Saturday, March 31, 2007

Indigestion and Protocol

I was actually quite flattered to be asked along to the official opening dinner for KLILF hosted by the MP for Lembah Pantai, Dato' Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil

So flattered I guess that I ignored the warning light in my head that said "Avoid ye official protocol laden functions ... ". (I even try to give wedding dinners a skip!)

See, I had in my mind the sort of function that I'd have loved it be - an intimate cocktail party full of fascinating folks to talk to, plate of delicious tidbits in one hand, large glass of excellent Australian Riesling in the other. It wasn't like that.

I remembered a fable a someone once told me about hell.

This guy was given a conducted tour by an angel. Hell wasn't at all what he expected: there was a table laden with the most delicious food he had ever seen. But when it came to time to eat, the inhabitants of hell were all given six foot long spoons so that although they could scoop food up, they couldn't put it in their mouths. The thing you desire most sits tantalizingly within your sights, but you cannot reach it.

So it was with this evening. I could see all my friends, all these really interesting writers from around the world at neighbouring tables, but I couldn't talk to any of them because there was no let up in the noise level the whole evening. Speeches were followed by declarations of Malay poetry were followed by a woman belting out cover versions. (Dina told me she is a very famous Malay pop-star called Dayang Nurfaizah.)

The politicians who graced the occasion were the Deputy Prime Minister, YAB Dato’ Sri Mohd. Najib Tun Razak and (the beloved of bloggers) Minister for Tourism Tengku Adnan.

Prof. Lim Chee Seng gave a speech about the launching of the Malaysian International Literary Society which was behind KLILF, and applauded himself once more about being instrumental in getting literature back on the school syllabus. Najib's wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, the patron for the event, gave a speech. Then her husband gave a long speech about the value of Malay literature.

Anyway, I wasn't listening too closely I'm afraid as I was concentrating on eating the green chillies with my chopsticks to try to ward off the growling pangs of hunger. But my friends said later how strange it was that the achievements of our Malaysian writers in English, those guys whose writing has won international recognition, were not mentioned at all.

Then MILS was ceremonially launched with a big explosion and a shower of coloured paper:

I went over to sit between Chris Mooney-Singh and his wife so that we could shout to each other about how we intend to do Saturday's slam.

The evening proceeded with gendang silat and then a series of readings of Malay poetry by PENA (National Writers Association of Malaysia) as the food arrived. On another day in another environment, I would have been very interested in the readings. And I did really love the excerpt from a Mak Yong performance because it is so rarely seen.

But on this occasion, the constant barrage of sound just gave me a headache.

The food was the usual Bangsar Seafood type banquet menu. Four Seasons hors d'oevres with abalone, followed shark's fin soup (immoral!!!), steamed fish, fried and steamed prawns, roast chicken, mixed vegetables, rice wrapped in lotus leaves, and dainty little tarts for desert. (But only Chinese tea to drink!)

YTL and Citigroup were the sponsors and the event must have cost a fortune.

One big mystery for me - Raman who I've always seen as the centre of this Litfest thing seems to have been totally sidelined at this dinner. I didn't hear his name mentioned in the speeches. He wasn't called upon to speak. And he was sat at a table right out on the periphery of the room looking pretty unhappy. If anyone should be thanked for the fact that all this was happening, it should be him. What are the politics of the litfest now? I haven't had my ear to the ground much.

There was one embarrassing moment towards the end of the evening when - almost as an afterthought - the international writers were invited on stage. Most had already made good their exit.



Ruby Ahmad is a lot kinder than I am and offers a survival guide to official functions in her comments.


sympozium said...

sounds like another boring-as-fart political evening masquerading as an artistic evening!

bibliobibuli said...

*LOL* you bad lah

sympozium said...

surprised the kompang troupe wasn't asked to perform :"marilah bacaaaaaa/marilah BACA!!!!"

lil ms d said...

it had to be the most BORING night ever. all those speeches. aiyoooooooooooooo. i went home to eat maggie mee.

poor raman. heard that the function was taken off his hands when the DPM and co agreed to grace the night.

it was like a general assembly.

i know this is mean, but raz and i have figured out why they're .... rotund. all these majlis etc - wargh. i am so glad i am a writer. if i had to attend all these functions, id end up mental.

sympozium said...

one of the reasons why politicos are called fat cats!

Lydia Teh said...

I wasn't there. Thanks for the update. Poor Raman.

Anonymous said...

I was there. We all know Raman is behind the LitFest. I guess that's all that matters really.

Anonymous said...

I'm really glad someone is keeping me in touch with what's going on in the Malaysian literati front. I miss that. Your report (and sense of humour) is greatly appreciated.
Rox (Abroad)

Adam said...

Sharon, I totally agree about Raman. Phew. I knew how hungry Dina was. I heard the gurglings. Thank God I had late lunch that afternoon, else I'd be chain smoking in the foyer.

I wished it was more of a care-free and informal night. Event like this should be enjoyed by mingling around and talking to the writers. How often do we get them to come?

Though MPH seemed to own our very own Tash Aw, but I'd be glad if I were him. (They snatched him to a VIP-like event at the same time of the dinner at MPH Bookstore in 1U.) Lucky him.

sympozium said...

