I remember an Englishman I once met.
Posted by Oscar the Grouch on September 27, 2008
As I ponder, with abated breath, upon the event slated today: the Candlelight Vigil for ISA Detainees, scheduled this evening 7.00 p.m. at, aptly, Dataran Merdeka, or its English translation, Freedom Square; my mind raced back some four years back, when I had the occasion to encounter upon an Englishman who I have known, at that time, only by reputation.
I was, at that material time, a Masters scholar at a local varsity, partaking as one of my course study, the dreary subject of comparative constitutional law. I had psyched myself up to expect a long and dull semester on the lacklustre and unexciting field of study; when, within the early weeks of the course, my professor announced that he has lined up for us a guest lecturer.
R.H. Hickling was his name, my professor said, a wry smile etched up as he made his announcement. A restrained gasp was offered in response, for we all know of him. Hickling was the man who drafted, and unceremoniously presented upon us, the Internal Security Act 1960. Yes, the dreaded ISA! On last count, 64 individuals are still being callously detained, without recourse to justice, within the confines of their cells in Kamunting; in all probability, being incessantly tortured and tormented, in body and in mind.
How could he, I thought, as I looked around my other fellow academic scholars. Looks of disgust were exchanged between us. And the gall of Mr. Hickling, an Englishman who has since left Malaysia, happily residing in a sweet Shakespearean cottage in the cliffs of Dover, to dare come and sermon us on his horrendous pen of legacy. Damn you colonial idiot, muttered someone, in a huff.
“Do bring your camera next week” my professor reminded before ending the class, “We shall pose for a shot with Professor Hickling for remembrance.”
“It’s not everyday one gets this chance, you know,” he declared.
Camera? Photos? What about rotten eggs for pelting the English twat, I thought.
I had entertained the thought of missing the lecture, perhaps as a sort of indirect activist protest, in line with the abhorred stance against the ISA. But then, lecture attendance counts to the passing rates for the course, so that would not be such a good idea after all. Let’s just see what he has to say then.
Come the week of the lecture, all of us were early, neatly seated like dutiful citizens, waiting to see the great man. “He’ll be a little late” said my professor. Yeah, sure, made us wait, you insensitive superior colonial master. Are we the least surprised? Then, within minutes, in comes this man. He is diminutive in size; old and quaint, almost like a garden gnome out of the Enid Blyton’s kiddie adventures, except for lack of pointy ears. He is wearing a faded Durban shirt, with ancient barrack slacks, something that one gets from bargain jumble sales. And he has with him, a folded black umbrella, which he quickly hid into his plastic bag. Yes, a plastic bag, one that comes from a purchase from the local super mart. No fancy briefcase, no branded sling-on; just a plastic bag, was all this man has with him. Is this the merciless and ruthless Hickling that left the heritage to the nation, in the form of the ISA? Where is that monstrous English brute that I have envisioned? This is no beast, all I see before me is Santa’s helper.
“I’m sorry for being late,” the little man apologized, “There was a slight drizzle, you see, and the buses are full.” Buses?
“Professor Hickling stays in Brickfields when he’s Malaysia. He uses the bus to get around,” my professor added, as a sort of clarification to the somewhat perplexed audience.
What, the great bad drafter of the ISA carries a plastic bag and goes around in buses, I asked myself.
“Perhaps I shall start by telling by telling a bit about myself and how I ended up in Malaysia,” said Professor Hickling, formally commencing his lecture. “Well, it was decades ago, in England, my young son died.” There was a hush silence in the hall. The professor stopped for a while as well, his eyes lost in his thoughts. “Well, my wife was very sad,” continued Hickling, after regaining composure, “.. and I told her, let’s go away, somewhere far, far away, from all these.”
We were all astounded by these early revelations. We forgot about the ISA, we forgot about the law; we wanted to hear about him. And Professor Hickling carried on: about how he then applied to join the Colonial Legal Service, how he asked to be posted to Sarawak so that he can bring his beloved wife afar from the damp memories of England. He told us about how he wanted to escape as well, how he hated the war, how he had served, previously, as a seaman with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve; and how he, as a sub-lieutenant, commanded the landing craft tank to Sword Beach during infamous D-Day Invasion of Normandy. We were revealed on the atrocities of the war; how soldiers became mad and eat up dogs, scenes which we were only privy to courtesy of Saving Private Ryan; made real by this man who was actually present at the setting to witness it all.
Professor Hickling then proceeded to talk on the ISA. “At that time,” he said, “There were the communist. They were bad, bad men. Very bad men, you see,” he explained, in his earnest simplistic demeanour. “We had to do something, there were so many of them, we had to nab them and quickly locked them up. There wasn’t much time for trial; hence we needed a legislation to befit the occasion. Those were the insurgent times, a time of emergency.”
With that short statement, Professor Hickling ended his lecture on the ISA. No grandeur, no fanfare, no sermon, no defence, no arguments; just a brief historical proclamation. He did not defend what he did, nor did he lay down lengthy credence of his actions. There was no boisterous reasoning on his part as to how relevant the ISA is then, as it should be today.
I never saw Professor Hickling again after that; but after that memorable lecture, I knew more of him as a person than just as the drafter of the ISA. I received news that he passed away three years thereafter, in Worcestershire, England, leaving behind his beloved wife and 3 other children.
A check on the internet search on Professor Hickling shows a record on what he wrote in the NST in 1989:-
“I could not imagine then that the time would come when the power of detention, carefully and deliberately interlocked with Article 149 of the Constitution, would be used against political opponents, welfare workers and others dedicated to non violent, peaceful activities.”