Friday, 5 December 2008

Remembering Kasim Cha Tong

The story below is from New Straits Times (Dec 5, 2008) which I am reproducing here in remembrance of Kasim Cha Tong (pix). I was fortunate to have known this great man while I was in London.

He used to come to the NST London office/house at 31 Chapel Side, Moscow Road, W2 4LL where I was working and staying. Sometimes Nadeswaran (Citizen Nades) who was then reading law and a Malaysian doctor working in London, Dr Ramesan, would come and we had great times spending the night at King's Head Bar.

Kasim, Nades, Dr Ramesan and I had also travelled to places in the country side and to a place where Kasim used to stay when he was reading law in the 1970s. When I returned to Kota Kinabalu, Kasim was still in London and we used to exchange emails.

Having know a man Kasim was, I had never dreamt of such a way he was to leave his family and friends. Though he is now gone forever, the times we were together in London and in Kuala Lumpur will never be erased from my memory.

My condolence to his family.

IT was a hot Monday night in Golok, south Thailand, on Nov 3. Kasim Cha Tong Ratnawongse, a Malaysian of Thai origin, was in his favourite restaurant on the outskirts of the cowboy town having a drink with Khaw, the owner, and a couple of friends.
It was his third visit that day to the popular home-styled eatery he had helped to build, a place famous for its signature boiled chicken and wild, exotic food.
Not long after they finished their drinks and the restaurant had closed, Kasim noticed two men seated at the gazebo table near his car.
Asked why they weren't leaving, one answered that his motorbike had broken down. Kasim, good Samaritan that he was, kindly offered them a ride home.
They rose to leave, but as he bent to open his car door, one of them shot him in the back with a sawn-off shotgun and the pair fled.
A passer-by took him to hospital, but Kasim, 57, died at midnight.When news broke across the border, his family, friends and business associates were shocked.He wasn't known to have any enemies.
It hadn't been a botched robbery or accident. Kasim had been gunned down in cold blood.A policeman by training, he joined the Anti-Corruption Agency in the 1970s and then left to study law in England, specialising in copyright ownership.
When he returned to Malaysia in the 1980s, he was hired by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) to head a small, tight team that would become famous as music piracy combatants.
The job that Kasim, aided by Ram Singh Gill, set out to do over the next 10 years was fraught with danger because music piracy was rampant, accounting for more than 80 per cent of Malaysia's recording business.
Pirates became increasingly worried because here was a man who didn't come toting a gun.He was hitting them with the law, and he hit hard, going on anti-piracy raids with the police and a handful of recording company executives.
When that wasn't possible, he turned to the recording artistes and used the Anton Pilar Order to have the artistes accompany him on raids to fight for the musical intellectual property that was rightfully theirs.
His efforts bore fruit and when he left IFPI, the situation had been reversed -- 80 per cent legitimate and 20 for the pirates.
There was another side to this anti-piracy hero, however, that very few knew about.
"Kasim was the president of the Selangor Buddhist Association from 1994 to 1999 and was responsible for unifying the Buddhists here," said current president Eh Pon Awang Din.
"Before him, the temple in Pudu, KL, could not qualify for the vassa, which requires five resident monks to spend three months in the temple, after which they qualify for the kathina ceremony, accepting the saffron robe."
"We did not have enough monks and Kasim brought them in from Kelantan, Kedah and Thailand," Eh said, adding that Kasim also played a huge role as adviser to Buddhist youths.
In 1999, Kasim left for London where he lived for a few years and returned to manage his family properties in Golok.
Early this year, he began travelling to raise funds to build a temple in Chiang Rai, near Chiang Mai, Thailand.Now that his role in that project has come to an abrupt end, it's left to his family and friends to continue with the work.His funeral in Golok on Friday, Nov 7, was grand.
It was attended by townsfolk, friends from KL, dignitaries and the mayor of Golok.It was presided over by 24 monks, ending with a cremation that was, in a word, explosive.As Kasim's body was moved into the fire, we heard blasts.
Firecrackers, we thought, but as we turned towards the sound, we saw a man nearby, staring us down, while shooting into the air.When he had emptied the magazine, he holstered his hand gun and walked away, leaving the monks to retrieve the bullet casings.A fitting farewell.
A gun salute to a hero.
Sleep well, Son of Siam. Rest in peace.A memorial ceremony for Kasim Cha Tong Ratnawongse will be held at the Thai Buddhist Chetawan Temple, 24 Jalan Pantai, off Jalan Gasing, Petaling Jaya, at 10.30am tomorrow.
He leaves wife Irene Hooi and three children, Vicharn, Viraphol and Vichittra.

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