It was Friday, 8th of July. Packing lightly, my friend dropped me off at work. I was nervous and excited the whole day as Twitter was buzzing with the main topic being the proposed Bersih 2.0 Rally on the next day. When my working hours were over, I walked from my office to the Bukit Jalil LRT station and headed towards the Bandaraya LRT station.
The air was calm, almost too calm. My fellow passengers sat down and looked at each other and smiled. I didn’t know who was for Bersih, and who wasn’t. Upon reaching my destination, I checked into my hotel along with Padma, Jo Ling and a bunch of other activists. This hotel was very near to Sogo. Raaja joined me in my room sometime later at night and we prepared ourselves with talks on how to handle possible agent provocateurs in the rally and making jokes about certain pea-brained politicians to ease the growing sense of worry. Truth be told, we were all scared and do not know what’s going to happen on Saturday. Tweets were already circulating on how the police were raiding hotel rooms looking for Bersih supporters.
9th July 2011. We woke up early to have breakfast and we ate while whispering to each other the plans of the day. Some people who newly followed me on Twitter asked me where I was and what was my plan – I couldn’t breathe a word of it because you’d never know who’s that person really – it could be those freakin’ cybertroopers or worse, Special Branch moles. I kept with neutral answers and by then it was 10am and time to move out.
We came out the hotels in parties of two and naturally, Raaja was with me. We headed out of the hotel and walked around a bit, to survey the situation. Police has started cordoning off the streets and instructing the public to move away from their barricades.
And herein comes the most comical moment of the whole episode. Knowing that we stuck out like sore thumbs in an area filled with Arabian and Indian nationals, we headed into Haniffa Textiles and into the saree department. We each bought a saree (even though I am single and available) from the clearance bin and walked out of the building. Our plan was to tell the cops (if they stopped us) that we’re here in KL shopping for a wedding and the saree was proof. **facepalm of the highest order**
We followed an Indian family (they looked like tourists) until we were behind Sogo, and then we managed to get to the Bandaraya LRT Station. We boarded the train and got down at Plaza Rakyat then proceeded to walk towards Central Market. It was there when I planked on the sidewalk (coz I promised Bong and Bumi that I’d do it).
Just before we reached Central Market, I called Adzliyana (Yan) and found out that a bigger group was having drinks at the Cafe Petaling in Swiss Hotel. So Raaja and I backtracked and Yan was there to wave at me excitedly. I just burst into a big smile as I saw Yvonne, Aiyook, Zul, Fathi, Ahmad, Patrick Loh, Naim, and Raja there. I also met a bunch of new friends there (I’m sorry I couldn’t remember your names here, peeps).
I had a drink and spent some time exchanging racial stereotype jokes with the boys (as usual) and we laughed around, trying to mask our shaky knees as knew the hour of reckoning is close at hand. We then started moving along Petaling Street till we reached the crossroads of Jalan Sultan and Jalan Petaling. That’s when we saw a group of lawyers in suits walking and we followed behind them, straight along Jalan Petaling.
We reached the junction to enter Jalan Stadium and were greeted by a police blockade, complete with barbed wire. The lawyers began to engage the police while Yan, Fathi, Ahmad, Naim and I planked (in defiance of the cops) while Yvonne took a picture (at the time of writing, it got more than 7000 views).
Yan then suggested we move towards Kg Atap and so we did. We sneaked into a stall to have some drinks and plan our next move once we saw a Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) truck parked there. That’s when Puvanan joined us. After refreshing ourselves, we moved back to the barricade at Jalan Stadium and stood with the crowd contemplating our next move. We then decided to move back to Jalan Petaling when we spotted a huge crowd there.
Twitter updates informed us that Cental Market was under siege by the cops and this only made our resolve stronger. We converged with the crowd and moved into Jalan Sultan towards Jalan Pudu where the Maybank building stood. Out of nowhere, people began joining us from alleyways and before we knew it, we were inside a large crowd moving towards the Maybank building. Zul unfurled his Sarawak flag and we marched on as the crowd cheered “BERSIH! BERSIH!”. The atmosphere was electric, to say the least.
It was then when I got my first taste of the tear gas. Loud bangs were heard and I saw the canisters fall into the crowd about 100 metres away. That was enough to bring a sting to my eyes but I managed to brush off the effects with a bit of water. The crowd didn’t let up, though. We pushed on into Jalan Pudu and spirits were still high. I got separated from everyone but I managed to rejoin Puvanan and Raaja.
It was then when another barrage of tear gas was fired into the crowd but I was too far behind to feel the effects. Shout of BERSIH, Reformasi, Bersihkan Pilihanraya were going on non-stop. The tear gas made the crowd disperse for about 5 minutes before they converged back and continued chanting. I was feverishly tweeting the updates and sending a couple of snapshots to share.
