Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sheikh Shapir

So tomorrow is Sheikh Shapir's birthday.

And no, he is not my grandfather as I have no Arab blood running through my vein.

I am told he is one of the more famous Arab in the world, if one were to exclude our prophet that is.

He is supposedly the author of many classics and I would think he is perhaps the most famous author and writer in the world. In my mind I would consider him as the greatest writer there is. In the late 70s, when we only have RTM, we have had many movies, or classical dance drama that would highlight his work. Being an avid reader of not just the classical Malay literature, I would take the opportunity to go to my grandma's house on the other side of Aulong typically on a Sunday afternoon.

I mean which kid then would not be fascinated by Romeo and Julliet, the most famous romantic, yet tragic love story. These two lovers were separated by the warring families. Aah, so tragic. How about the pound of flesh that the Jewish merchant Shylock had wanted? I guess this story reiterated what we had learnt about the community as told in the Quran.

Of course we were fascinated by the fairy in such stories A Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, Twelfth Night, Taming the Shrew, and many others. And of course I was in absolute agony and miserable trying to read and understand the play MacBeth, written in old English when I was studying English Literature at Leederville in 1981.

And as I look at his work in awe, I wonder how does one come up with such imaginative story lines?

Sheikh Shapir, where did you find your inspiration?


I was told, by one lecturer, during one of those brain twisting and brain washing sessions at BTN halfway through our university education in Australia, that the actual writer of these stories was an Arab by the name of Sheikh Shapir. The English later on claim him as their own and romanized his name to Shakespeare - the same thing they did, or tried to do to the father of medicine Ibnu Sina or Avicenna to the English world.

The truth of the matter?

You decide.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Wuthering Heights

I got interested in Wuthering Heights after I read a psychological essay on human relationship that mentioned a wonderful book called The Outsider by Albert Camus, which I had read a decade earlier, and in the same breath - make that the same line, The Wuthering Heights. If the writer thought that The Outsider was able to convey much about human emotion, or rather the lack of it in its main character, I guess he must have thought highly on the way human behaviour was portrayed in Wuthering Heights - however queer they may be; much as you can't say you love someone and at the same time hated that person, and really mean it.

If I had considered The Outsider as a classic that won the author a Nobel prize for Literature, then surely I would love Wuthering Heights too.

But Wuthering Heights was beyond me initially. Much like I could not comprehend The Outsider in 1981 while doing English Literature at Leederville Technical College in Perth. How would a boy so immersed in Ramayana, Ranjau Sepanjang Jalan and other Hamka's novel comprehend Albert Camus' complex human relationships so foreign to this boy's upbringing.

Nonetheless, the passage of time has allowed me to immersed myself into the life of Monsieur Mersault.

Wuthering Heights was more painful process for me I guess. Book after books on Wuthering Height I had bought, but I simply could not get beyond the first chapter. I bought the DVD of the 1992 movie adapted from the novel by Emily Bronte. It is so dark, and complex too that I simple could not get my mind to weave through the movies.

But in the end, after years of trying to comprehend I managed to do it through a abridged version I found in Saigon while I was browsing at a bookshop. I have in my collection 3 versions of the books; the same number of books I have on Sitti Nurbaya, and the DVD movie version starring one Juliette Binoche who gave a strong performance in the 1992 movie.

It is a love story, but no, this is no Romeo and Julliet story. It is a love story with a twist. In the end it is much more than a just a love story. And I thought I should let the preface tells you the story that has captivated me for much of my life.


The wind is so strong on the Yorkshire moors. There are few trees, and fewer houses, to block the its path. There is on house, however, that does not hide from the wind. It stands out from the hill and challenges the wind to do its worst. The house is called Wuthering Heights.

Love is not always a happy experience. Nor do people who love each other always treat each other gently. We are familiar with stories where two lovers are kept apart by outside forces - sometimes by their families, sometimes by customs of their society.

In Wuthering Heights, the main force that keeps the lovers apart is themselves. The characters in this story, just like real people, have weaknesses - and their weaknesses lead them to unhappiness. They are proud and selfsh; they often have mixed feelings and are unable to make up their minds. For that reasons love often fails, but rarely as passionately and dramatically as in this story.

Move over Romeo and Julliet - here comes Heathcliff and Catherine.

Here is the original video from the song of the same name by Kate Bush, released in the 70s, obviously inspired by the novel by Emily Bronte.

