THAT was his sentiment after covering the news for the best 30 years of his life as a journalist with the NST.
After his retirement and when his career ended, so did his notoriety in the industry depleted of peers, colleagues and friends. In the end, he could not explore the lives of others or tease out the patterns in the daily flow of events to weave into tales to tell as he would like to.
He took to cycling in the forested hills of Kuala Kubu Baru and admitted to me that he became fitter then he had ever been, although he continued to smoke, cigarettes and cigars. He used to do regular rides to the Gap, the lookout point eight kilometers short of the summit, where the view was lovely, far and wide. He would reflect on the sweet irony of being there, “by the grace of God, because I had lost everything – marriage, career, even family.”
It was on one of these biking trips from where he stayed, to Rawang that Rehman suffered a heart attack and was in a coma for a month. He was always the one to give advice but took none, so my counsel for him not to go cycling alone fell on deaf ears. Imagine my horror when
I was told that someone had found him by the roadside, still clutching at his heart. He was brought to the Selayang Hospital where he spent the next five months bedridden.
I was away when the incident happened and only found out much later when he had regained consciousness. I visited a few times when I could clear my schedule to be with him. I chatted, read poetry and made a point to stay even as he slept because his brother had told me that a few that came to visit, took the opportunity to leave when he dozed off and he would wake up alone.
On one visit, I was reading Rumi to him. It must have bored him out of his mind for he was slipping into slumber and tried to shake it off. “It’s all right, Reh, go to sleep, I’ll be here when you wake up.” He kept staring at me. I smiled and said, “I promise…” and with that, he closed his eyes and slept while I put a hand on his arm to assure him that I was there. I sat there and looked at his face as he slept.
His handsome face had shrunken from the months of being in hospital. I felt a deep sadness for him – no family, no kids and even friends were far in between. Rehman always thrived on the fact that everyone knew him. He was a respectable journalist, a famous author and good looking, to say the least. Women would just swoon over him and he liked that very much, who wouldn’t. But all that was gone now. I could only imagine what that did to him.
I always tried to stay for the full visiting hour unless if there were many visitors, which were rare. Because of his heart attack, the rules were two visitors at a time and because I wasn’t family, I had to leave when the time came. I would stay till the guards chased me out and when I bade him goodbye, he was always sad and would cry. Tears was something you never associate with Rehman Rashid.
It broke my heart to see him like that and I would always promise to come back and see him. I would constantly need to hold back tears and compose myself every time I left him.
As a fellow journalist and friend, I write with and for Rehman, for despite the drained, exhausted, numb with despair state he was in when his career ended, his unheralded contribution to the journalistic fraternity - his mere observations, fair comment and actual facts, was beyond A Malaysian Journey, Peninsula and Small Town, bearing in mind this is not a coverage of hagiography for him, as he was far from that.
When he was still at the NST, times, editors and policies had changed. He was fired and rehired, where he worked as a glorified production copy editor for four years, barring a nine-month hiatus between management. His ‘corporate fit’, it seemed was as bad as the tantrums he occasionally threw. So his byline stopped appearing in the newspaper, where he was valued more as a grammarian than a journalist, and he loathed it.
In one of our conversations I asked him why he kept going back to the NST after being sacked, twice. His solemn answer was, “I don’t know, Lina… I don’t know.”
“Of course you do. It’s because the NST will always be home ground for you, as TV3 is for me.”
He was thoughtful for a while and said, “Maybe…”
“It’s a place that ‘made’ you who you are. There’ll always be loyalty…”
After a long pause, he said, “Perhaps, you’re right.”
Those were just a few things we did agree on. We decided earlier on that we would agree to disagree on many things because of our clash of opinions on many issues, including cycling alone.
On the morning of 3 June 2017, at the beginning of the fasting month, I woke up to a text message from Rehman’s brother, “Reh’s gone… 30 minutes ago”. I just stared at it numb. It took me a full 10 minutes to respond inalillahwainalillahirojiun. I was one of the few that received the devastating news that morning and again, I was away and didn’t get to see him one last time.
It took me a couple of days for the loss to sink in despite condolences messages received from close friends. When it finally did, it dawned on me that I would never see his face again, there would be no more reading Rumi to him, there would no longer be one-sided conversations with him, there would never be the long stares he used to give me and there would not be any more hospital runs, because Rehman Rashid was gone.
That day, the journalism world lost a talented journalist that wrote with objectivity and flair, the literary sphere was minus an astounding writer that could touch hearts with mere words and I am departed from an intellectual, sometimes difficult and most often melancholic friend.
In one of our tête-à-têtes, Reh had said to me, “If I could describe you in one word Lina, it would be melancholic”. That was a tag that bounced between the two of us on different occasions, more befitting him on most days. But he was right about one thing, melancholic people do make the best writers.
“I don’t write to change the world.” How arrogant of him to say that but it has truth to it, he tried and he felt that he had failed miserably. “I know books will last. They’ll last longer than blogs, status updates and tweets. That is what I will leave behind. You will leave something behind: somebody you kissed once, somebody you fell in love with, somebody who loved you. It’s not about whether you love the place or not. It’s not about whether you love the women or not. This all continues after you.”
And in the end, Rehman had left a body of work that could be traced back to his writings, his challenges in life and work, and his personal thoughts on the issues he wrote about.
The Rehman I knew never changed, he was intelligent in mind and word but also a person who judged himself too harshly, but he was also a friend who gave me too much to forget. And despite all his idiosyncrasies, we stayed friends till the day he died.
I never got to say goodbye Reh, so I guess this will have to do.
* Profesor Madya Dr Roslina Abdul Latif is a Programme Director Post-Grad of the School of Media and Communication, Taylor’s University, Lakeside Campus.
** The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Astro AWANI.