Monday, January 23, 2012

Aku di Sebuah Pulau & the state of Malay literature

After attending another (never-ending) meeting one Monday last month, I decided to reward myself with a trip to the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka bookstore. My auntie MakCak (Maznah Bab) was one in the first batch of staff in DBP (formerly known at Balai Pustaka with its first office in JB in 1956), which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2006.
I went in hoping I can find some books that I used to read when we were kids. I didn’t put too much hope, for we are not known to appreciate our literary treasures, unlike in the west. I remember when Anwar Ibrahim was the DPM, he made a remark about the state of literature in Malaysia; I remember this well because it struck a chord with me then (now, very seldom Malaysian politicians would be able to strike a chord with me. In most instances I would vehemently disagree with them. We practically have nothing in common!) One can easily go to MPH or Kinokuniya and one would be able to get the many editions of say Shakespeare, and Tom Sawyers, and the many classics of English literature, from the abridge to the actual manuscript. But one would have to hunt down high and low for Malay classics.
I went to the info counter and asked if she knew where I can find books from the 70s. The answer was negative. I gave a few titles and she punches in her computer; again the result was negative. Hey, I am talking about the DBP HQ here ok, not some small bookstore in in rural Dungun! These people are not giving it their best shot at all, as if their potential customers like me are disturbing their leisure hour.
However, I found a 1988 manuscript of Malays traditional song notes for the piano; Akmal has given it a try and I think it was beautifully arranged by Ooi Eow Jin, Alfonso Soliano and the likes. This is rare. We have all kinds of classical books and piano notes from Symphony No.5 to Concierto de Aranjuez, but no, we can’t find the notes for Mak Inang, or Sri Mersing until today. Especially for the piano.
That was not the only joyous moment for me. As I went browsing, I saw this book that sounds familiar “Benda Ajaib di Bilik Tertutup”. I was elated. The book is a sci-fi short story for children, which was first published in 1969. I think I read this book while I was in Std 5 given by MakCak. It was a nostalgic moment for me, for I love that book and the stories in it quite a bit then, and it nurtured my love for science. The ‘benda ajaib’ is actually a rocket that the narrator’s brother was building in secret much to the chagrin and curiosity of the narrator, and other stories included a machine that one can drive up and down a coconut tree for picking coconut. Yes, simple stories for a simple kid from a much simpler time then.
More were to come. Ahad was another novel we all used to read; Ahad being the acronym for Amin, Hassan and Dahlan who were all born on Sunday. Its story was set in the 50s. How Yusof has three sons all born on the same day is for me to know and for you to find out. The three brothers were sent to different schools - English, Malay and religious schools. Aku di Sebuah Pulau is another short story book that was published in the 70s that I bought that day.
I lamented to the chashier on some books I could not find. She turned to a lady standing near me by indicating that I should be asking her. “Surely,” I told her, “DBP should have SUBOH, but I don’t remember the author anymore.” “Atan Long,” came the reply. It was quite immediate. Yes, Atan Long, I remember him now, while grinning from ear to ear. Now I have found someone in the know about Malaysia’s literary scene. She promised to look for it. Suboh was probably set in the difficult 50s (me think), and told the story of a teacher who was posted to the interior, and had a room at the ketua kampung’s house, courtesy of him of course. It was the story of his trial and tribulation and he later on fell in love and eventually marry his daughter. What else? But it was well written I must admit and this was one novel that kept me occupied during the years of no TV!
I remember that there is another cover, an abstract  painting of the new
 day dawning. It is a perfect cover for the book.

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!
Instead of answering me, she looked at me and asked me, “Encik mengajar di mana?” Mengajar? I smiled back and told her I am not a teacher or a lecturer. I just love those books that I have read when I was a kid. And one need not be professionally associated with the literary world to read and love those books. I was taught to love books – Bapak and Mak had made it a culture in our family.
(She also invited me to attend the poem recitals to be attended by Dr Koh Tsu Koon on some Ma Hua literature. Ah well, she is over-estimating my interest and capability in literature!)
I also remember the many books I read as a kid, at my nenek house in Aulong. Si Pitak was one. I tried surfing; Si Pitak is out of stock at Amazon. I can barely remember his story though, but to me, Si Pitak was our Tom Sawyer. One can really be amazed by his many adventures (or he could be our Tin Tin actually – Didn’t I tell you, one could find Tin Tin and Asterix easier in KL than Si Pitak?). If anyone out there knows where I can get hold of Si PitakSuboh and Hikayat Seri Rama, please let me know.
Friday May 4, 2007 - 10:09pm (SGT) Permanent Link | 0 Comments

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