Who will replace Noor Farida, the face and voice of G25?


Some foreigners know her as Noor Farida Ariffin, the formidable former diplomat and a role model for Malaysian women.

To many Malaysians, she is the face and voice of the G25 group of influential former senior civil servants; but to me, she was simply Kak Da, a unique “orang Perak”.

Farida (above, seated), who died on Thursday, was my cousin, also a caring grandaunt to her grandniece Violet whom she doted on, a cat lover and a compassionate Malaysian, ready to fight for the rights of voiceless Malaysians.

Behind the G25 facade, Farida was very different from her high-profile diplomatic image.

She spent many years in the Commonwealth Secretariat in London and when she visited her former turf, she would often invite friends and fellow activists to sample homemade nasi lemak and original rendang Perak.

At Malaysian restaurants, we were rather rowdy, with Farida’s distinctive voice amusing others with tales about the bigots she faced in Malaysia.

Mariam Mokhtar (left) with Noor Farida Ariffin

Loyalty, responsibility and trust were qualities Farida treasured. The Indonesian lady who took care of her was also a brilliant cook and accompanied Farida on her diplomatic postings.

Both helped to showcase Malaysian cuisine to foreign dignitaries but the diplomacy did not end there, as the lady learnt how to cook the major dishes of the world and in turn, impress visiting Malaysian officials. Farida described her cook as a “gem”.

Loving grandmother and adventurer

The Farida the public saw was the immaculately dressed, bedecked in a string of pearls, perfectly coiffured, no-nonsense woman.

However, out of the public eye, she enjoyed crawling under tables, or hiding in wardrobes, giggling away, playing hide-and-seek with Violet, her niece’s daughter.

Travel was her passion. It was Scandinavia for riding snowmobiles in search of moose; or Iran to sample Iranian hospitality, culture and Islamic arts/architecture.

She loved the ballet and opera and would spend a small fortune, in London and Berlin, on these shows.

On a trip to Iceland, the two of us would trudge for miles appreciating street art and sculptures in Reykjavik. In one particular street graffiti depicting dissent, she expressed sorrow that many Malaysian artists and political activists were targeted by our authorities.

When it was still dark and snowing outside and few people dared to leave their warm beds, I would hear Farida, the devout Muslim’s muffled footsteps at 6am, making her way to perform her ablutions for the early morning prayers, after which she would promptly return to sleep.

Farida loved the outdoors. We slid on glaciers in the interior, swam in the geothermal open-air pools in winter, ate fresh cod and minke whale, and boarded a ship to search for the elusive northern lights.

We tasted Icelandic salted fish but agreed that Pangkor’s salted fish tasted better.

When Farida invited me on a self-drive holiday to Slovakia, I declined, only because anyone who has been in a car with her would know that she would probably have been a race car driver, if not a diplomat.

In awe of HKL doctors

Farida was hospitalised a few weeks ago and the prognosis was not good.

The stroke she suffered a few years earlier had done some damage, but true to form, she was determined to recover with physiotherapy at the Cheras Rehabilitation Centre to relearn to walk.

In between the gruelling exercises, she looked forward to her Hindi movies, which gave her much joy and relief.

She was full of praise for the doctors and said: “They did a fantastic job to save my life” and added, “HKL’s medical equipment is the best. Our government hospitals are brilliant” - an endorsement from Farida is worth her weight in gold.

How ironic that a person of her independence and grit was in the end, rendered powerless by her latest illness.

How ironic that a fit and robust person like her, who swam several laps every day, abhorred processed foods, took supplements to boost her memory and relished verbal sparring, was cruelly robbed of her former healthy self.

And how ironic too, that such a private loss would immediately become a public event, with many people eager to pay their respects and bid her farewell, and more on social media paying tributes, expressing their shock.

She was not someone whom anyone could easily forget. Many probably wonder, “Who will fill her shoes in G25?”

The last time I spoke with her was during Hari Raya. She was still the “Kak Da” I knew. Fiery, sharp, witty, with a wicked sense of humour and a wonderful raucous laugh.

During many of the “questions and answer” sessions after her talks, those in the audience who thought they could get the better of her would be disarmed by her smile before they were demolished by her retort.

We argued about many things but agreed on some. She had her legal brains, I had my scientific training. Between the two of us, we could boil each topic down to the bare components.

The topics we covered were diverse, from the choice of candidates for a by-election, the quality of cabinet ministers, the low standards of MPs who were frequently misbehaving and the scores of Umno-Baru MPs she described as thuggish.

Many of her adjectives used, even on the “friendly” (read Pakatan Harapan MPs), are unprintable.

Abhored misuse of Islam

One of her biggest bugbears was Islam being used to manipulate the mind and behaviour of the Malays.

She said, “Many Malays are fake Muslims. They know the rituals but not the true teachings of Islam. Sixty-one years of Umno rule and its culture of corruption have made the Malays greedy and unprincipled.”

She hated men who practised polygamy as she had seen how women’s and children’s lives were destroyed by it.

A product of mission schools in Taiping, Farida was extremely concerned about the quality of education in government schools.

She said, “Malays have lost their ability to think. The education system is to blame”. She also named the politician responsible.

She was furious about the Islamic institutions bullying activist Siti Kasim and was pleased when after three years, Siti was finally acquitted of obstructing the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) officers.

Lawyer and activist Siti Kasim

Farida said, “They can’t go around raiding peoples’ homes or hotels without a warrant. They’re very arrogant. They’re a disgrace to Islam.”

She was a firm supporter of Bersih and their marches. She was also disappointed that Azmi Sharom whom she described as someone with integrity, was not promoted to Election Commission chairperson.

An avid supporter of Malaysian athletes competing in major international sports, she would warn me, “Don’t contact me; put politics on hold, until after the Olympics.”

She was also alarmed that we had not established the Independent Police Complaints of Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to make the police accountable for their actions - the missing people, deaths in custody and the corruption.

Furious that the convicted felon Najib Abdul Razak and his son were allowed to appeal their enormous tax bill, she said, “Just pay up. The IRB (Inland Revenue Board) should squeeze every sen out of these crooks. The IRB once sent me a letter demanding that I pay my tax arrears of RM20!”

Last year, I said that I was sick of people labelling outspoken women as “liberals”, that the term was offensive and abused, much like the word “gay”, and that conservative Malays had decided we were destined for hell.

Farida disagreed and laughed it off saying, “I love being called ‘liberal’. It’s such a compliment!”

Thank you, Kak Da, for your service to Malaysia. - Mkini

MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army, and the president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO). BlogX.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.

Who will replace Noor Farida, the face and voice of G25?