Strolling with the professor

Date Published:
April 23, 2009

The first and only time I received a call from lawyer Tommy Thomas – later to become the Attorney-General of the short-lived Pakatan Harapan government – was prompted by my column featuring my encounter with Benedict Anderson, historian and Southeast Asianist, author of my much cited “Imagined Communities”. I can’t remember the details of the call but any journalist appreciates that he is being read. I had been invited by academics Meredith Weiss and Edward  Aspinall to be on a panel reading chapters of a book project on student movements. You can’t imagine how unworthy I felt next to Ben, whose reputation and depth of knowledge made me feel like an imposter. Nevertheless Ben put me at ease by asking me for a favour. He wanted to meet filmmaker Amir Muhammad. Amir was not available to meet and so I asked Fahmi Reza, who was making a name for himself with “Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka“, if he was free. There wasn’t much of a stroll, with a friend whisking us both of in his souped up from a hotel in Bukit Bintang, where the discussions over the book was held, to Central Market. Fahmi didn’t seem particularly impressed by the grand old man of Southeast Asian history and proceed to explain Malaysian history to Ben. Even though Ben is no longer alive to defend his honour, I dare say, Ben was taken but the handsome but very earnest Fahmi. When I met Ben many years later in Manila, he sounded a little hurt that Fahmi had not kept in touch. My column “The Pedestrian” was published in the Malay Mail.

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