(NOTE: Blast from the past! #3)
PERFORATED SHEETS fortnightly with AMIR MUHAMMAD:
NST. July 7, 1999
YOU see them everywhere, these lurid paperbacks which stare at you from newsagents near bus-stops and pasar malam stalls. They carry titles like Bohsia Blues (Teen Slut Blues) and Akhirnya Aku Jadi Pelacur (I Finally Became a Ho). Yup: you are about to journey into the realm of local erotica, a genre for which there are no literary prizes but apparently loads of readers.
I've often been tempted but have usually managed to resist these come-hither books. Call me a prude, but I just couldn't bring myself to purchase something called Pengakuan Seorang Janda (Confessions of a Divorcee) or Gigolo. I mean, what would my bourgeois peers think of me? So I would always sigh wistfully at the colourful covers before forking out my money for something far more intellectually respectable, such as URTV.
But recently (I blush as I type this) I lost all my inhibitions. I gave in to my baser instincts. I knew I would hate myself in the morning, but I wanted to surrender just once. So I bought a few books. How many? Eight. Yes, I know what you're thinking, but I don't care: I followed my heart.
These books make fast reading, due to a certain fleetness of pace and shallowness of characterisation. I never had to read any sentence more than once, and the vocabulary certainly doesn't aspire to the Nabokovian heights of a proper sastera (literary) book. But, wouldn't you know it, they were fascinating all the same!
Most of these books are written under pseudonyms and are full of misprints. But the anonymous, rushed feel only adds to the ambience. Reading them, you feel like you're in the middle of a clandestine encounter which might be raided by the anti-khalwat cops at any moment, so you better hurry lah.
I hate to disappoint you, but the sex scenes themselves tend not to be very explicit. You just get a lot of vague sentences in which someone would ramas (caress) or gomol (ravish) someone else's gebu (glowing) or tegap (firm) flesh, or metaphors to do with sailing into the sea or watching a flower bloom.
These sequences would be connected by elliptical triple dots, which is sort of the print equivalent of a movie fade-out. Bummer, dude!
I am, of course, too much of an intellectual to read these books simply as a no-brain diversion. Time and again I would try to relate them to the pertinent issues facing our turn-of-the-millennium majmuk (pluralist) society. I am glad to say that I did not look in vain.
A book called 2 Lawan 1 (Cinta 3 Segi) (2 Against 1 (Love Triangle)) is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the racial dynamics of the contemporary Malaysian realpolitik. The author is someone who wishes only to be known as Rauf, but that's OK.
The plot shocked the hell out of me. Hunky Ariff is in love with a bodaceous Chinese girl named Linda. Not just in love, for these youngsters can't seem to keep their hands off each other:
Melihatkan kelakuan Linda yang membiarkan sahaja perkara yang dilakukan oleh Ariff, lalu Ariff mula melancarkan serangan dengan hebatnya. Tangan Ariff mula meraba seluruh tubuh Linda yang cantik dan putih itu. Kemudian berlakulah apa yang dikatakan perasaan semula jadi kaum Adam dan Hawa. (Seeing as how Linda was all for it, Ariff launched a ferocious attack. His hands were all over her pretty white flesh. Then what happened next came naturally to the descendants of Adam and Eve).
That's about all that we get, but we get it several times in the course of the novel. Since they are of different races, do they face any problems? Well, check out their conversation:
"Linda makan daging babi tak?"
"I bukan macam orang China yang lain, Linda belum pernah makan daging babi seumur hidup I ni," sambil menjeling dengan ekor matanya seolah-olah tidak setuju dengan pertanyaan itu.
"Apa Linda marah dengan pertanyaan I ni ...?"
"Tidak, I tidak marah, tapi lain kali jangan tanya macam itu lagi. I tahu babi itu adalah haram bagi orang-orang yang beragama Islam."
Sekali lagi Ariff memaut badan Linda dan mencium dengan sepuas hatinya.
("Linda, do you eat pork?"
"I am not like the other Chinese, I have never eaten pork my whole life," she glanced at him as though unhappy with the question.
"Are you angry with my question or...?"
"No, I'm not angry, but don't ask me something like that again. I know pork is forbidden to Muslims."
