In hour of grief, helping hands keep Karpal’s flame burning

Narinder Singh serving tea to well-wishers at the wake, April 19, 2014. — Pix by K.E. Ooi
Narinder Singh serving tea to well-wishers at the wake, April 19, 2014. — Pix by K.E. Ooi

GEORGE TOWN , April 20 — Since news first broke of Karpal Singh’s sudden death Thursday, a steady stream of volunteers have been turning up at the late Penang-born’s home at 144A, Jalan Utama here.

Almost like magic, the army of volunteers quickly arranged themselves into separate teams — some to shepherd the unceasing flow of well-wishers, arrange the dizzying flower wreaths and other tributes, while others moved with clockwork precision to feed the multitude, slake their thirst, and keep the compound tidy and free from litter.

A sizeable proportion of the helping hands came from members of the Wadda Gurdwara Penang committee.

From the first dawn three days ago, they organised the wake, prayer sessions, cook vegetarian Sikh food and made the other necessary funeral arrangements.

The loss of the prominent lawyer, lawmaker and opposition DAP national chairman, known to friends and adversaries alike as the “Tiger of Jelutong”, was a big one for the Sikh community, Wadda Gurdwara Penang president Balvinder Singh told The Malay Mail Online when approached.

Wadda Gurdwara Penang president Balvinder Singh said the Wadda Gurdwara committee helped to arrange the wake, prepare food for well-wishers and the funeral.
Wadda Gurdwara Penang president Balvinder Singh said the Wadda Gurdwara committee helped to arrange the wake, prepare food for well-wishers and the funeral.

“When a Sikh passed away, it becomes a community affair as everyone would come to offer their assistance any way they can,” he said.

But in Karpal’s case, the number of helping hands extended far beyond Penang’s close-knit Sikh community. Hundreds of people of other faiths, strangers remembering the kindness of his boundless heart, stepped up to return the favour and perhaps, hoping to pay it forward.

“In his case, he was loved by so many that people from all walks of life and from DAP came to volunteer their help,” Balvinder said.

One of the volunteers, Kasturi Jayabalan, said she noticed many others waiting outside the gate to Number 144A from as early as 8am the past three days.

“I’ve been here every day since Thursday and all these other volunteers coming here to help is a testament of his character,” she said.

Kasturi Jayabalan (left) arranging the memorial cards of Karpal Singh which will be given to well-wishers at the wake, April 19, 2014.
Kasturi Jayabalan (left) arranging the memorial cards of Karpal Singh which will be given to well-wishers at the wake, April 19, 2014.

Karpal, 73, was killed in a car crash in the early hours of April 17 when the MPV in which he was travelling collided with a lorry on the North-South Expressway near Gopeng, Perak.

Wheelchair-bound Karpal who sat in the front passenger seat, was killed on the spot. His long-time aide and India-born nurse, Michael Cornelius, 39, who sat directly behind him, also perished in the accident.

Thousands of visitors have turned up since Thursday to pay their last respects to Karpal and offer their condolences to his family, wife of over 40 years, Gurmit Kaur, their five children and 11 grandchildren.

Some of the volunteers spend the whole day helping out around the wake from as early as 8am and most leave by 11pm when the gate is closed to let the family rest for the night.

Despite the sporadic rainfall yesterday, visitors continued to throng Karpal’s house to pay their last respects, forming a long queue that snaked right out to the road.

Today, the cortège will leave the house at 8am for Dewan Sri Pinang in Lebuh Light, where more people can gain access to pay their respect.

The town hall will be open from 8.30am to 10.15am, after which his coffin will be taken on a state funeral procession along a route choreographed to pass by the landmarks that underscored the milestones in his life.

The procession will pass and stop briefly at the Penang High Court, his legal firm in Green Hall, the Penang state legislative assembly and alma mater St Xavier’s Institution.

It will then proceed to the Bukit Gantung crematorium for the final rites.

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