I am sure Raman doesn't want glory at all and is quite happy to stay in the shadows. After all, I am sure he is doing all of this for the love of literature.

saras said...

Yeah, I agree Raman was treated pretty shabbily at the dinner. When Prof Lim (i think) thanked Citigroup and YTL, and other sponsors, there was still no mention of Raman at all, or of Silverfish; not even a record of thanks to the actual people on the ground who did much of the work. It was all very puzzling. In the event, the event appeared hijacked by people who had nothing to do with the lit fest. Perhaps Raman should be grateful - the dinner was such a boring yawn and to be associated with that was no compliment.
Incidentally I saw Raman and Phek Chin and Usha at the various venues of the lit fest - didn't see any other MIL peole around, did you?

sympozium said...


Kenny Mah said...

Hmm, from this report, I think you were probably much happier today at the Poetry Slam, Sharon --- surrounded by people who actually cared about poetry and literature and having their voices heard.

This notion of 'hijacking' the event is disturbing. But again, as mentioned before, we know who actually did the real work behind the festival, fat cats or no fat cats.

Anonymous said...

perhaps if raman was nicer to the right people, he wouldn't have been sidelined. it is no secret that he has irritated many with his aloofness. the man's got a ego the size of an iceberg, so it is only natural that he got snubbed.

poor raman, indeed. for all his virtue, the ability to wade through the political minefield is not one of them. i won't mince words: this is a lesson in humility for him.

Yang-May said...

I'm reminded of the scene in Pride & Prejudice (I think it's that one of Austen's novels) where Lizzie is playing the piano and everyone chatters loudly through it but it is only Mr D'Arcy who really listens and appreciates the music... Were there any D'Arcy's there?

bibliobibuli said...

sympozium - the kompang idea is actually a good one! next time, hey?

anonymous (1) - quite right. WE know who actually did the work and got the event off the ground.

rox - you are most welcome. this was the more politically correct version of the post i wrote to begin with! no point getting oneself chucked out of the country!

sara - didn't see any other MIL people around, did you? very good point. i actually wonder quite what the other sponsors actually did. the event that cost the most money clearly was the self-congratulatory dinner. the events themselves were sponsored, i think, by the venues ...

kenny - yeah enjoyed the slam much much more than the dinner! (pics and write-up to come).

anonymous (2) - yes, there is always that. but i know for my own part, no matter how angry i've been with raman in the past, his love of literature is genuine and he has done a great deal to get things off the ground here. that should be respected and acknowledged, even as we move on from there and get our own literary projects off the ground. i think this event didn't just teach him humility but trampled him into the ground a bit and i feel very sad for him.

yang- may - there probably were some mr. darcy's there. i would have loved more of the mak yong. but some of the high flown patriotic deklamasied verse made me think of vogon poetry. my brain cells were distorted due to hunger though i think so i can't judge fairly.

Greenbottle said...

ai hai...all i can say is serve you right when you want to mix things up with these party (political)people ...

next year if you involve these people again, it'll get worse...stay away from all these goons...

animah said...

Symposium! Your daily dose of sarcasm has been much missed. Welcome back.
Sharon, the dinner sounds more nightmarish than your dream. I'm surprised Najib and Rosmah didn't start signing. You'd never get the mike off them after that.
Has anyone seen Tell (the mag that Dina writes for) in the shops? Can't find it. Apparently it has an excellent pic of Rosmah.

bibliobibuli said...

rosmah apparently doesn't like the pic on the front of Tell and i heard on the grapevine that she apparently had words with the editor - but i think it captures her very well

i like the magazine v. much and you can read my copy

Anonymous said...

Ha... HHGTTG rules :) and you CAN eat with a six-foot-long spoon, all you have to do is hold it closer to the bowl end :D

- THe original Anonymous :D

bibliobibuli said...

in the original fable the same guy was taken next on a tour of heaven. the same tables here were laden with the same food. and the inhabitants here also had 6' long spoons. the difference was that they fed each other.

moral value = cooperation.

sympozium said...

Is that what they call "spooning" ?

bibliobibuli said...

uggggh. why are you on such sparkling form today, symp?

sympozium said...

:-))) Donno! No one to be bitchy with, I reckon!

Dina Zaman said...

i have not recovered from that dinner yet.

esshhh. next time these people want to throw a dinner they should hire me and co. huhuhu. i'll get the madcap dancers and my mother's tudungs to brighten the event.

animah - erm. it's GREEN. but woohoo great hair.

greenbottle - where is my birthday gift?!

bibliobibuli said...

symp - poor lamb. just hang around here then and bait the other stalkers.

ms d - what is green? her hair??

ruby ahmad said...

Good morning Sharon,

Thank you for the mention here. Better late than never as they say. I like the way you coined it, 'a survival guide to official functions'. That sounds so cool. You great ways with words my dear.

As I have said personally to you at MPH, Bangsar, and wish to say it in print that you are doing a marvellous job (definitely an understatement), informing us of the literary goings on in great detail here. TQ.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks ruby, and i clearly have a lot to learn from you!!