In the shadow of ‘Grand Old Man’

After you grow as an adult, the age is just not a number, but a mindset.

— Shesh Nath Vernwal, research scholar

They say old is gold but how old is old?

I realised this when I turned 70 not too long ago and found that I had spent too much time enjoying my youth, unaware that time has caught up with me.

This is because while most of our younger generations have been taught to rely on science and technology to move ahead with the times, I rely on history to understand my purpose in life.

For this very reason, I connect well with the wise old sages to realise that it’s not your educational qualifications that prepare you for the future but also how you relate to all segments of society at large that gives you wisdom.

But too much wisdom can also make you cocky!

It was only yesterday that I felt that I could live forever. And why not?

After all, my father’s contemporaries are still around — the likes of Tan Sri JJ Raj who turned 99 last July!

And also, former governor Tun Salahuddin, who will join Raj next year as a member of the league of growing centenarians.

In 1966, Raj was sent to Sarawak in 1966 to help write a paper on the re-structuring of the Sarawak Constabulary to incorporate the state into the Royal Malaysian Police system of governance.

It was here that he met and took under his wing a Sarawakian Malay. Hamdan found a friend and brother officer under my father who served as the first Malaysian commissioner of police.

Born at Kampung Bandarsah in Jalan Datus — now renamed Jalan Ajibah Abol — on Dec 21, 1920, Hamdan was one of the first Malay police officers during Rajah Vyner Brooke’s era.

The son of Mohd Sirat Daud and Dayang Jinah Abang Mohd Taha, he had his primary school education at Madrasah Melayu before completing his Junior Cambridge at St Joseph’s school in Kuching before the war.

Hamdan joined the civil service as a clerk in the legal department under Magistrate Abang Openg — his cousin and later to become Governor — during the Japanese occupation.

After the war, Hamdan continued to serve in the legal department under another relative Datu Bandar Abang Mustapha Abang Moasli.

On Feb 1, 1946, Hamdan joined the police and found himself in the company of other senior fellow officers such as Inspector Ahmad Zaidell, Abang Marzuki Mohamed Noor, Abang Othman Abang Moasli and Iban cousins Inspector Michael Juan and Edward Brandah.

After a course in London in 1957, he rose to the rank of ASP. Hamdan replaced colonial ACP Bob Smith as deputy commissioner and when he replaced my father in 1969, he was joined by JJ Raj, who became his deputy.

In his memoir “The War Year and After” (2000) Raj noted: “True to his nature, Dato Hamdan was the same humble and sincere person he had always been.”

It was Hamdan who helped me set up NST’s first branch officer in Jalan Satok.

A dear “uncle” to me, he had just retired as the longest-serving commissioner of police and always insisted I visit him every Hari Raya, which I unfailingly did until his passing in August 2016 at the age of 95.

Back to one’s purpose, I have come to understand even if you have a PhD, there are other ways of upgrading our quality of life.

As long as your brain is sharp and you are willing to have an open mind, then you can remain young.

Like me, you can be 70 and still have an attitude for trying out new things and exploring new avenues.

According to studies, the more you refuse to change your mindset and cling to the old way of doing things, the better the chances of getting Alzheimer’s in your old age.  

Another elixir is music, which has proven to have medicinal effects on various ailments such as arthritis.

If Dr Mahathir dared to dream and became the world’s oldest prime minister at the age of 92, there is still hope for those who believe they have one foot in the grave!

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.