of the secular social democrat's political credo.
When my nomination papers for the Teluk Intan by-election were appropriately filled and the spiritual rituals performed, we proceeded to the nomination center. Subsequently, Karpal spoke at a number of ceramah and was always encouraging me.
Later, Karpal passed legal matters to me, especially if the matters were filed in the Ipoh area where I had my legal practice. In one particular case, he rang and asked if I could assist a person to defend a civil claim but Karpal said the prospective client may not have the wherewithal to meet the professional tab. Karpal urged that I take the case as he said the man was a good chap and worth helping. 
I took the case and won it. The client was a lorry driver who was sued by an insurance company as he had failed to notify the insurer of an accident in which he was involved. Karpal asked me, on and off, about the progress of the case. He was concerned about how the matter was handled.

A lion in court and Parliament
Sometime in late 1996, I was held in contempt of court and thrown into a police lockup in Ipoh. My lawyer friends persuaded me to apologise to purge the contempt so that I could be freed. I apologised and regretted it. Later that evening, Karpal called me from his KL office by phone and advised me to file an appeal. 
That very night Karpal prepared affidavits after getting facts on my issue of contempt and we finished our discussion only at the midnight. The next day he drove down to Ipoh and filed the appeal which was eventually allowed by the Court of Appeal. 
The Court of Appeal reprimanded the Sessions Judge for unbecoming conduct in holding me for contempt. I felt vindicated, all because of Karpal. A friend in need is a friend indeed.
When I entered Parliament, he would often refer to me on the latest happenings in Parliament. In those days, parliamentary proceedings only began at 2.30 in the afternoon and would often go on till late. 
During one heated debate, Umno MPs became rowdy and were hurling all kinds of abuse at Karpal. He stood his ground but I who was sitting behind him was worried that the aggressive MPs would leap over and do Karpal harm. 
The meeting finished at around 8pm and Karpal just walked out of the chambers as though nothing had happened. I met him on the outside and asked if he were not afraid that the aggression shown against him inside the chamber would spill over into violence. 
He replied, “Barking dogs don't bite and in the case of Umno...” I think I had better not refer in full to how Karpal wrapped up his response to my anxious inquiry. 

Remember Michael too
In the 2004 general election, Karpal campaigned in my area. I thanked Karpal for assisting me. He retorted that “Whatever happens, you must enter Parliament this round and I will make sure of it and I will come many more times to help you.” 
As we were driving to one ceramah in Ipoh Barat, Karpal noticed we were proceeding through a red light district. He said, “Thambi, you have good company in your area” as we both chuckled at what he said.  
About three years ago, after an event in Ipoh, Karpal and others dropped by my house for a drink. We had quite a few stengahs amid a lengthy discussion on – what else - politics. Karpal relished the whiskey I served and requested an empty bottle so that he could purchase one the next time he sought to replenish his stock. 
I decided the least I could do was to honour him by giving him an unopened bottle of the same brand. We all, then, had something to eat but his ever-faithful orderly and assistant, Michael Cornelius Jaikrishnan, was his usual smiling self despite not partaking of the fare. 
Michael was a teetotaler and vegetarian. Upon being apprised that Michael was a vegan, my wife prepared him a special dish of vegetarian noodles. It was a fitting end to a fine evening. 
Of a man of Karpal's stature, one could be led to think he was reserved and aloof. On the contrary, Karpal was amiable and  greeted even the youngest of lawyers at courtside.
I had begun these reminiscences with ‘Kawan-kawan' which everyone knows was Karpal's rather unique salutation to his audience whenever he held forth in Bahasa Malaysia. I end these reminiscences with a salutation to my friend in Latin, which is the source of much precision and brevity in the law, especially common law, which Karpal stoutly espoused and valiantly defended. 
This salutation is ave atque vale which simply means ‘Hail and Farewell’. To my friend Karpal Singh Deo, I bid a fond ‘Hail’ and a grateful ‘Farewell’. May he rest in peace. 
Thank you very much.

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