dimanche, août 29, 2010

My Merdeka Thoughts

My precious bird nest ferns and our flag

Merdeka will be here soon as we can see in the neighbourhood - and pretty much around the country. This is our Jalur Gemilang flying in the wind in our garden doing double duty for our household and our wonderful neighbours - Cikgu Rahim and Cikgu Ani. And those are my precious bird nest ferns which you will see in abundance around our little garden.

Now, while I do not subscribe to the notion that my homeland is merely 53 years old, Merdeka is just as good a time as any to celebrate the coming of age of our nation. First let me explain my earlier statement. For me, my home - which we now call Malaysia, has been in existance millions of years ago when the tectonic plates moved to severe Australia from the continents. A 400 year colonial rule does not obliterate this reality and history. It is however, part and parcel of our country, as necessary to the story as any other part.

My homeland witnessed the birth of the oldest rainforest in the world.

And the most beautiful coral seas surrounding our shores.

The peninsula saw the movement of people to and fro the Kra Ithmus from the ancient cities Langkasuka to Gangga Nagara. Settlements began to fill out at the mouth of major rivers, sea-masters braved the pirate infested seas to seek new territories.

...and bewitched Ptolemy to call it Aurea Chernosese.

At the end of the 16th century after the fall of Melaka, copies of the ancient manuscript Sulalat us-Salatin or Sejarah Melayu began to appear. And the pantun was a unique feature of the highly stylised Malay literature. In no other form of poetry that a relationship between the metaphor and the reality is so intricately woven.


In the 18th and 19th centuries, if not earlier, the peninsular was called Tanah Melayu or Malaya for obvious reasons. There is a song that brings a threatening tear when I listen to it. It goes...

Sungguh gemilang negeriku
Yang ku puja
Oh! Tanah Melayu
Di serata dunia
Harum semerbak
Namamu oh! Malaysia...

Intrigue was bound during this era, especially in the tin rich land of Perak. The Wikipedia's account of it is the mildest and full of diplomacy,

"By the terms of the Pangkor Treaty, the Resident was an adviser whose decision were binding in all matters except for custom or religion. The first Resident had been murdered in 1874, precipitating a war that left nearly all high-rankingMalay officials either dead or in exile. Low's appointment marked a return to civil authority.

The intrigue, for now, can wait. It suits the purpose of my story to relate that the then Sultan of Perak, Sultan Abdullah was exiled to Seychelles. Described in Seychelles as a most Universal of Man, the Sultan mastered French, Creole and English. His favourite tune among others included a classic 18th century chanson de Francais - La Rosalie composed by Pierre Jean de Beranger. It has now been established that this is the origin of our national anthem Negaraku.The story here.

Back to Sultan Abdullah. The Sultan travelled to England and certainly, it is not too farfetched to deduce that he visited France. This was in the 1880s. Victor Hugo, himself a political exile during the reign of Napolean III, championed the cause of many and constantly took up cases with the government of Queen Victoria.

And now I come to the matter of the pantoum. The Larousse Encyclopedique says:
Pantoum ou Pantoun, n, m, (mot malais), Poeme a forme fixe, emprunte par les romantiques aa la poesie malaise - Encycl.. Le antoum fut introduit dans notre poesie par V Hugo (Orientaales) et Th Gautier, et epris par Baudelaire(Harmonie du soir), Banvillee, Leconte de Lisle...

In short,it says that the pantun was introduced into the french poetry by Victor Hugo and Theophile Gautier. However, Victor Hugo was already aware of the pantun form in the 1830s. Nevertheless, in the 1880s there was a surge of interest in the pantoum and translations of original Malay pantuns into French.

Sultan Abdullah was a cultured Universal Man of presence and style who appreciated music and poetry. Victor Hugo was the French poet, playwright, novelist, essayist, visual artist, statesman, human rights activist and exponent of the Romantic movement in France. I can imagine HRH and Victor Hugo together with their many friends and associates having political and cultural discussions including exchanging pantun at the end of a chilly winter evening. Such as this...

Les papillons jouent alentour sur leurs ailes;
Ils volent ver la mer, pres de la chaine des rochers
Mon coeur s'est senti malade dans ma poitrine
Depuis mes premiers jours jusqu'a a l'heure presente

I became acquainted with this wondrous history in part during my days at the Royal Lake Club. I would like to acknowledge the extensive research and article written by Jon Azman -Negaraku and its Parisian Roots. More importantly, the first hand information supplied by the great grand daughter of Sultan Abdullah, Raja Teh Zaitun Raja Kamarulzaman, aka Mak Ungku.