Once again Ariff clung to her body and kissed her to his heart's content)
I can't help feeling that Linda has just passed a kind of test. The presumably male, Malay reader is meant to be reassured that Linda is not THAT different from him; why, she's practically an honorary Malay! As an erotic fantasy, it's particularly telling.
Complications arise when Linda's friend Rozy comes into the scene. Rozy has the hots for Ariff, One Thing Leads To Another, and the three end up in a cosy ménage à trois at Ariff's house. The three are having so much fun that I waited for the inevitable Divine punishment.
Sure enough, Linda's parents die in a car crash. Then silly Rozy gets herself pregnant. Ariff and Linda want to sponsor a Manila abortion, but a bunch of armed rubbers come bursting through the door and start shooting. Bye-bye, Rozy!
Ariff and Linda live in wedded bliss, somehow escaping further retribution. This is what shocked me the most, actually. I had conditioned myself for a taubat (repent) scene, but the novel had brilliantly subverted its generic conventions. My jaw is still on the floor at this moment.
Cinta Bangla (Bangla Love) by Nazar Hashim is one of those books where the title says it all, really. It's a more 'legit' enterprise than 2 Lawan 1 because it has an ISBN number. It's also better written.
Yunalis is so gorgeous that at school she was called Yunalis Hangat. She's now a factory Personnel Manager who's hot 'n heavy with her dishy boss, Azman. They get up to all kinds of vague mischief on a beach: Asmara yang dipadu oleh kedua-dua pasangan ini berlarutan hingga larut malam (The love they made lasted the whole night).
Complications arise when Yunalis suddenly notices a Bangladeshi worker named Jahangir:
Jahangir bukan sahaja kelihatan cerdik tetapi menarik dengan penampilannya seperti hero filem Hindustan. Yunalis memerhatikan wajah yang mirip Salman Khan dan kulitnya yang lebih cerah daripada rakan-rakannya yang lain (Jahangir didn't just look intelligent but cool, like a Hindi film star. Yunalis thought he looked like Salman Khan and he was fairer-skinned than his other friends).
Here we see that Jahangir is exoticised but still kept within the realm of the desirable because he's fair-skinned. Cinta Bangla is thus a valuable document of socio-cultural attitudes with regard to skin tone.
Yunalis sexually harasses Jahangir by calling him to her office to discuss all sorts of trivial matters. She soon jumps on his bones, but their affair must be kept a secret, because People Just Won't Understand! There is genuine suspense here: what will Azman do when he finds out?
Well, wait no more. Azman spies them doing the funky chicken in a store-room. Azman explodes in anger but the happy couple manages to escape and flee all the way to Bangladesh, leaving only a bilingual note for all their associates. The guy's in shock: "Aku tak sangka kau sanggup tinggalkan aku untuk lelaki Bangla itu," keluh Azman sendirian ("I never thought you'd leave me for that Bangla dude," Azman sighs to himself).
He soon stops being such a wuss and resolves to track Yunalis down. He and some chums hop on a plane to Dhaka and rescue her. Does she need rescuing? Yes, actually. Yunalis is now virtually a slave, wearing "pakaian ala-Bangla" (Bangla-style clothing) and doing a mountain of laundry by a well in the spare moments when she's not being abused by her hubby. I can imagine the reader now saying: "Serves her right!"
Yunalis runs gratefully back into the arms of Azman, filled with a new-found sense of purpose. She now has a mission in life. What is it? To return to Malaysia and rescue naive native girls: Yunalis tidak akan biarkan gadis-gadis lain menjadi mangsa seperti ini. Dia tidak akan beri kekebasan berlebihan kepada pemuda Bangla (She won't let other girls become victims. She will not let Bangla youths have their way).
Cinta Bangla made interesting reading because it's eerily reminiscent of those American 'white slavery' cautionary tales of about a century ago, in which innocent Caucasian women make the fatal mistake of consorting with libidinous black guys. The erotic content may seem transgressive but the
ultimate effect is still reactionary.
Since these books are so popular, undergraduates across the land should discuss them in an effort to understand how ethnicity is perceived in Malaysia. Our newly multi-racial dorm mates should then contrast these fantasies with their own realities, before lighting a cigarette and asking each other, "Was it good for you too?"