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.