An appreciation by
My dear friend Zainon Ahmad died in Kelantan yesterday, of liver cancer that he had kept hidden from colleagues.
Zainon was a ‘remarkable fellow’ as he would have said himself, of other people. I can hear now his voice, his humour, his joy. He smiled enigmatically, in meaningful ways, and then we would just burst out in laughter. That was the Zainon that I knew.
We worked in journalism in our different ways. Zainon was a newsman, tried and true, while I was just a straggler. He was interested in politics and its wending and twisting ways. He mixed and he parried and he developed a relationship with politicians and he wrote columns, sometimes critical sometimes chiding but never with malice in his eye. He travelled many places, where we sometimes met. Once, in Vienna, when we hungered for Malaysian dishes, Pak Non came back from his forays into Mariahilferstrasse to report his find: an Indonesian restaurant that served all the joys of the Nusantara.
I should have known Pak Non even before my short stint with Malaysian newspapers. He was an academic at the University of Malaya where I too stopped for a while. Zainon ‘Pak Non’ Ahmad was there before me, and stayed even longer. He graduated with a Master’s degree in history and stayed there to teach awhile. When we met in Jalan Riong he regaled me with stories of people we knew on the campus, and one, notably, was R.V.C. Bonney, a first rate historian and a sad and tragic character whom Pak Non befriended and helped in his times of difficulty.
He came from a very poor family, grew up in the estates among estate workers and rubber tappers and he spoke Tamil fluently. This background of hardship that he grew in must have given him the resilience and the humour.
So farewell then Pak Non, my dear friend Zainon Ahmad. After journalism we did not meet much but we must have thought of each other often. I shall miss your laughter and your ‘enigmatic’ looks, but even now, thinking of you, I can’t help but smile.
Rest in peace now, in His care. Al-fatihah.
Wan Ahmad Hulaimi
(author, writer, lawyer, former London correspondent for the NST and the Star)