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On some days.

On some days

Eyes two pairs

They stare

Gaze

Look

Whisper

Talk

Eyes two pairs

Laugh

Shout

Increase

Decrease

Volume

Life’s buttons are

Wobbly

Unsteady

Trying to find

The right frequency

To be happy.

Eyes two pairs

Struggle

Effort runs in the miles

Of a solitary action to

Close one eye

Discard and walk away

From life’s blinding light.

Eyes two pairs

Both refuse to shut

Both are tough nuts

To crack.

The light intrudes on teary mascara laden

Eyelids

Tear

Tear

Tear

Human tears

Of a second’s happiness

Supersedes a lifetime of

Pain.

I love you.

Did I tell you?

Eyes two pairs

Shine.

Poem.

Something from an old dusty book, jottings of my former self. Looking back, reflecting.  Enjoy.

Yesterday was a day that I thought was today,

Yes and No meant saying why one day,

Today, tomorrow or never,

Things should get better…No? Yes?

Tomorrow I will swing by the discount store

And state the dates, the numbers in my mind,

22-7-96, or was it 69-22-7 or 22-69-7?

Next week I will wonder about this week,

And how my tomorrows become today because of what

I said

Yesterday.

What is your favourite song from your band that you like to play, that you identify with?

A lot of people have asked me that question. Looking back a few years at a worn, out scrapbook that I keep for writing my lyrics (old school, yes!) I have to say without a doubt, our first song together as a band- PJs.

What is PJs about?

Post-adolescent angst. Disappointment. Frustration of things and events which were taking place around me and the inability to control them. A sense of jadedness and latent anger engulfed my younger days, on several levels. I was disappointed with Malaysia’s political direction, that despite huge changes in 2008 you realise that very few politicians are willing to sacrifice their popularity and mandate to do what was needed to be done. Different camps, different factions but they all wore the same skin. They were all, at point of time our Personal Jesus (PJs)- promising change, promising grandoise dreams but without actually tackling the existing social-political structure that perpetrated this on-going discourse.

In that sense, PJs was a translation about my disappointment at political leaders and parties that say things they don’t mean or fully understand. A realisation that at the same politicians are not the ones to look for to challenge “truths” that institutions hold as self evident- they won’t go that extra mile, no sir not for you or me.

But as we started playing this song for years and years, it changed its meaning, and that’s the beautiful part about music, the ability to move beyond its intended meaning. I’ve had people come to me and talk about how they related the words and feel of the song to their failed relationships, how people they’ve cared about let them down.

So here it goes, one more time. I performed the song solo during last year’s Christmas eve. The lyrics are as below. Enjoy people. 🙂

Freeloaders Inc- PJs

Verse 1

I prayed for a cure for my pain

You came from above, cloudy skies of red

Whispering peace foretold tales of joy

Forget my sorrows, you laid them to bed

You had shiny shoes you wore a polished smile

Spoke the good word sold me lies

Poverty war turned me to you

Hope made me put my trust in you

Chorus

Would you be my personal jesus

Sleeping on a cross up high in the sky

The roads are paved with evil intentions

Verse 2

Sleeping in my far corner of solitude

You slowly crept into my waking dreams

From ashes to ashes my dreams never faltered

From dust to dust you never delivered

Chorus

Would you be my personal jesus

Sleeping on a cross up high in the sky

The roads are paved with evil intentions

You’ve hung me out here to dry

Would you be my personal jesus

Sleeping on a cross up high in the sky

The roads are paved with evil intentions

You’ve hung me out here to dry

Bridge

On the rocks all the time ring-ring-ring-ring

Let freedom roll with every rhyme ring-ring-ring-ring

On the rocks all the time ring-ring-ring-ring

Let freedom roll with every rhyme ring-ring-ring-ring

Won’t you be my personal jesus

Sleeping on a cross up high in the sky

The roads are paved with evil intentions…

Chorus

Won’t you be my personal jesus

Sleeping on a cross up high in the sky

The roads are paved with evil intentions

You’ve hung me out here to dry

Is my right your wrong?

Back home in Malaysia, the state identifies the “nation” and its people as being embedded within a multitude of different cultures, faiths and beliefs. And that this is our strength, that “we”, as a nation are as diverse as they come. The state i.e the government proudly posits that we hold on to our “Asian values” of tolerance and understanding, which is well-played by the media during festive occasions. Open houses, Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ibans, Bidayuhs, expatriates sampling delectable cuisines that differ from their “original culture” are representative of this so-called “multiculturalism”.

