I grew up in the Bukit Merah area.
As the ward of Anson is close by, since young, I heard more about Mr JBJ than my own MP – Dr Ahmad Mattar.
I remember back then in 1981, when JBJ won the Anson ward, the loud cheers can even be heard from my side, I was barely 10 years old back then, but I can tell, this man must be doing something right to win so many cheers from the people.
As I grew up, I beginning to get to know more and more about Mr JBJ through a close friend of mine who stayed in Blk 104 Jalan Bukit Merah, which at that time was under Anson area. She used to tell me stories about JBJ. Her parents even mentioned that their support for JBJ are very strong and don’t the PAP think they can send anyone to replace him.
JBJ was removed from his parliamentary seat back in 1986 by a conviction in Court which was later overturned. He was also sued for defamation.
From that time on, I often see him at Bukit Merah Bus Interchange selling the hammer. Even though I was a poor student back then, I would struggle with the limited money I have to purchase a copy of the hammers just to ‘show him my support’.
In May last year, I had the honour of meeting Mr JBJ in person, though not somewhere lavish, a old coffeshop to be precise, it was like a dream come true to be able to sit down and have a coffee with someone I admired from young. The coffeeshop owner, refused to accept payment for the drinks when he knew that one of the drinks in the entire tray was meant for Mr JBJ. That was the respect Mr JBJ has earned for himself through his years of fighting against the establishment.
I shook Mr JBJ hands and told him of my growing up years seeing him selling his newspaper in Bukit Merah Bus Interchange and how proud and honoured I felt being able to meet him in person. The meeting was a informal meet up about the formation of Reform Party.
Mr JBJ spoke at length with us, his conviction and why there was a need to come forward to oppose the current government on the basic fundamentals of democracy and human rights. How he felt his fellow Singaporeans are being deprived of the freedom to speak up, the freedom to stand against injustices and the need for the government to return the power back to the people.
JBJ would listen intently to what we had to say. One thing I noticed about him was the fire in his eyes when he spoke of his convictions, it was full of determination, but when it was my turn to speak, his gaze inevitably becomes “gentler”..That “gentle” side of him is a privilege that not many get to see.
A week or two later, I was overwhelmed when I received a call from Mr JBJ that he wanted to meet me personally for a chat to continue our discussion that day. I was elated. Who would turn down a chat with a great man like Mr JBJ.
I remember going up to his office to meet him and Teck Siong, we went down for a drink at a nearby coffeeshop. Throughout our chat, many strangers walk up to him, shook his hands to thank him for fighting for them. Some are youngsters just like me, who had great respect for him as they held on to his hands for quite awhile. I continued to meet up with him a few more times after that and though I told him I wasn’t ready to join any political party yet, I am willing to help him as and when he needed my help.
I attended the Reform Party’s inauguration dinner in July this year. People from all walks of life came to support him and hear him speak at the dinner. He was a happy man that night, the dinner was such a success and he made a great speech that night.
The last time I saw him was at SDP’s Hawaiian Night dinner. I was at the reception when he greeted me with a warm handshake. He addressed me by my name and asked how I had been. Despite being 82, Mr JBJ was still alert and remembered me. For me to have Mr JBJ calling me by my name was itself an honour.
I was invited to a dinner with Mr JBJ the following Wednesday. I turn down that invitation as I was feeling rather lethargic that night. It was such a waste that I missed my final chance to come up close and personal with Mr JBJ. The dinner as I understand from friends who attended was nice. They shared many ideals and dreams of opposition unity, insights on democracy and human rights.
When I received new of Mr JBJ’s demise early Tuesday morning, I couldn’t quite believe it. Yet I know, the source that informed me, couldn’t possibly be someone trying to pull a fast one.
Soon, news of his demise was announced on TV and Radio. My heart sank. Singapore has lost one of her greatest opposition fighters. I was suppose to meet Siok Chin for breakfast, but we decided to go to TTSH instead to see if we could see him for one last time and help the family in any ways.
We went from TTSH – SGH and finally Singapore Casket. The press were already there waiting when we reached. We met Teck Siong and Edmund there..Mr JBJ’s two sons wanted one last final moments with Mr JBJ and we decided to take our leave.
I attended Mr JBJ’s funeral that very night with Siok Chin, Gandhi and Uncle Bentley. As I stood by Mr JBJ’s saying a little prayer for him, I fought back my tears. I shouldn’t be crying for the loss, but I should have been happy for he could finally rest. I understand that God has been kind to him, even till he breath his last, he did not suffer any pain.
The next day was full of reports from our mainstream Media about the passing on of Mr JBJ. It is nauseating to read article after article of insincere self glorification by members of the establishment, who in the name of sending “letters expressing condolences” had put down nothing nice in the letters.
Perhaps to an opponent who has fought hard against them. They are afterall, still sore despite winning.
Mr JBJ was described as “irrelevant”, “not destined to see through what you have been fighting for”, “trying to demolish PAP and their system of Government”, and one even described JBJ’s ideals as being “ahead of times” – to all these comments, I have only this to say, I am sure what Mr JBJ has been fighting for will not be in vain for there are people like me, who believe in what he has been fighting for, and are prepare to carry on the fight.
Given Mr JBJ’s background, he could have led a luxurious life if he choose not to care or chose to be co-opted into the establishment, yet he choose the harder route to bring about more freedom for us. Even at the expense of being jailed and bankrupted, Mr JBJ still fights on.
Mr JBJ, you are a remarkable man, even though the Lord has taken you, the respect I have for you can never be taken away.
Rest In Peace Mr JBJ, let us carry on the fight towards a democratic society in Singapore and bless us from where you are now.
Goodbye Mr Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam.