Goodbye wordsmith Rehman Rashid

A lover of words, the journalist and author would express outrage whenever someone used words wrongly.

By A. Kathirasen, Free Malaysia Today

Rehman Rashid, who died on June 3, 2017, loved words. The journalist and writer suffered a heart attack in January from which he never fully recovered. He was 62.

Rehman loved to play with words. He loved to drop a new word here and there – especially among the younger reporters – to show his superior vocabulary. You might even say to show off his superior vocabulary.

Whether the words were monosyllabic, polysyllabic or sesquipedalian, he seemed to know them or would look them up if he came across them.

He appreciated the apt word, the witty turn of phrase, the sentence with the canorous rhythm, the paragraph that danced. He chose his words well.

Rehman and I worked at the New Straits Times, where reporters and the bosses admired his word mastery and his command of the language. We were both in the team that came up with the words, and organised, the NST’s Spell-it-Right competition in the early years. We were columnists, and just before I retired from the NST, we were both associate editors.

And, yes, both of us were born in Taiping, Perak.

I remember the times when he would rush to talk to me after seeing a rarely used word or a big word that I had used in writing the New Sunday Times’ editorials, or in my column.

I was delighted that he liked the column I used to write in the New Straits Times. Anybody can give a compliment, but when it comes from a person who writes well, a wordsmith of calibre, it is special.

But of course, as everyone in the journalistic fraternity knew, he had an ego. Some would say an extra-large ego. In fact, he loved an adulating crowd.

But, come to think of it, which estimable writer, which palmary artist, doesn’t have an ego? He was good. He knew it. He flaunted it.

That is why, I suppose, he would not outrightly say he liked what I had written. He would, almost always, start by saying that his uncle simply loved reading my columns – which, he insisted, was true – and then part with his compliment in a sort of ambagious manner.

The latitudinarian’s columns were well liked, and I believe he rose to fame after he started writing the column called Scorpion Tales.

Rehman’s writing flair was never in question. If he had been able to get along better with his bosses and the powers that be, and if he had reined in his ego, he could very well have been the editor-in-chief of the NST, or been in contention for that post.

Also, Rehman had a mind of his own, and that might prove dangerous to the powers that be if he were to be in control. But, to be fair to the powers that be, Rehman demonstrated a paucity of people management skills, and you need this if you want to run a newspaper, or any organisation for that matter. In addition, he had his moods.

He hardly made a secret of his disdain for the writing abilities – or, rather, the lack of it – of some of the bosses and ex-bosses. One of the few writers in the NST whose writing he appreciated was Kamrul Idris Zulkifli, the then deputy group editor. Another was group editor Syed Nadzri Syed Harun.

There was one particular writer in the NST who raised his hackles; and each time that person wrote something, Rehman would come up to me to fustigate, carp, and chunter about his “desecration” of the English language. Then he would move on to Kamrul Idris to ventilate his views about that journalist.

Rehman not only wrote well, he held himself well, and spoke well. He was able to hold an audience with his eloquence and style. He had also tried his hand at acting in plays, and written books.

There is no doubt that Rehman was talented, but I will always remember his love for words, which, he told me, started at a very, very young age when his father made him study – yes, study – the dictionary.

Goodbye logophile. Here’s something for you Rehman: You were an eellogofusciouhipoppokunurious writer, and you’ll be missed.