Thursday 30 April 2009


KLAB is back!

(Some details on the first one last year can be found here. It is co-organised by Zulhabri Supian and myself. It is held, once again, in conjunction with Art for Grabs, at The Annexe Gallery, Central Market KL. 

Date: 09.05.2009 - 10.05.2009
Time: 12.00 - 8.00 PM
Featuring indie publishers, NGOs and also zines and DVD sellers: 26 booths in total! They are:

1. Gerakbudaya 2. SIRD 3. Horizon 4. Matahari Books  5. Oxygen & Sang Freud  6. Holograms  7. Da Huang Pictures  8. REFSA & Amnesty International  9. Aliran & The Malaysian Insider  10. Chetak Syndicate  11. The Dram Projects  12. Silverfish  13. Yayasan Tuanku Nur Zahirah  14. ZI Publications  15. Sisters in Islam  16. CIJ  17. MSRI   18. Sindiket Soljah  19. APD   20. MEGC & IKD  21. Emedia  22. Chin Yew  23. Ricecooker & Ying Ying  24. CERT  25. Tinta Publishers  26. Suara-Suara

The book-related events:

Saturday 9 May:

Book Launch and Reading by Charlene Rajendran & Friends
Presented by Matahari Books 
Charlene Rajendran is a Malaysian teacher and theatre practitioner who has been living in Singapore for eight years, and she refuses to own a car. Taxi Tales On A Crooked Bridge chronicles her conversations with taxi drivers all over the island republic. Quirky and jaunty, this book shows that there's no telling what bridges can be built -- whether the journey is crooked or straight!

5pm - Book Launch: NAJIB’S CHALLENGE: Glory or Oblivion? by Barry Wain & UNMASKING NAJIB by Lim Kit Siang
Presented by REFSA

What will be Najib’s legacy for our beloved country? Barry Wain offers his thoughts on this “hot” topic while LKS compiles posts from his blogs into a book. Officiated by Tunku Abdul Aziz, Chairman of REFSA (Research For Social Advancement)

6pm - Book Launch: Dewangga Sakti Tertinggal Kapal Angkasa Di Hari Pelancaran Buku ‘KACIP’ Pipiyapong”
Presented by Sindiket Soljah
Dewangga Sakti terdiri daripada 6 orang pemuzik tradisional Melayu zaman sekarang yang melagukan karya-karya mistik dengan bunyian instrumen akustik. Manakala blogger hip Pipiyapong akan melancarkan karya beliau bertajuk Kacip yang lucu dan mencuit hati pembaca.

6.40pm - Book Launch: Berseronok dengan Perempuan Dalam Poket
Pelancaran buku Puisi Poket 1: Akulah Perempuan Muda itu oleh Shaira Amira

Presented by
Sang Freud Press

Akulah Perempuan Muda Itu adalah himpunan puisi seorang perempuan muda, Shaira Amira,  yang lahir melalui konsepsi imakulat di sebuah negeri jauh satu waktu dulu.  
Puisi Poket adalah satu usaha untuk mengambalikan puisi kepada yang hak, yakni kau dan aku. Cukup kacip dan comel untuk disumbat di dalam kocek, ia sesuai dibawa dan dibaca di mana-mana; sewaktu menunggu teman di elarti, sewaktu naik elarti bersama teman dan selepas menyalakan rokok di belukar bawah landasan elarti setelah habis berbincang bahasa tubuh dengan teman.

Sunday 10 May:

Talk by Khalid Jaafar, director of
Institut Kajian Dasar

Khalid Jaafar akan bercakap tentang buku-buku terbitan IKD dan konsep di sebalik penerbitannya. Khalid juga akan menyentuh tentang kontroversi yang melanda IKD akibat beberapa buku yang dikatakan memesong umat Islam.

4.30pm - READING LOLITA IN KL: Forum/Reading 
Presented by Sisters In Islam (SIS) 
Celebrate the freedom to read! Join Marina Mahathir, Cecil Rajendra, and others as they read poetry and excerpts from books, plays, scripts, etc that have been banned in many countries throughout history.

For the full list of events (including those not book-related, click here. Phew!)

Wednesday 29 April 2009

Nerd love

DO YOU WEAR SUSPENDERS? The Wordy Tales of Eh Poh Nim by Lydia Teh (MPH, 2009, 240 pages)

Books that compile newspaper columns are usually as diverting as someone else’s jumbled laundry, but this is a happy exception. It helps that I had never read any of the pieces here before. I mistook Lydia Teh’s Word’s Up, Eh Poh Nim? column in The Star for some kind of simple grammar guide, so never felt compelled to go any further because I have been told that my Englands is already quite well.

Well, the joke’s on me! The column actually reads like a serial novel. Sure, it doesn’t have the relentless pace of, say, Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, but the story definitely builds. Like several other serial novelists, Teh creates an affectionate and occasionally exasperated portrait of a city as seen by several closely observed characters. In fact, Do You Wear Suspenders? turns out to be a love story!

The eponymous (geddit?) protagonist is a single woman with the annoying habit of always correcting other people’s word usage. Even when visiting a friend in hospital, she scolds Clara for writing ‘complement’ instead of ‘ compliment.’ (The reason Clara is writing is that the poor thing is not healthy enough to talk.) Instead of flinging her filled bedpan at her, Clara just lies there and takes it all in.

And so it goes. Eh Poh Nim (the name is always spelled in full) has several talky escapades that help illustrate concepts like alliteration, hyperbole, puns, metaphors and similes. She has memorised the origins of many idioms and phrases too: “Trojan horse” is easy enough, but how many of us know where “below the salt” came from?

One of the most fun chapters has Our Lady of Pedantry instructing Australian mates on Manglish terms, which is how the title of the book came about. We use suspenders to refer to something worn underneath, rather than to hold up, men’s trousers. Another favourite has an ending where we are taught that ACDC is slang for bisexual, which you can never be too young to learn.

Strangely enough, Teh doesn’t take advantage of the interesting origin of the phrase ‘half-past six.” When a former Prime Minister (guess which one!) used it to describe the new leadership, I never realised it was a local expression. It comes from the early days of the Selangor Club in KL, where Eurasians were permitted to be at the bar only from 6:30pm onwards – when the whites would be away, preparing for dinner. So the term was a racist one to mean second-rate. (My source is this novel).

I sometimes felt like throttling her, but I feel the same about many of my friends, so I guess Eh Poh Nim became a friend. Besides, her compulsive desire to educate is a way to conceal (wouldn’t you know it?) a certain loneliness. While fending off an oafish colleague named Paul, she grows interested in Gene Rick, whose charms prove to be anything but generic. He, too, is a sticker, I mean stickler, for using the correct words, so you imagine a very happy future of matching thesauri on the bedside table.

But the path of true love is filled with sticks and stones, … or words to that effect. Eh Poh Nim first needs to make sure none of her friends or family members bludgeon her to death for always reminding them not to pronounce words to become ‘Grand Pricks’ or ‘fox pass’.

Unlike the sterile conversations in our textbooks, her mini-adventures never exist in a vacuum. (This book has far too much pork to qualify as an MOE text, anyway). There are many delicious references to contemporary controversies: the mansion built by dubious Malaysian politicians, the sex scandals of Hong Kong stars, the agricultural study trips to Taiwan, and so on. Even the romantic clincher in a park involves a hilarious cameo by killjoy khalwat-busters. Perhaps in a decade we would need footnotes to get all the jokes, but to present them unadorned adds to this book’s cheeky, faux-naif charm.

Faux-naif is a word we are not taught to pronounce properly here. Dare we hope for a sequel?

(Malay Mail, 29 April)

Saturday 25 April 2009

Press release: KARAOKE goes to Cannes

24 April 2009



Malaysian filmmaker Chris Chong Chan Fui’s KARAOKE will be screened at the Directors’ Fortnight of the 62nd Cannes Film Festival from 14-24 May 2009. It will be the first Malaysian feature film in 14 years to be screened at Cannes. KARAOKE has also been nominated for the Camera d’Or (Golden Camera), the award for the best first feature film presented in any one of the Cannes' selections (Official Selection, Directors’ Fortnight or International Critics’ Week).

Contacted by phone in Bangkok, where he is currently finishing post-production, Chris could not conceal his surprise: “Cannes is totally unexpected. It is such an honour to be part of the biggest film festival in the world and be screened alongside a film by Francis Ford Coppola!”

KARAOKE is Chris’ first feature-length film. Prior to this, the Sabah-born film director and media artist has received worldwide acclaim for his short film BLOCK B (2008), and the documentary KOLAM (2007).

