Remembering Zainon Ahmad

July 23, 2015

Note: I was reading Balan Moses on Facebook early this morning and decided that I should post his moving tribute to our departed friend, Pak Non, who was an exemplary journalist of my generation. I interacted with Pak Non as I used to frequent Parliament House when it was in session. He was always gave me interesting insights into Malaysian politics and our politicians at work.

He saw politics a kind of sandiwara by our parliamentarians whenever they appeared before the camera. Pak Non was particularly fond of the theatrics of Bung Mokhtar Radin, the fiery UMNO Member of Parliamentarian for Kinabatangan constituency in Sabah.  At that time, Pak Non was the Chief Editor of the Sun Daily  and media consultant with a column of his own.

I liked his style of writing. He sought the truth, as Balan says, but he was balanced and fair. Although he is no longer with us, I will remember Pak Non as a Malaysian journalist in a class of his own. As a friend and fellow Kedahan, he was indeed kind, sincere and considerate. It was my privilege to know him.

To those who do not know, let me give you his background. Pak Non won the Media Personality Award in 2010. Zainon earned a degree in History and a Masters in International Relations from University of Malaya. He had also studied newspaper management at the Thomson Foundation, London and was a fellow of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tuft University, Boston in the US –Din Merican

True Malaysian Journalist: Zainon Ahmad, affectionately known as Pak Non, was always preoccupied with the truth

by Balan Moses

March 29, 2013–

ZAINON Ahmad, who left us on Wednesday (March 27, 2013), had a lifelong affair with truth, his fascination with getting past the red herrings always at the fore of his private and professional life.

In the later part of his career with the New Straits Times, the teacher-turned-scribe pasted a telling note about himself to the pillar where the office printer was located. It went something like this: “I tell the truth as much as I can and the older I get, the more I am able to tell the truth”.

This was Pak Non at his best, a journalist who said it as it was, albeit with a levity reflected in azainonahmad_6 full-faced smile that took the sting out of his comments, leaving one with only the feeling that a lesson in life had just been learnt.

There was never an ounce of malice in the avuncular figure, who roamed the news floor to exchange colourful repartees with colleagues, many of whom knew the soft inner core of the man who always meant well despite his rare but seemingly cutting remarks.

Despite his years of experience, he invariably wrote with the verve, vivacity and wonder of a novice reporter handling his first big story.Pak Non, a name we always teased him about, given the many times that people telephoned the office to ask for “Cik Zainon”, dared to walk the proverbial (journalistic) ground where angels feared to tread.

It did not help in terms of upwards professional mobility or enhancing his circle of acquaintances (he had no lack of friends), but these things never really mattered to him.

P.C. Shivadas says Zainon’s love for the difficult story (his series on the Mindanao conflict was of epic proportions) was legendary as was his ability to outperform those younger than him in a hostile foreign environment. “He put himself in harm’s way to get the story. He was a part of that small and elite group of journalists who would go anywhere, anytime to get the story,” says the former NST group editor.

Pak Non waltzed through journalistic life with an ease inherent in those with nothing to fear but God in whom he placed his utmost trust. I, like many others, like to remember Pak Non as the man with short curly hair with a zany sartorial touch (he came to love batik shirts later in life) and a toothy grin, who often greeted close friends with a Tamil movie tune of the 1950s.

Philip Matthews, a former NST editor, saying that Zainon was the same “on camera or off camera”, remembers his failed attempt at becoming an RTM Tamil news reader. Rose Ismail, former NST deputy group editor, and Fatimah Abu Bakar, former NST entertainment editor, fondly remember Zainon singing the nursery rhyme, Baa Baa Black Sheep, to a Tamil tune complete with shaking of head.

Former NST associate editor Tony Francis says Zainon, who eschewed titles or awards, “was (if there ever was one) a journalist who deserved a datukship”.”He was content to do what he loved without expecting any rewards or honours,” he says.

Zainon and I hit it off from the start with our love for Tamil movies and songs.”I remember watching Nadodi Mannan (a Tamil movie from 1958 based on The Prisoner of Zenda). What acting by MGR,” Pak Non used to tell me with awe.

One of his favourite numbers, Pambera Kannaley (eyes like spinning tops), by late Tamil comedian J. P. Chandrababu, was a song he could sing at the drop of a hat.

One of his favourite pastimes at the NST was going for a banana leaf lunch with, among others, Lim Thow Boon (his partner in crime generally), the late John Pillai, the late Shaik Osman Majid, Rudy Beltran, Unny Krishnan, K.P. Waran and I.

The estate boy who grew up as Jeganathan, the name that childhood friends gave him at the Patani Para Estate in Kedah, had a degree in history and master’s in international relations from University of Malaya.

The Journalist of the Year in 1986 and Media Personality of the Year in 2010 went on from the NST to become the first editor-in-chief of theSun, later assuming the post of consultant and political editor there with a popular column, What They Say. He was a journalist’s journalist, a man after our own collective heart.

To his wife, Hasnah Abdullah, children and grandchildren, his former colleagues at the NST wish to say that it was a singular pleasure working with a man who did not mind wearing his heart on his sleeves. He lived an exemplary life as a journalist with a heart and died as he lived — with honour.