In Sangeet Kaur Deo’s first interview since the death of her father, Karpal Singh, almost a year ago, this 35-year-old lawyer recalls the worst day of her life — the day her father died in a horrific car accident.
By Pauline Wong
On April 16, 2014, lawyer Sangeet Kaur Deo had wrapped up yet another day at work with her father, Karpal Singh, at their office near Jalan Tun Perak in Kuala Lumpur.
He was upstairs, in his room, and they had had a discussion earlier. “I’ll be downstairs if you need me,” she told him.
After a while, she left the office to go home to prepare for a week-long trip to Bhutan with her husband. Her children were to spend the week with their grandparents while they were away.
She left quickly, without saying goodbye to her father still working away upstairs. After all, they were going to see each other later, weren’t they?
So she went home, packed up a few things, and headed to her parents’ house in Damansara.
Her arms laden with milk for her children, she walked into the house and on the table was a photo album, with pictures of a car crash in it.
Perhaps a case, she thought, and didn’t think any more of it.
She then went back home, but in her heart, something felt wrong. She was restless, unable to sit or stand still, even though her husband reassured her nothing was amiss. She went to bed, but sleep did not come easy.
At about 1am on April 17, 2014, a call came in. Her husband, an orthopaedic surgeon, was of course accustomed to getting calls at all hours of the night.
But this call was different. There were two people on the other end, a woman, then a man. The conversation was brief.
Her husband put down the phone, then he put his arms around her. He said, “You’re gonna have to get up now, and get ready. Your father and Michael have had an accident, and they didn’t make it.”
She refused to believe it. “What are you telling me? Are you insane? Is this some kind of joke? It’s really not funny, you know!” she cried out.
A mistake, she was sure. “You haven’t seen him, maybe it’s a mistake, maybe he has just passed out or something!” she insisted. Even when she got into the car (after waking up the maid to tell her to watch the children) to go to her parent’s house, she was still adamant it was all a mistake.
But it was not.
Her father, the inimitable Karpal Singh, the man who had been at the forefront of Malaysian politics for over four decades, had passed away in an early morning car accident that also took the life of his faithful aide, Michael Cornelius.
It was an accident that shocked the entire nation and left us bereft of a great leader, but for Sangeet, his only daughter of five children, the void he left behind in her heart would never be filled.
In an emotional interview with Sangeet recently — her first since Karpal passed — never has it been more painfully obvious how much this daughter loves her father.
It was not the Karpal whom the rest of the nation knew — the fiery orator in Parliament, the stern lawyer, the man whose intelligent wit is matched only by his sharp tongue — that she misses so fiercely till today.
The Karpal she loves, is the man very few got to know: the one who sat next to her in the evenings, watching Hindi movies together and making jokes; the man who, when she was eight and her youngest brother Mankarpal was born, assured her it was for the best that she had a younger brother, and not a younger sister because “Then you wouldn’t be daddy’s only princess anymore.”
Everyone saw the man who took on the entire government and even Tun Mahathir Mohamad, and never backed down even when he was arrested and tossed into jail in Kamunting for 18 months under the now-repealed Internal Security Act (ISA). On television, the Karpal we knew was wheelchair-bound (after a car accident in 2005, when a car rammed the back of the taxi he was in) but sharp as a tack, fierce as the Tiger of Jelutong, as we called him.
So few knew the man who got excited about the Minion (the adorable yellow banana-shaped assistants of the baddie Gru in the movie, Despicable Me) craze and enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren; who was a doting grandfather of 12 grandchildren (another grandson came along after he passed away).
Fewer still knew of the protective father, who even until his daughter was a grown woman with four children of her own, would ensure that she was never alone in her home while her husband is away for medical conferences.
A year after Karpal died, and still the silence he has left behind never grew less deafening for Sangeet.
“I saw him lying on a steel table, with Michael’s body next to his. And it was… it was difficult. It felt like it was somebody else. Looking at him I felt it was somebody else, that it cannot be him.
“He was lying in the coffin in my living room for three days and… it was not him. It’s like he had just gone away for a while,” she said.
She pauses for a few seconds, and one would have to have a heart of stone to feel nothing as tears welled up in her eyes.
“When we went to find the driver (who was uninjured), we found him at the police station and the police were taking his statement. My father’s car was there, and it was a wreck,” she said.
From the mangled remains of the white Toyota Alphard, Sangeet pulled out her father’s smashed-up wheelchair, the other shoe that had come off, and one of his shirt sleeves. His files were scattered all over the place — she took those too.
“It is a shock that I can tell you has not completely gone away,” she said.
But there was just no time to grieve for her father, because work never stopped. Sangeet recalled how the work became a way for her to grieve for her father….
(To be continued in Part 2)
– The Rocket