MARCH 13 — Four years ago I found myself added to a WhatsApp chat group titled “My Indian Friends.”
As I did not recognise the number of the administrator of the chat group, i.e. the person who added me, I sent a message to that number asking who it was.
“Sanusi” came the typed message.
“Sorry,” I typed, “I don’t remember any Sanusi.”
“Sanusi Junid” came the response.
I responded with a profuse apology for my daftness. Weeks earlier, I had bumped into the former Kedah mentri besar who had also served as rural development minister and agriculture minister at a restaurant in town.
We exchanged numbers. Obviously, I had forgotten to key his into my phone.
I first met Tan Sri Sanusi Junid at the airport in Banda Aceh in 2005. The city had been devastated by the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004.
My father, a project co-ordinator for an NGO who was rebuilding schools and conducting education rehabilitation programmes, was there to pick me up.
He introduced me to Sanusi who was flying back to Kuala Lumpur after conducting his own programmes and aid distribution.
Sanusi, after all, was the president of Persatuan Ikatan Masyarakat Aceh Malaysia, a Malaysia-Aceh Alliance and had been busy spearheading relief and rehabilitation efforts. Not to mention his own personal contributions as well.
“After all, saya ni darah Aceh you know!” he laughed, proudly acknowledging his roots.
Sanusi, like some of his peers, had decided that being put out to pasture did not mean going quietly into the night... especially if he saw something which he felt was not right.
“It is the responsibility of those who came before to ensure that those who inherit the care of this country are worthy of it,” he said.
His blog sanusijunid.blogspot had served as a critique of the nation’s trustees... he did not mince his words and was not afraid to call a spade a spade and labelling those who chose to hoodwink the government and the people as “liars.”
To the young and uninitiated, it also serves as a history lesson to a simpler time when “ the competition in Umno in those days was to give as much service to the people as possible.”
His passion for helping the economically disadvantaged was the primary mover for his efforts that made him mentri besar of the nation’s rice bowl as well as heading the agriculture and rural development ministries.
It started even before his foray into politics where as a banker he initiated the Credit Guarantee Corporation to give out low interest loans to padi farmers who were being squeezed by the rice millers.
The last time we met, at a shopping centre in Bangsar, he shared his concern over the divisive politics that seemed to be condoned by some of our leaders.
“During my time, we would nip all these talk in the bud. There is no place for such rhetoric in this country,” he said, with a tinge of disappointment.
His postings and exchanges in our chat group revealed a man who embraced diversity and reminded us ethnic minorities to be proud of our heritage and how Malaysia is what it is today because of the blood, sweat and tears of every individual irrespective of religion, ethnicity and social standing.
He was conversant in Tamil and at times peppered his conversations with his Indian friends with Tamil words.
The night before he died, Sanusi, a member of Bersatu was at the launch of the Pakatan Harapan manifesto.
Still active and affirming his position as a stakeholder in this country — and that as a former senior politician himself, he knew that he had the obligation to make his voice and opinions heard and count.
That many politicians from both sides of the divide closed ranks to pay their last respects was a testament to the reverence he commanded and their acknowledgement of his services and contribution to the country.
Unlike the way he died, at dawn on Saturday, after taking his ablution for the subuh prayers, Sanusi did not go quietly into the night.
Rest in peace, Sir, and thank you.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.