However, the tale of the pantoum's origin is my conclusion, albeit with heavily romanticised slant, based on facts and timeline involved.

More references from Wikipedia, from Indonesia, here and here. Also, do refer to Francois Rene Daillie's Alam Pantun Melayu.

My thoughts on Merdeka in 2009 and 2008.


Mak Ungku and I had one of our chit chats yesterday. And as usual, it was precious as ever. Jerusalem and her French classes were on her mind. Oh yes, London in the 1940s too.

Then I told her about my recent endeavours into pantun. Mak Ungku then shared the beautiful Omar Khayyam poetry which she recited off the cuff in English, French and Bahasa. And of Haji Hamilton who translated the Omar Khayyam into Bahasa Melayu. The following summed up our little tête-à-tête

Duduk di sini bernyanyi-nyanyian
Padang terkukur jadi kayangan

vendredi, août 27, 2010


Robert Lloyd runs Poets United, a community and blogroll for poets who blog. There are currently 80 of us poets who make up this fast growing community from about 20 countries. Of course many of us take part in other memes and groups, so the community is much larger.

When I started poetry blogging, I had just come out from a long hiatus of poetry writing. Writing is part and parcel of work and I am on my third book of Malay Folklore anthology. But poetry? I thought I had left that part of me buried somewhere - most likely in my daughters' room as I see poetry blooming there - fast and furious.

Now I write about 4 to 5 poems a week, including one pantun in Malay and one very short stanza in French. The prompts help but sites like One Shot Wednesday run by moondustwriter, Pete, Brian and Dustus are open ended and free for all. This makes it slightly more difficult. It is for One Shot Wednesday that I dedicate one poem in three languages - making it a weekly challenge I look forward to.

Back to Poets United, Robert recently gave a shout out for help. The blogroll contains five to six simultaneous blogs. I offered some prompts for the Thursday Think Tank which Robert decided to use. One of my prompt was based on water and a quote from Jacques Cousteau.

"We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one"
~Jacques Cousteau

Robert wrote:

Water everywhere and not a drop to drink. I don’t know offhand who said this but it’s a pretty eye opening statement. It makes you think. When you read the word water what comes to mind? What do you think of? Is it that Evian is backwards for naïve? Is it the
deserts without the water of life? It could possibly be the
rain falling from a warm summer sky. I’m sure water makes all of our minds race so we cannot wait to see what “Flows” from your pens and minds this week.

This week’s prompt, quote and photo was provided to us by Nino Taziz. Thank you Nino for an inspiring prompt and helping us out here at Poets United.

If you would like to know more about Nino please visit the blog below:

Thank you Robert.

This is my contribution:

Behold The Last Drop
Imagine this beauty to be
The last drop of water on earth
Dried up are all the seas
Pent up are the clouds above

Dunes across the continents
Deserts stretched to the poles
Humans long forgotten
Encased as fossils below

Along came two aliens
Who studied the world's
"There was once water and gardens...
Then it all dried up mysteriously."

For the aliens could not
That humans could be so ignorant
As to destroy life's precious element
And thus the life's cycle ends

- self annihilation...

Do read other contributions based on the water prompt here.

This theme is close to heart because I feel a sense of urgency building up on this irreplacable precious resource. Water is trapped in plastic bags that can't decompose. Water consumption is still wasteful in nature. Rivers are polluted by industries plotting to escape detention.

The earth's surface is covered by 71% salt water. The rivers and the ocean are key to our survival and yet -

We continue to live on borrowed water.

C'est la vie!


For statistics on water resources, check here. Even more thought provoking and relevant to the topic above, have a look at stats on water pollution , water management and more.

I live in a country where water is in abundance, the ancient rain forest and warm seas surround us - yet even I fear this water reality.

dimanche, août 22, 2010

Pantun Oh Pantun

Jikalau tidak kerana bintang
Masakan bulan terbit tinggi
Jikalau tidak kerana abang
Masakan adik datang ke sini

If not for the stars above
Why would the moon venture high
If not for you, my only love
Why would I venture nigh...