Malaysian multiculturalism, in the form of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s 1 Malaysia brand is being sold to citizens as a blend between modernist and progressive Islam, a form of governance which supposedly thrives in the concept of diversity; that as a nation its peoples and citizens are encouraged to display and promote the idea of “unity within difference,” that Malaysians are connected by a sense of “national identity” and loyalty, recognition to their land of residence.

This comes at a time where European nations like UK, France and Germany have declared the term as a “failed project” in the face of growing Islamophobia, the argument being that  while multiculturalism has encouraged a maintenance of communal values and beliefs, it has brought about societies polarised, divided without a true sense of belonging to their country of residence. The solution, for many of the Western nations, is to keep the differential aspects of a person’s identity within the “private sphere”. This means you identity yourself as a member of the “nation” first before you identity with your religious and cultural beliefs.

multiculturalismcartoon

Has the multiculturalism project failed? Bringing it back to Malaysia and looking at recent news headlines, is the Western approach a succient one? Should a person’s identity be publicly tied to allegiance to the state? Will that “solve” the contesting demands of recognition within a diverse society?

I don’t have a definitive answer for this. Nation-building is a process. It is tiresome, tricky and it often backfires, much like a trial-and-error experiment. But first let me try and refocus my piece on Malaysia. I do not think that it is as easy as saying that “multiculturalism is dead.” It was never an experiment or even a project to begin with. What multiculturalism is the convergence of different identities within a common platform, and sometimes these different characters don’t necessarily mix well. But what needs to always be done is “reconstitution”, that is a multicultural society should always be adapting from time to time.

Case in point: Malaysia recognises itself as a multicultural society, yes but let’s say that there should be two layers to “multiculturalism”- the first being the process of understanding and tolerating different ethnic identities, and the second layer being conceptualising a “space” for these identities to find an amicable, agreed approach to demands and needs. Malaysia excels in the first layer but struggles to create and maintain the second layer- that space for “common discourse.”

A lot of academic debate has so far maintained that one of the reasons why Malaysian policies making is still predominantly pro-Bumiputera is due to the fact that the constitution in itself was fashioned that way; a concession of agreements that appeased the “Malays”, who were seen as the original peoples of “Malaysia” with special rights while granting ethnic minorities who have been living in the nation citizenship.

The problem I think, goes beyond politics. This is not just an issue of  the current Barisan Nasional administration being pro-Malay and Pakatan Rakyat being the better alternative. I doubt the issues of ethnic and minority rights would change significantly even if the federal opposition were to take over in the upcoming national polls. Because frankly, nation-building is not for politicians. Not for the Anwars or Najibs today. The position the two coalitions will take is either upholding of the status quo or superficial simple quick-fix campaign solution slogans like “Hapuskan rasuah!” (Eradicate corruption). That’s as far as it goes.

What I think is sorely missing from the viewpoint of policy and nation-building is the inability of either political factions to recognise that no man-made law should be made absolute. In Malaysia (and also many other countries, even the UK) a person or group’s identity is seen as absolute; unchanging. Jonathan Rutherford provides a good explanation of this in his book Identity, Community, Culture, Difference and I quote from him:

“Identity is about belonging, about what you have in common with some people and what differentiates you from others. At its most basic it gives you a sense of personal location, the stable core to your individuality. But it is also about your social relationships, your complex involvement with others, and in the modern world these have become ever more complex and confusing. Each of us live with a variety of potentially contradictory identities, which battle within us for allegiance…” (1990, p.88)

To sum it up and to bring it back to the Malaysian context, there has to be an understanding that nothing is set in stone. Race is socially and politically defined back home in essentialist categories- a Malay has set qualities and characteristics and so on and so forth and the same goes for other ethnicities. But who provides the definition? Should it/ Can it be challenged? Does every person agree on ethnically “prescribed” identities? Shouldn’t these identities be sifted to accommodate the identities of people today?

These are tricky questions. There is an argument that if you question these “prescribed” truths, then you question sacred constitutional laws. But even within the “Malay” community, there are distinct, differing identities. You have your liberals, conservatives, socialists and even those who have different sexual orientations. The idea that needs to be understood is that nothing is homogeneous. Identities of communities are constantly evolving in accordance with local and global trends.

If we accept this argument, then the next question is can the constitution be redefined to accept diversity? If a Malay is defined as someone who speaks the Malay language, understands Malay customs and respects the Malay rulers, why can’t other ethnic minorities also become Malay? But then you have to be Muslim to be Malay? So can this notion also be challenged?

The state argues that ethnic rights and constitutional privileges is predetermined and should not be challenged, and by positing these questions it is akin to something unlawful. But why shouldn’t man-made laws be reconstituted to be more inclusive of what Malaysia as a “nation” is today; multicultural with ideally different ethic communities having access to equitable rights.

