(This story is inspired by actual events. Names of the main characters however have either been changed or intentionally omitted so as to maintain anonymity due to the sensitivities and protocol involved).
One of my functions as a HR Officer in the company that I worked for in Kulim way back in 1993 was to ensure that the caterers we hire for the factory canteen meet the standards set by the company. There were 2 canteens, one was manned by a Malay caterer and the other had recently fell vacant when the previous caterer, an Indian, absconded. We had to urgently appoint another suitable person as we had to cater to over 1200 employees, half of whom were Indians. This was when Raja (not his real name) walked into my life. He had heard of our search for a suitable canteen operator in the grape vine and approached me to voice his interest in the business. After the usual process of screening, he was successfully appointed.
Raja was a Police Inspector who had recently been indicted and suspended from duty for abuse of authority and there was an on-going court case looming over his head. He made quite an impression with me on the first day that I met him. I was impressed with a certain style that he had and the way he carried himself. Importantly, our chemistry matched in more ways than one. Within a short period of time, we managed to forge a close relationship that many in the plant were envious of, including my boss. But there was nothing ulterior in the friendship and I certainly didn’t extend him any favouritism or grant him any special favours. He still had to comply with the requirements of the company especially in the pricing of the food in the canteen. After about a year or so, one day during our usual tete-a-tete session over some beers, he confided in me of his anxiety over the outcome of his court case that was nearing completion and that if he were to be convicted, it would mean having to give up the business as the offence attracted a mandatory prison sentence. He indicated that he was unsure of what the verdict was going to be as there had been compelling evidence from witnesses who had testified against him.
On the penultimate day of his case in Butterworth Sessions Court, I decided to take a day off to attend the hearing. There were not many people there on that day, just a handful of relatives who had come to give him moral support. The hearing itself was boring and slow with the judge writing down every sentence that was spoken as is the standard practice in courts. I sat quietly in the gallery listening to the proceedings when after a while it struck me that the judge looked familiar. After taking a good hard look at him, it dawned on me that this judge who was presiding over my friend’s case happened to be my housemate in Bangsar when I was working in KL about 12 years back in 1981!
After I got married that year, I had moved out and that was the last I heard of him. Moreover my roommate then by the name of P.K. Ramani who was close to this judge had emigrated to US in the same year so I had failed to keep in touch with the group. (Incidentally P.K.Ramani now heads a large conglomerate in New York where he has since settled down. Forbes magazine lists him as a much sought-after corporate executive in US. His story will be told another day). Added to this was the fact that I had got married and I had my wife for companionship; so everything and everyone else became secondary and kind of unimportant in my life at that point in time. When the excitement of having recognized him slowly tapered, I had mixed feelings at the thought that I never kept in touch with him after our Bangsar days when he was a DPP and later went on to become a magistrate. Even then I knew him as a balanced and industrious person; so his elevation as a judge now came as no surprise to me. It was close to 1 pm when he adjourned the case and exited into his chambers.
I came out of the court room and decided for once that I will have to say hello to this old friend of mine, if only to rekindle old memories. He was just removing his robe as I knocked on the door and entered his chambers. As I grinned from ear to ear, I greeted him saying “Selamat Petang Tuan Hakim”. When he reciprocated with a blank look, I continued “Tuan Hakim tak kenal saya lagi Tuan?” He gazed at me trying to figure out who I was or where he had met me as I walked closer. It had been such a long time since we last met. Then after a good minute or so, he blurted out “Hey Ravi! What are you doing here?”
I was happy he could place me after all these years. “I live in Kulim now Tuan” I said to which he asked almost immediately, with a smirk on his face, “Ok….so you live in Kulim now….but what brings you to MY court?” he demanded.
“Tuan, the guy who is on trial happens to be a good friend of mine” I explained, nevertheless trying to camouflage my discomfort at the statement. Wiping away his initial surprised reaction, we switched topics and discussed on our other common friends, ‘exchanging notes’ on their whereabouts and went on chatting away for a good 20 minutes or so during which time he had already asked me to drop the formality and to address him by his name. I had however exercised extreme restraint by avoiding any comments on the on-going court case. I didn’t think it was right or proper to go into the merits or mechanics of the case and thereby risk being cited for contempt for infringing into his jurisdiction or jurisprudence. After promising to meet up again soon, I shook hands with him and left.
Then a few days later was the day of reckoning. It was judgment day. I rose early that morning so I could get a place in the gallery. Some relatives of Raja had come ready with the cash in case it was necessary to raise the bail money. After a while the judge entered and after adjusting himself comfortably in his seat, started reading out his findings. After about an hour of pin drop silence in the packed courtroom, the crowd broke out in loud applause when he finally announced that “dengan ini saya perintah bahawa En. Raja dibebaskan!” From where I was seated I could see him in astonished disbelief! It took him a while to digest the reality of the situation. His legs actually failed him for a moment as he took his first step to hug his solicitors. Regaining his balance, he smiled to his host of friends and relatives who were all equally overjoyed as he walked out of the courtroom a free man, wiping away the tears rolling down as the hitherto enthralled crowd made way for him. Well wishes hijacked his attention thereafter.
After the standard formalities, Raja was fully reinstated in the police force without loss in salaries or seniority and since then has gone on to earn 3 more promotions along the way. He now serves in East Malaysia as a DSP. We still keep in touch.