BE AFRAID, BE VERY AFRAID

When we were seniors in high school in the 1970s, we all aspired to enter the one, real university in the country.

A degree from University Malaya mattered greatly back then because it almost always ensured a reasonably good job. 

The quality of the degree mattered even more.

The politician R Sivarasa, for example, was my batchmate until our penultimate year. Then, he dropped biochemistry for genetics.

To no one’s surprise, he got a First and went on to read law at Oxford by way of the Rhodes’ Scholarship.

In short, obtaining a first-class honours degree in any field back then was an achievement. It conferred its recipient great prestige and the pick of jobs. Needless to say, it was rarer than gold dust. 

Not anymore, it seems.  

I was shocked to read today that 80,000 students had been awarded Firsts from Malaysian universities last year.  

You’d think the faculty would know better: churning out such degrees in such numbers is simply to debase their worth. In economic terms, it’s higher education beset by soaring inflation. 

It was in the 1970s when I first heard of graduate unemployment. At the time, it was in the Philippines where, apparently, there were too many graduates chasing too few jobs. 

I never dreamt that the same thing might happen here. Not in Malaysia, I thought, with its superb education system, where a person with just high school education might go on to become fine writers in English.  

Indeed, my teachers in those days largely had diplomas but they were seriouslygood and cultivated in us a love of reading that’s helped enormously. 

Here’s a question: Why, ceteris paribus (all things being equal), are graduates from Sunway University more employable, than graduates from public universities? 

It’s a fact that makes government officials uncomfortable. But it’s a question the Education Ministry would be well advised to ponder. 

How did we come to this?

There is an adage that goes like this: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Our education system was never broken, yet our government, starting in the mid-1970s and, prodded by Malay nationalists who should have known better, thought it needed fixing.

Almost 50 years later, the results are clear, most demonstrably in the difference between the education systems of Singapore and Malaysia.   

Both began with similar British-designed structures. One changed while the other did not. 

The outcomes are palpable. Singapore has world class education. We don’t. 

Even worse is our access. Once open to all races at relatively cheap entry levels, a good education in Malaysia is almost exclusively a preserve for the well-heeled. 

Unless you count education in Chinese schools which, for one thing, is ironic. For another, it’s limited: it’s difficult to get approval for new independent Chinese schools. 

With his impregnable majority, Dr Mahathir should have tackled this a long time ago. It’s different now: with the fragile coalitions we have, it will take a miracle to unravel the mess that is our education. 

Like it or not, we will continue to have graduates working as Grab riders, and waiters, or rubbish collectors in Singapore.   

Imagine their dashed expectations. Imagine their despair and hopelessness.

Now imagine their rage. 

ENDS

ALWAYS STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES

Dying is no big deal: it’s living that’s the trick. – Red Smith, US sportswriter.

If anything can go wrong, it will. It’s Murphy’s Law, and Edward Murphy, an Air Force captain, should have been shot for it but he was promoted instead and his eponymous saying stuck around long enough to become an adage for the ages.   

There are others as well. There was Jonathan Wright who seemed to think that the world was horribly wrong because Wright’s Law is sinister enough: “Everything is just out of reach.” And the italics aren’t mine so you can just imagine the gravity of its  portent. And if you think that is bad, Wright’s Constant will cause you to abandon hope altogether. It simply states: “Nothing is easy”.

In short, Wright should have been shot ahead of Murphy.

We may conclude that there was nothing right about Wright and we’d be right but a constant is an inexorable, unchanging thing like pi, the mathematical constant.

Imagine you have just been born. There you are, naked, wet and hungry and you are then told that it (life) will get worse. 

I should have realised this a long time ago. Right back to the time when I was 6 and taken by my father, for the first time to school. You can imagine my astonishment  then, when I was woken early the next morning for the same thing. “What, again?” I cried, bewildered, and he laughed and said it would continue for the foreseeable future. 

I began to grasp it when I was 16 and grappling with the arcane mysteries of calculus. In frustration, I asked Mr Chan Lok Chin, our Add Math teacher: “Why should we learn this? It’s pretty hard.” 

Mr Chan regarded me with a grim, if bespectacled, eye. “Because I said so,” was his implacable reply. And that was that. 

Nothing was easy because everything was hard and that was how life’s cookie crumbled. 

Mark Twain observed that “All you need in life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.” Hadi Awang would probably agree with him. Jho Low would certainly agree. 

