Friday, 2 January 2009

Today I remember Hari

Nine years ago today, on 2nd January, Harinder Veriah, a prominent Malaysian lawyer died in Hong Kong. I met her very, very briefly, but I had come to know her more and more over these last few years. The story below appeared in the NST today.

Hari’s legacy

by Zaharah Othman

NINE years ago today, at the start of the new millennium, life for promising young Malaysian lawyer Harinder Veriah ended in Hong Kong.

Hari, as Harinder is called, had just turned 33. She left behind a 16-month-old son, a devastated husband and a legacy that touched many lives.

I went to meet her husband, journalist and writer Martin Jacques, in his apartment in northwest London, to talk about her legacy.

It had been too raw and too painful, I gathered, to talk about it when we last met four years ago. Four years on, nothing much has changed but many things have happened.


As expected, it was an intense and emotional few hours with Jacques as he relived the moments when his wife of only a few years was snatched away from him after an epileptic attack.


It was as if it was only yesterday; the pain obvious in his voice, betrayed in sentences left hanging and etched on his face as the man whose work is with words struggled to find them to express the loss that he feels every moment of his waking hours.

At times when it looked as if he could not go on, the session was salvaged by the soothing rendition of a piano piece drifting in from the living room where Ravi, now 10, was practising his music.

Ravi has unwittingly become his father’s saviour, best friend and companion — the one obvious legacy from Hari. Or in Jacques’ words, the best gift from Hari, the love of his life, the reason for his continued existence.

It was in Tioman in 1993 that Jacques met Hari, the daughter of Malaysian left-wing politician, the late Karam Singh.

It was a meeting that was to change the course of their lives, the beginning of a love story so brief yet sweet and intense.

What began on the idyllic tropical island continued in London when Hari came to join Jacques and continued her Law studies. Later, as an employee of Lovells, one of the top City law firms, they moved to Hong Kong.

It was ideal. Hari worked in its office there while Jacques worked on his book. But fate intervened just as they were celebrating the millennium. Hari was so ill that her birthday cake had to be brought in to her.

She was taken to Ruttonjee hospital where she died on Jan 2, 2000, but not before uttering words to her husband, that not only confirmed Jacques’ suspicions that she was victimised because of her skin colour, but also words that made headlines and highlighted the issue of racism in Hong Kong.

Jacques was determined to challenge the courts to establish that it was not epilepsy that killed his wife.

During the first inquest in Hong Kong, he repeated what Hari, on her deathbed told him: “I am bottom of the pile here. I am Indian. Everyone else here is Chinese.”

Hari’s case and Jacques’ crusade finally saw the introduction of anti-racism laws in Hong Kong.

“This is one legacy, but it doesn’t mean anything to me. Hari paid with her life,” said Jacques, the anger which he had tamed over the years surfacing again.

Determined not to let Hari die in vain, Jacques with a partner from Lovells, Graham Huntley, set up the Harinder Veriah Trust in 2002, which enables young Malaysian lawyers “from non-privileged backgrounds to work for two years at the London office of Lovells”.

The first recipient, Murali Ramakrishnan, started in January 2004. This year will see the third and last recipient to benefit from the Harinder Veriah Trust. A reception for the Trust was hosted by Cherie Blair at 10 Downing Street, an event which saw baju Melayu and songkok.

Closer to home and perhaps closer to Hari’s heart is the financial aid, meals, books and tuition that a group of students from Assunta Primary School Two are receiving.

What is known as HVT II started in mid-2005, where needy students, regardless of race and background, are given help for the advancement of their education.

Hari was a former student of Assunta, and helping this project is Hari’s elder sister Jasvinder Kaur and friends including Shariza Noordin.

“I think this is what Hari would have wanted: to help children regardless of race,” said Jacques.

He had just completed the book on China, whose progress was interrupted after Hari’s death.

Coincidentally, it will be launched in June at the same time when the trial on Hari’s case is supposed to start in Hong Kong.

For the past nine years since Hari’s death, Jacques’ life revolves around Ravi; overseeing his studies, piano and violin lessons and Mandarin.

All these are conducted with the presence of Hari in their everyday conversation and in every decision that they make.

And for the past nine years, since Ravi could speak, Jacques had compiled everything that Ravi had uttered about his mummy.

“There are 7,000 words which he has said about Hari,” said Jacques, who still remembers days and dates vividly.

It was a Tuesday night, when Ravi was just 16 months 10 days old, that he mustered all his courage to tell his son that his mother had died.

Ravi was hardly three years old, and sitting on the toilet seat when he remembered that he fed the ducks with his mummy.

Hari still lives in every room in their spacious apartment in Northwest London. Her pictures adorn the mantelpiece and her favourite wooden furniture stands in the living room where Ravi plays the piano.

But it is in Ravi with his mop of black hair and impish wide smile that we see the legacy of Hari.

