This morning, at around 2.30am, Rustam Sani, social critic, political analyst, author of books on Malay and Malaysian nationalism, former lecturer and politician, newspaper columnist and fellow blogger, passed away. He had been unwell for some time.
Rustam Sani, an Aliran member, was famously described by Jomo as “arguably Malaysia’s leading public intellectual”. It was only last night that Aliran posted his last commentary piece on its website – about Mahathir.
He was the son of one of the great tokohs of the independence era, Ahmad Boestaman of the Angkatan Pemuda Insaf. Boestaman would go on to become the first MP to be detained in independent Malaya.
More than that, I will miss Rustam because he was a good friend of mine. I would occasionally phone him when I was writing articles and he never failed to shed new insights into the local political situation.
These were the last two occasions I spoke to him when writing articles in December and March, after the general election:
I am glad he lived to see the sweeping political changes in the country.
When he failed to update his blog, I would call up to find out what happened and he would tell me he was busy working on his books.
He had just completed two – “Failed nation: Concerns of a Malaysian nationalist” and “Social roots of the Malay left” – which all of us should get copies of, in recognition of this unsung hero. The book launch was actually scheduled for 26 April. (I hope it goes ahead as planned.) (Update: Just spoke to Rustam’s daughter Ariani: She confirms that the book launch will go ahead at the Selangor State Library in Shah Alam this Saturday at 3.00pm.) These should be collectors’ items for all concerned Malaysians.
I met him for the first time in 2000 in KL, when he was already not too well. Sharing a conversation over drinks, he struck me as a humble, open, friendly person with a sharp wit – a true Malaysian in his thinking. I feel privileged to have known him.
Later, he would tell me that blogging suited him as he was not as mobile as before.
Malaysia has lost one of her finest sons. May his soul rest in peace. And my deepest condolences to his family.
Farewell, brother Rustam.
If you know him or are familiar with his work, share your thoughts about him or pay your tribute to him in the comments below.