Time, time, time, See what’s become of me, While I look around,  For my possibility – Paul Simon’s A Hazy Shade of Winter 

 For sincere advice and the correct time, call any number at random after 3 a.m. – Comedian Steve Martin 

In the metaphysics of Hindu philosophy, we are all eternal beings residing in a temporal shell, a body, if you like. And we go on forever because we are eternal.

It’s even grounded in science: the first law of thermodynamics posits that energy cannot be created or destroyed. I can hear the sceptics: who says it’s energy? 

The counter is obvious: who says it’s not?  

If true, then time as we know it, only exists here. It is a man-made construct and only has relevance here on Earth. Shorn of dogma and other doctrinal trappings, I suspect most religions point to the same thing. No offence intended all round as this isn’t meant to be a spiritual discourse. Consider it a preamble to a rueful ramble through the temporal bramble.  

My point: if time is a man-made construct and completely irrelevant to our immortal spirit, couldn’t the powers-that-be have made that clear when we were growing up? 

Do you remember being woken up at the crack of dawn to go to school? That’s when good men of reason realise that the amount of sleep needed by an average person is always five minutes more. 

Everything was relative when we were young: the school hours felt interminable, while the holidays whizzed by. 

Over time, the arguments changed occasionally.  

I remember whining that if I’d only had an hour more during my Biochemistry lab finals – already going on eight hours! – I’d have aced it. It was unadulterated poppycock, of course, but All Was Vanity then.  

During high school, life seemed perpetually stuck in the slow lane: disconcerting during a time of rampaging hormones and dreams of greatness.  

I couldn’t wait to get out and know women, to grasp life by the scruff of its neck, to understand what it meant when they said the world’s your oyster. 

All too suddenly, life’s needle dropped into its fast forward groove and I was like beamed-up, transforming from callow, if pimply, boy to hairy man: a voter, a tax-payer, a husband, a father.  

Life had grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, and I’d been found wanting. I don’t know how I went from adik (younger brother) to abang (older brother), and all-too-suddenly, Uncle.  I guess Grandpop must be waiting around the corner. 

Time marches on but they should have warned us it would be across our faces. In relative terms, things are more like they are now than they have ever been before. Now we can finally understand what Lucy observed in Peanuts: “The secret of life is to hang around long enough to get used to it.” 

If you think about it, life is ironic. The philosopher Kierkegaard must have thought so as well because he observed that “while life was best understood backwards, it had to be lived forwards.” I suppose that’s what people mean when they talk about “age bringing a certain perspective.” 

Well, I still haven’t got it and I wish it would hurry up and tell me. I mean, they say time is a great teacher and all, but it has a certain downside. 

It kills off all its pupils. 



Early this year, Murray sent me an e-mail saying he’d be in Kuala Lumpur for a couple of days, and could we meet?

It turned out to be a reunion. Simon Elegant, Raphael Pura and Murray Hiebert turned up and we had a lovely, if riotous, meal laced with enough booze to float a small sampan. We’d all been colleagues in the 1990s. 

Indeed, Murray had been my first bureau chief in the Far Eastern Economic Review back in 1994. But we were close for another reason: in September 1996, he’d been sentenced by the High Court to three months in jail for contempt of court. 

It was a shock to say the least. Our lawyer, Shafiee Abdullah, thought Murray would be fined if found guilty but said we should bring along RM30,000 in bail money, “just in case”.  

But Justice Low Hop Bing seemed determined to make an example of Murray – he said as much in his judgment – and fixed bail at RM250,000.

It was 12 noon on a Friday in the Shah Alam High Court. It seemed hopeless and I was sure Murray would spend the weekend in the lock-up.  But being frantic helps and a close friend stepped up: Murray was released just before 4.30 that evening. For the record, the magazine paid my friend first thing Monday.

The months to the appeal dragged on and Murray grew restless and frustrated: his passport had been confiscated. Finally, three years later, in September 1999, the Court of Appeal upheld the verdict but cut his sentence to six weeks. To our collective non-surprise, Murray elected to begin his sentence immediately.

And he was whisked off to Sungei Buloh, Black Maria, wailing siren, and all. 

The man made an unlikely convict. He neither smoked nor drank and, after reading Gandhi at 16, became a vegetarian: oyster sauce could give him the creeps. 

Moreover, he was a Mennonite, an austere Anabaptist denomination that holds to a doctrine of peace and non-violence.  I have never heard him swear although a couple of times, he got sufficiently moved to exclaim an annoyed “Judas Priest” or two.  

After a few days in Sg Buloh, Murray was transferred to the prison In Seremban: We never found out why, but I always suspected it was because Anwar Ibrahim was in Sg Buloh at the time, and who knew what kind of “scoop” might result? 

Seremban is my hometown, and I only found out about its prison during Murray’s remaining three weeks there. 

You could visit an inmate on weekends and buy him stuff from the store. At first, my bill was modest (not more than RM15, I think) but by the time his release grew close, my bills had topped RM150. Then I got it: Murray was buying things for prisoners no one came to visit. 

He was quite the man there. He’d started growing a beard. I guess he must have come across as an ascetic priest-type figure because people flocked to him for advice, even “confession.” 

Indeed, on his last night in captivity, he was given a send-off party complete with a vegetarian tom-yum soup prepared by one of the inmates: a dish which Murray described as “pretty darn good.” 

Why am I recalling all this? 

I just read that Roger Ng of 1MDB infamy had testified that he could not abide jail again as he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder owing to the “absolute hell” that was six months in a “squalid” Malaysian prison. 

