Farewell Aru — my very good neighbour and friend in Wangsa Maju

by Yong Soo Heong

Arumugam Velappan was my neighbour in Wangsa Maju’s Section 6 for the last 30 years. Not just any neighbour, but a very good neighbour! And a very good friend, too! Our close ties can perhaps be described as bagai inai dengan kuku.

Early this morning, when I was still bleary-eyed, I got a text from his wife, popularly known as Cikgu Vemala. I thought it was her usual notice or alert of some yummies that she had prepared for me or received on my behalf from other jiran in our friendly neighbourhood.

But it wasn’t. What she wrote shocked me in that Arumugam, a helpful and pleasant man with a ready smile most times, was no more around!

He had died from a heart-attack after going up the Hindu temple at Batu Caves. He was only 63.

The news shocked me back to grim reality and about the fragility of life. Sudden death is often devastating. There’s no chance to say goodbye, no chance to prepare yourself.

One day your friend may be healthy and happy, and the next day he or she may be gone. Dealing with such sudden grief is challenging.

I had known Aru, as he was fondly known, since the early 1980s when I was then a business reporter covering the then Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange (KLSE) at Damansara Heights and he was a stockbrokers’ rep during the “open outcry” trading system. Little did we know that one day we’d buy a house next to each other.

As he was a staunch Liverpool FC fan himself, I had always enjoyed listening to his analytical comments about soccer and other clubs like Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea.  

Aru was also an astute observer of things political and the economy. It was always entertaining hearing his insightful views of them.

After his retirement, Aru was an active walker in our leafy neighbourhood, which he also had a hand in sprouting out some fruit trees for the benefit of many neighbours and friends. Despite me being a former sportsman, I pale in comparison to him as he would always be walking regularly, especially in the mornings, and be properly dressed for the occasion – collared t-shirt, track-bottoms and good pair of walking shoes.

When my late wife, Amy, was still around, Aru struck a good partnership with her, always helping each other out, especially in making sure that our clothes stayed dry whenever the rains came unannounced or other matters that affected our houses. In fact, I was told that Aru had cried unabashedly when news reached him of Amy’s untimely death from the Big C in late 2015.       

In recent weeks, Aru, who hailed from Rantau in Negeri Sembilan, had beamed with pride as a proud father for all his four children – a daughter and three sons – had all become professionals in their own right.  

But Aru and I saw very little of each other because of the extremely hot weather of late. I thought that when the temperature dipped, I’d like to talk to him about former footballing greats from Anfield’s Reds  playing against Old Trafford’s Red Devils in an exhibition match in Kuala Lumpur next month. Sadly, that was not to be.   

Seriously enough, I’d now miss his presence in the driveway, either seeing him putting out the clothes to dry or collecting them, or hearing his comments on the latest follies of some wayward politician or crony-related businessman.

More pronouncedly, I shall miss the sharp and purring sound from his car being switched on either for a short errand or a long trip. There were many things I’d like to do with Aru together but sadly I never got around to them because of some reason or the other. For that, Aru, I’m utterly sorry.

Aru, I shall certainly miss your looming presence in the driveway or the interesting chars across our common fence or “Berlin Wall” as we had described it. But I know you’re in good hands now as you’ll be walking among the heavenly angels, kings and queens. As a Liverpool FC loyalist – you’ll never walk alone!