Monday, 31 January 2011

Pelawaan untuk menulis: Buku esei mengenai INTERLOK

Matahari Books ingin menerbitkan sebuah buku esei mengenai INTERLOK.

Setiap esei tidak semestinya (tapi boleh) merujuk kepada mana-mana kontroversi yang berkaitan dengan buku itu. Contohnya, esei tentang 'makanan' atau 'gender' amatlah dialu-alukan.

Syarat jika anda ingin menulis: anda seharusnya telah membaca keseluruhan INTERLOK dan memetik beberapa ayat daripada buku itu untuk menguatkan hujah anda.

Panjang 1,000 - 3,000 perkataan.
Tarikh akhir 1 Mac 2011.
Sila hantar ke dalam bentuk Word.

Pelancaran buku: 22 April di Pesta Buku Antarabangsa KL

Sila kongsi pelawaan ini dengan sesiapa yang mungkin berminat :-)

Sunday, 30 January 2011

How we failed INTERLOK

Back when Abdullah Hussein's Interlok was first published in 1971, Malaysia was a different place. 

In the ensuing 4 decades, we have become much more multi-racist. This entrenched communalism has been, to a large extent, caused by the implementation (rather than original aims) of the New Economic Policy. In the 1980s, the racist rhetoric of 'Malay supremacy' also started to be bandied about, further alienating non-Malays. The Malays were never intended to be 'supreme'. The assistance given to this group was meant to be (to quote former DPM Tun Dr. Ismail) akin to a golf handicap. But when you have an Establishment dominated by a coalition of mainly ethnic-based parties, each party will be called upon to champion only 'its' people, against the 'other' people. (Lest we forget, Barisan Nasional started in 1971, too).

The National Cultural Policy, also implemented in 1971, further helped turn what should be national institutions into very Malay ones instead. Hence, organisations like Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka and even the national education system became identified as mainly 'Malay/Muslim' rather than 'Malaysian', as can be seen not only in their staff ratio but their actions, such as having long doa sessions before the start of each event.

I think Interlok is a worthwhile novel. There are many stereotypes (both good and bad), and at times it feels like a more benevolent (though, unfortunately, less humorous) version of The Malayan Trilogy. The fact that the first three Parts of the book are divided into 'Malay family-Chinese family-Indian family' also recalls the introduction to P. Ramlee's 1968 film Sesudah Subuh. (The two men were friends; one of the books I read during the research of 120 Malay Movies was Abdullah's P. Ramlee: Kisah Hidup Seniman Agung, 1973).

It is sadly indicative of our sorry intellectual climate that most of the rhetoric about Interlok has been led by people who have not read the whole novel. (For proof, check out this statement: "I have instructed my researcher to read the book and find passages that may have degraded the Malays and point it out." This is by someone who held a press conference to explain why he found the book 'degrading'!) 

It's easy for people with an axe to grind to read certain sentences and try to make those sentences fit their political agenda. Hey, you can even try it for Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird, not to mention The Merchant of Venice (a work whose racial politics is far more problematic than Interlok's.) A good teaching system for this book would be a wonderful chance for students to relearn some of the basic empathy that we have lost over the past four decades. In other words, it is the opposite of a racist book. It is even earnest.  I will just pick three scenes that I really like.

In one scene, Cing Huat as a boy had just left his village in China with his father; they are flat broke and as they pass a town market, they are enticed by the food they cannot afford: 

Ada bakul-bakul besar yang berisi beras (beras putih, beras gandum merah, hitam dan mas muda), kacang keledai yang kuning, kacang hijau yang besar, jelai. Daging babi bergantungan di lehernya, dibelah sepanjang-panjang tubuhnya yang merah, lapis-lapis lemaknya, kulitnya yang putih, tebal dan lembut. Itik bergantung berjajar-jajar, itik merah yang sudah dibakar di atas pemanggang, itik putih, angsa yang dipotong berjurai-jurai.

This is very evocative prose; and the pork becomes a crucial part of the scene in a totally non-judgemental way that you wouldn't expect from a stereotypically songkok-wearing sasterawan. 