In an essay written a few months after his release, Murray reflected that if he had to go through it all over again, he would “prefer the US system of justice but (if found guilty) a Malaysian penal institution.”



I do benefits for all religions – I’d hate to blow the hereafter on a technicality. – Comedian Bob Hope 

I have concluded that following Malaysian politics is foolhardy, an invitation to heartache, heartburn, and hypertension. 

Just consider Pas. To the fire and brimstone faithful of the Islamic Party of Malaysia, immorality is the morality of all those who occasionally enjoy a glass of beer or seven. 

Or, for that matter, the behavior of all those who aren’t immediately among its midst or isn’t an ally. 

It thinks it will rule by 2050 and I’ve no objection but only because I won’t be around. Ok, selfish, but there you are. 

But recent trends indicate a grimmer prospect. Which brings up a question: why aren’t more people heading for the hills?

Let me explain.

Pas has indicated, quite categorically, that Malaysia can only “progress” through a theocracy ergo it will implement the same when it takes over. And unless you are an oil-rich Saudi Arabia, Brunei, or an Iran, most Islamic theocracies in the world are pretty much failed.    

All “progress” should be taken with a good dollop of salt anyway. If a cannibal begins using a knife and fork, for example, is that progress? 

Malaysian politics has become too all-or-nothing for me which is why I’ve retreated to humour and fantasy. 

Example: I remember reading, and enjoying, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass when I was quite young. I can still recite the first stanza from Jabberwocky because I was so taken by the nonsense rhyme that I committed it to memory.  

Out of curiosity, I reread both to see if I still liked it. 

It was a blast!  The imagination of Lewis Carroll, a mathematics professor no less, leaves you breathless. 

In Through the Looking Glass, for example, Alice climbs through a mirror where, predictably, everything gets reversed. Example: running helps one stay stationary while walking away from something brings one towards it. 

Carroll was a forerunner to many after him: Tolkien and J K Rowling spring to mind. And its characters have burst onto the language – “as mad as a hatter” is just one example.  

As an aside, the cinematic character was played by Johnny Depp who came across as a saturnine yet servile hatter (to the Red Queen). I thought he got it just right. 

And it crept into the music. In songs like I am the Walrus, Glass Onion and Come Together,John Lennon borrowed heavily from Carroll, both in imagery and in lyrical content. 

The writer John Irving – the World According to Garp – singled out Charles Dickens as one of his greatest influences. I’d read A Tale of Two Cities when I was young and was moved to tears, but it was an abridged version. 

As an adult, I thought I’d do the real book and added Great Expectations for good measure. Both would have done well as doorstops. 

Which is why you should leave some things well alone. I found both unaccountably depressing.

The pedants of literature will, doubtless, be horrified but I think life’s too short for depressing stuff. Let us have laughter or, better yet, wonder. 

Indeed, we can all take comfort in the last words of Steve Jobs. Apparently, he said three: 

“Wow, wow, oh wow.”



I think I’ve discovered the secret of life – you sort of hang around until you get used to it. –   Lucy Brown in Peanuts

It must have been the weekend because my father was home. My mother was preparing a chicken curry for lunch and my father, sniffing the air appreciatively, said cheerfully: “Looks like we’re having fowl curry for lunch.” 

As he said this, he looked at me and winked. And, just like that, I got it.   

And that was what first got me hooked on comic strips. By the time I was in Standard Two, I remember loving L’il Abner by Al Capp because it was chockful of puns. And what puns, so shameless it reduced me to idiocy.

Do you remember Kickapoo Joy Juice? 

No, not the citrus drink but the original, the one in Mr Capp’s head: a brew that perpetually bubbled in a cave off Dogpatch; an alcoholic concoction of such stupefying potency that its fumes could melt the rivets off battleships. 

And its makers – two “hillbillies” rendered as club-wielding Cro-Magnons – were perpetually tossing in new ingredients to maintain its potency. To give it more “body,” it could be any body (a moose?). For added “bite,” they tossed in a grizzly, all teeth and claws. 

Occasionally, kerosene or horseshoes might be added. 

Its characters were as varied as they were dazzling. There was Joe Bftsplk, a well-meaning character who trails bad luck in his wake. To make the point, a dark rain-cloud, occasionally forking lightning, perpetually hovers over his head.  

During World War Two, however, Joe signed up to do his patriotic duty. But he signed up for Hirohito and the rest is history. 

Al Capp’s imagination knew no bounds. Fearless Fosdick, for example, was a “strip within a strip,” where Fosdick, a black-hatted, square-jawed parody of Dick Tracy, existed within the L’il Abner strip.

Fosdick himself was a courageous detective who left a trail of bullet-riddled destruction in his wake while chasing criminals. In the process, he is repeatedly shot in the head himself but never complains – “It’s only a flesh wound.” 

He lives in squalor in a dilapidated boarding house but never takes a bribe. And much to her chagrin, he doesn’t marry his longtime girlfriend, the long-suffering, if homely, Prudence Pimpleton. 

In short, he’s the idol of “every red-blooded American boy.”

I discovered Peanuts a little later although I never understood its title. Neither did its creator Charles Schultz: he was, apparently, furious with the editor who named it thus. Worse, the editor never even read the strip before he named it, 

Who could resist its brand of wit and wisdom? It’s about a little boy who’s a lot like us. He fails at flying kites, playing baseball and kicking footballs. But Charlie Brown and his friends win our hearts every time. 

To Lucy, the secret of life was to “hang around until you get used to it.” To Snoopy, it was “to look up.” And to poor Charlie Brown it was “to replace one worry with another.” 

That’s the beauty of the comic strip. It’s a good way of growing up without growing old.