KARAOKE, written by award-winning playwright, writer and singer-songwriter Shanon Shah, who also wrote the songs and music for the film, showcases performances from an impressive cast led by Zahiril Adzim and supported by Mislina Mustaffa, Mohammad Hariry, Amerul Affendi and Nadiya Nissa. Newcomers Zahiril Adzim and Amerul Affendi most recently wowed Malaysian audiences in the play ‘Air Con’, coincidentally also written by Shanon Shah. Another internationally renowned Sabah-born talent, artist Yee I-Lann, served as the production designer on the film.

Produced by Chris’ own Tanjung Aru Pictures, the 75-minute Malay-language KARAOKE was shot on location in Selangor over 12 days in December 2008. But even before the film was shot, KARAOKE was invited to the Berlin Film Festival’s Script Clinic in 2007, and was selected to participate in the Hong Kong-Asian Film Financing Forum (HAF) in 2008.

The Story

Set in a village estate of a Malaysian oil palm plantation … Betik returns home.

During the day, Betik helps shoot karaoke videos, while at night, he lends a hand to his reluctant mother at the family’s karaoke joint. This is the place where he falls for Anisah. A job, a love and a family. His return home comes together quickly.

But life isn’t so innocent. Everybody wants something. Subtle manipulations driven by self interest and personal desires seep through yet the songs continue to be sung. Unwavering.

The home has changed. The oil palm trees have grown in endless symmetry. The landscape rusts and the nostalgia turns.

About the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival

The Directors’ Fortnight has long been a platform where newcomers can shine, highlighting new talent in world cinema and the directors of tomorrow. Initiated in 1969 by the French Director’s Society, its program includes a selection of films from around the world, during the Cannes Film Festival.

Since its inception, the Directors' Fortnight has discovered and held the first French screenings of debut films by Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Nagisa Oshima, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, Michael Haneke, Jim Jarmusch and Spike Lee, among others.

As one of the programmes held in conjunction with Cannes, the Directors’ Fortnight is open to the general public. In 2008, over 40,000 spectators attended its screenings.

For more information, please visit Tanjung Aru Pictures. Trailer:

For further enquiries, please contact Nandita Solomon at +6019 234 7317 or

Photos by Danny Lim © Tanjung Aru Pictures 2008

Friday 24 April 2009


Join Charlene Rajendran & friends for the launch of TAXI TALES ON A CROOKED BRIDGE.

Charlene is a Malaysian teacher and theatre practitioner who has been based in Singapore for eight years, and she refuses to own a car. And so she will taxi here, there and everywhere. This book chronicles her conversations with many 'driving philosophers' on short journeys in the island state. Quirky and jaunty, this book shows that there's no telling what bridges can be built along the way ... whether the journey is crooked or straight!

Held in conjunction with the KL ALTERNATIVE BOOKFEST 2009 and ART FOR GRABS.

You can, of course, confirm via Facebook ;-)

And thanks to Saharil for the poster!

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Man with a movie camera

ROLL CAMERA ACTION by Yusof Haslam (2006, Finas, 402 pages)

Yusof Haslam is, as he reminds us, only a year younger than our Prime Minister. But since this book was published during the previous one’s tenure, the closing photograph has him with that other guy instead. (One of them is asking for the other one’s autograph, and I will let you guess who’s doing the asking).

Local cinema in the 1990s was pretty much dominated by Yusof Haslam. It’s not just that he had many hit films (his Sembilu 2 was for a long time the highest-grossing Malaysian flick) but he became a kind of shorthand for ‘commercial cinema.’ Snooty Malay critics (yes, there are a few!) spent lots of time and energy calling his stuff ‘Bollywood-influenced’ and so on. While they bitched, he worked.

Let’s admit it, much of the criticism was motivated by financial envy (he always flaunted his box-office takings) and also class condescension: he started off as a bus conductor, which I think is great, but which some people took as proof that he was in the wrong business.

The ‘Bollywood’ insult also willfully ignores that Malay cinema has always been inextricable from the conventions of populist Indian cinema. It’s a testament to the polymorphous and porous entity that is Malayness itself.

I have seen all his films and I fondly recall catching the first Sembilu in a cinema that has since closed down. There were people all around me who were mouthing lines of dialogue even before they were spoken; meaning this wasn’t their first time watching it. It was then that I realised I was witnessing a phenomenon!

His films weren’t about bus conductors; they had pop stars with swimming-pools (they never used them for fear of ruining their mascara – and those are just the guys), police personnel who spoke very grammatically, and drug-dealing villains with big hair. People always chose to converse in locations that had the KLCC or some other phallus in the background. And they always drank fresh orange juice.