Out on the wiley, windy moors
Wed roll and fall in green.
You had a temper like my jealousy:
Too hot, too greedy.
How could you leave me,
When I needed to possess you?
I hated you. I loved you, too.
Bad dreams in the night.
They told me I was going to lose the fight,
Leave behind my wuthering, wuthering Wuthering heights.
Heathcliff, its me--cathy.
Come home. Im so cold!
Let me in-a-your window.
Heathcliff, its me--cathy.
Come home. Im so cold!
Let me in-a-your window.
Ooh, it gets dark! it gets lonely,
On the other side from you.
I pine a lot.
I find the lot Falls through without you.
Im coming back, love.
Cruel heathcliff, my one dream, My only master.
Too long I roam in the night.
Im coming back to his side, to put it right.
Im coming home to wuthering, wuthering, Wuthering heights,
Heathcliff, its me--cathy. Come home. Im so cold!
Let me in-a-your window.
Heathcliff, its me--cathy. Come home. Im so cold!
Let me in-a-your window.
Ooh! let me have it. Let me grab your soul away.
Ooh! let me have it. Let me grab your soul away.
You know its me--cathy!
Heathcliff, its me--cathy.
Come home. Im so cold!
Let me in-a-your window.
Heathcliff, its me--cathy.
Come home. Im so cold!
Let me in-a-your window.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Islamizing the Ramayana

I wrote two partial entries on Hikayat Seri Rama - the Malay version of the Ramayana. While some may wonder why on earth I would write entries on the Hindu epic, last night I found the perfect answer reading Dr Azly Rahman's Illumination blog entitled Islamizing the Ramayana.

I mentioned in both entries how prophet Adam was the one who granted Rawana his four kingdoms in Hikayat Seri Rama, but I was merely talking from memory as we had lost the book. To my mind, Hikayat Seri Rama is never a Hindu epic - I never once encounter Brahma, Vishnu or Siva, but Allah and his prophet Adam Alaihissalam.

Dr Azly gives the actually para from the book albeit one in English, posted 10 April 2009.

This condition manifested itself in the development of the Malay literature, Hindu elements that originated from the Hindu holy scriptures, for instance, theRamayana and Mahabharatta that glorified Vishnu, Siva, Brahma and other gods and godesses were replaced with Islamic concept of the Supreme being (Hamid, 1974, pp. 77-78).

To illustrate the point above, let me compare two passages of the epic in its Indian version (as told by William S. Buck) and to the one in Shellabear’s version of the
Hikayat Seri Rama. These passages concern with the Rakshasha King Ravana’s coming into power: Ravana held the knife to his throat, when Brahma appeared and said, ‘Stop! Ask me a boon at once!’

‘I am glad that I please you,’ said Ravana. ‘Please me!’ said Brahma. ‘Your will is dreadful, too strong to be neglected; like a bad disease I must treat it. Your pains make me hurt. Ask!’ ‘May I be unslayable and never defeated by the gods or any one from any heaven, by Hell’s devils or Asuras or demon spirits, by underworld serpents or Yakshas or Rakshasas’. ‘Grated!’ said Brahma quickly. He gave Ravana back his burnt heads better looking than before. They rose living and smoothed down his black moustaches. Brahma told Vibhishana, ‘Ask’. ‘May I never forget Dharma in peril or in pleasure, in comfort or in distraction’. Brahma said, ‘Yes; and you will be immortal on Earth and exempt from death or oblivion; and my truth knows no turning’. (Buck, 1976, pp. 23).

Here in the Indian version, 
Lord Brahma, the creator is presented as the one approaching King Ravana. In the Malay version, there was a middle man who dealt with what Ravana’s wishing for, the prophet Adam, first man on Earth.

With the blessing and power of Allah (SWT) the prophet Adam was hence descended from heaven for come period of time on earth. Once upon a time, at dawn, the prophet was walking on Earth when he met 
Ravana, meditating, hanging upside down. The prophet asked:

‘O Ravana, why art thou doing as such to thyself? How long has thou been this way?’