In fact, he’s the sort of guy who’d make lemonade if life handed him lemons but then would find the guy handed vodka so they could have a party. Except for the nightmares about the police, you could say life rolled easy for him.  

But the average Mat Q Public would probably agree with writer Lewis Grizzard Jr who said that life was like a dogsled team. “If you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes,”

The secret to life may lie in not sweating the small stuff and not taking everything so seriously or as cartoonist Charles Schultz noted: “Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today; it’s already tomorrow in Australia.” 

So we might as well take it easier; stop and smell the coffee as it were. We are all on the Hindenburg anyway and there’s no point fighting over the window seat. 

ENDS

THE SLINGS OF OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE

Sam: How’s life treating you, Norm?

Norm: Like it caught me sleeping with its wife

 – TV sitcom, Cheers

Malaysia’s former premier Najib “Fearless Leader” Razak was a conservative, which is English for a person who believes he deserves everything he’s stolen.

In that sense, he was an uncommon politician: he got caught. Which is why he now languishes in Kajang Prison where he’s only free to contemplate his navel and think up new and inventive ways to lose friends and irritate judges.

That was Malaysia for you. Justice was open to everyone in the same way as the Shangri-La. Fearless knew the feeling: he’d just received his lawyer’s bill. 

It was ironic in many ways. He used to be so busy that he hardly had time for himself. Now he was reduced to this: except for occasional visits to court, he was about as busy as a pick-pocket in a nudist colony.

To say it was depressing is to understate it to the 10th power. I’ve been to Kajang Prison. In the late 1990s, my former colleague, Murray Hiebert, was given a three month sentence – he served two – for “media contempt” and I used to visit him regularly. I found it a difficult place to be cheerful in: you had to talk to the prisoner through glass and mesh, and the place smelt of sweat and despair. 

Now Fearless was taking his case to the United Nations where there were only 10 million petitions before him. His lawyers had told him that the odds were stacked against him. What they didn’t tell him were his actual chances. They were threefold: zero, zip and zilch. 

Alas, poor Fearless. Over in China, his once-friend and helpmate in crime, Low Teck “Felonious” Jho watched sadly. Fearless found him simpatico the first time they’d met. He especially liked the way his mind worked and his interest got piqued after he discovered that Felonious’ thesis in Wharton had been on Bernie Madoff and the near-perfect crime.

Felonious thought that a person who wielded absolute power could do well-nigh anything he wanted. 

To prove his point, he demonstrated that, on any given day, Fearless could have been convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements, or what the Prime Minister’s Department called a “press conference.”   

It was the Eureka moment for Fearless, a multi-billion epiphany that would lead to the almost-perfect crime had it not been for one tiny miscalculation: losing the general election. 

But Felonious hadn’t miscalculated. He made sure he wasn’t in Malaysia when the time rolled around for a general election – both in 2013 and 2018.

It can’t have given Fearless much comfort. 

Or confidence. 

It explained  the grim relish with which  Fearless read the paper on Monday. It reported that Felonious’ days as a protected  “intelligence asset” in China could be coming to an end. 

The source of the story was Bradley Hope, the journalist behind Billion Dollar Whale, the story of the looting of Malaysia by Messrs Fearless and Felonious. The leviathan referred to in the book’s title was the corpulent crook in China.

Hope revealed that Fatso’s chief protector in China had been convicted of, what else, corruption and so Felonious’ luck might be running out. 

The tubby thief was philosophical about it. Que sera sera, he thought cheerfully.

He’d packed more living in the last 14 years than many do in a lifetime.

ENDS

WHATEVER WILL BE WILL BE, TOUCH WOOD

The way my luck is running, if I were a politician, I would be honest – US comedian Rodney Dangerfield

I only realised what day it was after I’d scanned the paper. 

It was Friday the 13th. 

It takes all sorts of things to scare people. A child of six would undoubtedly be more terrified of a flu shot than, say, Dracula, while, at his age, Dr Mahathir is beginning to develop a fear of flowers. 

For many others, it’s airline travel: the hours of boredom, interrupted by those moments of stark terror. For Pas, the Islamic Party of Malaysia, it is, and always has been, the haunting fear that someone, somewhere in Malaysia, might be having fun.

For the writer Kurt Vonnegut, true terror was “to wake up one morning and to discover that your high school class is running the country.” Meanwhile, George Foreman feared no man “but the dentist.” 

