Author, blogger, and social activist Rustam A Sani passed away early this morning in his house in Gombak, Selangor. He was 64.
He was an academician, a newspaper columnist and a poet, besides being involved in a multitude of political, social and literary activities.
In politics, the Tanjung Malim-born social scientist was formerly the deputy president of Parti Rakyat Malaysia, which have since merged with the Parti Keadilan Nasional to form the PKR.
He left behind a wife, two children - a son and a daughter, and a grandchild. It is learnt that Rustam passed away after suffering from difficulties in breathing early this morning.
According to daughter Ariani, he could have suffered a heart attack.
"It was all so sudden. We had dinner together last night. He collapsed after having problems breathing at about 2.45am," she said between sobs.
In recent years, Rustam was known for his occasional blog postings in his 'Suara Rakyat' and 'Karya Semasa'.
Rustam obtained his Malay Studies degree from Universiti Malaya, and later took his Masters degree in United Kingdom (University of Reading and University of Kent) and later United States (Yale University) and Sweden (Uppsala University).
A prolific writer, he had written half a dozen books in both Bahasa Malaysia and English on a wide range of topic including the Malay left-wing nationalist movement.
Rustam was an associate professor at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s political science department in the 1980s.
The funeral hearse left at 1pm for the nearby Masjid Al-Sharif where the body stayed until Zohor prayers. The body was buried at 3pm at the Taman Danau Kota Muslim cemetery in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur.
Selangor Mentri Besar Khalid Ibrahim arrived just in time for the prayers at the masjid.
Rustam, who was born in Ipoh, was the son of Malay nationalist leader Ahmad Boestamam, who was the founder of political parties Angkatan Pemuda Insaf and Parti Rakyat.
Condolences from friends
Among those seen offering their condolences to Rustam’s family included top opposition politicians Anwar Ibrahim, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Nurul Izzah Anwar, Syed Husin Ali and Dr Xavier Jeyakumar (PKR), Kamaruddin Jaffar, Syed Azman Syed Ahmad Nawawi and Salahuddin Ayub (PAS) and Lim Kit Siang, Teng Chang Khim and Fong Kui Lun (DAP).
Also at Rustam’s house this morning were ex-New Straits Times editor-in-chief A Kadir Jasin, ex-Utusan Malaysia editor-in-chief Johan Jaffar and former director-general of Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Hassan Ahmad.
Said PKR’s Latheefa Koya, “He had been a progressive and outspoken Malay leader. We will always remember him as a brilliant intellectual with great leadership qualities but prefer to keep a very low profile. And despite his recent health conditions, he continued to be active through his writings on the Internet.”
Syed Husin credited Rustam as the key mover behind the merger between of Parti Keadilan and Parti Rakyat Malaysia.
"Much of the papers regarding the merger was done by him. When he decided to do anything, Rustam put all his energies to it."
Meanwhile, former schoolmate Kamaruddin had fond memories of their early days together.
“I have known Rustam since the 1970s when we were at the University of Kent. Rustam was a fighter and an intellectual - a political analyst whose stand has always been consistent in the struggle for the rakyat,” he said.
“We did not agree on everything but he was a very jovial and pleasant individual, for whom I always had a great deal of respect.”
Johan extolled Rustam as “one of the best columnists Utusan Malaysia ever had”.
“His worldview was moulded by his father’s struggle. He was a towering figure - one of the finest intellectuals in the country. He was critical, including of me, but he was fair.”
Nurul Izzah said that Rustam had a very close relationship with her family. “We didn’t expect this to happen. He was witty, sometimes sarcastic, but a wonderful man.”
A writer to the end
Even to his final day, Rustam wrote from morning to dusk, said his son Azrani.
"From the time he wakes up, he would start writing. He was very dedicated to the importance of ideas and the need to raise social conciousness."
He was to launch two of his latest books - ‘Failed nation? Concerns of a Malaysian Nationalist’ and ‘Social Roots of the Malay Left’ - on Saturday.
Publisher SIRD said the event will go ahead and will now be a memorium for the author. The launch will be officiated by PKR de facto leader Anwar.