Today is my old editor Zainal Alam Kadir's birthday. He hates to be reminded, he said, of the number that seems to be growing bigger each year.
I believe it's a cool thing. I can't wait to reach 40, because I was born an old man. When my contemporaries were busy partying in clubs, I was in a pub somewhere, reading the papers every night.
But this is not about me. Alam was my first real editor, and one of the three legendary journalists whom I look up to, and with the other two completes the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe trio.
I remember that the four plus years when we worked together at The Malay Mail at Balai Berita, we had around 2 and a half meetings in total. I could come in at 11am, and would go back sometimes, at 8 in the morning the next day.
I had two nervous breakdowns - both invisible and not at the office - and was hospitalised for stress-related illnesses four times. I didn't mind. I don't think any of us did, because Alam was - is - such a strong character, a great boss, and a fantastic teacher.
He would give you tasks and didn't care how you did it, as long as it got done. You want to come in at 5pm? Once a month? Sure. Where are the stories?
The reason why we produced so many stories - I was averaging three features a day, sometimes six, before one burnout - was because no story ever went to waste. We were doing some good work, and it showed. There was value in our work. And the person to determine the value was him, the editor.
I believe it is a credit to the man that as long as he was there, there was no chance for politics. There were no backstabbings or clunky, clumsy maneuverings simply because Alam held the biggest hammer and the only way you can kiss ass is by doing a lot of work. A LOT.
Each person I worked under have different management styles. Some are relaxed, while others are meticulous to the point of generating hatred. Alam's style is mixed. Sometimes, he simply tweaks a few things and your story is out. Other times, I have seen him tear through some people's work and it is not a pretty sight. Whatever it is, we knew that our stuff were in good hands.
I've worked with the man across many different platforms and media. I can safely say that he is the country's most effective creative man, the best that we have, bar none.
He can draw, write, sing, act, host, cook, produce (both albums and TV/movies) and anything else that comes to mind. His Mee Bandung Muar takes 12 hours of preparation - a testament to what kind of a person he is.
Alam intimidates people. Especially insecure ones, because there is no way they can look good when he's around. I do not even consider myself Alam's equal, though with my new age leanings, I recognise that everything and everyone is connected.
We've had our differences and I have worked for years to be out of his shadow - so great is his talent. Nowadays, I am still proud to call him my friend, and to have trained under him - one of, if not the best writers/editors/hosts/producers/singers in Malaysia.