Kak Teh also remembers Hari here:
My Diwali Story

More stories here on Harinder Veriah Trust

39 comments:

Life for Beginners said...

"All these are conducted with the presence of Hari in their everyday conversation and in every decision that they make."

I was alright till I read this line and it just made me tear up suddenly. Oh the impact we leave on those around us --- we may never know it. I think for 2009 and thereafter, my aim will simply be to do good onto others and be good to myself too.

Thanks for sharing Hari's story, Kak Teh

Kak Teh said...

Kenny, I cried several times writing that piece, looking at the pictures. She didnt die in vain. and Martin is marvelous with Ravi.
Thanks for reading Kenny and say a prayer for her.

mamasita said...

What a beautiful love story..They should make a movie out of her life.But then,will Hong Kong want to admit its mistake in committing racism then before Hari's plight change all that?

Very touching story indeed.And she is very lucky that her husband saw to it that she did not die in vain.He is a living hero, a devoted husband and a gem of a father.

Kak Teh said...

mamasita, it is sad that it takes death for us to see all these. I will always remember Hari. Thanks for reading.

Pi Bani said...

She certainly didn't die in vain, but still, it's sad that it takes her death to get people to open up their eyes.

Thanks for sharing the story. It's indeed a touching story that really needs to be shared.

_deli said...

Salam,

Manusia mati meninggalkan nama... Indeed that's what she did. I'm sure Ravi is proud to have her as his mum. I would.

Bilalah agaknya manusia mampu melihat beyond the skin.

ray said...

Komen Pak Malim, kucing ray yg alim.

For Kak Teh, I now have a goggle account, says the cat who visits the Count. Ya, walaupun bertahun berlalu, sbg wartawan, banyak perkara yg Kak Teh ingat, kata Pak Malim sambil makan pengat. Terima kasih kerana sudi berkongsi cerita, kata Pak Malim sambil naik kereta.

Sunflora said...

Kakteh

A very touching piece that brought tears to my eyes.

Kak Teh said...

Pi Bani, thanks for this and that and you know what I mean.

Thanks, Deli. It is a harsh reality that we are facing. Selamat tahun baru.

Kak Teh said...

Pak Malim, alangkah seronoknya kak teh sambut kedatangan kucing RAY, kak teh melompat naik keretapi ke Surrey. Kak Teh ingin mengongsi cerita dengan kawan2 tentang kawan yang meninggal usia muda, kata kak teh sambil mandi manda. terim akasih kerana datang, ucap kak teh yang bangun petang.

Sunflora, thank you for reading.

GUiKP said...

This tribute is so menusuk kalbu as you're so intimately involved. You're privileged to have known the family, and an angel for sharing the story widely.

Naz said...

Kak Teh,
My prayers for her..

kay_leeda said...

Kak Teh,

I connect now with your heart breaking diwali story. What a beautiful story, even more beautiful to know the love for Hari never died, for it has become even stronger. Indeed, Hari is a legacy.

Thanks for sharing Kak Teh.

pugly said...

I believe it when you say that you cried several times when writing that piece as it is definitely laden with emotions. Then again, which piece of yours isn't?

Thanks for sharing the beautiful story, Kak Teh. Men like Jacques are a rarity.

2masterwordsmith said...

Indeed a very beautiful and touching love story!!!

Aduh! You made me crylah!!!

I could imagine the tears dropping on your keyboard and you reaching out for the tissue box like I did when you were writing this!!!

I am so happy to get to know many new bloggers like you, mamasita, chahya and ezza...

May God bless each of the blog readers and bloggers here and may the ties of friendship and sisterhood/brotherhood be stronger in 2009.

Thanks so much for being such a sincere person and for visiting and linking with my blogs. Can I link yours with mine? Sorry I forgot about it till now...

Salam! Take care and thanks, really really terima kasih!!!!!

Kak Teh said...

GUiKP, thanks for kind words.

Naz, thanks for prayers.

Kay, a story that needs to be told. thanks.

Kak Teh said...

Pugs - I agree abt that too.

Paula, this is indeed a wonderful way to make friends and I am glad i found yours. Yes, of course, i'd be honoured for you to link me in your blog.

mekyam said...

this is such a stirring account. thank you for sharing, kt.

i tip my hat to jacques whose love has kept hari's memory and legacy alive for their beloved son and whose determination ensures that her death through discrimination wasn't in vain.

please wish him and ravi all the very best!

p.s. can so see the love between jacques and ravi in the pix, kt... palpable. great shot!

Kak Teh said...

Mekyam, thanks and I am sure Martin will read this. Hope you are keeping warm, wherever you are.

Salt N Turmeric said...

This is a very sad story and I cant believe it happened not too long ago. I dont understand what was going on so Im gonna go and read the whole story now. Thanks for sharing Kak Teh and Happy New Year to you and family!