His films were really about post-NEP Malays: they seem educated (but you never see books in their houses) and have disposable incomes (cue romantic shopping montages) and exist within a socially conservative framework. You can always tell a villain, especially in his Gerak Khas films, by their ‘non-Malay’ names like Castello and Karina. 

This book compiles his Berita Minggu columns from 2002-4. They aren’t always strictly about films: He cheers on any new leader (PM, DPM, Information Minister and so on) and hopes they will do their best for agama, bangsa dan negara. In fact the columns when read as a whole have a nation-building agenda. He sees himself as a ‘cultural worker’ (to use a communist term) but in the service of Malay capitalism. 

The conservatism comes from the fact that the basic organising structure of society is always upheld, such as his exhortation to stick with the tried and true in the 2004 General Elections. In other words: Don’t vote for Castello!

There’s also something quite moving in his insistence of a continuum of Malay cinematic talent. (He is of the generation and temperament in which Malaysian cinema is Malay cinema, full stop). There are tributes to hoary veterans which would be much more heartfelt if the next chapter wasn’t about some bureaucrat described in similarly glowing terms.

One of the veterans is described as mangsa kapitalis (an incongruous phrase in the whole book) but it’s more accurate to say Yusof sees guided capitalism as the best way to ensure Malays (and it’s usually about the Malays) are never again victims.

Speaking of continuum: His son Syamsul Yusof is now an actor-director as well, and his second film opens tomorrow. It’s the first local flick in ages to get an 18PL rating; does this mean that Junior is disregarding the nation-building values of his father? Ah, but the full title is Bohsia: Jangan Pilih Jalan Hitam … so it’s a movie whose ‘message’ is literally spelled out. I’ll be watching it this weekend, so the magic must still be working. Syabas, Pak Yusof!

(Malay Mail, 22 April)

Sunday 19 April 2009

After the premiere

The Singapore censors gave an M18 rating to Malaysian Gods just a day before the screening, and tickets were sold out an hour beforehand. Since there was no lesbian sex (!) I wonder what's in it that can possible be unsuitable for those 17 and below. 

What make this event special, and in fact quite unprecedented in the 22-year history of the Singapore International Film Festival, is that a special police permit was required for the talk in conjunction with the screening! It was finally given at 9am, two and a half hours before the event. So I must thank the festival director Zhang Wenjie and coordinator Jasmine Ng for their perseverance. 

We were only allowed to talk for 30 minutes, before rather than after the documentary. So this is the first time I have given a Q & A before a screening. Surprising Singapore, indeed!

Stefan got the whole session on video here.  His impressions of the documentary itself are here

Quirky bureaucracy aside, it's always a pleasure to screen at this festival, and it was nice to see familiar faces like Tan Pin Pin and Ben Slater. 

This is the second festival in a row (after Mexico last month) where I didn't watch a single other film, but instead caught up with friends old and new. 

I won't be attending the next festival screening (Italy in June) as I will be completing a book. In the meantime, more Malaysian screenings are planned. 

Thursday 16 April 2009

Blog orang kampung

Some of you have seen my documentary Apa Khabar Orang Kampung (Village People Radio Show).

Well, someone from the village now has a blog! Do check it out to see what has been happening there.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Malaysian murder mystery

ECHOES OF SILENCE by Chuat Guat Eng (1994 (reissued 2009), Holograms, 343 pages)

I attended the launch of this novel way back in 1994. It was officiated by Rafidah Aziz (should I have written “none other than” before her name?). She gave a most unusual speech, because she said she hadn’t had time to read the novel, or in fact any “make-believe” story, but the book nonetheless lay on her bedside table.

I spent the rest of the event wondering what Rafidah Aziz’s bedside table looked like. Would it have frills or be sturdy and practical? Her words must have also made a deep impression, for I never actually read Echoes of Silence, even though I went on to read perhaps hundreds of novels in the ensuing years. (I was never a Cabinet Minister, lucky me.)

That event also taught me to never get a VIP to launch any of the books I have published: you never know when their darndest words could backfire on you.

I also tried very hard to not have any conversations with the author Chuah Guat Eng after that. You know, just in case she would allude to a section of the book, which she might presume I had read (after all, I was at the launch, and I write about books!) and I’d have to lie: “Oh yes, that bit! Yes yes yes. Loved it. Loooved it.”

