Tuesday 27 May 2008

Pantun time again

JiGOMorrison asks me as a comment in a post below whether I have read As I Please by Salleh Ben Joned.

Answer: Yes yes.

I read the column religiously in the NST every Wednesday, and re-read selected pieces when they came out in book form.

One of my favourite articles is a two-parter on sensual (even erotic) pantun. (Of course it needs to be a two-parter, to imitate the structure of what Salleh calls "the one truly native and very Malay of the poetic forms"). They were both published in May 1991.

I must admit that these two articles started getting me interested in the pantun; I would not have told a story through 60 of them in Tokyo Magic Hour, over a decade later, otherwise. (Although unlike Saharil I am too dumb to create me own).

I was recently in Penang's Chowrasta second-hand book market, where Shahril Nizam picked up a very cute, old and petite paperback, Malay Pantuns (compiled by AW Hamilton and first published in 1941; this particular edition dates back to 1959). I immediately skimmed through to pick out the more saucy ones.

There was one that Salleh had cited too:

Di mana kuang bertelur?
Di atas lata, di ruang batu
Di mana abang nak tidur?
Di atas dada, di ruang susu!

(Hamilton translation makes it more florid:

Where does the Argus pheasant nest?
Above the falls, in rocky clefts!
Where does the lover seek to rest?
Upon your bosom, 'twixt your breasts!)

The susu theme continues:

Sakit kaki ditikam jeruju
Jeruju ada di dalam paya
Sakit hati memandang susu
Susu ada di dalam kebaya.

(Hamilton's version:

The prickles cause my feet to smart
Sea-holly grows amidst the mire
The sight of breasts enflames my heart,
Beneath a woman's loose attire.)

(Somehow, I don't think that kebaya was all that loose...)

Over the past half-century, Malay literature has become more censorious and less interested in sensuality. But the earthy, elemental sounds of a good pantun still successfully 'mock' solemnity and killjoy piety. As explained explicitly here:

Tetitip di tepi kota
Mari dikayuh sampan pengail
Imam, khatib lagi berdosa
Inikan pula kita yang jahil!


Where barnacles cling to the fort,
Come, let us row a fishing smack.
When priests and scribes in sin are caught,
What chance for us who learning lack?)


RunWitMe said...

Great translation. Perhaps the last line of the second pantun should read "Beneath a loose woman's attire." :P

Anonymous said...

encik amir, jemputlah ke laman saya

Anonymous said...

Ahh, the top flour of Pasar Chowrasta. My hunting ground too. Must thank Men's Review for showing me the way. Got a bag full of the elusive ( I won't say exclusive because that is reserved for Tell) E&O magazines (mostly C20, so what?) there, which they don't sell in Kino or MPH, methinks.

mCrossings said...

Now it's not susu ada di dalam kebaya, ... susu ternampak dalam uniform...

We should have greeting cards with beautiful pantuns.

Like Karam Singh Walia, hope to hear more on TV, maybe a new realiti show...

BTW do we still have that programme on RTM radio...berbalas pantun. used to enjoy that..