I am not suggesting a constitutional change this very instant; for this to happen it must go through proper research. Academic, historical and contemporary data has to be collected, and a Commission representive of Malaysia’s diversity should be selected. What I am suggesting right now, for the time being for the “second layer” of multiculturalism to shine through. In order to even get to a point where Malaysians can debate or discuss on the issues I have mentioned above, there must first be recognition of the need of a platform to throw these issues out.

And this is what is sorely lacking in the Malaysian social-political debate. That it is okay and not wrong for people to question, challenge and provide alternatives to dominant discourses. There is not wrong or right here, I am not stating that being liberal is the right way to go and being conservative isn’t. What needs to come out in the public sphere is “room for debate.” Precepts like ethnic and communal rights, identities and even demands from sexual minority groups should not be scoffed at or responded to using legal action. The first step to a long journey towards nation-building is allowing the room for dissent and debate. We need to allow the different discourses to converge on a “common platform” and from there, after discussions and debates, we can then form ideas and thoughts of what is the “common platform” of the Malaysian people. And this can only happen if everyone’s views are treated equally, be it majority or minority communities. No one should be left out in this process.

My father’s friend, Johan Saravanamuttu sums this up well in The Challenge of Ethnicity: Building a Nation in Malaysia when he says: “Any attempt to “reconstitute” Malaysian multiculturalism should begin, first, by addressing the intellectual discourse.” (1994, p.107)

I believe that the embracing of diversity is a crucial aspect to any form of governance and policy-making, and it should go beyond political slogans or populist anthems. It must start with space for dissent and debate.

Fire in the house!

So I’ve experienced the efficiency of UK’s fire-fighting service. Fire alarm goes off, within five minutes a distress call is placed and the fire brigade arrives in less than 15.

The alarm in my shared unit had been misbehaving for two days in a row- resulting in sirens blazing but no reasonable explanation to it.

Today was just the same. The fire-fighters could not figure out what set off the alarm.

And then my landlord, a man of Sri Lankan descent arrived after being notified of the situation.

One of the fire-fighters scowled when she saw him, but I did not make the connection until an hour later when everything had settled down.

One of my housemates had posited that the reason why the fire-fighter gave the landlord the “look” was because there have been “many cases” where houses which caught fire or had safety issues were usually owned by “Indian people”, or those of South-Asian descent.

She went on to state that she knew of many other cases where “Indians” were slipshod and haphazard when it came to guaranteeing home safety.

Obviously, although she meant well, I was a little bit perplexed by her stereotyping.

Surely not all “Indians” living in London deserved to be type-cast like that? I’ve noticed that racial profiling is quite alive and well in hushed conversations between “friends” here.

I honestly believed that my landlord deserved the benefit of the doubt, and be given a chance to prove his conscientiousness in rectifying the matter at hand.

BUT this of course was before he came over to the house, looked at the fire safety alarms, and simply smiled saying, “It’s not faulty. Just put a shower cap to cover the alarm so it won’t be so sensitive.”

His well-crafted opinion came AFTER the alarm buzzed for 40 minutes. AFTER FIVE FIREFIGHTERS in full regalia barged in the house looking to put out the fire, and for heads to roll afterwards.

Despite fire-fighters telling us the alarm was faulty, Mr. Landlord thinks its just over-sensitive. The alarm I mean.

Complacent? Am I now doing the stereotyping? Sigh. Jury’s still out on that one.

 

Time and news

Being a journalist demands that you carry along with you a healthy dose of pessimism, curiosity, determination, and a light conscience.

Over the past few years that I have worked as a journalist, I can’t quite remember each and every story that I have written.

Curiosity got the better of me. So I went to my former company’s news site and used to search engine to find out the exact number.

Almost 2,000 articles.

Back when I was working on the field, it was all about timing. Accuracy. Figures. Statistics and numbers, making sure that my story went up first. Making sure we beat the competition. Hands typing furiously on the Blackberry, send out email updates and story flashes every three minutes, competing with local news brands like The Star, News Straits Times as well as international ones like Reuters.

With the immediate concern being the timing of a news story, most times as journalists, our interests in a subject lasts as long as the story. Once its done, we move on to the next big thing.

But working within these constraints, is there space to improve a subject or story? To give it more balance if I had the extra time?

For example, I wrote this article last year:

Transgender ‘Aleesha’ dies of heart attack, depression

By Shazwan Mustafa Kamal
Ashraf is seen covering his face with a bag as he leaves the Terengganu High Court, July 18, 2011. — file pic

Ashraf is seen covering his face with a bag as he leaves the Terengganu High Court, July 18, 2011. — file pic

KUALA LUMPUR, July 30 — Mohd Ashraf Hafiz Abdul Aziz, who underwent a sex change operation two years ago, has died from a heart attack this morning, less than two weeks after a court rejected his application to adopt a female name.