Then there are the questions, like this excellent one from Steven Wright: “What happens if you get scared half to death twice?”

But I digress. We were talking about Friday the 13th, weren’t we? 

Historians are generally agreed that the apparent ill-luck attributed to the day grew out of the number of people that attended the Last Supper – the thirteenth one to arrive was Judas, the betrayer. The next day – Friday – witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus which makes it something of an eternal irony that it’s revered by Christians as Good Friday. 

Over the intervening millennia, the distaste has seeped so thoroughly into Western culture that a word – triskaidekaphobia – had to be invented to describe the human fear of the number. Lest anyone dismiss this as fanciful, one should note that Stephen King, the celebrated writer of horror fiction, suffers the syndrome. 

Their numbers aren’t tiny – over 15 million in the US – which is why businesses have had to adapt to cater to this segment of society. 

It explains why lifts generally don’t have a 13th floor button, despite having the floor physically. Most hotels don’t have such a floor either while airlines almost never have an aisle marked 13. Similarly, no ship has a 13th deck.

Other reasons, like the naming of future space missions after the 1970 Apollo 13, fall into the “I-told-you-so” category. 

Nasa scientists had decided to give the mission after Apollo 12 its rightful number rather than bow to superstition and an otherwise unscientific outlook on space travel. In the event, Apollo 13’s planned moon landing had to be aborted after an oxygen tank blew up.    

The mission is still considered a “successful failure” as its crew splashed home, unscathed. But the chastened scientists never used 13 for    subsequent launches. 

It’s also why we should never underestimate the power of ill-fated accidents occurring in unison. Like these inexplicable events that occurred on a fateful January morning in 2004.

He had to walk under the ladder on which a workman was perched installing his wife’s latest artwork when a black cat languidly crossed his path. Abdullah Badawi flinched before recovering to complete the remaining 13 steps to his door where an aide handed him an open umbrella for the rain outdoors. 

At that moment, the mirror in one of the bathrooms upstairs cracked. 

It was going to be a momentous day, reflected the premier. 

He was due to announce his choice of deputy premier that afternoon.

ENDS

HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS

If you’ve seen one Santa, you’ve seen a mall – Anonymous punster of the executable  kind

The Christmas lights along Orchard Road in Singapore go up in mid-November and, as they cost around S$2 million, are as festive as it gets but not so bright as to encourage planes to land. 

But it does the trick and almost everyone walking down the road is smiling: the season does that to you, don’t you think? 

I had no idea about all that before as I’d been raised a Hindu. Then I met Rebecca when I was 21 and began viewing it through her eyes.

But it really only began to have meaning for me when  Raisa came along. There is nothing like the joy in a child’s eyes on Christmas morn to buttress the point about giving and the spirit of Christmas. 

“I told you he reads all our letters,” she’d inform me loftily and, as always, we’d feign astonishment, delighting in her innocence.

Indeed, Raisa went on believing in Santa right up to age 7 when a cousin, embittered by a bah-humbug priest, who, during midnight Mass, thought nothing about ruining the innocent fancies of children, felt compelled  to share his horrified knowledge  with Raisa. 

Which was how my daughter discovered that Santa was actually an Indian; even, occasionally, Eurasian. 

When we are all together it’s generally a time of bad jokes. Mostly mine, I confess. 

Knock, knock
Who’s there?
Mary.
Mary who?
Merry Christmas

Knock. Knock
Who’s there
Anna.
Anna who?
And a Happy New Year
(mine, I think)

What goes Oh-oh-oh?
Santa walking backwards
(Raisa’s)

Unlike us, Rebecca doesn’t tell bad jokes but she obligingly laughs at all of ours. 

I remember Christmas in New York with my wife and I witnessing our first snowfall. The thrill of it made us feel like children all over again.  

My younger brother, who has settled down in  Connecticut, isn’t as enthused. He sent me  pictures of his garage after Hurricane Sandy: the snow had piled up so thickly that it completely obstructed the garage door. 

That’s why we generally prefer Christmas at home. It helps that December is probably the coolest month of the year which gives some added relevance to the occasion. 

It’s about trimming the tree amidst the smell of pineapple tarts and carols on the stereo.

It’s about  dressing up for church, family singalongs in harmony to accompanying guitars and beer or mulled wine for the thirsty musicians – they generally are.  

