I never knew who BigDog was until 2011 when I responded on my blog to Mat Sabu’s claim that the policemen who died in the Bukit Kepong attack were British Dogs. BigDog, whose real name was Zakhir Mohamed, sent me a direct message on Twitter to introduce himself. I knew him as one of the top political bloggers at par with Rocky Bru, but never knew him in person. I was never an active blogger and had no following. Both BigDog and Rocky Bru were far up there with all the other top bloggers.
The friendship grew as we met more often, and the friendship turned from political into a personal one. BigDog was a true Johorean and an Anglophile. We had a common interests – Johor food, namely Laksa Johor (eaten the traditional way – with hands, not fork and spoon) and food of the Johor elite called Harissa eaten with garam lada and honey, as well as authentic British Fish and Chips (taken with with malt vinegar and minted mushy peas, not tartare sauce or ketchup with garden peas). BigDog could eat Laksa Johor every day at every meal for a week.
He was cordial with everyone. At LIMA 2011, he witnessed Lim Guan Eng boarding one of Royal Malaysian Navy’s submarines, the KD Tun Abdul Razak, that took him on a 5-hour sail complete with a dive to dispel a rumour that was churned up by the opposition claiming that none of Malaysia’s submarines could dive. BigDog managed a friendly banter with Guan Eng then. Other than always being seen with his best friend blogger Salahuddin Hisham, occasionally a third person in the form of former PPBM Supreme Council member, Tariq Ismail Mustafa would be there, and the conversation is never political.
He had the stamina to stay up and out late, something I do not have. There were times when he and I and a few others would yack away at his favourite spot -27 Scotts inside the Bangsar Shopping Centre far beyond closing time, leaving the manager as the only other person there waiting for BigDog to call it a day. These are called his menyanyah sessions.
I noticed that in every conversation, one name would always be mentioned as a side-topic: Kenit, the nickname given to his only child Noor Aishah Zaharah. Despite his boisterous facade, BigDog was a very doting father who would drive frequently to Johor Bahru to be with Kenit whenever possible. Those were the days when he had a banged-up Mitsubishi Pajero he called ‘The Enterprise‘ after the famous fictional starship. Kenit was everything to him. Even when he was busy covering the state of Johor in the run-up to the 14th General Election, he would be with Kenit at virtually every meal time.
I used to laugh at him when he said he could not stand the smell of durian. He really couldn’t stand the smell of the fruit and was very sensitive to it. At a berbuka puasa outing with a former deputy minister, he could smell the durians on display at another hall, 50 meters away. He even quipped how his grandfather must have hated him for leaving him with a durian orchard in Muar that he never bothered finding out its location. During durian season, he would call up his friends and neighbours to clear the fruit baskets outside his house that were filled with gifts of durians, and asked his maid to make sure that not one fruit was left before he could go home.
We all thought it was just him being an Anglophile and being disgusted with durian. One day, we were to have a meet up with another friend for lunch. He arrived early at the chosen location and to his horror found out that it served durian crepe. He quickly sent a Whatsapp message asking for a change of venue. All afternoon all he did was to drink warm water, glass after glass, and did not eat anything. His face was just blue. After the meeting, I think he went to the gents to throw up while my wife, Rocky Bru and I waited outside. Later, he found a bench and laid down. It took him more than an hour after before Rocky Bru could drive him back. He was hospitalised due to a heart attack triggered by the smell of durian. We knew then the reason behind his hatred for durian.
Scrolling back at the Whatsapp messages we sent each other, his last message to me was on my birthday five months ago asking if it was safe for him to visit my father’s durian orchard which I am managing because he wanted to see the river behind the piece of land. I told him by August it should be okay. Soon after, he got really busy setting up a new portal called The Vibes, covered the Sabah state election, and was totally engulfed in his work.
Now, he is gone forever. His loud and piercing voice will no longer dominate the area outside 27 Scotts. His “pertunangan” posts on his social media will be missed, as will his “Tuan” at the beginning of his Whatsapp messages.
Rest in peace, Zakhir Mohamed. You no longer have to worry about durians. Innalillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un. I shall miss you. Allow me to shed a tear or two quietly in remembrance.