Then we sang Negaraku and my heart was beating fast. No because of the fear, but because of the camaraderie. The marshals were there managing the crowd and we were in high spirits. When I turned around, Aiyook was standing right beside me and I hadn’t noticed! We started cheering and the crowd was relentless as well. Then it started drizzling and that’s when we thought, THANK GOD! Now the tear gas wouldn’t have any effect!
The rain then slowly started to become heavier and from nowhere, Padma and Jo Ling were there! We hugged and congratulated each other and started to move deeper into Jalan Pudu, towards Berjaya Times Square. Then I heard the crowd cheering and I turned around to see my friend Vickna pushing a wheelchair. And in that wheelchair, sat none other than Irene Fernandez! With permission, I took her picture and tweeted it. Looking at her, there on a wheelchair, braving the weather and the tear gas with fellow Malaysians, gave me a huge boost and lifted my spirits sky high.
Then the rain fell hard, and I had to store my phone away in a plastic case. At that time, I was near the Tung Shin Hospital carpark building. Quite timely, as it was then when another barrage of tear gas and chemical water spray fell. This time the gas hit me hard. Smoke all around me, and a brush of chemical water on my back. My eyes were almost blind from the tears and I couldn’t breathe in or out. My lungs had spasms and I was coughing uncontrollably. I lost my friends and I was running aimlessly.
It was then when I reached a pillar some distance away and leaned onto it, all the while coughing and gagging. Someone shoved a bottle of 100Plus mixed with salt into my hand and shouted “MINUM! MINUM! Kasi pass around!!!” (Drink it! And pass it around!)
I took three gulps of it and my energy returned. I could breathe and the rain helped wash off the sting. A good Samaritan was holding out a bag of salt and shouted “GARAAAAMMMM!!!! GARAAAAAMMMMM!!!”. I walked up to him and grabbed a pinch of salt to eat. Just as he appeared, he vanished into the disoriented crowd, helping others in need.
By the time I found Puvanan and Raaja, they were safe. Puvanan and I put our phones in plastic and into Raaja’s bag. It was right after that when another round of tear gas was fired and the crowd panicked. I ran with Puvanan and Raaja got split up from the group. We saw the police spraying chemical water into the car park building.
Then the rain stopped. The crowd was segregated. A old man, dressed in plain white tee and slacks and a white skullcap looked at me and said, “Kita ni bukan orang Malaysia ke? Salah ke kita tuntut pilihanraya bebas?” (Aren’t we all Malaysians? Is it wrong for us to demand free elections?)
By then Puvanan and I took some time to catch our breath at the Chinese Maternity Hospital carpark. There, we met YB Ravi (ADUN Port Dickson) and YB Sivakumar (ex Perak State Assembly Speaker). The situation appeared calm so Puvanan and I went back to the roads where YB Sivarasa Rasiah was engaging the police. Once done, he came to us and addressed up on the update.
It seemed that the police had relented and allowed us to march, on the condition that it is done peacefully and only on one side of the road. We were all squatting there, listening to him while the members of Unit Amal PAS were all around passing the info and keeping order. There, Puvanan and I met Durai and Danny and we were elated.
The sun began to shine brightly. The crowd began to gather back. Danny read out a report from Malaysiakini saying that we’d be allowed to march. Three guys behind us, dressed in long sleeve shirts, black slacks and leather shoes, were too reading out some positive news. We were jubilant. That’s when the most horrifying scene struck.
The police shot tear gas at the gathered crowd. Puvanan, Danny, Durai and I, along with countless other, ran helter-skelter. It was all so sudden. We felt cheated. They fired WITHOUT warning. They made us gather and they screwed us big time. Expletives were heard. I cussed as I ran towards the Chinese Maternity Hospital car park. I managed to see the police chase the front-liners and beat them before arresting them.
It was there that I saw probably the most epic act at the rally. As I was running past the gates of the hospital, I saw two tear gas canisters hurtling towards me from the skies. By the time they landed, I was already some distance away. Out of nowhere, this brave guy ran towards it with a yellow cloth. While running, he bent down and wet the cloth in a puddle of water, then proceeded to wrap the canister with the cloth and diffuse it. Another guy did the same thing with another canister and threw it down the drain. It was freakin’ awesome!!!
I kept on running towards the car park. The other 3 who were with me were already ahead. I struggled to get to the end. There was a small hill there and my fellow rally goers were clamouring up the hill for safety. I was too.