I couldn’t bring myself to tell the truth: that everytime I contemplated reading it, I would get distracted by thoughts of Rafidah Aziz’s beside table. (Does she still keep the book there? Surely not. But what has it been replaced by? Now that she’s not in the Cabinet, does she have the time to read it?)

Anyway, Holograms recently re-issued the novel. And I finally read it over the weekend, and this is my report.

The narrator, Ai Lian, left Malaysia as a consequence of the 1969 riots. We are told this right at the beginning of Chapter One, but the riots themselves aren’t an explicit part of the book. She comes back to Malaysia with a rich ang moh boyfriend a few years later; he, too, had grown up in Malaysia, because his family owned a plantation.

The fun starts when a beautiful woman is found murdered in a gruesome way out in the woods. The discovery gets people all caught up in conspiracy theories. There are doubts as to whether the right people will be brought to justice. (Sounds familiar? But it was published in 1994!)

Chuah has fun with the oxymoronic title. It has to do with the gaps in our personal, and therefore political, histories. If, say, a parent isn’t completely forthcoming about his actions during a turbulent period, this willful reticence can amount to mendacious betrayal. Worse, the ‘silence’ then ‘echoes’ in the lives of the next generation, who are left not only clueless but psychologically impoverished. Despite the tease in the opening, we get more about communists and World War 2 than 1969…but the same principle applies.

There are a few reviews on the back-cover that call this novel ‘post-modern’, but we can safely dismiss those silly academic types for having the need to be taken seriously: the novel doesn’t radically critique its form.

It’s a murder mystery, but more languid than those of Ruth Rendell or our very own Shamini Flint. The writing is careful and sometimes witty, but there’s something overburdened about the plot. The many back-stories end up making us lose interest in finding the killer.

But Echoes of Silence wants to be more than just a ‘mere’ mystery, as can be seen in its subtitle: A Malaysian Novel. The genre is merely a vehicle to explore the idea of ‘belonging’ in (or to) Malaysia. One of the characters is even known by three names (one Chinese, one Christian, and one Malay), depending on who’s talking about her. That alone says much about how culture is inscribed, not to mention the role of gender and power relations.

And this makes me wonder what Rafidah Aziz would make of it.

(Malay Mail, 15 April)

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Picture it!

PHOTOJOURNALISM AND THE IMAGING OF MODERN MALAYSIA 1957-2007 (Galeri Petronas, 2007, 143 pages)

This book doesn’t have to say much: the pictures do all the talking.

Khoo Kay Kim in one of several Introductions corrects the popular maxim about a picture being worth a thousand words. He said the actual Chinese expression is “a picture’s meaning can express 10,000 words.” (Trust the Chinese to always want to do things on a bigger scale!)

Unlike studio portraits where the emphasis is on the technique of the photographer – and often the vanity of the subject, as witness the perennially youthful politicians on election banners – the photojournalist has to also bank on instinct and sheer luck.

This is the printed version of an exhibition that the Petronas Gallery held, curated by Eddin Khoo. The younger Khoo provided the captions and chronology, and his often terse prose wonderfully leaves imaginary spaces for us.

There are 100 photos, one per page, but the identity of the photographer is often unknown. This anonymity is a shame for future scholars of the field, but it’s also curiously apposite because many of the photos here aren’t of ‘named’ people but the average Joe (be it Joe Sidek, Joe Chin or Joe Maniam) on the street, and how he becomes unwitting witness to the events of the time.

Take the sole reference to the May 13 riots. It comes in a photo taken two days later, with the caption: “Returning home with food before the imposition of curfew.” We don’t see any politicians, just a multi-racial group rebuilding their lives.

Pluralism is further enforced and celebrated in other captions, often through deliberate omission. Just one word, “Thaipusam”, is needed for a Batu Caves crowd, “Congregation” for a mosque, and “Sisters” for nuns at a vigil. No need to explain what the various religions are: these are all Malaysian sights and rituals.

The arrangement is mostly chronological but sometimes breaks out to witty effect. The Highland Towers collapse is juxtaposed against the construction of the KLCC, and the combination says much about our national priorities. (The fact that the book was funded by the corporation that built the KLCC adds a piquant layer that I thoroughly approve of: it’s always fun and necessary to bite the hands that feed you.)