(Adapted translation by Francois Rene Daillie)

Today, I am in love with the Malay pantun and literature especially the Malay Hikayat penned by unknown authors in the 16th and 17th centuries if not before. However, growing up, this branch of literature was only a pastime reading among the many poetry and fairytales of the world. Like many children, I read Grimms, Perrault and Anderson fairy tales. Mother Goose rhymes. A little bit of Malay Hikayat, Arabian. Chinese. Indian. Korean. For many years I wrote English poems and poetry, English prose, and lately English books - even though the subject is the Malay Hikayat.

As a child, I was adequately acquainted with the Malay pantun. Despite the fact my grandmother dished out her age old wisdom in pantun and gurindam form.

Siapa cepat dia dapat.

Tak tumbuh taka melata
Tak sungguh orang tak mengata

Sikit sikit
Lama lama jadi bukit

After all, I had only learnt to speak, read and write the Malay language when I was six after we returned to Malaysia from Australia. Still, once I went to live with my grandparents in our village for two years to learn our roots and religion studies, as my mother put it, I immersed myself in this way of life. I danced the Malay dances - the joget, endang, zapin. I loved Malay theatre performances like Wayang Kulit and Makyong. I played the gamelan. And took boat trips along the lazy rivers in my village. The Malay way of life slowly shaped my growing years.

Then, perchance, many years later, I found the book, Alam Pantun Melayu - A Study of The Malay Pantun, written by Francois Rene Daillie at a sale organised by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka here in Kuala Lumpur.

Monsieur Daillie wrote in the first chapter - The Malay Pantun as an Adventure in World Literature, "I have always conceived literature as an adventure, that is, etymologically, something that happens to you, that you have to go through...happenings which have an impact on your intellect, your spirit... To me, the encounter with the Malay pantun has been until now one of the most striking episodes as well as one the main elements of the whole adventure of life... of life and literature closely mixed together."

I was astounded by this man's love for the Malay pantun, which to him, was part and parcel of the Malay way of life and thinking. He shared his philosophy and research in a completely lucid and loving manner. This was the spark. By and by, I embraced my own culture - especially the pantun with alacrity.

Since then, I have studied and appreciated the Malay Pantun like never before. Find my Malay pantun here. I found my thoughts reflected so well by Monsieur F R Daillie when he says in his book, "...the pantun has never obtained the fame it deserves, in spite of its introduction into French XIXth century poetry under the adulterated name, 'pantoum'." I now agree with Monsieur Daillie that more should be done so that the Malay Pantun be internationally acclaimed for its ingenuity, form and sheer beauty. How unfortunate it is that the charm and enigma of the pantun is only appreciated and recognised within our Nusantara. The pantun of old can be witty, passionate to the point of being downright erotic, full of wisdom and hilariously comedic in nature and was an excellent tool for getting one's point across, an ice breaker or for conveying a subtle message.

The pantun has many forms. It covers love, wisdom, wit and comedy, stories anad more. There are also the Baba Nyonya Pantun and Persian syair. The first and foremost requirement in creating pantun is a keen observation of one's surroundings. The second, the conversion of this observation into a metaphor. Then the actual message of the pantun is conveyed in the formal form of the pantun. A pantun can be a 4 line, 6 line or 8 line stanza of the abab, abcabc or the abcdabcd form. In its most elegant form, the first half of the stanza is usually a metaphor or indication of what is to come in the second half. In the pantun berkait, the second alternating lines are repeated in the following stanza.

The pantun berkait was introduceed to French poets and novelists of the 19th century like Victor Hugo and Baudelaire. Many tried to emulate the form and structure which gave rise to the French avatar of the Malay pantun, the pantoum. To Daillie, "If one of the assets of poetry at its best is the magic and beauty accomplished by language, the Malay pantun can be placed among the highest achievements of mankind in this form of art... the Malay pantun, as one of the fixed forms of poetry ever devised by man, can vie with such famous genres as the Japanese haiku or the European sonnet."

I would like to invite interested poets and readers, , to learn about the pantun. Do read this beautiful indepth study of the Malay pantun by a Frenchman who certainly has only admiration, a delightful insight and respect for this form of literature that his book arouses an even stronger sense of pride in ourselves and our literature.

It is very often through the eyes of a 'foreigner' that we can become reacquainted with what we have become accustomed to or taken for granted all our lives.

Let us hope that the art of pantun will remain forever. I would hate to think my children would only get to listen to pantun at Malay Weddings. Or my unborn grandchildren, none at all.

Suggested reading for this article:
Alam Pantun Melayu by Francois Rene Daillie
Le Malaisie by Henri Fauconnier

dimanche, août 15, 2010

The Inner Eye

How many see the heavens above and fail to see God?