Ravana replied, ‘O Gracious prophet of Allah. I have been in this condition for twelve years’ Adam then said, ‘O Ravana, what is it that thou hath begged from Allah (SWT) that thou hath acted as such? Ravana answered, ‘O My Lord Propheth of Allah, if it would be at all possible that thou would asketh Lord Allah’s granting of my wish. I would hence proclaim the nature of it’ The prophet Adam then said, ‘O Ravana tell me the nature of the wish of thou’. (Shellabear, 1964, p.3)

Thus Ravana told the prophet of his wish, that Allah grant him four kingdoms: on earth, heavan, underworld and the seas. The prophet then told Ravana:

Hence, at this moment, thou hath to promise me, that whenth thou doth commit wrongdoings or thou subjects doth doings as such and thou blesseth thee therein and not judge other wise, thou hath to accept the wrath of thy Lord Allah. Whereas thou agreeth upon this promise. I would hereby asketh upon Lord Allah thou’s humble wishes. (Shellabear, 1964, p.2)

I am glad he did the comparative study what I had observed since first reading the epic more than 30 years ago. I remember well how Rawana has been hanging upside down in meditation, for 12 years seeking for four kingdoms.


I wrote this in my May 2007 entry ( posted 1 April 2009.

"I was taken by the story when I was in primary school. The Malay version of Hikayat Seri Rama was edited by one Onn, and published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. Actually I would think it was a Malaynised version of the epic Hindu scripture. In fact make that Islamic. I mean, when the Emperor Rahwana requested Allah for four kingdoms for him to rule, the person who granted his wishes was no other than the prophet Adam."

In another entry titled Aku di sebuah Pulau and the state of Malay literature posted on May 4, 2007 (, I wrote:

"How about Hikayat Seri Rama?” I asked her, “It was after all published by DBP and edited by one Onn someone.” HSR is the Malay version of the Ramayana, complete with the prophet Adam included in the story (when Maharaja Rawana was given kingdoms in the sea, earth, heaven (tujuh petala langit), and on land for him to rule); I guess to make it more palatable to the (muslim) Malays. It is an epic of a story which included the love story of Sri Rama and Sita Dewi. Rawana obviously was head-over-heels over Sita Dewi and wanted to make her his Queen, and hence he abducted her. One should read about all the battles between Rawana and Sri Rama, with the help of his brother Laksamana and monkey king Hanuman, and his monkey soldiers. Gegak gempita! The battles, I must say, made Star Wars movies look like childplay!"

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Jewels from the Kraton

She is a picture of grace and concentration. I didn't catch her eye-ing the camera or the audience during her performance. She is in her own world. (Click on the picture to see the full splendour)

The Kraton dancers. Graceful. They all are.

As for the title, I was referring to these items below owned by the Sultan. Some of the replica of the real thing on display at the Kraton. The Jogja Kraton is younger than its counterpart in Solo and started in the 17th century.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I left my heart in Jogja


I first went to Jogja more than a decade ago.

At that point in time, there was no Air Asia flight that would take you directly out of KL into Jogja; only a tiring 12-hour train ride from Gambir station in Jakarta to Jogja - 15 if you want to drive. The train ride was not that painful; personally I found Indonesian trains more punctual than their counterpart in Malaysia. The conference hosted by Gadja Mada University invited an estemeed colleague of mine Dr Wadekar, an expert in heat transfer and by chance being the SE Asia technical person, I self invited myself as a chaperon.

By then, I thought Jogja was a wonderful place that I would love bringing the family again. To me then – and even now, having visited practically the whole of Indonesia, from Aceh in the Nothern Sumatra to Palembang in the South, Anyir in the west of Jakarta, and Cilacap on the East of Java, and up north to Balikpapan and Bontang in Kalimantan, I found two cities particularly interesting and extremely beautiful and worth a revisit.

Padang and Jogja.

Padang was basically a homecoming for me and the beautiful culture and the beautiful Maninjau. So I guess one can understand my enthusiasm.

Jogja, on the other hand, was all about the monuments - Borobudur, Prambanan and Kraton. Or at least that's what I saw more than a decade ago.

It took me another 10 years and Air Asia to come back.


It was a holiday like no other.

I mean, despite our slogan of Malaysia, Truly Asia, we can't compete with many others c ountries in as far as cultural experience is concerned.

And I was determined that we were going to enjoy our holiday, like no other holiday that we had taken before. I mean, I would normally drive, be at the attraction, looked at it in awe, and left.

Of course in between, we would have taken many pictures. An I-was-there picture. It is important to tell ourselves -if no one else - that we were there before, not much for the bragging right, but more importantly for the memories.

So this time around, I thought it was going to be different. We are going to take it leisurely and we were going to have a guide at each place to tell of the background of each attraction. We could look at them in awe knowingly, and I guess it made each attraction even more attractive.