There’s also a wedding in the haze (replete with face-masks) right next to a group of Anwar Ibrahim supporters enthusiastically greeting him after his sacking. The poisonous political smog that was choking us at the time finds a great, local visual metaphor.

Speaking of politics: One of the longest captions here describes an Umno Youth rally at the TPCA stadium “to support a government proposal that non-Chinese educated teachers be appointed as administrators in national type Chinese schools” in 1987.

Even then, the info is deliberately curt. We’re not told about Operation Lalang, where the government (or more accurately, Team A of Umno) nabbed over 100 of its critics. So a person who doesn’t know the background might ask: Why on earth would Umno Youth care about Chinese education? But it’s by stripping the issue to its core that we see the ethnic chest-thumping on display as the bathetic parade that it is.

We also literally see how our politics had degenerated from the 1950s, when all the pictures were of positive enthusiasm and where any uncertainty (the Tunku crossing a narrow wooden bridge; a delegation waving off the departing English, whose plane we don’t see) marks a challenge rather than a threat.

Only the final images are in colour. Semiotically, colour can represent optimism. But the seamless organisation, towards the end, of a beaming Nicol David, a beaming Pak Lah, the Kampung Berembang demolition, and Kota Tinggi floods says that the Malaysian drama is not yet over.

The final picture is indeed of anonymous citizens making their way through a flooded street. It seems like an odd way to end a book of this type, but the idea of people finding their way through a mess they did not create does finally resonate.

• The book is available at Galeri Petronas KLCC (tel: 03 20517770) at RM140.

(Malay Mail, 8 April)

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Let us eat rojak

MANGOSTEEN CRUMBLE by Charlene Rajendran (Team East, 1999, 81 pages)

First, the bad news: Mangosteen Crumble is out of print. You can’t get it for love or money in any bookshop here. Since this is one of the most interesting local poetry collections I have come across, the news is a crying shame.

And now the good news (you knew I wouldn’t let you down): I am making the entire book available again. The poems will be uploaded at the rate of one per day, starting today. So you can have the words with lunch.

I do have the writer’s permission. But even if I didn’t, I wonder if she would object, seeing as how piracy has been such a valuable teacher to us. Charlene is a teacher as well, but not one of those stuffy by-the-rules ones. She can be a bit of a joker, but a serious joker nonetheless.

There is no such dish as mangosteen crumble, but the title poem asks us to imagine such a thing. It sounds like it could work: the tart sourness of the fruit, the harder crumbly pastry, all topped off with the cool sweetness of cream.

It’s also a metaphor for cross-cultural connections, but it’s the very best kind of metaphor, because you can eat it! Even if you become fat, your chunkiness itself becomes a metaphor for consumerist excess, so we’re fine even with that.

Charlene also appears to be a fan of rojak: words that are not considered English are used without italics. The point is that nothing should ever seem foreign to us, if only we open our hearts.

The rojak point has often been made of Malaysia, of course. But unlike, say, California (which has a bigger ethnic variety) our smorgasbord of difference is presented as a selling point when we feel like it but also used to justify oppression in other times. What gives?

This book is divided into four sections. The first, “Rasam Concoctions” and third, “Teh Tarik Tempo,” are the ones that dance the most to different simultaneous drums. The Malaysian sensorium is brought to bear: smell it and see! And if you like it, you can always lick it.

This isn’t some witless tourist pamphlet. You can bite things, but things will also bite you back. Bringing together different icons –temples rubbing up against mosques – is meant as both nourishment and polemic. There are also poems that critique our other ‘culture’ of packaging everything into boxes, complete with price-tags.

The words are limber and easy, but always in search of ironies and telling details, and always questioning. Such as: when flags are raised so high, don’t they become impossible for those with “feet on the ground” to grasp it?

The second section, “Squashed Rojak Packet”, presents a dark view of family romance, and of the ties that (as a comedian once put it) both bind and gag. This section tends not to get mentioned much in the few reviews that have appeared, but it’s a fascinating counterpoint to the more playful celebrations. You can’t taste the sweet if you don’t know what bitter is.

The final section, “Sothy and Strings”, is the most ambitious. It presents two different scenarios: the Japanese Occupation and strife in Sri Lanka, but through very ground-level gazes: a Malayan child, and a Malaysian visitor who has Ceylonese roots, respectively.

Even more than the anthology Urban Odysseys (2009), this slim but memorable book is important for creating an English with the rhythms of home. Now that you can read it for yourself, it can once again hit where the heart is.

* Do start reading the book today at