Many years ago, when I was still an A-Level student dreaming of going to medical school, my mother suggested that I consider applying to Oxford or Cambridge. At first, I didn’t give the idea much thought. After all, the idea of going to Oxbridge seemed so far-fetched, I felt it was prudent not to dwell too much on it.
But as Leonardo DiCaprio says in Inception, ‘even the smallest seed of an idea can grow.’ And true enough, the idea grew in my mind: “Why not give it a shot?”
That was how I found myself getting in touch with my former debating teammate, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, since he was already in the UK and presumably knew more about the place than I did. After all, the furthest I’ve ever been from home (in Selangor), up to that point in my life, was to visit my grandparents in Perlis.
The United Kingdom was so alien to me it might as well have been Mars!
Nik Nazmi and I agreed to meet up soon afterwards. He said he knew someone by the name of Adlan Benar Omar (Ben) who could take a look at my personal statement and give me some tips for applying. I had only heard Ben’s name spoken once or twice before, this mysterious figure who by all accounts was a bona fide genius. I told Nik Nazmi I would be grateful if he could do so.
True to form, Nik Nazmi also brought me to a Keadilan meeting that day instead of going out for a meal (but that’s a different story altogether!).
Not long after, I received a call on my trusty Nokia 8250.
It was Ben.
He introduced himself to me, told me he had read my personal statement and CV, and said something that remains etched in my memory:
“You are overqualified for this, but I’ll see if I can help.”
I don’t really remember the rest of the conversation. It was brief, and yes, I was a bit starstruck. Obviously, I didn’t actually believe that I was overqualified for Oxbridge (duh!), but you must remember, having someone say that they believe in you, that gives you a huge boost of confidence. Coming from someone you look up to, well…that’s just life-changing.
Now here’s the curious bit:
I made what was called an ‘Open Application’ to Cambridge, whereby I didn’t specify which college I wanted to apply to, mostly because I had zero knowledge about what to look for in a college. In theory, my application could’ve been allocated to any one of the 29 undergraduate colleges that were accepting medical students.
So what were the odds of it landing at Jesus College, the very same college that Ben attended?
Recently, I saw a post on Facebook by Rafizi Ramli commemorating his friendship with Ben. I reached out to Raf, the one person who might know something about what Ben actually did for me, but Raf said Ben had never mentioned it.
So yes, I still don’t know for sure whether Ben actually wrote a recommendation letter for me and sent it to Jesus College, but I’d like to think that he did. Sadly, Adlan Benan Omar passed away in 2008 while I was still in medical school, and before I could say thank you in person to him.
Why am I telling this now?
I guess it’s because I want you to know about these random acts of kindness that are often done secretly without wishing for anything in return.
I guess I’m looking for an opportunity to pay it forward.
I guess I want to acknowledge a universal truth: We like to think that our accomplishments are due to hard work and diligence, but in reality, nobody succeeds on their own. God works in mysterious ways, often by blessing us with the kindness of others.
In that sense, I was blessed to have ‘known’ Allahyarham Adlan Benan Omar for the briefest of periods in the early 2000’s. Whatever kindness I show to others, whatever help I may give to my patients, I pray that Allah SWT will reward him too for the kindness that he showed me once, many years ago…
ALLAHYARHAM ADLAN BENAN OMAR (1973 – 2008)