January 30, 2006

If Music be the Food of Love

Posted in Music, Personal at 11:42 am by egalitaria

My family gathered around the instruments and made Music together last night. I’m blessed with a bunch of relatives who appreciate and love music as much as I do. Despite initial incongruent notes and off -rhythm, timing, melodies, keys, chords (you name it), eventually they weaved together and our jamming-cum-worship session was beautiful.

The piano was my first instrument, and it ought to, logically speaking, be my baby and respond immediately under the command of my (deft) fingers. But it isn’t. Only recently have my compositions made more use of the keyboard’s flow.

The acoustic guitar became a favourite, a companion, a buddy, a partner in crime. The mobility of the guitar and the conjured-up images of Janis Joplin and Joan Baez in their activist days helped to fuel my love for the guitar. This is also when I started composing music and songs.

The bass guitar was my instrument of choice way back in the days of our all-girl band. As we performed in the Battle Of the Bands 8 years ago, I attempted to learn it on my own. Recently, however, I’ve learnt to appreciate bass lines in songs and it just digs deep into your core when you listen to an experienced and innovative bassist.

The drums was something I picked up for fun, and have since played properly only a couple of times. But if it’s one thing I can do naturally, it’s percussion. I love any form of a good beat – Lion Dance drums (which is incidentally playing a distance away), Kompangs in Dikir Barat, a good drum solo, or a host of percussion bonggols, tin drums and the like.

It’s always been a dream to yet again be part of a performing band, to do music together with those equally as passionate about it. To work hard at something that I believe can send messages across to people. But I suffer from lack of discipline and have failed to master any of the above jack-trades.

Perhaps one day the dream will come true.

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Identical Twins

Posted in Malaysia at 5:58 am by egalitaria

The relationship between Malaysia and Singapore has been described as that of twins separated at birth, and years after refusing to acknowledge the other’s existence. Anyone in the two neighbouring countries would vaguely recognise the underlying currents of distaste of the other.

Why is this, when so many of us share familial ties with those across the border? Why is this, when we really are made of literally the same blood and bone?

We are as perplexed as any foreign observer. Small issues are blown out of proportion time and again, politicians ever fanning the flame of distrust. Be it over a rock the size of an island, the exchange of liquids, or more recently an issue of a crooked bridge, sparks seem to constantly fly. Despite numerous golf games to cultivate a strong relationship between certain leaders, small talk doesn’t seem to dissipate the growing suspicion one has for the other.

So much for semangat kejiranan, one of the 16 listed Moral Values in my SPM days.

One theory is that the Lion City really does have to watch its own back, as it is surrounded by countries whose majority of the citizens are Muslim. Combine this with past records for militant breeding ground, and the fact that its country really is relatively tiny, one would imagine these are reason enough for it to retract trusting hands from Malaysia and reach out elsewhere for strategic support.

However, as we know it, “the world is flat” and increasingly so. The global hand tides over all and waits for no-one. In order to compete efficiently in the dense woods between the two trees (China & India), there has to be a sort of reformed solidarity amongst regional partners. And yes, this includes partnership between the long-lost twins.

I’ve always found it ridiculous to listen to drone after drone of the same broken record. Petty remarks made by one about the other, and neither really makes sense.

I hope my personal record will not be a repeat of many others’. One cannot continue to shut one’s eye and assume the other’s non-existence, especially not so soon after the recent South East Asian Summit in December last. Ignoring the other can only lead to more harm than good.

Death: The Great Nothingness?

Posted in Reflections, Religion at 5:11 am by egalitaria

When I was a kid, my favourite cartoon action figure was not He-man the hero, but Skeletor the evil. After a He-man entertainment show, I ran to be picked up by Skeletor while the other children crowded around He-man. I was fascinated by the gore and gruesome appearance of this seemingly frightening character. What lay beneath his skull? How could one be alive and yet appear dead?