Another is when Maniam first catches sight of the land that would become his new home:

Waktu kapal itu mendekati pantai Pulau Pinang, Maniam terasa negeri yang didatanginya itu sama seperti negerinya sendiri. Pohon kelapa melambai-lambai di tepi pantai dan warna hijau menutupi sebahagian besar daratan pulau itu. Negerinya juga begitu. Lereng Gunung Nilgiris hijau dengan pokok-pokok kayu putih yang tinggi-tinggi mewangi. Maniam sedikit pun tidak berasa bahawa dia datang ke negeri asing.

Lovely. An enlightened school syllabus would have the teacher discussing with her students the extent to which Indian and Southeast Asian histories have been entwined for centuries. In fact, the early kingdoms of the Malay peninsula were all Hindu-Buddhist.  

Take this bit where Maniam's wife (unlike the men around her) dares to confront the white tuan of the estate, in order to defend the truth about her husband:

Malini membesarkan anak matanya. Dia tidak takut pada orang putih itu lagi. Mem itu juga dia tidak takut ... Sekali lagi Perumal menjeling. Dia menyumpah-nyumpah anaknya, kerana berani bercakap dengan orang putih begitu ... Orang putih itu rasa kagum juga pada perempuan yang kurus ini.

What a great chance for students to then discuss gender roles in society; why was it surprising that she would speak up, and what would be the consequence if women always kept mute?

The book was written in the late 1960s for a contest commemorating the 10th anniversary of Malayan Independence. As such, there are elements that are contrived in order to fit this theme. There is a lot of emphasis on the suffering that the individual characters go through, so that the redemptive unity at the end would seem more glowingly optimistic. Hence, the (at times melodramatic) insistence on 'negative traits' in the first three sections of the book, which need to be transcended and therefore 'cured' by the time the novel reaches its muhibbah end. The way the book is structured therefore emphasis certain ethnicised 'negative traits' (such as the Hindu caste system, which is referenced twice). The 'Malay part' alone has: laziness (Seman's father would rather pawn his land than work harder at the fields), superstition (the same man, when deathly ill, is treated by an unreliable bomoh rather than a doctor)  and hostility to education (Seman is kept illiterate because his parents don't see the point of school).

Interlok is one of the few Malay novels to have prominent non-Malay characters. The utter shame is that it should really have been the first of many more local novels that did the same. If this had been the case, we would be spoiled for choice for a '1Malaysia novel' to fit the literature syllabus. But as it is, the cultural politics of 1971 onwards made more novels of this kind very difficult: 'Malay' writers started to write 'Malay' books; 'Chinese educationists' started to develop the 'Chinese school system' (which was not nearly as robust in 1971 as it is now); and so on.

Because supposedly national institutions now seemed more 'Malay/Muslim' than 'Malaysian', there came a corresponding lack of faith on just how neutral these institutions could be. Hence, the automatic cynicism that greeted the Prime Minister's 1Malaysia slogan. How to believe it, when the Establishment had been thriving on divide-and-rule for decades? (And when even his Deputy said he is 'Malay first'?)

In the last four decades, how many writers have had a national appeal? I think only Lat, and to a certain extent Usman Awang (but do kids read Usman Awang nowadays?). Even in the more accessible realm of showbiz, the names of entertainers who have had pan-national appeal are few and far between: Sudirman, Alleycats, Yasmin Ahmad. Almost everyone else becomes 'Malay' rather than 'Malaysian'. (Now, there is also a parallel 'Chinese' star system, as seen in the success of movies like Tiger Woohoo (2010) onwards). 

In the brouhaha over Interlok, we have heard from 'Indian NGOs' and 'Malay NGOs'. Why are there so few 'Malaysian NGOs' or indeed Malaysians? (Except from the admirable statement from Chandra Muzaffar, with which I agree.) It's also a bit rich for associations like Gapena and Perkasa (which are both more 'Malay' than 'Malaysian') to suddenly champion freedom of expression. If they were consistent, they would do the same with Namewee, whose right to create and share his work I defend.

