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Conference on Overcoming Passions: Race, Religion and the Coming Community in Malaysian Literature, organised by the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore on 11 - 12 October 2004

Updated: 22-Sep-04



The Malaysian Dream: The Pessimistic View of a Bilingual Writer

Salleh Ben Joned Writer, Malaysia

The paper will be essentially autobiographical, in the sense that I will use my writings both in Malay and English, creative and non-creative, and the reactions to them from the Malay-reading and English-reading publics. The paper will analyse these very different reactions (in the former case a virtual non-reaction), and speculate about what they tell us about Malaysias multi-cultural reality. Ill make the provocative claim that though Malay is the official National Language, English is the virtual national language, certainly among middle class Malaysians. English, now a global language, is very often spoken even by Malays among themselves, thats partly why the overwhelming majority of my readers are the English-educated; this despite the fact that in the first edition of my bi-lingual poetry book Sajak-Sajak Saleh/Poems Sacred and Profane, two thirds of the poems are in BM. The book was not reviewed at all in any Malay publication. I feel that my way of writing poetry in Malay (the use of irony and parody in the satirical or semi-satirical poems, for example) cannot be appreciated by the majority of Malay readers; and the Malay I use, unlike that of the vast majority of Malay poets and writers, is the earthy Malay as spoken in daily life, The fact that in the second edition of the book, I increased to number of English poems so that its now 50/50 bi-lingual suggests something in the context of the multi-cultural reality of Malaysia. This is reinforced by the fact that my next collection, Adams Dream in His, which will be out before the end of the year, is entirely in English. What this means is that I believe English is much better as the medium for cross-ethnic and cross-cultural communication. Ive also been working on a novel, and it is in English. It seems Salleh Ben Joned the bi-lingual poet and writer will perhaps cease to exist before very long. I lament is possibility. I suppose Ill be legitimizing the ultra-nationalists branding of me as a Mat Saleh writer! Biodata Salleh Ben Joned is now a house-husband who writes poetry and is working on his only novel. Until two years ago, he was for many years a freelance feature-writer and columnist with, consecutively, a number of publications. As a columnist he is best known for his provocative As I Please in The New Straits Times (collected in two books, As I Please and Nothing is Sacred). The second enlarged edition of his bilingual poetry collection Poems Sacred & Profane/Sajak-sajak Saleh came out last year. As I Please was reprinted early this year. For obvious reasons Salleh has actually written more than he has published. One of the works he wrote many years ago, a play called The Amok of Mat Solo, will be done as a rehearsed reading for invited guests only by The Actors Studio. The decision to do this is due to the certainty felt by The Actors Studio that the play would be banned if a staging is attempted. Sallehs new collection of poems, Adams Dream, long over-due, will come out sometime before the end of this year.

Conference on Overcoming Passions: Race, Religion and the Coming Community in Malaysian Literature, organised by the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore on 11 - 12 October 2004

Updated: 22-Sep-04



Speaking in Tongues: The Kavyan Writers

Uthaya Sankar S. B. and S.G. Prabhawathy Malaysia

This paper examines the history of creative writings produced by Malaysian Indian writers in the Malay language from the early twentieth century until the emergence of the Kayvan writers in the late 1990s. In comparison to their precedessors, the majority of Malaysian Indian writers who write in Malay and came onto the scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s were educated in the Malay medium and thus have a better command of the language. Some of these writers, however, believe that since they write in Bahasa Melayu (Malay language), they should also write about budaya Melayu (Malay culture) and Islam. They prefer to be known as penulis bukan Melayu (non-Malay writers), as opposed to penulis kaum India (Malaysian Indian writers) because, as one of them put it, this term puts me closer to the Malays. By the late 1990s, a handful of these new writers had come realised that something had to be done to identify themselves in the Malaysian literary scene as Malaysian Indian writers and Malaysian writers not merely Non-Malay writers. The ensuing soulsearching led to the formation of Yayasan Sasterawan Kaum India Malaysia (Malaysian Indian Writers Foundation), better known as Kayvan, and the production of Sastera Kavyan (Kavyan writings). The final section of this paper will examine the stylistics and some of the thematic preoccupation of Kayvan writers in the context of race, religion and community. Biodata Uthaya Sankar S. B. is a lecturer and Bahasa creative writer. He has written a few books and won several literary awards. He is the founding president of Kavyan. S.G. Prabhawathy is an English language teacher and Bahasa Malaysia creative writer. She writes short stories, poem and articles. Prabha is the secretary of Kavyan. She can be contacted at

