Sister of man mauled by tiger fulfills his dreams
Today, Sarawakian Aida Montong is a magistrate because she wanted to fulfil her brother’s dream.
Mr Nordin Montong, who was killed by a white tiger after he leapt into the animal’s enclosure at the Singapore Zoo in 2008, had shared his wishes with her before he left to work in Singapore.
“He told me to be a lawyer or judge because he loved the legal profession,” said Madam Aida, 31.
Tigers maul cleaner at Singapore Zoo
Man killed by white tigers at Singapore Zoo
“I had been a welfare officer for 10 years but I left that job last April to fulfil his dream. I am now a court registrar-cum-magistrate and I hope to do my best in this new profession,” said Madam Aida, who had started studying law part-time in 2002 and finished her degree as a mother of two.
As Madam Aida shared her story, I could sense the intensity of her love for her brother. His death had galvanised her into changing her life.
We first met two days after the fatal attack, when she attended the funeral of her brother, who was then 32, at the Kampung Sambir Muslim cemetery in Sarawak.
Three years can be a short time in the face of such a horrific tragedy, so I was apprehensive about asking Madam Aida for an update on the family, fearing it would remind her of her grief.
So I sent a Facebook message first, as we had been keeping in touch through the social networking website. When I followed up with a phone call, she sounded glad to hear from me but could not speak for long as she was at work in a courthouse in Kuching, Sarawak.
But later, over Facebook, she shared freely about her late brother. She wrote: “He is very much still on our minds, especially during the fasting month and Hari Raya.”
Mr Nordin was survived by his parents, two brothers and three sisters.
Their 55-year-old mother still pines for her eldest son and would often break down in tears.
“My mum always talks about him, like when my other brother wears Nordin’s baju kurung for solat terawih (prayers performed only during Ramadan),” wrote Madam Aida.
In 2008, when we met Madam Aida and her siblings at the burial in Sarawak, they had asked to see the tiger attack video.
The New Paper was the only newspaper to have a video of the entire attack and reported widely on the story, to the extent of winning a Society of Publishers in Asia (Sopa) award for Excellence in Reporting, Breaking News Category.
We agonized over their request. We discussed it among ourselves. We cautioned them about its savagery. After much soul-searching, we agreed to show it to them.
We were relieved when Madam Aida and her two sisters decided not to let their parents know or see the video. It would have worsened their grief.
Madam Aida said: “As it is, their health has been affected. My mum was already having high blood pressure. She then got diagnosed with diabetes three months after after my brother’s death.
“Three months later, my father (who is 57 years old) also started having high blood pressure.”
Madam Aida’s son, Mohd Haziq, six, now dislikes seeing tigers – whether in zoos or in pictures.
“He would say things like ‘Mama, that tiger ate Anjang (a term for uncle), bad tiger’. When he said that, both my husband and I were speechless,” she said. “He was only three when Nordin died, but somehow he knows although we never told him about the incident”.
Perhaps the most poignant other change is that their elder sister, Nora, 37, has not celebrated her birthday for the past three years.
Madam Aida said: “Nora and my late brother shared the same birthday – April 8. In the past, we would celebrate their birthdays together at our mum’s house, but now she does not want to do anything on her birthday because she would think of him and it would make her sad.”
This struck a chord with me as I, too, share a birthday with my sister, who is five years older than me. We call ourselves twins and it is a special bond that we share. I can only imagine how I would feel if a similar tragedy had befallen my family.
I am humbled that Madam Aida has extended her friendship to me, wanting to stay in touch.
We would never have met if her brother had not been so tragically killed, and yet she graciously ended our Facebook exchange with these words: “Thanks for your help and info about the incident, especially the video that showed us the truth of what happened.”
We will never know why Mr Nordin did what he did and the grief of his loss will always be a backdrop to their lives. But I now know there is one thing that would comfort his family – that they loved him deeply in life, and in death they love him still.
This article was first published in The New Paper.