I am appalled that people who have not bothered to read the novel are being so loud and even pyrotechnic in their protests. If taught properly, Interlok will be a fascinating chance for our students to find ways in which they can build upon the essentialist (but not racist) worldview it depicts. But, at the same time, I think I understand how we have come to this. Each community is now addicted to what in America was once called, by an Australian critic, "the culture of complaint". Our wounds are our badges of honour. We have been made so aware of what countries our ancestors came from that we have lost sight of what country we are creating for our descendants. 

Interlok, the novel, is innocent. It is we, as Malaysians, who have allowed ourselves to become guilty.

Seutas kata mutiara (bahagian 2)

Orang konservatif ialah orang yang memiliki sepasang kaki tapi tak pernah belajar untuk melangkah ke depan. - Franklin D. Roosevelt

Jika benar kau tak boleh hidup tanpaku, kenapa kau tak mati-mati lagi? - Cynthia Heimel

Seorang pengarah filem harus menjadi seorang ahli polis, mak bidan, pakar sakit jiwa, kaki bodek dan anak haram. - Billy Wilder

Lakonan adalah kerjaya yang paling sesuai untuk orang tolol. - Katharine Hepburn

TV adalah sumber ilmu bagi saya. Setiap kali TV dipasang, saya akan pergi ke bilik sebelah untuk membaca buku. - Groucho Marx

Jika saya tiada rasa humor, saya sudah lama bunuh diri. - Gandhi

Jika kamu tak pernah dibenci oleh anakmu sendiri, kamu belum pernah menjadi ibu atau bapa. - Bette Davis

Jika kita mahu tahu kesucian, kita harus berkenalan dulu dengan maksiat. - Marquis de Sade

Orang yang merajuk sebab tak mendapat anugerah di dunia ialah orang yang tahu kerjanya tak akan dihargai di akhirat. - Amir Muhammad

Kata-kata ringkas ialah kepetahan yang paling mempesona. - Cicero, lebih 2,000 tahun sebelum wujudnya Twitter.

Kalau pengundian berupaya mengubah apa-apa, mereka akan mengharamkannya. - Emma Goldman

Orang kaya akan tetap menambah harta dan orang miskin akan tetap menambah anak. - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Setiap benda yang benar-benar jahat bermula dari kemurnian. - Ernest Hemingway

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Short story by Lee Ee Leen in the 9th issue of SELANGOR TIMES

The rest of Selangor Times can be read/downloaded here.

Lee Ee Leen has different stories in several recent anthologies including Best of Southeast Asian Erotica, Urban Odysseys: KL Stories and Crime Scene: Singapore. She blogs here!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

My first short story for 2011

Left-handed Luk
by Amir Muhammad

The New Straits Times. 26 January 2011

It was in kindergarten that Luk knew he was different from the other boys. This happened when the class was told to draw elephants.

When the black-garbed teacher saw him, she rapped him on the knuckles with a heavy wooden ruler.

"What are you doing?" she demanded.

"It's an elephant," he replied. "I know it doesn't look like one yet but --"

"Good people don't use their left hand! That's something only the Devil does!" The ruler connected again. It hurt.

Luk forced himself to continue with his right hand. The elephant looked even weirder now, and since he had not heard of Cubism (give chance, he was only 4!) the result made his head hurt. And that's when he knew that left-handedness was not close to Godliness.

So when he drew at home, he would do it secretly in his room. But one day, his mother walked in while he was doing it, and she caught him blue-handed (he was colouring the sky). She was more sad than shocked; she had always suspected something, but had pretended it would go away if she ignored it.

She tried to change him. "Think of how lonely you'll be when you grow up," she said. "You won't have any friends." A part of him that thought: "What sort of friends won't accept me for what I am?" But he knew this rebellious thought was probably planted by the Devil to lead him astray. And he wept.

"Electric-shock therapy can do it," said an uncle with some relish, but no one was resourceful enough to find out how this could be done. "Is it because I coddled him too much?" his mother Puan Kas wondered to her friends, who murmured in sympathy as they mentally rehearsed how they would spread the scandalous news to their other friends. "You've been such a good mother!" responded Puan Rah to her. "It's up to him to change. Don't let him mix around with left-handed people, they will only influence him." And Puan Kas replied: "But he doesn't know any..." -- she forced herself to say the words --"left-handed people."