Conference on Overcoming Passions: Race, Religion and the Coming Community in Malaysian Literature, organised by the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore on 11 - 12 October 2004

Updated: 22-Sep-04



Roots and Routes: Travel and Identity

Beth Yahp Writer &

Roots and Routes: Travel and Identity presents a personal perspective on the journeying self referred to by Kaur et al (eds.) in Travel Worlds: Journeys in Contemporary Cultural Politics (Zed Books, London, 1999): a self in which lifes journey and journeys across the globe are conflated; a self manifest in both historical and contemporary Malaysian experience, given our significant im/emigrant population coupled with our ongoing defining of identity (Malaysia as a nation, Malaysians as hyphenated nationals mix-and-matched in colour-coded conceptions of unity). Ill consider family trajectories (the personal reflecting global as well as specifically Malaysian trends of travel due to education, work, love...) as well as my own (Kuala Lumpur-Sydney-Paris-?); how these have affected/informed my creative output: the constant negotiations involved in my explorations of story, home, belonging, voice, language, representation and authenticity. A context of lived cultural hybridity has resulted in a crisscrossing of cultural borders in my prose work and works such as the opera Moon Spirit Feasting by composer Liza Lim-my libretto of which was inspired by the Chinese myth of the Moon Goddess, the Penang Hungry Ghost Festival, a Daoist sex manual in English, Chinese ideography as well as vaudeville, high Beijing opera and Malaysian religious on-the-street rituals: which then travelled in performance to Australia, Europe and Japan. Biodata Beth Yahp was born in Malaysia of Chinese-Thai parents. She went to university in Australia when she was 20, and lived there for 14 years before moving to Paris. She is now based somewhere between Sydney, Kuala Lumpur and Paris. Her novel The Crocodile Fury (Angus & Robertson, 1992; Flamingo, 1996) won the Victorian Premier's Prize for First Fiction and the NSW Ethnic Affairs Commission Award in Australia. It has been published in Singapore and Malaysia (SIRD, 2003) and translated into several European languages.

Conference on Overcoming Passions: Race, Religion and the Coming Community in Malaysian Literature, organised by the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore on 11 - 12 October 2004

Updated: 22-Sep-04



Autobiographical Narrative and the Emergence of a Malay Muslim Identity:

Che Husna Azharis The Rambutan Orchard

Amin Malak Grant MacEwan College, Edmonton

Alberta, Canada

As an autobiographical narrative, The Rambutan Orchard (1993) reveals Azharis formative experiences growing up in rural Kelantan, where her Malay milieu is permeated with the ethos of Islam. With an identity-shaping valence, Islam emerges from Azharis five interlinked stories as a tolerant, inclusive matrix, within which identity is not seen as a contrast to the other but as an organic affiliation to an idyllically caring community. The book reveals an attachment to a place, an engagement with an environment, an orchard, which explicitly evokes the concept of Jannah, the Quranic vision of an orchard paradise. Informed by the theoretical insights of Bakhtin, Foucault, and Said, my paper situates Azharis narrative within the context of Muslim women writing in English who often emulate the Shahrazadic model of storytelling. Azhari is thus prompted by the joy of telling stories that are retrieved, reconstructed, or reinvented for the pleasure of the exercise itself. Moreover, the narrative reveals first-hand an aspect about the Malay culture that is seldom articulated in English with such fidelity and intelligence. The blend of humour and compassion gives an added appeal to the work that celebrates rural Malaysias integrative identifi