LEARNED Muslims believe that the Angel of Death visits and stares at the face of every living mortal on earth 70 times a day, or every 21 minutes, to be exact, to check out and execute a person's death warrant.
There is no stay of execution. Not even for a second when your "number is up". Meaning, a Muslim has to adhere to the full demands of the faith round the clock, for death will come anywhere and anytime.
That is why, when my son Naj-muddin, a news editor at the New Straits Times, called me up just after noon to tell me that Chin Peng had died, it left me quite numb, very numb in fact.
Not that I cared for the state of faith that Chin Peng was in when his life was snatched. Just that I was plainly astonished and dumbstruck at the timing of it all -- Sept 16.
Chin Peng, who (according to the official version), had ordered for my father, Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Hashim, the third inspector-general of police, to be gunned down like a vermin in the streets of Kuala Lumpur in the morning hours of June 7, 1974 -- died on Malaysia Day!
Having asked the basic questions and gotten the answers from my son, I sat back in my chair to let it all sink in.
You know, given that Chin Peng had met his Maker a couple of decades ago, when my blood would still be boiling, I would have whooped, thumped the table and spewed forth a stream of expletives deserving of the critter.
But, today, at a somewhat more mellowed but not necessarily hallowed 65 years of age, I simply soliloquised: "Today is Monday, Sept 16, Malaysia Day. The significance of it all. This is surely a divine 'gift' for me, my mother, my siblings, my children who never got to know their 'wan' (northern term for grandfather), relatives and friends for 39 years of heart tugging, wrenching hurt."
Then, I think about the families of the 10,000 Malayan and Commonwealth troops, policemen and civilians killed during Chin Peng's 12-year murderous, bloody campaign (1948-1960) to establish a communist state in the country.
I think of them all. Fellow Malaysians who had lost fathers, husbands, brothers and sons to Chin Peng's murderous streak.
Theirs is an anguish that I could easily relate to and share with. And because we are of a kind, Chin Peng's death is also divine justice for all those tortured souls.
Jumping from my reverie, my mind raced towards my mother. Mother! I felt quite guilty. How can I not call her first?
She, who never fretted whenever father, during his Special Branch days, would pack his pillow and blanket to sleep in the office; she who seemed bemused when father came home one evening driving an old Austin 7, wearing a false beard and moustache capped with an oversized sunglass -- as disguise for a raid on a communist cadre-churning Chinese school; she who was always watchful whenever father dined in public places, and she who had mourned very quietly on the day a 9mm bullet took his life.
Over the phone, I broke the news to mother. Her reply, in a voice that clearly belied her 88 years, was simply, "Baguslah. Tak payah risau lagi." (Good. No need to worry anymore).
The "no need to worry anymore" part sort of stumped me a bit. Worry? Worry about what?
But she just left it at that. End of conversation.
I could come up with a hatful of theories to decipher mother's Dan Brown-like labyrinthine puzzle, but that would cloud the clear message that Chin Peng's death delivers: that there are lessons to be learnt from the past, a bloody and painful chapter of history has been closed, that there is absolutely nothing to be gained by extremism of any kind in this country, that we need to learn to trust one another again, and that it is time for us to move on.
Achieve that and there will be nothing for us Malaysians to worry about.
Najib Rahman is the son of Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Hashim, the third inspector-general of police, gunned down by the communist The New Straits Times Online Columnist 17 September 2013