And it was true, he didn't. Well, not at first.

In secondary school, he suspected there were other boys like him, but their orientation was not shown openly. They would laugh along, albeit uneasily, when people make jokes about how unclean and unnatural the left-handed must be.

One hot morning, a senior called him aside after he left the Biology lab. This senior, Om, was smoking behind the canteen. "I saw the way you held that test-tube," Om said. "You're ... left-handed, aren't you?" Luk was too shocked to respond.

"So am I, " said Om, and sure enough: the cigarette was in his left hand. "But no one knows. Here, hold it."

"But I don't smoke," said Luk.

"You don't have to, just hold it, " said Om.

Luk was nervous but excited as he took it in his left hand and obeyed Om's instructions: "Hold it. Rub it. Stroke it. Doesn't that feel good?"

And Luk said: "Yes. Yes. It feels so good." But it was also lit, so he passed it back before he singed his fingers.

At the end of that school-day, something else happened. He was waiting for the bus when Om and a few of his friends came by. Luk wondered if they were all left-handed, too. But before he could wonder any more, Om signalled for Luk to follow them behind some trees that had supposedly been there since the Japanese Occupation (which Luk doubted). Luk happily followed his new friend. When they were out of sight of the rest of the school, Luk's happiness was cut short, because Om and his friends took turns to beat him up. The result was not pretty, and it ended with Om, glowing with contempt, spitting at him. "Freak," he said.

Luk stayed on the ground. Movement might be too painful. Might as well just lie there for the rest of his damned life. In a corny display of pathetic fallacy, it started to rain. This actually made him feel better, because he was very fond of playing in the rain and never got sick from it. That was just one other thing that made him weird -- or special, depending on how he wanted to look at it.

The Luk that we see now is not quite the same Luk of the beginning of this story: he's a dozen years older and had consulted many teachers, some with names like Google and Yahoo. He knew of many successful left-handed people, and he recited their names. Winfrey! Obama! Gates! Einstein! (But, alas, Bieber too.) But he could already hear the objections of those around him: "Those are Westerners! They aren't like us. We have values!"

Luk wondered what Om hated about him; it was probably what Om hated about himself. He wondered how he would get through the rest of his teenage years, and if things would indeed get better.

Through the rain, Luk saw a figure clad entirely in white running towards him. Was this an angel or a Japanese ghost or a prefect? He was curious but a bit apprehensive (you never knew with prefects). The figure put out a hand to help him up. Luk looked up but couldn't see the face properly, or appreciate the significance that the hand being offered was not the traditional one.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The main difference between the 5th edition and all the earlier editions

5th edition:

All the previous editions:

Yup, it's just gone for the 5th print. This is the only Matahari Books title to have done so!

If you're a big fan of Pang Khee Teik, you might want to buy the copies that are still selling now. The slightly amended new cover will hit the stands in about a month's time, insya-Allah.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Short story by Uthaya Sankar SB in the 9th issue of SELANGOR TIMES

The rest of Selangor Times may be read or downloaded here.

You may also read Uthaya's adults-only blog here. My review of an earlier book of his is here.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Box-office figures for all Malaysian films in 2010

1. NGANGKUNG - RM8.18 million

3. ADNAN SEMPIT - RM7.66 million
4. KL DRIFT 2 - RM5.67 million
5. LAGENDA BUDAK SETAN - RM4.28 million
7. TIGER WOOHOO - RM4 million
8. V3:SAMSENG JALANAN - RM3.88 million
9. NIYANG RAPIK - RM3.72 million
10. ICE KACANG PUPPY LOVE - RM3.6 million
11. CUTI-CUTI CINTA - RM3.17 million
12. MAGIKA - RM3.14 million
13. MANTRA - RM2.74 million
14. SENARIO ASAM GARAM - RM2.47 million
15. ZOO - RM2.17 million
16. LU PIKIRLAH SENDIRI - RM2.15 million
18. AKU MASIH DARA - RM2.05 million
19. KECOH BETUL - RM2.03 million
20. LELIO POPO - RM2 million (estimated)
21. 4 MADU - RM1.82 million
22. DAMPING MALAM - RM1.67 million
23. JANIN - RM1.42 million
24. APPALAM - RM800,000 (estimated)
25. AKU TAK BODOH - RM740,000
27. 2 ALAM - RM440,000
28. 2 HATI 1 JIWA - RM400,000
29. ESTET - RM350,000
30. BELUKAR - 300,000
31. HOOPERZ - RM290,000
32. KAPOWW!! - RM270,000
33. CRAYON - RM53,000
34. THE KILLER CLOWN - Less than RM50,000

