DR ZAHARI NGAH
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
In June of 2019, I received an email from someone who identified themselves as a psychotherapist from the Tavistock Clinic, asking if I would be interested in having a meeting to discuss things related to psychoanalysis in Malaysia. I was stunned. The first question that came to my mind was, “Why would someone from the Tavistock want to speak with me?” I was enjoying providing psychoanalytic psychotherapy in a private practice in Malaysia, but I haven’t published anything, and I am not famous. Again, I found it unreal that someone from the Tavistock Clinic would want to discuss anything with me.
The email was sent from Zahari Ngah, or Zah as he wanted to be called. A Malaysian who relocated to London in his youth, he had been given my name from someone that I developed a professional relationship here in Malaysia. We set a time a day to meet, at my office, to have a discussion. I had my doubts if anything good could come out of this, but again, I would just have to meet him and discuss things.
Zah came to my office and it soon became clear we were speaking the same psychoanalytic language. Zah told me that he represented a small group of analysts in London, Tomasz Fortuna and Bob Hinshelwood, about the desire for a psychoanalytic presence in Malaysia. As a Malaysian, he felt somewhat sad that nothing had developed here and asked if I would be interested in being a part of a project to develop psychoanalysis here and if I knew others who would be interested in joining this project. My answer was yes to both questions and we didn’t know this at the time, this was the beginning of the Kuala Lumpur Psychoanalytic Group.
We spoke for a few hours. He asked about my interests, the type of people I provide therapy for, my background. When it became clear that we shared an interest in object relations and the ideas of Melanie Klein, the conversation became very relaxed, but I was also very excited. We spoke about the unconscious relationships that take place in institutions and he helped me make sense of how I was perceived by certain professional groups within the field of mental health here. I was beyond impressed. He asked me who I like to read within the Kleinian tradition and when I told him I liked the work of John Steiner his response was, “I used to get supervision from John at the Tavistock years ago.” I didn’t have a response. It just became clear that this was a much better meeting than I thought and any doubts I had were gone.
The topic changed and we began to talk about Arsenal FC, both of us are Gooners. This was also something that made my decision easy to make. Everything just fit nicely. Arsenal in 2019 aren’t the same force in the football world as they were in 2004, but they still have a place of importance for people like us.
We ended the first meeting with Zah asking to see my consulting room. He commented on my couch and the traditional way in which psychoanalysis is conducted. Everything that needed to happen did.
He returned to London and we began to meet online, and discuss things related to object relations as a group. We began to examine elements within the Kleinian tradition, both discussing theory and clinical material. There was an attention to detail that he displayed that was impressive beyond description. I could tell he and the others thought about our development. After a year, the group here in Malaysia expanded.
As these meetings took place, the pandemic happened. Covid 19 was beginning to have a significant influence on everyone. As various governments in the world began to close borders and lock down their countries, we continued to meet online. We moved our own private work online and struggled with what it meant to do therapy through a screen. We all thought it would be over soon though. At the time of this writing, the pandemic continues.
We made the adjustments. Everything went online. We worked from home and began to have some success with providing therapy remotely. We continued our online meetings with Zah and the others. It went better than anticipated. We all developed a bit of cabin fever, but we were all Covid 19 free. Our restlessness could be tolerated knowing that we were healthy. Various vaccines were developed and close to a year into the pandemic, there was some hope and optimism about how life could be somewhat like it used to be. Until Zah told us one meeting that he had tested positive for Covid 19. He seemed more tired and complained of a cough, but he told us that he’d be ok, it shouldn’t be a huge problem as he didn’t have any other symptoms.
He was hospitalized. It turns out that his cough was a problem. Eventually, I was told by Tomasz that he hadn’t heard from Zah in a few days and he was concerned. Later, we learned that he had died on February 7, 2021. Someone I knew personally had died from this virus and it feels terrible.
The pandemic now has a personal loss for me and the others in KLPG. It’s difficult to imagine the loss for Zah’s family, friends, and colleagues. It’s tragic when people die. He has a tremendous influence on me, more than I can convey in this piece on this site. KLPG will continue and Zah will be a part of it, as he was one of the main inspirations to it’s foundation. He will be a part of our memories, our practice, and our way of thinking, but I would much rather have a conversation with him about things. I will miss his guidance, insights, professionalism, and his enthusiasm for what is developing here in Malaysia. It’s difficult to sum up how I feel about moving forward. I am excited for the development of our shared project, but I wish that Zah could be with us for this.