Mohd Ashraf, who wanted to be known as Aleesha Farhana Abdul Aziz, passed away at 5am at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Sultanah Nur Zahirah Hospital in Kuala Terengganu.

He was admitted yesterday evening after experiencing heart problems and low-blood pressure. Doctors confirmed yesterday that Mohd Ashraf suffered a heart attack from an “unstable angine with cardiogenic shock.”

His father, Abdul Aziz Ahmad, 60, was quoted by Bernama Online as saying Mohd Ashraf’s body will be buried after Zohor prayers this afternoon.

Abdul Aziz added that he will wait for the other family members to decide on whether the funeral will be held.

According to the father, Mohd Ashraf suffered from severe depression after his court application to change his name was rejected.

On July 18, Terengganu High Court Judge Datuk Mohd Yazid Mustafa said that the application by Ashraf , 25, was rejected because of his chromosomes, the presence of male genitals when the applicant was born, and the presence of male internal organs.

Ashraf, who filed the application in court on May 25, underwent the operation in Thailand in 2009 after passing a psychological assessment in the Pantai Medical Centre.

———————————————————————————

One of the remarks a reader posted online was that I should have been more aware or cognisant of Aleesha’s gender, and that being transgender meant that SHE had the right to be addressed the way she wanted.

I remember writing the story in ten minutes, and that was the end of it.

Looking back at it now, would I have changed anything?

Journalists should  not function as moral gatekeepers. They perform the duty of reporting facts, despite their own views. But could this story had been more thoroughly written, given the nature of the issue and the exposure it deserved? Every day the transgender community in Malaysia face persecution from religious authorities simply because of their identity, of their right to assert who they want to be. Many of them are actually practicing Muslims, which makes it a double bind.

But there was a bigger story after that last year. I remember now. A politician made a racist remark or something. On to the next scoop.

If I had the chance to do things again, would I change this story, given the constraints of time and the hunt for more hard news? I dont know. But I do regret not doing so for this case.

Home. Sick. Food.

Being sick and hungry WILL make you miss home more than usual. No joke.

I was quite literally bed-ridden for the past week, was down with flu, fever, and cough. The whole nine yards. A diet of toast with tomato soup didn’t lift my spirits either.

I began thinking about home, and about so many of the other things I missed. Besides loved ones, family, friends, my car, my old job, my apartment, I’ve come to realise the essence of my state of being in missing home. The fulfillment lacking in me is because London does NOT have one of these:

kayu

Lo and behold. The simple yet wonderful, alluring invite of your local Nasi Kandar restaurant. With at least 5 branches within a 2 mile radius, it fulfills almost any Malaysia’s needs. A typical nasi kandar (meaning a rice dish mixed with different curries, spices, chicken, egg, meat, vegetables) would serve other dishes ranging from fried noodles, beef soup to tandoori naan and paratha. Some shops even have customised drinks and food!

The term “nasi kandar” originated from Penang, and island in Malaysia during the early 20th century. Indian traders would ply simple dishes like rice, fish curry and lady’s fingers from door to door. These dishes would be balanced on their shoulders using a pole, with the dishes on either side of the pole. The trader would have to saddle the food on his or her shoulders , which in Malay means “kandar.” Hence the term was created.

Although today’s version of nasi kandar restaurants have become more commercialised with many shops having branches throughout the country, you can still find some “aunthentic” outlets within the inner parts of Penang town. But most of these shops share these common traits, which cannot be found in London:

  • The food is cheap. A decent meal will cost you less than RM10, which is about 2 British pounds.
  • most Nasi Kandar outlets open 24 HOURS a day. This means you can simply head on over to one WHENEVER you feel hungry ir even slightly peckish. Some shops even offer a FREE delivery service right to your doorstep.
  • There is a variety of food, with even “Western” dishes available like chips and burgers. The taste however varies from shop to shop.
  • It’s a good social meeting spot. Friends, work colleagues, families regularly frequent nasi kandar shops. Many people also go to nasi kandar shops to watch live football matches. A sea of footy fans can literally be seen in many of these shops every time there is a football match.

But back to reality. I learnt (through lots of trial and errors) to cook. Which is good because eating out every single day in London is EXPENSIVE. So here a few pictures of my attempts to feed myself:

DSCN1972 DSCN2018 DSCN2022 DSCN2024 DSCN2075

Having said that, the first thing I’m going to do once I’m back in Malaysia is head to the nearest Nasi Kandar shop to eat. You can take the boy from Malaysia, but you can’t take the Malaysian out of him.

HarsH ReaLiTy

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