Friday, December 01, 2006

Bangsa Malaysia in Lloyd Fernando's Green is the Colour

I very much enjoyed this piece by David C.E. Tneh in The Sun on his experience teaching Lloyd Fernando's Green is the Colour :
Three weeks ago, when the entire political landscape of Malaysia was embroiled in the perennial debate over the meaning, definition, and concept of "Bangsa Malaysia", I had in my hands a dog-eared, silverfish-infested 1993 copy of Professor Lloyd Fernando's novel entitled "Green is the Colour".

Being entrusted to teach a course on Malaysian literature in English, I was really gung-ho about it. I pictured myself as Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) being given a mission impossible task to complete. Saving the world and an Asian beauty in distress while overthrowing an eastern European nuclear warlord with a penchant for world domination and a weakness for leather gloves would be a lesser challenge that teaching this course in the short semester.

While a baker's dozen or so local denizens from a political party south of Malaysia was debating intensely over the semantics of the term "Bangsa Malaysia". I imbibed myself in the essence and spirit of Fernando's novel and pondered over the coincidence and timing of such an academic endeavour.

Fernando is the first Malaysian to be a Professor of English and played a significant role in promoting Malaysian literary status in his illustrious career at University of Malaya's department of English. Published in 1993, the novel centres on Yun Ming and Siti Sara falling in love with each other in post-May 13, 1969. Never mind that both are from different racial backgrounds and faiths but both are also married at the same time to different people and thus committing adultery during a very traumatic period of Malaysian history. This only spells triple disaster for them. Furthermore, Siti Sara's father in the novel is a respected religious figure. (I rest my case.)

Written 13 years ago, Fernando's novel was considered the first English novel to be ever written on the May 13 incident and it remains the only novel that offers a possible solution to inter-racial conflict and race relations in 21st century Malaysia.

While I was explaining the intricacies of the background and plot to 35 English major undergraduates, the greatest challenge for me was to convince my students of the importance and relevance of Fernando's novel to nation-building and to Life itself. During my lectures, I treaded carefully on issues like the May 13 racial riots, the New Economic Policy, inter-racial relationships, religion, and racial integration in Malaysia.

Could my students comprehend the complexities of the love-hate relationship between Yun Ming and Siti Sara or the amoral, heinous, and Machiavellian Panglima, an up and coming government official bent on creating a "homogenous" society devoid of cultural differences and religious diversity? Could I make my students see what fear, hate, jealousy, ignorance, fanaticism, and intolerance could do to multi-racial Malaysia by people like Panglima? Or perhaps the different manifestations of the theme of Power and the tolerance of Siti Sara's father, who saw beyond race, religion, and status, and blessed Yun Ming and Sara's relationship.

I was indeed happy when my students could see and relate to Fernando's vision of a world free of prejudice, religious bigotry, and cultural intolerance. It is a world where green is the colour of innocence, new hope, a new beginning, a primeval and natural state of existence - a return to Nature. And like Nature that does not discriminate, paradise on earth is not elusive but attainable if individuals love one another indiscriminately like Yun Ming and Siti Sara. Perhaps this is why, bearing the present circumstances, that Fernando's timeless novel is more relevant and appealing in the present than when it was published in 1993.

In all sincerity, it was satisfying teaching Malaysian literature in English to this wonderful group of multi-racial students who could take stock of what was happening to their beloved country. In the glint of their eyes, I could feel the intensity of their longing for an idyllic world of love, tranquillity, and understanding, a world that is free from oppression, obsession, and intolerance. They were truly "colour-blind" to one another's differences and this was truly encouraging.

Amidst the laughter, smiles, and bashfulness of my final lecture, I realised that I was slowly discovering myself, and I saw, just for a fleeting moment, a vivid glimpse of Fernando's world in my class of 35, where indeed, Green is the Colour.

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