Being cruel to be kind

I don’t care if a reader hates one of my stories, just as long as he finishes the book.

—  Roald Dahl, British novelist

If you think I am a nice guy, you don’t know me.

Ask any of my peers, because in my heyday, I was considered a tyrant!

Ask Frankie de Cruz, NST’s former journalist of the year, editor emeritus of the Malay Mail and now the editor at large of Free Malaysia Today, and he can confirm this!

Swear words that you dare not utter unless you are raving mad, in the English, Chinese and Tamil dialects, were the order of the day!

As a newspaper man, I was an all-rounder — journalist, socialite, politician and sportsman.

I was Malaysian Intermediate golf champion and was honoured to have partnered the ‘King’ of Negri Sembilan, Tuanku Jaafar Ibni Tuanku Abdul Rahman.

But I was also close to DAP’s Seremban MP Dr Chen Man Hin and assemblyman Hu Sepang and Lee Lam Thye, now a Tan Sri, who used to wear shorts when he visited my office.

Such was the humility of politicians of old — tough but down to earth!  

In 1997 after 25 years with the NST, I resigned and found myself without a job.

I thought that I should have been a public relations man and so I used my connections and found myself in the government.

But when I got a job with the Chief Minister’s Office, I realised that sitting at the back of a chauffeur-driven car was not for me.

I wore jeans to office at Wisma Bapa Malaysia and rode a motorcycle to work.

But I wore shoes!

After 50 years as a journalist helping out with the People’s Mirror, Sarawak Tribune, The Star, Eastern Times and New Sarawak Tribune, I have realised that writing is still my first love.

I discovered that I was not the brilliant writer I thought I was, not like Rehman Rashid, Adibah Amin and Zainon Ahmad.

But I must thank a few taskmasters, namely Felix Abisheganaden, a former Singapore Straits Times news editor who grilled me, like I grilled Frankie!

Needless to say, he edited and chose the title for my first book entitled ‘A Gentleman’s Victory for Taib Mahmud’.

His daughter Hannah and son-in-law KC Boey followed in his steps and have developed into fine journalists.

As I turn 71 next week, I realise I have to thank the many people who helped me grow!

Although I am quite myopic, I continue to write and can now accept the criticisms and compliments.

I must first thank the Sarawak State Library for hosting an exhibition entitled ‘Celebrating the writer’ at the Pustaka Library at Petra Jaya on December 18, 2013.

Launched by Tan Sri Adenan Satem, he told my life story but had several pokes at me. He started with: “We are celebrating today Alexander the Great (Alexander is my middle name) … the James I have known for 30 years has written 26 books.

“It’s no joke, from Temenggong Koh, Tun Zaidi to the Penans in the wild! He has a Kelabit name … Blaan Aran, the bringer of good news,” he quipped in mirth.”

The former Sarawak Tribune journalist went on to say: “I never knew a singer from Aurora Hotel could become a good writer … though not as good as me.”

In fact, he was right!

But he went on to praise me: “He is what I might say a contemporary historian. The things that he wrote today in years to come will become history. So, he is like a chronicler of what happened to Sarawak. In generations to come, people will appreciate what Sarawak was like in our time and age.”

Since then, I have written and publish at least 40 stories and continue to do so.

Two years ago, I wrote Adenan’s story but found it difficult to publish his book.

Writing is a painstaking task, but through our labour of love, we share our history.

I’m sure there are many writers out there wanting to share their stories and like me, don’t have the funds to do so.

In this respect, I would like to thank a few people who have helped finance and publish my books over the years.

Firstly, to Datuk Ng Tieh Chuan of Pelanduk Publications and MPH who helped produce ‘A Gentleman’s victory for Taib Mahmud’ followed by several other books.

Closer to home, Kuching’s Yii Loong Ching of Summer times Publishing for his help to produce ‘Bruno Manser — the Inside story’ and several political stories.  

Interestingly, a young Malay journalist from Samasa Press and Massa Kasturi helped publish ‘Bujang Senang — the Terror of Batang Lupar’ and ‘Honour Before Self’, the story of Sarawak’s Second World War hero Sgt Chua Gin Teck.

Over the past year, I have used the lockdown time to write three more books. I wonder how many Sarawakians have been trying to write their memoirs but find it hard to start.

With the unending Covid-19 story and the sword of Damocles hanging above, better do it soon.

I can help. It’s FOC but if you want to buy me a beer, I can’t stop you!

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.