[danial][ma] said...

hej! kak teh...it's really hard to read this posting and i know how hard and difficult Jacques went through this ordeal because i've been through the same in June 1999...:-(

J.T. said...

Thanks for sharing this story, Kak Teh. A very touching one.

Isn't sad that tragedy has to happen before people open their eyes to reality? This has been happening over and over again.

Kak Teh said...

Farina, - yes, just nine years ago. Happy new year to you too.

Danial ma, am so so so sorry. I hope time will heal. take care.

JT, yes, - all the time.

Hi&Lo said...

Kak Teh,

Thanks for helping us to believe in humanity. Hari is definitely a chip of her father the great Karam Singh.

Unfortunately the price for fighting for a good cause is very heavy. The pain and the scars are sometimes irrecoverable.

D said...

"Hari-hari teringatkan Hari" is perhaps what best describes these two blessed males.

I sometimes think that people get tired of me talking about my late husband - "oh, he used to love this", "we used to do this..", "it was his favourite", "this time many years ago, we used to do this"...

But I can't forget and I don't want to forget.

Nobody understands how others feel although they think they do. Thanks for sharing, Kak Teh.

Kak Teh said...

Hi & Lo, thanks for kind words.

D, I dont think anyone expects you to forget. Your late husband lives in you and your children. I remember Martin telling me that people dont understand grief - esp the loss of a spouse. Exactly your sentiments. No one will understand until they walk in your shoes. But you are doing brilliantly - just like MArtin and many others having to soldier on alone.
Take care.

Alang said...

Kak Teh,

What a beautiful story..
and.. kak teh..
Thanks a lot for the writings..
I've learn a lot from here..

Oh ya! just to let you know, Zu mimpi kak teh la.. just few days a go.. Zu mimpi jumpa kak teh somewhere. What a dream.. may be because I keep on telling myself to check your blog for a new piece of your beautiful writings..

Sampai termimpi-mimpi pula tu..

Kak Teh said...

alang/zu, thanks for reading. haha! sampai termimpi. Tidur tak basuh kaki kut. Take care and sleep well. Selamat menyambut tahun baru.

jaflam said...

Salam Kak Teh,
Good to read the story you interviewed the day we arrived London. Sorry to make you rushed to meet us after the interview.

Many will benefit from this story about unending love that transformed into foundation to serve equality and fairness. The fact remains that racism does not resides in one country and has many faces.

All and all Malaysians have to be thankful for the racial harmony and understanding we currently inherited. Simply because racism is far worst in many parts of the word including the so called developed nation.

Salam to all at home.

Kak Teh said...

Salam dato J, it was indeed a pleasure meeting u with you again and your lovely wife. My friends are still talking about how friendly both of you are.
I think, we are lucky. I grew up in a small town with Indian and chinese friends..and until now we are friends. It is sad to hear cases like this.

Insyaallah will convey your salam.

tireless mom said...

Dear Kak Teh

A beautiful story. I dapat goose bumps bila baca. Thanks for sharing. Kulit aje berbeza but the heart still beats the same. Hari left a great legacy for the husband and son to remember.

Little Outlet said...

kak teh,

i don't wish to comment on this posting but i'd like to ask you if you know a friend of mine, izthar, with sisters eleanor and edora. can't remember for the life of me the name of their mum, but their late dad was jamal.

hmm.

Kak Teh said...

TM, yes her legacy will live on.

Little Outlet, I have left message in yr blog - but like i said, doesnt ring a bell. But I can ask around.

Ms B said...

Kak Teh dear,

I remember u mentioned this story during divali and again while I was at work (we were on the phone). Today, I saw ur article in NST (hard copy). Must be the morning flight crew who brought it to our usual plc.

Thank you for sharing this with us. Hari was blessed with two beautiful souls, Jacques & Ravi.

Kak Teh said...

ms b, where did you see the newspaper? M'hall? I need to see it. thanks.

Ida Hariati Hashim said...

Salam Kak Teh,

Tq for sharing such an inspiring story. Some lived for a short while but made great impact onto humanity. Some are just too liat to die that others are hoping to bid sayonara.

Ajal ditangan Tuhan, but if I could, I want to end this life while doing things that I love most (like Steve Irving). But of course, I have miles to go before I sleep...

Kak Teh said...

Ida,how right you are. During her short life, she had made such an impact - even more so after death. But she is certainly missed.

Manal said...

I had to reread the Diwali entry again to understand the connection of the story.

This country SHOULD know that there are MANY countries around the world that are still practising racism and giving priorities and EXTRA privileges to their own kind/colour only.

But what happened at that hongkong hospital was beyond humanity. Hospital kan tempat neutral regardless of ur skin colour and belief.

Anyways, u shud also send this kinda story to mags like Readers Digest just to send another good wake up call to just anyone who reads it (especially the authorities in that place!)

Kak Teh said...

Manal, that's what it should be.
Thanks for dropping by.