Kit Siang From Journalist To Mp S Aide


 


The following is an exclusive excerpt from Chapter 7 of ‘Lim Kit Siang: Malaysian First, Volume One: None But the Bold’, a new biography by Kee Thuan Chye.

Devan Nair offered Kit a job.
It happened in September [1965], the month after Singapore had separated from Malaysia. Kit had already got a verbal affirmation from RTS [Radio Television Singapore] that the editor’s position would be his. Then Devan called him and asked to meet up.
When they did, he told the young man, “Despite the separation, I’m still MP for Bungsar. I’m not going to abandon my constituents.”
“You’re going back to KL?” Kit asked.
“Yes, but I’ll need help. Someone to assist with my work when I’m not there. I need a political secretary.”
Kit sensed there and then what Devan was leading up to. But he was also taken aback because this was something he had never expected. Suddenly, his pulse was racing. His ears were throbbing. And the words came tumbling out: “So, you’re asking me here for an interview? You want to employ me to be your pol-sec? If that’s the case, you don’t even need to say it, I accept.”
Now it was Devan’s turn to be surprised. “Are you sure? Don’t you want to consider it first? That RTS job, what does it pay?”
“A thousand plus a month.”
“I’m afraid I can’t match that. You’d definitely have to take a pay cut. Why don’t you go back and think about it, discuss it with your family?”
“No need to think about it,” said Kit. “I accept.”
Devan was speechless.
“He got the shock of his life,” Kit recalls more than half a century later. “Then he said, ‘No, no, no, please go back and talk to your family.’ But I said, ‘No need la, I’m okay.’”
Looking back at his decision, he feels it was in a way impulsive and in a way not so. “You feel there is an opportunity to do what you should be doing, so what is there for you to think about?” he says, characteristically referring to himself in the second person.
“I’d always felt Singapore didn’t belong to me, and I didn’t belong in Singapore. Home was Peninsular Malaysia. I was misplaced. I felt I should be back in my own country doing something for it. And suddenly, here was an opportunity coming out of the blue, so why not?”


Peter Lim [Kit’s colleague in The Straits Times] feels that Kit would have thought just that even before Devan offered him the job. “Knowing him and his analytical mind, I think he could see what was happening. There would be no place for him in Singapore unless he was going to be a real activist in PAP. It would be better for him to go home and contribute to his own country,” says Peter.
“I’m not the sentimental type, but I felt sad. I knew I would miss his company.”
I ask Kit why Devan chose him to be his pol-sec.
“I don’t know,” he replies.
“You must have asked him, right?” I press on.
“Well, he knew me. As a reporter, I had a few drinks with him. My own views differed from established views, and he respected that independence of spirit. He also related to me in trade union circles, so he probably felt that I had the credentials, the qualifications.”
“You never asked him during the course of your work with him?” I ask.
“I didn’t ask him, and now I can’t because he’s dead,” he says. “When I go to the other world, I’ll ask him.”
We both laugh.
Scolded by parents
After that fateful meeting with Devan, Kit made one of his occasional visits back to Batu Pahat and told his parents of his new job offer. “I got scolded by them!” he recounts with a hearty laugh. “They said I was khong khum (Hokkien phrase meaning something between ‘idiotic’ and ‘crazy’). They said I was throwing away an iron rice bowl.”
His close friends in Batu Pahat, Tan Tik Seng and Pek Teck Soon, also told him he was being “stupid”. Another, Lim Jin Siew, felt that Kit had made an “impetuous” decision. “He listened to our views but remained steadfast in his decision,” he notes.
“We were all shocked. If he had stayed on in Singapore, he would have become somebody there. He would be drawing the kind of salary that a graduate would get and he didn’t even have a degree, and he was only 24 years old,” says Tik Seng. “But he did mention once or twice before that his place was here in Malaysia.”
Teck Soon corroborates this. “He said, ‘I’m a Malaysian, not Singaporean.’ A couple of years later, when [Lee] Kuan Yew asked Devan to go back to Singapore, Devan asked Kit to go with him. Kit refused.
He said, ‘You can go, I’m a Malaysian, I stay back.’” - Mkini


‘Lim Kit Siang: Malaysian First, Volume One: None But the Bold’ is available in all major bookstores. The book will be officially launched online on Nov 9. Click here for more information.


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