But mostly it’s about family which makes this year especially memorable. It will be the first time we will spend Christmas with Raisa since 2019: the pandemic made sure of that. 

It will also be the first time we spend the holidays in Europe, specifically in Southern Portugal where it’s the off-peak season and there are bargains galore to be had. 

Moreover,  the temperatures over there, if Google is to be believed, range from 13 to 18 degrees. 

In the interim, have a Blessed Christmas and a Joyous New Year folks.  

ENDS 

THAT BEAUTIFUL GAME

Some people think football is a matter of life and death…I can assure them it’s much more serious than that. – Bill Shankly, Scottish football player and manager 

No one thinks Mr Shankly was joking when he made the assertion. Similarly, David Beckham wasn’t at all offended when English manager Brian Clough made this observation about him. 

“Being thick isn’t an affliction if you’re a footballer, because your brains need to be in your feet.” 

It isn’t clear, however, what the media thought of this Clough-ism, to explain away an English defeat. “We had a good team on paper,” disclosed the always-inventive manager. “Unfortunately, the game was played on grass.” 

No one was in any doubt what Joe Namath, the 1970s quarterback star of the New York Jets, meant when he was asked which he preferred, grass or Astroturf. Broadway Joe didn’t hesitate.

“I’ve never smoked Astroturf,” he replied, deadpan. 

For all the hyperbole surrounding American football, there is nothing puny about football, or soccer as the Americans derisively call it. And the World Cup is as big as it gets. 

Over half the world’s population, or 3.6 billion people, will watch the 65 games that will be played until the final whistle is blown during the decider in two weeks.

And the money, both spent and made, is prodigious. In 2010, Qatar beat out competing bids from the US, Korea, Japan, and Australia to win the right to host the games this year. It has since spent over US$300 billion to beef up its infrastructure, creating whole new cities in the process.  

Fifa, the game’s international governing body is expected to rake in a whopping US7.5 billion from the Cup via advertising and merchandising deals. 

That’s RM33 billion, a respectable amount even by Najib Razak standards. 

And every team that qualifies for the privilege of playing in the World Cup will go home, pockets jingling. 

The winner will jingle all the way with US$42 million, while the runner-up will be consoled by a calming $30 million.  

Teams finishing third and fourth will receive $27 million and $25 million, respectively. Those finishing between fifth and eighth will get $17 million, while those finishing between ninth and the 16th spot will be awarded $13 million. 

Everyone else – even rank outsiders like Qatar – will get a suitably restorative $9 million. Finally, each of the 35 teams will receive $1.5 million for their pains.  

Those pains will include horror stories about worker abuse in Qatar during construction of the various stadia: locations where summer temperatures can exceed a hundred degrees. 

The stories also extend to the grasping, avaricious ways of Fifa officials, some of whose antics would make Jho Low blush. OK, maybe not Jho Low but certainly the odd Goldman Sachs banker or two. 

It was football’s maestro, Pele, who dubbed it the “beautiful” sport. But even Pele could not have foreseen how big the game has become.

Or how ugly, some of its aspects. Fifa has thought nothing of hosting games in questionable places – from Argentina in the 80s to Russia in 2018. How much of that is due to money is anybody’s guess. 

But Pele was also right. At its dizzying finest, football elicits an undisguised admiration: a ballet for the masses; or to paraphrase one of its finest exponents currently, Lionel Messi; “talent and elegance coexisting, simultaneously, with rigour and precision.”  

ENDS

THE RETURN OF THE COMEBACK KID

I intend to open up this country to democracy, and anyone who is against that, I will jail – Joao Baptista de Oliveira, 20th Century Brazilian politician 

Thankfully, Malaysia isn’t like that anymore. 

In what can only be described as retributive karma of the dramatic kind, Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as Malaysia 10th premier just as his long-time nemesis Dr Mahathir Mohamad began contemplating a future of political obscurity. 

It’s about time. Dr Mahathir is old enough to know better, yet he conspired to delay Anwar’s ascension to the top for the longest time. His hubris knew no bounds either: right up to the night of November 19, he actually thought he was Malaysia’s best bet for the premiership. 

Alas, how the mighty have fallen. 

The island of Langkawi in Malaysia’s northeast was single-handedly promoted and developed by the physician throughout his 22-year leadership. For all that, its people so rejected him that he lost his deposit. In political terms, that’s about as humiliating as it gets.  