The hill was slippery and muddy. Danny and Durai were already ahead due to their slim physiques and Puvanan followed behind me. We grabbed whatever we could to hold on. Women, men, young and old were all there. We climbed slowly. At one point, I reached out to grab a shrub and was greeted by a cactus plant. Yes folks, my palm was pricked by dozens of sharp needles. That was the adrenaline rush I needed to boost my climbing speed.
I slipped twice. Puvanan managed to get ahead of me and lend me a hand. And other hands reached out to pull me and push me. I dragged myself up to find Danny and Durai at the top, helping the other climbers up. I was panting and out of breath when I reached the top, and surprise surprise, Yan was right in front of me. Thank God she escaped as well.
I leaned on a lamp post and waited for Danny and Durai to finish helping the other climbers. It took some time for the adrenaline to wear down and for me to catch my breath. People already started to move ahead. Yan called to me, asking me to come but I said I’ll wait and I needed a rest. Danny, Durai and Puvanan joined soon after and we started walking along Persiaran Raja Chulan.
While walking, an middle-aged woman looked at me and asked “Kita ni kat Malaysia ke, negara lain hah?” (Are we at Malaysia or some other country?). I could not hide my disappointment and said “Saya tak tahu lah, Kak. Saya tak faham dengan ni semua…” (I don’t know, sister. I do not understand all this…)
We reached a T-junction and turned right into Jalan Raja Chulan and decided to head to KLCC. We made a pit-stop at a Shell Petrol Station along the way and I recharged myself with a Red Bull. Our shoes and socks were all soggy and I developed a slight limp due to blisters in both my feet. Durai asked us not to sit too long and we continued walking. Along with us were other rally-goers as well.
Halfway there, I met Steven Ng. After exchanging pleasantries and telling him that I’m headed to KLCC, we parted ways. We pressed on and reached Suria KLCC via Jalan P.Ramlee. We called Raaja and he said he was pushed back from KLCC to Ampang Park by the FRU. Fearing that there was nothing more we could do, we sat at the bus stand opposite Suria KLCC.
A few FRU trucks raced pass us, then made a U-Turn and parked at the road opposite us. Then, a vehicle I had never seen before appeared. A large blue trailer bore down the road, bearing the letters PDRM (Polis Di-Raja Malaysia). On the back, emblazoned in red, was AWAS: KUDA (BEWARE: HORSES).
The back of the trailer opened and about 7 horses were brought down. FRU members got on the horses, and lined them up for a inspection. An officer brought long beating sticks and handed one each to the riders. I immediately feared that there were going to be used to chase down the protesters and beat them. The horses took off, and I do not know what transpired next.
Since there was nothing else to do, we decided to go back home. Raaja had already managed to get into an LRT and was headed to Puvanan’s home. We walked to the Raja Chulan Monorail Station since the KLCC LRT Station was closed off. We headed back to KL Sentral and while walking outside the enclosed area where buses used to wait, we smelled the unmistakable smell of tear gas. The residue was enough to make our throats feel irritated. We then parted company with Danny and Durai at KL Sentral while Puvanan and I took the LRT back to his apartment. We met up with Raaja and he returned my phone safe and sound.
Puvanan then sent me to another station where my housemate picked me up. Upon stopping the car, he rolled down the window and shouted “SALUUUUTTTTEEE MACHAAAAAAAAAAA!”. I just smiled.
I went to out to dinner at 10pm with friends and Karthi was there as well. We both exchanged “war stories” with them and they listened intently. It was a proud moment. They could not come due to various reasons, but I know their hearts and spirit were with us, the yellow fellows, from Day One.
My friends called me up to say that they were proud of me. I was proud of myself. Whatever happens from here on in, I am proud to say that I played a small part in wanting to bring a change to my beloved country, Malaysia.
The humanity involved lifted me. There is still hope for Malaysia. We are able to look beyond race, age, gender and skin colour. We are able to help someone in need. We are able to be tolerant. We are not as divided as THEY want us to be. I saw the good in people today. I saw us being UNITED to the cause, and I saw us wanting change. It was to safeguard our future, and for our children. We shall prevail.
Malaysian first, Malaysian second, Malaysian always.
My thanks goes out to the thousands who attended this rally, and the ones who weren’t here in person but in spirit, wishing us well. Thank you to Unit Amal Pas for coordinating and lending a helping hand whenever one needed it. Thank you to the guy who gave me salt and that bottle of 100Plus. Thanks to the people who lifted me up when I slipped at the hill. Thanks to the Bar Council members who represented all the arrested protesters. Thanks to the admin of the @Bersih2 handle for propagating news for all of us.
Thank you, Malaysians.
My condolences to the family of Baharuddin bin Ahmad. The man gave his life while fighting for righteousness and something that he believed in. God bless his soul.
I ramble on twitter a lot. You may reach me at @kavilan