In this second part of our exclusive interview with Sangeet Kaur Deo, daughter of the late Karpal Singh, she tells us how work became a way not only to grieve for her father, but to celebrate his work, and to keep his spirit alive.
(Read Part 1 here)
In the months that followed the death of Karpal Singh, picking up the pieces at his law firm became a way for Sangeet Kaur Deo to grieve for her father.
“I went back to office almost straightaway. I mean, work was continuing. Some of the courts were very nice about it, adjournments were granted on certain matters and our opponents were good about it too,” she said.
“But there was still a lot to do and I had to figure out which of his files were pending matters, and while I helped him in many files, some I didn’t… so I was pulling it all together and getting it together… you know, because the last thing he would have wanted was to leave his work hanging,” she added.
Going back to the office for the first time after his death, she walked upstairs to his room, and sat there for a long time, on a chair next to his.
“I remember going back to his office, and sitting upstairs in his room. And he has his chair and usually, I would pull up a chair next to him, or stand next to him while we talked.
“And I did the same thing that day, only… his chair was empty.”
There was precious little time for a daughter to mourn her father, especially if the father is a man whose work ethic and principles would not abate even after death.
“Those weeks that came went into finalising submissions he had pending, getting on with it, going to see our clients in prison, to tell them don’t worry we haven’t forgotten you. Ramkarpal and I did that quite a lot, and work went on. And maybe it was a bit easier because I drowned myself in work.
“I suppose I grieved in the middle of it all, through it. I don’t know. There were good days and bad days… and we are all trying to be strong for mom,” she said.
“But I could feel him in the office, more than anywhere else, and that’s probably why I spent more time there. It took us almost half a year to sort out his affairs, but the void is there everyday.
“Going through some of his work, and notes of the questions he has asked witnesses… I could almost hear him asking that, and the jokes that he’d make, and that brought him back to life for me for a while,” she added.
There are prayers being arranged, she said, in early April, but by her own admission, she has not been much help in arranging for them.
“I’ve got to say I haven’t been much help to my mom. She keeps asking me to help her with this and that but… maybe part of me doesn’t want to acknowledge the fact that it’s been a year, and that’s he’s really not coming back.”
Yet although it clearly took a lot of effort on her part to fend off the tears as she spoke of him, she was nevertheless warmed and delighted to speak about him, especially of her childhood.
In fact, upon seeing her for the first time, her striking profile brings Karpal to mind immediately, but more than that, she has his heart, and perhaps that comes from the fact that growing up, she was very attached to him.
“As we were growing up, he was always very busy, but from a young age we always had breakfast together on Sunday mornings, and then off he goes to do his own thing,” she said.
Sangeet, who was called to the Bar in January 2005, was pursuing her A-levels in KL and those were the years she felt she grew most close to him.
“We have always had a special relationship, you know how it is like, daughters and their fathers. But while I was studying A-Levels in KL, he was in KL a lot at the time, and while my youngest brother was in school in Penang, my father and I were alone at home a lot. I would wait for him to come home, usually quite late at night, and that was when I started learning how to cook!
“So he had to endure a lot of my amateur cooking, and still he would say it was good,” she laughed.
She had plans to go back to England where she had read law, but it was put off when Karpal had the accident.
“Just a few weeks after I was called to the Bar, he had his accident. And it was life-changing, for all of us. Obviously, plans to go to England just didn’t arise anymore, I couldn’t leave; and I was supposed to be married that March as well, but I decided to postpone it.
“How could I put on makeup, put my dress on and laugh and joke when my father was in such a state? No, I couldn’t, and my husband and in-laws were so supportive about it,” she said.
The upheavals only drew her ever closer to her father, and she worked with him at his firm for many years —in fact, since she began her chambering in 2004, until today.
As the interview ends, Sangeet regains her composure, and seemed almost embarrassed that she had become so emotional. One cannot blame her, really — their family, herself especially, has remained a dignified silence since his death, and have to an extent, been protective of their privacy.
“They say time heals, but I don’t know. If it does, I have not seen it yet!” she said, laughing slightly.
One truly doubts if time — all at once so cruel for taking Karpal before his time, yet forgiving enough that it would lessen the pain of loss — would ever cause to fade Sangeet’s memories with her father.
Time could not make her forget that the day of his death began so much like any other day: him in his wheelchair, herself standing beside him at the Court of Appeals as they worked the case together like so many times before.
While the chair in his office that remains empty would probably never see the likes of Karpal Singh in its seat again, his daughter is a fine candidate to carry on his legacy — articulate, intelligent and well-spoken, she is ever her father’s daughter.
Time alone may not heal her grief, but right now, it seems that her memories of him may help the process along, and in some small way, maybe even help Malaysia recover from losing one of her finest and best.