I am glad I can speak Indonesian. I mean after traveling the length and breadth of Indonesia for the past 15 years, I could passed myself off as one of them, if it was going to save my life. In the worst case scenario I would tell them that I am from Sumatra. If they asked further I would say I am either from Medan or Riau, as my slang could be passed off as from these regions and I know a few suburbs of these towns well enough.

Only once I was caught by my own web of lies!

But still, when my driver (Pak Supir named Nimin) dropped me off at the Indonesian booth of Borobudur, I was apprehensive. I am not sure if Mak, with her baju kurung could be passed off as an Indonesian. And as I wanted to enjoy my holiday, I would not mind paying the higher ticket price for foreigner. After all, how much higher would they make it? Double the 15,000 rupiah the Indonesians would pay?

Later on we found out from our guide that it was a whopping US$12 per person for us to enter. I guess my 15 years of traveling the length and breadth of Indonesia has finally paid off!

Borobudur was built by Shailander dynasty in the 800s AD, so he told me. There were two dynasties then ruling Java, the other one being Sanjaya, and one was Hindu and the other Buddha.

How people in the 8th century in medieval Java have the technology to build such magnificent monument is something of a wonder to me. Afterall, all other Javanese or Nusantara kingdoms such as Majapahit, Sri Vijaya, or Melaka for that matter did not leave us much in term of stone structure. Much of the old istanas built of wood would have been eaten by time, and the environment, I guess.

And since I was a disciple of Dr Ali Shariati's teaching during my university days, what does it take to build such a magnificent monument? How many 'slaves' - if you must use the context of how the Pharoah built the pyramid, did it take to build it, and how many had died in the harsh tropical environment in the 8th century.

These are some of the points we pondered upon as we looked in awe at the Borobudur.

Ramayana comes alive

Growing up in Taiping, our house was always like a library. Bapak would buy all kind of Malay/Indonesian novels and of course religious books. Mak would make us save our pocket money and buy Cinderella. Of course my elder sis would buy Enid Blyton's and all kind of Mills & Boon, while I would go for Alfred Hitchcock's.

I was taken by the story when I was in primary school. The Malay version of Hikayat Seri Rama was edited by one Onn, and published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. Actually I would think it was a Malaynised version of the epic Hindu scripture. In fact make that Islamic. I mean, when the Emperor Rahwana requested Allah for four kingdoms for him to rule, the person who granted his wishes was no other than the prophet Adam.

In Jogja, the story of Ramayana came alive for me.

(The irresistible Sita Dewi, queen for Seri Rama and the object of desire and obsession for Maharaja Rawana. She is so gracefully in this dance play.)

(Maharaja Rawana wooing Sita Dewi with her resisting all the way before he decides to kidnap her. Unfortunately it was raining, so the play was done in a hall and we were seated on the third row, so at times the heads of those tourists in front of us - and they are bigger than us, would interrupt our view and of course the camera. I didn't have the time to edit them yet.)

So with the love story of Seri Rama and Sita Dewi intertwined into this epic, it would make a compelling ready for this school boy deprived of television in the early 70s. With no visual outlet, the imagination would make it a more fantasy - make that a fantastic fantasy with the imagination running wild with each chapter.

The battle between Seri Rama and the sons of Rawana, Indrajit among others would easily put any modern tales or Hollywood blockbuster and epic to become B Grade movie. One can imagine Seri Rama with the help of Laksamana, and Hanuman battling the forces of evil. If I am not mistaken, indrajit has 1000 hands and heads and each time one cuts off his limbs, it would grow again.

(The riots of colour in this battle of evil versus good. Hanuman, the monkey king was there; so were Jentayu the bird who eventually lost all its limbs in the battle with Rawana, and fell down to earth. It was mesmerizing for us.)

As I have said, the story is set with the prophet Adam as the ultimate religious icon, and this makes it palatable to this 12 year old mind.

And this Sendratari is a must go for anyone visiting Jogja.

I do wish we could see the play in the open air theatre with the Prambanan temple as the backdrop, but this would only be held during "bulan purnama" and the next play was only scheduled in May.

To me, a decade ago, Jogja is all about Borobudur, Prambanan and Kraton, and all things monuments. This classical dance play changed it all in my perspective. Jogja is much more than her medieval ruins.

She is alive with her cultural heritage.

I am enjoying my ice-cream before it melts!