Sunday, March 02, 2008

Remembering Lloyd

Kee Thuan Chye refers to his friend Lloyd Fernando in today's Starmag as :
... truly a scholar and a gentleman ... a man of grace and polish ... (who) loved literature and imparted his knowledge to his students with such passion that it made an indelible impact on their lives
He describes how Lloyd achieved his own education under difficult circumstances, migrating with his family from Sri Lanka when he was 12, and then during the war years having to work at a succession of menial jobs (including trishaw rider - can you imagine?) before he could continue his studies.

He completed his Senior Cambridge exam, and then worked as a teacher before he was able to enter university at the age of 29 and became an assistant lecturer at Universiti Malaya. He did a PhD with Leeds university and became a full professor in 1967. (Later of course he also became a lawyer and set up in practice.)

His contribution to Malaysian literature was enormous :
He was really the only person at the time visibly promoting new writing in English. He edited the landmark anthology 22 Malaysian Stories (1962) that gave recognition to fiction writers, the most outstanding of whom was Lee Kok Liang. Deservedly, that volume has seen numerous reprints and been adopted as a text in literature classes. It was even reissued more than 40 years later, in 2005.

Lloyd also brought attention to Malaysian playwrights. He edited New Drama One and New Drama Two (both published in 1972), which presented the works of Lee Joo For, Edward Dorall, Syed Alwi, and others. Without these two volumes, some of the plays of our pioneering playwrights might have now been lost.
Chye goes on to talk about how Lloyd:
... often spoke about his vision of a multicultural Malaysia transcending race and religion. That was something we had in common, together with our concern for racial integration and equality.

He dealt with these themes in his novels, Scorpion Orchid (1976) and Green Is the Colour (1993). Some have criticised his style as being too academic in its detachment, but the message shines through nonetheless.

I regard the novels as two of the most important works of Malaysian fiction in any language. They came from a writer who loved his country enough to advocate eschewing narrow tribal concerns in favour of humanism and harmony.

Lloyd once told me that one of the challenges he encountered in his writing was his constant attempt to find ways of expressing himself in English without sounding “English English”. He avoided stock epithets and turns of phrase. He strove for Malaysian inflection. Those who mistook him for a patrician professor of English – no doubt reinforced at one time by his pipe-smoking penchant – never saw the colloquial Malaysian side of Lloyd.
I think Shirley Lim's tribute to him is particularly apt :
If Malaysia had more like him, our history would have been very different, and as a people and a nation we would be in a much better position.
Professor Lim Chee Seng in the New Sunday Times calls Lloyd :
... the man who can be said to have shaped the Department of English at the country’s oldest university. He also calls him a literary activist (a term I really love) and mentions his setting up of the Malaysian Association for Commonwealth literature and Language Studies (MACLALS) which is still active to this day.
He says of Scorpion Orchid and Green is the Colour :
These novels focused on the theme of nation in ways which stimulated thinking on the urgent questions of what it means to be a Malaysian and how significant it is to be thoughtful in approaching the issues of living together in a multicultural society, in which demagogues and propagandists can sometimes usurp and sometimes distort the public discourse about the profoundly important issue of building the nation in prosperity and harmony.
Prof Lim says that he intendeds to celebrate Lloyd's life and work with a
... festschrift* volume with the working title, Essays In Honour Of Lloyd Fernando, which will feature academic essays, poems, reminiscences and even photographic work to honour a deeply influential and much loved professor, novelist, friend, husband and father.
And I reckon the best way for the rest of us to commemorate Lloyd is to read his novels.

(Ignoramus me didn't know what this word meant and had to look it up.)


dreamer idiot said...

As I did some recalling of Scorpion Orchid, one of the most disturbing and still haunting question, is that despite all our multiracial relationships and friendships, would we really still see each other as brothers and sisters when it comes to the crunch, under the crucible and fire of crisis...

Prof Lim Chee Seng is right when speaking of demagogoes and propagandists, especially now during this election time, and not too lately certain events, where the spectre of racial riots were raised and threatened by a few politicians against so called 'nons'

Despite his sad passing, I think he may have been graciously spared from seeing more pain from this beloved country of his and ours,

May the memory of him, his work, life and inspiration remind us to work hard to make this country what he and many other visionaries both before and present dream of.

Anonymous said...

What an inspiring man. But how far our country has come from his dream, and how sad for him to have to see that before he died.

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

i remembered reading green is the colour during my tesl years. it had a deceptively boring cover but is/was a good read.

hanida :)

Anonymous said...

He wasn't the only one. They don't make them like they used to any more :)