Breathing, living journalism

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AROUND this time in November 1981, Frankie D’Cruz and I were called up by the then news editor, (the late) Ratan Singh a.k.a M.A. Razman.

He briefed us on NST Group Editor (the late) Noordin Sopiee’s plans to revamp Malay Mail — cosmetically and in content.

He wanted an impactful Page One.

The changes would take place on the anniversary of the founding of the newspaper — Dec 14.

We started calling contacts to get a “big” exclusive for the front page to make an impact.

Weeks earlier, someone had called the paper’s Hotline complaining that patients in the third class wards of the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital were being served poor quality food.

Chai Khian Chong and C.H. Loh were two photographers seconded from the NST Photo Department pool to Malay Mail.

I did a week of observations.

On four or five separate occasions, both photographers took turns so that we could get that shot which would make it for the
front page.

Hospital employees were taking home food from the hospital kitchen and we struck gold so to speak.

On Dec 14, 1981, the banner heading in 96 points was “HOSPITAL FOOD THEFT”. It caused uproar.

Calls came in; the police called at the office wanting the photographs; and the health ministry claimed that they should have been alerted to it.

Two weeks ago, Malay Mail’s Editor-in-Chief Datuk Wong Sai Wan dropped me a note asking me to pen an article to be published in the last and final edition of this newspaper.

Thirty-seven years after helping launch a revamped paper, I now have been asked to pen its “obituary”.

What can I say about spending 17 years in Balai Berita of which 14 were with Malay Mail?

There’s so much to say because you worked alongside great characters and bosses who ate, breathed and lived journalism.

Philip Mathews and Ratan were two editors who stood by their reporters all the time. You don’t find their kind these days.

I had always wanted to be a sports writer and started as a sports stringer from Klang after leaving school in the late 1960s — sending short reports and scores, which earned me a princely sum of RM3 for each filler and 65 sen per column cm for longer stories.

I then was the Bernama retainer in Klang after having left the now-defunct
Malaysia Raya.

I then spent a year with Ipoh Bureau of
The Star.

I quit fulltime journalism and despite having a fulltime job elsewhere, I remained a stringer and covered games for Malay Mail.

By a twist of fate — more so by accident, I had caught Noordin’s eyes.

On Sept 26, 1977, it was raining cats and dogs which forced the cancellation of a hockey match on the Kuala Lumpur Padang (now Dataran Merdeka) which I was supposed to cover.

I came back to the office and was having a chat with some of the reporters when Ratan screamed: “There has been a plane crash and I need help.”

I volunteered and headed off with photographer Soong Hon Sin’s car for the site of the crash off Subang airport — Elmina Estate to be exact.

I was one of the first reporters at the scene.

Later in the night, I was coming down the slope in the rubber estate to get to the NST car to get me back to the office.

Then a policeman (if memory serves me) handed me a baby and told me: “Bawa dia ni pergi hospital.”

The baby was shivering and crying with cold water dripping from the leaves of the rubber trees.

I took off my shirt, covered her and got to the car.

I made a detour to the University Hospital to hand over the baby before making it to the office. Her name was Maria Bukhart.

When I got back, there were questions asked about the delay in coming back.

The late David Tambyah, the executive editor of the NST was listening to the conversation and told me: “Have you got a picture? I want 10 paras on how you happened to be carrying the baby.”

Going through the rolls and rolls of film, there was one grainy picture.

NST had that picture of a bare-bodied youth carrying a baby on the front page the
next day.

When Noordin was told I was a stringer, he signed a payment voucher for RM100 as an incentive for my efforts.

“Why don’t you join us?” he asked when I was introduced to him.

I was asked to go to the personnel department to do some paperwork but it was not until February the following year that Noordin interviewed about 20

I reported for work on April 1, 1978 and am proud to say that I shared a front page byline with the legendary James Ritchie — two days later.

There are so many good memories about my time in the papers.

We organised the People’s Live Telecast Fund together with contributions from Daniel Chan and Noraini Shariff. This certainly stands out for me.

It was during this period that I struck up a partnership with Frankie D’Cruz — yet another who rose from the ranks of stringers.

We produced a string of exclusives — week after week — so much so, we were followed by other reporters after press conferences.

Both of us had a knack for gathering our information and seeking a quote of two which would complete the story and make the headlines the following day.

He was the reporter who followed an “escaped convict” when I did a test of
public apathy.

In September 1981, I walked the streets of Kuala Lumpur with handcuffs dangling from my hand.

No one dared apprehend or approach me. That was the story!

Together we exposed exclusives ranging from a mail order scam run by a former politician and to being able to buy police uniform without any checks.

Nik Salleh Nik Mat, Trade and Industry enforcement director, allowed me to accompany his officers on raids on
counterfeit products.

Most times, I was the only reporter there, so they all became exclusives!

Stories are plenty.

Who would believe that three reporters — Kek Soo Beng, Frankie and I — could generate enough stories to fill eight pages of a Monday edition while all the others were at The Sunday Mail celebratory party in Port Dickson?

Frankie and I “stole” documents from the National Film Censorship Board, made photocopies and returned the original and then wrote about lax security.

The director general threatened to prosecute us, but we were ready for any eventuality.

However, sad to note, the then-editor Maurice Khoo chewed us and then apologised on our behalf.

There’s so much to write and reminisce.

On subsequent visits after leaving the paper, the camaraderie which Ratan and Philip built, celebrating every scoop was no longer existent.

Surely, there were bad times too.

I had a spat with a minister prompting a complaint to Philip who had already defended me, call me in for “advice” — do not quarrel with ministers in public.

On another occasion, a deputy minister in response to my question said: “I was only joking.” I stood up and told him: “Malay Mail produces serious journalists, not jokers.”

R. Nadeswaran is married to Sharmini, also a Malay Mail journalist, whom he met in the office. Their daughter Vichitra was also a Malay Mail reporter.