|Fan Yew Teng in Cambridge, U.K., after a marathon land and sea journey through |
India, Afghanistan, Iran and Yugoslavia to join his wife Noeleen (1975)
Three years ago today I was jolted by the news that Fan Yew Teng had succumbed to cancer in a Bangkok hospital. I hadn’t been in touch with the man since the mid-1980s, though I recall bumping into him a couple of times, either in theatre foyers or at public forums, but the last real conversation I had with Fan was perhaps when he commissioned me to do a campaign poster in 1984 for his Social Democratic Party which never saw the light of day, apparently because he couldn’t find a printer willing to do the job.
In retrospect the cartoons I did for the poster weren’t all that hot, but it was my first attempt at political cartooning and laid the groundwork for the drawings I did four years later for ADOI!
|Fan Yew Teng, the public |
intellectual, in 1980
Fan Yew Teng and Mahathir Mohamad are what you might call diametric opposites – not unlike Arthur Koestler’s Yogi and Commissar archetypes, the ultraviolet and infrared ends of the psycho-emotional spectrum. The Yogi, representing inner evolution, envisions a world where every single soul is enlightened, liberated and in a natural state of bliss; while the Commissar, representing external revolution, has wet dreams about lording it over a perfect mechanical anthill colony where every atom knows its proper place and nothing irregular goes unpunished.
The Yogi and Commissar polarity is more or less the same as the Christ-Caesar dichotomy. Is it possible for these polar opposites to align and merge? I would say it’s not only possible but absolute necessary if we are to survive as a tool-using species – however, the only way such a magical fusion can arise from the general confusion is if the Yogi or The Christ is accorded supreme and ultimate power, to be equitably shared with all strata of life and consciousness. What characterizes a true Yogi or Christ is the conscious renunciation of wielding power over others - and loving compassion for each and every expression of life, even apparent enemies.
The Commissar or Caesar types are what we might call younger souls - brash, ego-driven and reckless, but charged with a pragmatic dynamism that can and must be harnessed to loftier goals than crass power-over-others world domination. In the Pentagonian Hawk or Umno Warlord we see a classic example of Little Boys with Dangerous Toys whose playground brawls will inevitably bring about massive carnage and ruin.
|Fan at a socialist convention in Paris, 1976|
Indeed, you don’t have to go so far back in time – only 14 years ago, Mahathir Mohamad did exactly that to his hand-picked successor Anwar Ibrahim. As usually happens when demented old gods devour their own progeny, the outcome is a gigantic bellyache, followed by violent convulsions, a great deal of vomiting and angry rivers of diarrhea destroying all that we deem decent and honorable.
Well, as one who embodied everything we deem “decent and honorable,” Fan quickly became marked as an “enemy of the state” – and the state took pains to crush Fan’s political aspirations and thwart his dream of an enlightened and liberated Malaysia.
|Fan & Noeleen in Salzburg, Austria, 1976|
He joined the Democratic Action Party (DAP) in 1968 and was soon appointed Acting Secretary-General and editor of the party organ, The Rocket. In 1969, Fan was elected MP for Kampar and in 1974, for Menglembu. The home ministry used the archaic Sedition Act against Fan for publishing a speech by the Penang DAP Chairman. Although he was never formally disqualified as a Member of Parliament, Fan was deprived of his MP’s allowance, salary and even his pension.
|Dynamic young editor of The Educator, bulletin of the National Union of Teachers, in the mid-1960s|
Finding himself out of work with time on his hands in 1975, Fan withdrew his meager savings and embarked on an epic land and sea journey from Port Klang to join his wife Noeleen Heyzer in Cambridge via India, Afghanistan, Iran and Yugoslavia. Three years later Fan and Noeleen’s beautiful twin daughters, Lilianne and Pauline, were born.
|In Cameron Highlands with twin girls Lilianne & Pauline, 1985|
|Fan, Noeleen & their girls in Bangkok|
|With Pauline in early 2010|
Anil Netto wrote a simple but profoundly moving introduction to the December 2010 issue of Aliran, which featured Fan Yew Teng on its cover:
|With Lilianne, early 2010|
|Dr Kua Kia Soong|
Fan and Kua both found themselves joining the DAP – and both had personal issues with the party leadership, perhaps because they were first and foremost scholars and humanists, rather than streetfighters and demagogues - and both can be described as fiercely independent-minded individuals who can only toe any party line so far and no further.
Well, Fan Yew Teng has left us to take his place in the pantheon of cult heroes where he can hobnob with the likes of Martin Luther King, Che Guevara, Bob Marley, Rabindranath Tagore, Kahlil Gibran, Bertrand Russell, Frantz Fanon, Leo Tolstoy, and Teilhard de Chardin.
However, former ISA detainee Kua Kia Soong is alive and well and still actively involved in public affairs through the human rights NGO, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) and through his books - May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969, Questioning Arms Spending in Malaysia: From Altantuya to Zikorsky, Patriots and Pretenders - to name but a few recent ones.
|In years to come Malaysians will gain some appreciation of what Fan Yew Teng contributed|
to a higher quality of political consciousness
Fan’s widow, Noeleen Heyzer, continues to work through the UN empowering women around the region, while their gorgeous daughters Lilianne and Pauline – now grown into full-fledged incarnations of noble intellect, compassion, ethics and aesthetics – are poised to influence and shape the new world of freedom and joy that’s being born even as the ugly and abusive old world order crumbles.
|Lilianne & Pauline: Fan Yew Teng and Noeleen's brilliant and beautiful genetic legacy|
[First posted 7 December 2011. Fan Yew Teng family photos courtesy of Lilianne & Pauline]