This week, over at Poets United, poets all over were prompted to wax lyrical over the subject of eyes. For my take on the prompt, come over . Somehow, I went a bit off tangent and did a tribute to one of my favourite authors growing up, Agatha Christie.

However, it came to my notice that many of the bloggers wrote about the fear of losing our eye sight. Poets are almost always avid readers and as such, this is a very real fear indeed. Imagine a world without words running over the unblemished of white expense. A true tragedy.

This fear and the inexcapable terror that comes with blindness sparked off this rather philosophical post of mine. For if you really think about it, what is sight without insight?

How many see the forest and hear dams instead of tigers roaring in the distance?

How many walk past a broken down playground and miss the sound of children's laughter?

How many start great wars and yet do not see the fallen, just the outcome?

How many face an old relic and see a new shopping mall?

How many appreciate the art on the wall but fail to recognise nature's true beauty?

How many see and yet do not see what matters the most.

jeudi, août 12, 2010


Do you remember the first day you fasted?

I do.

I was seven years old in Standard One in Kuantan. It was the last day of Ramadhan. I remember my uncles teasing me that if I did not fast, I won't be able to celebrate Raya. Raya meant balik Chenor, main mercun, hugging my grandfather, being spoilt silly by my grandmother. It meant playing in the garden in the moonlight while the lemang was cooking.

So I fasted on the last day without anyone knowing. When I got back from school in the afternoon, I was dead tired. I wanted desperately for someone to know, but I was too shy to say it. Finally, I heard my Auntie Yah say,"Budak Na ni puasa ke? Pucat je...Tik! I think Nina is still fasting!" Tik is my mother. She came to ask, " Are you fasting, Nina?" I just nodded.

Ooohhh...everyone made a fuss. I felt very good inside. I can't remember what we had for breaking fast, but I remember the pride I felt. Thereafter, I fasted more and more days each year.

When I was in secondary school, I was in the band and gymnastics. Somehow, it was important to me that I still train during the fasting months. After band practice in the afternoon, I would walk up three flight of stairs to my dormitory. I felt invigorated.

In Canada, we fasted from 4.30am to 8.45pm in the summer. But I did not tire. I was spurred to do more as the days were longer.

Today, I find, during the fasting month, my mind is the clearest. My prayers are focused. I do not worry about lunch. I do not worry about petty office squabbles. I work, work and work. Incidentally, I noticed that for the last few years, I also write the most during the days approaching Raya. I used to think this was because the Hari Raya reminds me of the traditional music, my kampung and the food. Now I believe it is because Ramadhan releases me from petty concerns. And what I love the most comes forth , pouring from a chalice of inspiration.

Thank you Ramadhan.

During sahur today, my daughter Irani was telling me about her fasting experience. Her friends told her that all the devils are locked away during Ramadhan. Her Uztazah told her that you should not be quarreling too much with each other...you should think of good thoughts and deeds. I liked that.
Then she also told me that one of her teachers had asked all students to watch TV during bulan puasa as she pitied the young students. I immediately went into my famous small talks with my daughters which they half feared, half hated but remembered well so much so I hear them repeating the exact same words to their younger sisters.

I told Irani sternly, when you fast, you are strongest. Why? she asked. Because you are healthier, closer to God and all the devils are locked away. How can you not be stronger?

She nodded.

Well, this is my way of teaching my children.
Another favorite memory from my past Ramadhans was my late grandfather reading the Al-Quran in the middle of the night, his voice booming into the silence was one of the most serene moments in my life.

samedi, août 07, 2010


The first time I heard Adi Putra recite this sajak, I cried.

Aku lah Adi Putra
Melayu tidak pernah lupa

Aku berfikir rasional
Aku berfikir internasional

Hujan biarlah bertempat
Marah biar bersopan
Kurang ajar biarlah berbudi bahasa

Tersirat mereka tak nampak
Tersurat saja mereka lihat
Di mana silapnya

Ayuh bangsaku! Bangunlah...
Kita jadikan Melayu hebat dipersada dunia
Akulah model insan anak Melayu jati Wawasan 2020

Takkan Melayu hilang di dunia
Pantang Melayu menderhaka pada Sultannya

Mengapa bersembunyi diri di sebalik ibu pertiwi
sejengkalpun tanahair ku di jajah
Biar puteh tulang jangan puteh mata
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