Source: FINAS

1. The top three movies are also the top three local movies of all time (without making allowances for inflation, of course).
2. The film at #5 is the biggest hit movie to ever be made from a novel.
3. There are three hit movies in the Chinese language (#7, #10 and #20); this is the first time there has been even one.
5. The most successful studio would appear to be Metrowealth, which has 5 out of the Top 10 (#1, #3, #6, #8 and #9).
6. I saw only seven! Must try harder this year :-)

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Seutas kata mutiara

Jika kita mahu tahu kesucian, kita harus berkenalan dulu dengan maksiat. - Marquis de Sade

Saya suka binatang babi. Anjing hormati kita. Kucing pandang rendah kepada kita. Tapi babi anggap kita sama taraf. - Winston Churchill

Komputer semuanya tak berguna. Mereka hanya boleh berikan jawapan. - Pablo Picasso (pada tahun 1968).

Jika kamu memiliki faraj dan juga sudut pandang, itu merupakan kombinasi yang cukup mengancam. - Sharon Stone

Jika sebuah filem bermula dengan ayat-ayat Allah, itu bukanlah petanda bahawa filem itu sendiri bukan macam setan. - Amir Muhammad

Apabila dunia dipenuni dusta, bercakap benar menjadi satu tindakan revolusioner. - George Orwell

Jika saya tidak dibenarkan ketawa di Syurga, saya tidak mahu ke sana. - Martin Luther (1483-1546).

Apa yang diperlukan untuk sesuatu filem hanyalah seorang perempuan dan sepucuk pistol. - Jean-Luc Godard

Adakah seks itu kotor? Hanya jika dibuat dengan betul. - Woody Allen

Sukan tinju ialah apabila ramai lelaki kulit putih menonton dua lelaki kulit hitam berbelasah sesama sendiri. - Muhammad Ali

Neraka dipenuhi oleh ahli-ahli muzik yang amatur. - George Bernard Shaw.

Setia kepada negara sentiasa. Setia kepada kerajaan apabila ia layak menerimanya. - Mark Twain

Selalu maafkan musuh-musuh anda; tiada apa yang akan membuat mereka lebih geram. - Oscar Wilde.

Benarlah pada dirimu sendiri, dan ia akan menuruti, bagaikan malam menuruti siang, dirimu takkan bertindak palsu dengan orang lain - Shakespeare.

Orang yang punyai begitu ramai kawan sebenarnya tiada kawan. - Aristotle, lebih 2,000 tahun sebelum wujud Facebook.

Orang baik tak perlu undang-undang untuk pastikan diri mereka baik, sedangkan orang jahat akan temui cara atasi undang-undang untuk terus jahat. - Plato

Sayalah orang paling bijaksana dalam hidup ini, kerana saya tahu satu hal: bahawa saya tidak tahu apa-apa. - Socrates.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

At a time when Malaysians are releasing only (a) horror movies; or (b) spoofs of horror movies, this Iranian film opens on Thursday

Song of Sparrows has taken three years to reach our shores but I'm sure is worth a look on the big screen.

I enjoyed Majid Majidi's previous films Children of Heaven, The Colour of Paradise and Baran. Yes, you may say they're sentimental, somewhat manipulative but - mon Dieu! (masya-Allah!) - that shot of the man running with the blue door alone (1:34) is enough to make us see how Cinema can connect, when it cares enough to.

For the record (not that anyone's asking) my favourite Iranian film is A Moment of Innocence by Mohsen Makhmalbaf. I also heart Sara by Dariush Mehrjui (starring the incandescent Niki Karimi), Offside by Jafar Panahi and Men at Work by Mani Haghighi (from a story by Abbas Kiarostami).