He taught me to value life and be strong
COMMENT by Sukmawati Umar Litak
Khai just left us.
The text on Sunday night tore me to bits.
It broke the news I had been dreading about an interviewee-turned-friend, Muhammad Khairul Ikhwan.
Khai was many things. Performer, artist, devoted son and friend. He was also a fighter.
I first met him last December. He was one of the subjects of TNP's Finding Hope series on palliative care.
My heart sank when I researched him and saw the prognosis - two months. But this man was not who I expected. So flamboyant, so daring.
Online, there was a trove of pictures and videos of him with full face make-up and such bright and in-your-face costumes inspired by Lady Gaga. He was definitely a performer.
My conservative mind immediately thought "attention seeker".
However, meeting him threw out any preconceived notions.
This was a gentle soul.
In and out of hospital, initially wrongly diagnosed and his own body slowly shutting him off from the world, as his vision deteriorated and he went deaf.
Khai was incredibly modest, pausing to read the questions written on a whiteboard before carefully and sincerely answering each one.
Listening to his story, my heart ached. All he wanted was to be himself and spread joy and happiness. His sincerity and gentleness could be felt in his words.
Having outlived his initial prognosis, Khai was positive that he could be cured and made full use of his time.
He allowed me to follow his progress over four months, even letting us film chemotherapy sessions and a gathering with friends.
Strong and determined to live every moment to the fullest, Khai made sure he was busy whether it was with interviews, organising an art exhibition, performing and even helping friends and fans with their school projects and directing photo and video shoots.
He even went out of his way to donate to those less fortunate.
I was curious at how he could juggle all of it with the side effects of the chemotherapy and pain.
"People say I don't look sick.How should I look then? My sickness is on the inside. I can't show it to people like a wound or a scar. And the more I stay in bed, the more sick I will feel when I can do so much more."
Our relationship grew to friendship, and soon I was occasionally dropping by his place.
Even then I admitted to him that I occasionally struggled with some of his flamboyance. He just chuckled and patted me gently.
"It's okay if you don't understand. There are many different kinds of people in this world.
"We are all just human beings trying to find our place and as long as you accept me as a fellow human being, I'm more than happy."
I'm thankful that I got to know Khai.
I am even more grateful that he accepted me with open arms, extended the hand of friendship and allowed me into his life.
His story taught me to value life and be strong.
To cherish every moment. To never be afraid to be yourself and enjoy life to the fullest before it's too late.
Bold, non-conformist and full of heart
COMMENT - PRABHU SILVAM
Writer Prabhu Silvam documented Khairul's journey for TNP.
Over that period of time he grew closer to both Khairul and his family.
Here he remembers the man he came to call brother.
In an attempt to document death, I found life.
Life in its purest, simplest and most honest of forms in the times I spent with Khairul.
From his unabashed love for dolling himself up and performing in drag to his not-so-private habit of singing to The Beatles in the shower; to the way he refused to view the world with rose-tinted lenses.
While he has been taken from us, he has given so much.
I will remember my brother Khairul for his deep appreciation for life even when it had little to offer him.
But more than anything I'll remember him for his art, an extension of the man himself - bold, non-conformist and full of heart.
Nobody is ever truly gone; he is immortalized forever in the brush strokes of his psychedelic paintings, in the memories of those who remember him as a peace-loving, gentle giant and in the grit of anyone who has the will to fight on regardless of circumstance.
You're in a better place now Khai, take care brother.