Penning down cheeky recollections might seem a world away from the seriousness of Malaysia’s legal framework but for Tan Sri Vadaketh Chacko George, 91, former lawyer, retired Court of Appeal judge and once among the most sought-after arbitrators in town, the idea of documenting what’s stored in his mental story bank was something he had considered seriously in the past few years.
“I tell a good story — or at least I used to tell a good story,” he says, “to the lawyers and judges I mixed with at the Long Bar of the Royal Selangor Club. Friends of mine said I’m getting old so I’d better write my stories down. After I stopped doing arbitrations in 2018, I decided I had plenty of time to write them down. Which I did. I started writing on April 1, 2018 and gave myself two years to finish the book of stories I’ve told. I met the target. But then Covid came in and we had to postpone the publication of the book.” Until now.
Describing the effort as “a book of anecdotes that have been told tongue-in-cheek and without malice”, VC, as he is known to all and sundry, hopes reading it would “raise a chuckle or two, if not a guffaw”, he says over a strong cup of tea at the august Royal Selangor Club in Kuala Lumpur, of which he has also served two terms as president.
Fans and friends alike can expect tales richly infused with VC’s famous gin-dry humour and propensity for good-natured teasing and mischief. After all, as urban legend goes, it was at this very same club that, in search of a drink but saddled with babysitting his eight-year-old grandchildren, he famously brought them along with him to its iconic bar, telling the twins — should they be questioned as they were obviously underaged — to proclaim loudly and confidently: “We are not children, we are dwarves!”
From hearty tales that have helped prop up many a bar to wickedly funny observations on the Malaysian-Indian community and true stories from the country’s legal landscape, those who know VC well can expect to be entertained with a great variety throughout the book’s 274 pages. Some stories I have told and some that I haven’t was launched on March 17 by HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah of Perak at, where else but, the Royal Selangor Club.
VC’s ties to the royal house of Perak run deep and long as he counts Almarhum Sultan Azlan Shah, himself a deeply respected legal figure who, in 1965, made history by being the youngest ever judge to be appointed to the High Courts of Malaya, as a key mentor and indeed one of the first people he befriended after arriving in London to join Lincoln’s Inn in the spring of 1952.
“VC is a loyal friend and his friends love him in return,” notes Datuk Steve Day, founder and chief executive of Vision Four Media Group. “Which is just as well as he teases them mercilessly in his stories.” “Mercilessly” is putting it mildly, as those who read the book’s final story will attest. Story #100 pulls the leg of eminent journalist S Jayasankaran. An excerpt goes: “He (Jaya) has had, over the years, caused to be published in The Star, that very funny column, Speakeasy. Funny only because he repeats, virtually regurgitates, on Saturday, in the column what he has laughed to on Friday at the Long Bar.”
When contacted about the matter via WhatsApp, Mrs Jayasankaran, also known as Tan Sri Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, executive director of the Singapore-based Apec Secretariat, had this to say. “You can quote me: the allegation about my husband is complete poppycock”, but appends a smiley emoticon for good measure. “Having said that, his sense of humour is unparalleled and, like wine, seems to have gotten better with age.”
The hundred stories are put together in a mish-mash fashion, without any scheme or plan. But the book’s cover is an ode to friendship, featuring a famous cartoon by Lat, the country’s best-known and best-loved cartoonist and one of VC’s best chums. It depicts VC, together with Tan Sri Taib Andak, Tan Sri Harun Hashim and an Irishman called Eddie Flanagan, crossing a suspension bridge to reach the clubhouse when the iconic Padang was being dug up to build an underground car park.
“Lat is a very close friend and we go way back. We were both regular patrons of the Selangor Club and the Coliseum Café. When I became a judge and whenever he wanted to do a caricature of a judge, which he did frequently, he used me as the model. I remember the first time he came out with my caricature when he was depicting a judge, I said, ‘Lat! What the hell? Why did you use me as the model?’ To which he replied, saying it wasn’t me but one of the ugly judges.”
On his decision to self-publish the anecdotes, VC comments: “My stories are supposed to be stories about real people and there is the danger that somebody may sue me for defamation,” he says, completely deadpan. “I am, after all, a lawyer. I advise people on defamation and if any publishing company came to me and asked ‘Is it safe to publish this?’, I would say ‘Think twice. You’d probably win the case but then you’d be stuck with the litigation.’ My advice to any publisher is not to touch this with a barge pole.
“So, in that context, I decided to self-publish. Also, I am doing this for a lark, as it were. The net proceeds of the first print will go to various good causes, one of which I have already identified and been involved in — the Bar Council Legal Aid Scheme. I’ve talked to its current chairman who is quite enthusiastic about the idea.”
Those well-informed about local culture and politics would not fail to miss the fact that the book comes hot on the heels of another Malaysian-Malayalee publication with legal links. VC acknowledges that former Attorney General Tommy Thomas’ memoirs, My Story: Justice in the Wilderness, is “impressive” and says everyone should read it. My Story might prove painfl to digest, as it captures details of the events leading up to the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government, while VC’s book contains succinct “Georgian” quick wit, but Yang Arif, ever quick as lightning, points out: “Yes, I am afraid things seem so bad that the laughter you hear borders on the hysterical. But I am happy to say that although things seem to be going from bad to worse in this country, people still dare to laugh.”
Given the general good nature of Malaysians, the sound of laughter around the country will, of course, never die out. But loud peals are virtually guaranteed after a copy of Some stories is picked up.
'Some stories I have told and some that I haven’t' is priced at RM70, available exclusively at BookXcess. Buy here.
This article first appeared on Mar 15, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.