Indeed, his entire party – including a son, Mukhriz – was annihilated.  

Anwar’s triumph underscores his never-say-die, singe-minded perseverance in the face of unrelenting adversity. Sacked in 1988 for “moral misconduct” by Dr M, he was immediately clapped behind bars without bail for seven years until the federal court finally acquitted him of abuse of power and sodomy.  

He was jailed once again in 2013 for sodomy and spent another five years behind bars until he was finally pardoned in 2018.

In contrast, ex-premier Najib Razak spent five years free on bail and was accorded every privilege of a former premier despite being accused of the greatest theft in global history.

The markets endorsed Anwar’s appointment jubilantly with the stock, forex and bond markets all rallying to highs not seen for almost two years. The broader index of the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange, for example, leapt almost 4%. 

In contrast, when it appeared, on Wednesday, that a government dominated by the Islamic Party of Malaysia, appeared likely to gain power, all three markets retreated in fright.

Anwar will inherit a government beset with formidable challenges, On the one hand, the country faces serious economic challenges ranging from huge domestic debt and declining investor confidence to rising inflation amid a persistently weak currency.

On another level, the question of education, specifically the type of education being force fed to many children is assuming sinister proportions. 

After Anwar’s victory, news surfaced of Malay children expressing fear that the Democratic Action Party, a partner in Anwar’s coalition, would stop the call to prayer and force girls to wear skirts. 

It emerged only after parents and at least one set of grandparents complained to the newspapers. It’s led to a probe and public outrage. 

More importantly, it’s sparked questions about the level of political indoctrination by religious teachers in primary schools. The “creeping Islamisation” of Malaysia has been long warned about by political analysts and journalists as far back as the late 80s. It seems to have finally come home to roost. 

In many ways, the election revealed a fractured country cleaved along rural and urban lines among the Malays; secular and conservative lines among the races. 

For all the against-all-odds return of the Comeback Kid, Anwar Ibrahim is inheriting serious problems. 

He will need all the help, and luck, he can get. 

ENDS

ONCE MORE INTO THE BREACH, DEAR FRIENDS 

The word “politics” is derived from the Latin “poly” meaning “many” and the word “ticks” meaning “blood sucking parasites.” – Dave Barry, news-paper columnist 

I’m not asking for much. Not really much at all.  

All I’m pleading for is a government led by common sense, that gets the little  things right, that’s not always looking around for the next big project.  

In fact, spare us the big projects altogether, thank you very much. It is almost always cost-inflated, wasteful, excessive and, worst of all, probably unnecessary.   That’s why it’s becoming harder and harder not to be cynical in today’s Malaysia. 

Let’s start with the small things, the little repairs  that can actually save lives and mitigate damage. In short, let’s reclaim our maintenance culture and stop our build-new-and-bigger-things mentality immediately. 

City Hall should get its priorities right because the roads in Kuala Lumpur have more potholes than the hairs on Khairy Jamaluddin’s chinny-chin-chin. 

The last time anything was done in that respect was when that famous chin made unplanned contact with a pothole in Banting two years ago. That particular hole was  immediately sealed with great fanfare. However, nothing else has changed. City Hall is back to idiotic projects that cost a lot – the River of Life anyone? – but don’t make much sense one way or the other. 

Some of the potholes along Bangsar or Sri Hartamas can cause serious injuries to  hapless motorcyclists, not to mention expensive damage to car axles.   

Maybe we should await the agency’s release of A Pothole Dodger’s Guide to Kuala Lumpur before venturing out on the streets. 

When I was growing up in the 1960s, I remember being proud of our country’s roads, which the Reader’s Digest once described as the “best in Southeast Asia.” Indeed, we seem to have lost a lot of our “bests” where the region is concerned. 

Let’s get back our once-nice roads, shall we? It’s not rocket science. Not every expensive but oh-so-very-pleasing to the eye and to the health.  

Back to our seemingly-forgotten culture of maintenance. Our capital city has many beautiful buildings that are sadly in disrepair. Examples include KL’s famous Railway Station and the majestic Sultan Abdul Samad Building opposite the Royal Selangor Club.

These are lovely structures  that are being left to nature. They are worth preserving as iconic emblems to our nation’s history. Instead, we treat them with an indifference that’s as cruel as it is ignorant. 

Tomorrow the nation goes to the polls and push will come to shove: we are at a  crossroads.

