Thursday October 12, 2006
By DAVID NGHE arrived quietly at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport last Wednesday afternoon, and checked into the hotel at Berjaya Times Square.
The organisers of The Star Christian Fellowship Fourth Thanksgiving Dinner took him to The Eastin in Petaling Jaya for a quick check of the venue and to test out the sound system. He patiently worked with the technicians and rehearsed a few numbers before dashing back to his hotel to get ready for the dinner.
"But apart from his smiles, he hardly stands out as the Phua Chu Kang that he is on TV whenever he worships at church on Sundays," she said. "He and his family are like other families. They are ordinary people."
Among those who attended the dinner, few knew that he could mesmerise an audience of professionals and journalists with songs.
"I never knew that he could sing," said Belinda Kiew of Cheras. "But he sang so well. And in real person, he is so handsome."
In between belting out several popular songs, including Eric Clapton's Wonderful Tonight and Desperado by the Eagles, Gurmit had his audience in stitches as he punched his one-liners.
Occasionally, he stuck out his tongue for the camera, and caused roaring laughter from the floor.
"He is really funny. He brings out the comedy in real-life situations," said Arnold Okello Agina, a 26-year-old Business Information Systems student from Nairobi, Kenya.
Arnold, who was at the dinner, has been following the Phua Chu Kang series on TV3 since 2004. He added: "At first, I thought the jokes were more local or Singaporean, but after a while, I think his sense of humour is universal."
On TV, Phua Chu Kang spots a prominent mole, but in real life Gurmit cuts a dashing figure. His good looks can perhaps be attributed to his mixed parentage – his father is Punjabi while his mother is Chinese-Japanese.
Gurmit regards his mother as his mentor. "I always thought she was a super-mother. She was the strongest woman in the world, who could work 24 hours a day without feeling tired," he said. "Therefore, when the specialist told us that Mother had cancer and that it was already very advanced (Stage Four), I was devastated.
"Mother had only six months to live, according to the specialist. Her health was deteriorating fast. It was obvious that we were going to lose her." That was back in 1984, when Gurmit was only 19.
"My parents loved children. I wanted my mother to live long enough to see her grandchildren, hold them and play with them. I prayed for a girlfriend and, before long God found me a girlfriend, who later became my wife," said Gurmit, referring to his Chinese wife, Melissa. "We have two lovely children, Gabrielle and Elliot."
Gurmit's mother lived for another 16 years, and Gurmit was quick to attribute the miracle of his mother's healing to God's answer to his simple prayer.
"Even the doctor was surprised when he carried out another test on my mother. I remember his face when he told us, 'Gurmit, whatever you are doing outside of this hospital, please continue. We have checked for the spread of her cancer cells, and they are totally gone!'
"In 2000, when mother had a relapse, initially I was angry with God until I heard a still, small voice saying: 'Gurmit, remember that prayer of yours 16 years ago? I have kept her all this while so that she could enjoy her grandchildren.' ''
He traces his faith in God to a healing rally in Singapore by renowned evangelist Reinhard Bonke. "Before this, I used to be a brother who slapped his sisters. When they claimed that they had become born-again Christians, I used to persecute them," he said.
"But that evening on Nov 13, 1985, at the stadium, with 60,000 people around me, I felt like I was alone, and I heard that little voice, just calling out to me, 'Hi!' I knelt down, prayed and surrendered my life to God," he said. And Gurmit's life has never been the same since.
Despite his fame, Gurmit remains humble and down-to-earth, charming and candid, endearing himself to his legions of fans in Malaysia and across the Causeway.