Monday, December 01, 2008

Everything from Malay Ghosts and Dissenter's Balls to Toy Pianos

Our Saturday Readings@Seksan was a fabulous mixture of political discussion, Malay ghosts, poetry with toy musical instruments, and some fantasy writing which raised real world issues.

Happy I was to hand the MC-ing of this event over to Animah Kosai so I could just relax and enjoy the event. (Anyone else want to have a go another time? I like being lazy!)

Danny Lim started the ball rolling by reading about a couple of local spooks from his Malaysian Book of Ghosts. We learned about the elf-like Bunian of Malay mythology, and it was fascinating to hear about the journalist (formerly with Time magazine) who actually interviewed one for Men's Review back in 1999! We also heard about Hantu Kum Kum :
A roving female ghost carrying a tombstone like a baby, who goes around asking for milk, and attacks young virgins to restore her youth and beauty.
Incidentally, the Malay version of Danny's book, Kitab Pengetahuan Hantu Malaysia, is due to be launched this Friday 8.30 pm onwards at Bau Bau Cafe at The Annexe, Central Market with a whole variety of exciting folks reading ... including me! (I am the star attraction, come and laugh at the Mat Salleh mangling Malay!)

The focus of this particular Saturday after noon was very much on Kee Thuan Chye's March 8th : The Day Malaysia Woke Up which is a collection of contributions in response to the seismic shift in the political landscape of Malaysia following the last elections. Animah read her essay What Do the Children Think?, a very effective and yes, charming piece, blending the personal and political piece to talk about how Malaysians of different are divided from each other and how hard it is for a child to see that.

Kee Thuan Chye who put the book together read extracts which included interviews with former law minister Zaid Ibrahim (The Reforms Will Come), and the extracts from the interview with Raja Petra Kamarudin delightfully titled How Big Are Your Balls? in which he talks about his arrest under the ISA (the first time round, that is) and gives his take on the political landscape.

If there was any danger that we might take ourselves all too seriously with all that politics, all that dissipated when The Happy Unicorn Collective (a group comprising Dianne Dayanna, Priya K., Nurul, Patricia Low, Tan Koon, Fairuz S. and Adam Kharul and formed for Project Connect earlier in the year) took the floor after the break.

The group blended Priya K's eccentric poetry with an unusual mix of musical instuments which included rucksack percussion, kiddy xylophone and toy piano, stylophone, and children's trumpet! The most hilarious poem was one about seagulls being evil and stealing chips when the group went to UK. (The biggest culture shock just has to be one involving the wildlife!)

It was really great to have Glenda Larke (above) with us. As I probably told you before, I knew Glenda as an environmentalist long before I even knew she wrote - let alone was a prominent fantasy writer. She started by saying that it is ironic that fantasy is a genre much looked down on, when many very famous literary authors (among them Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood, Gunther Grass, Marquez) have written in the genre ... except that of course good fantasy fiction tends to get a different name slapped on it. (This is something we've talked about before on this blog.)

Glenda read to us from her new, as yet untitled novel, which is to be the first part of a new trilogy, set in a world where water is a scarce and precious commodity (as she predicts it will be for all of us soon). The extract was an engaging piece about two brothers in this arid landscape.

When the book is published we must invite her back! In the meantime, you can find Glenda's excellent blog Tropic Temper here. (She has a nice write-up of this event.)

Brian Gomez was a no show (he got the time wrong) and I was sad about that because I am really enjoying his absolutely crazy novel Devil's Place. Never mind, we will invite him again and send him an alarm call.

But it was a great stroke of luck that Kam Raslan (above) happened to be along (he is now living in China, but back for a visit) and since he also had a piece in March 8th, it was the perfect opportunity to ask him to read his essay The End of Fear, about how the violence that the government warned about if the political order were threatened, failed to materialise, and how :
Fear is a legitimate emotion but it either leads to a desire to leave or extreme caution. It is not a good fertiliser for growing exciting things (although it is manure).
After the readings ended, some folks stayed back to chat with Chye and the other authors about the book and about their thoughts about keeping the spirit of March 8th alive, while we clearer up round them.

Thanks to all who read and all who came. Thanks to Seksan for the wonderful space. Thanks to Shahril Nizam again for making the poster. Thanks too to the setters-up (foremost among them, Chet) and valiant clearers away.

Next month I think Bernice is organising something for teen writers, so I will keep you posted.

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