Essentially, we’re faced with three choices and that’s only because no party can fool everyone all the time. 

But we should know what we don’t want. I don’t want a party that once blindly supported kleptocracy and, in many respects, still seems to. 

I certainly don’t want a side that encourages obscurantism, a retreat into medievalism and a shunning of modernity or liberalism. 

Once you’ve knocked off those, the way forward is apparent. 

What the head makes cloudy, the heart will make very clear. 

ENDS

FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

In the end Brazil went back to Lula,
The left whooped, a ‘hoot and a ‘hula.
Bolsa felt despair.
Rare, hard to bear
For he was blamed, people yelling you-lah!

Latin A was swinging to the left,
It was why Donald felt bereft.
It was a shame,
He could not blame
Joe or the Democrats for the theft.

He needed a trustworthy coup,
Even the military would do.
If smoothly inveigled,
It might even be legal.
There’d be no sham; it’d be the real poo.

Rishi thought it would be most unfair,
If power was seized in the public glare.
Although his mandate
Wasn’t all that great,
He thought that was neither here nor there.

At home, the circus is coming to town.
It’s almost begun, it’s the countdown.
Scoundrels and thieves, with those who achieve,
Everyone aspires to wear the crown.

Bro ‘Mail must hope to remain Boss.
Anything less would surely be dross.
He can, of course, plead
Nothing’s guaranteed.
Tok Mat might think it time for his toss.

Gather round good citizens, cast your vote.
Let’s get rid of the national bloat.
The bells will soon toll
For our nation’s soul.
Let’s not fail ‘cos we missed the boat.

ENDS

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT CATS

It was Winston Churchill who got it right. “All dogs look up to you, all cats look down at you.”

He should have left well enough alone and stopped there. Nope: “Only the pig looks at you as an equal.” 

I think not: consider bacon. 

But I digress. 

We are all dog people in our family and the infernal beasts know it. When we lived in  Ampang, for instance, there was a stray cat that patrolled our apartment complex with malicious intent. It generally slept on my car-roof at night and occasionally peed on it in the mornings. For good measure, it sometimes  left a scratch or two. 

So I was  astonished to read that cats actually can understand your words but only those spoken by their guardians according to a new French study.

I’m sure French taxpayer are gratified by this valuable addition into the human understanding of the feline condition. It was discovered  by Charlotte de Mouzon et al of the University of Paris after a painstaking study of 16 cats! 

Sacre bleu!” cried  Louis Pasteur. “Dog my cats,” exclaimed an equally  bemused  Mark Twain but in French so as not to offend Pasteur. It was Twain, after all,  who’d traced the feline’s self-importance to the Egyptians, who’d worshipped them as Gods.  

The cats had never forgotten, that was the problem. 

It’s that kind of incredulity that underscores the notion that cats are generally sly creatures which patronise human beings at best. 

Dogs are different. Your average dog treats its owner with the reverence people generally accord a Beatle.  You can be gone for just awhile but it’s still all wagging tail and unconditional adoration the minute you’re back.   

Call a cat, in contrast, and it gives you that measured, what’s-in-it-for-me stare.  

They aren’t very useful at all. While there are sheepdogs, hunting dogs and police dogs, have you ever heard of a bird cat? 

Ever seen a Seeing Eye cat? 

At their worst, I give you the terror of Ukay Heights, that Cat on a Warm Car Roof,  the scourge of a hundred car washes.  

But there was also Benny. 

It belonged to Annabelle and Sugu, our former neighbours in Ampang.  

You might say Benny was the Dr Mahathir of cats: it was already in its dotage when it  first arrived in Malaysia from New Zealand in the mid-1990s.

He was an imperturbable feline that regarded the world with equanimity: a moth was viewed as indifferently as an axe murderer. 

Or perhaps not: the way it regarded me when I occupied his favourite chair by the balcony, its menacing stillness, was a trifle disconcerting. 

Its longevity could have been due to his fastidious eating habits. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say it was ahead of its time, a feline foodie which was especially partial to lemon sole but would settle for New Zealand leg of lamb at a pinch. 

Anything less was an insult. 

Once, Sugu tried switching the sole for Kurau.  The cat regarded its guardian with disbelief even contempt.  

Then it scratched him. 

I rest my case. 

PS: Benny lived on for 18 years, it was truly a feline Methuselah. 

ENDS