Death has been tackled by many a philosopher and theologian. While some believe it is the ultimate end of life on earth, others believe it is but a passageway to either something greater or worse, depending on each’s conviction. If the former is true, then one ought to do all one can in this singular lifetime to achieve one’s personal goal and ambition. If feasible enough, one might even go beyond one’s expectations and die having reached glorious heights of ambition. Unfortunately, not many receive equal opportunity of education, geographical location, or disposition. Assuming a small percentage succeeds, this leaves the rest to rot in personal disappointment.

In the latter belief, death is not an ending but a beginning. Some believe that what happens next depends on good deeds carried out in a lifetime. The number of good things done determines the next level of destination. It is difficult for me to accept this very relative sort of argument. Anything goes. There is in fact no line between which good and evil can be compared, much less segregated. A response might be that there is no such thing as an absolute good, or an absolute evil. This makes foolish the very notions of honour, purity, righteousness and even the law that we citizens proclaim to uphold daily.

Death, to me, is a passage into the world that we cannot see with our naked eyes today. And stretches onto a realm more eternal than at least the earth mortals occupy. Why strive for justice and equality when nothing makes for its future?

And so, Skeletor, with all its charm, fails to impress me today. Living life on earth in deathly stature, hollow from real Life, isn’t good enough for me. Rather a man of flesh today, a man of spirit tomorrow, than to live carrying the mortal frame of bone with the fear of death riding on your shoulders.

Scented Oils

Posted in Personal, Reflections at 4:31 am by egalitaria

I would run screaming out of the room as the pungent smell of Hong Eu (fragrant oil) steamed into my nose. Mama, my maternal grandmother, like many others in her generation, relied almost completely upon these oils to remedy all bodily aches and pains. Traditionally packaged in a transparent bottle with screw-on black cap and white-green label, Hong Eu has been my grandma’s saviour through the years.

In recent years, of course, I’ve taken to its smell rather congenially. One cannot help but associate the two: Hong Eu and my grandma as they are never too far from the other. And loving one means loving the other, unconditionally.

Massaging the oils deep into the layers of her skin, across the contours and folds of aged flesh, I work hard at ensuring the Hong Eu is evenly spread and adequately absorbed. The sense of touch comforts the old lady. The matter between us, smooth and slick, forms a strange bond.

I will never be able to smell Hong Eu again without being reminded of my grandma. And it is the thick, permeating nature of its odour that will fill me with joy at the memory of her equally abundant love that spills over.

January 26, 2006

Anterograde Amnesia

Posted in Malaysia at 10:37 am by egalitaria

Anterograde Amnesia, or short-term memory loss, is a form of amnesia where new events are not transferred to long-term memory. After the onset of the disorder, the sufferer will not be able to remember anything that occurs after his attention is shifted away from one subject for more than a few seconds.Those who suffer from theoretically pure anterograde amnesia will still be able to remember memories laid down before the onset of anterograde amnesia, but will exist in a transient world where anything beyond their immediate attention-span disappears permanently from their consciousness. (Wikipedia)

We have seen examples on this in Memento (a brilliant movie), and sadly enough 50 First Dates (a movie for you to smile at and sing Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t it be nice” to).

Where else is this syndrome most prominent? I’d say amongst the Malaysian public. Time and again, controversial issues have emerged. A sneak peek is created amongst the GGC (grassroot gossip channel), and the following day bam slam wallakazzam all national newspapers pick up the issue and bare their headlines in thick bold font. Sprawled across these pages are revealed intricate stories of national scandals.

Revelations of corporate loss light up the pages with fiery statement after statement. Highways, national water and car and airplane and electric companies going bust (except miraculously redeemed by their “business partners-in-arms”), Approved Permits carelessly handled, preferential treatment evident, the police squad ridiculously taking law into their own hands, religious controversy rising and flailing, and the honourable polite assurance from the administration that “We will look into the matter”.

How many times have issues blown up, only to be forgotten in the next week or so by the general public? Do Malaysians really have that short a memory, or do they practise selective memory, as most women readily admit to do? Why is there no monitoring body or system? Sure, Commissions are set up to give wise advice to those in control. But are these commissions actually listened to? What is the point of setting up a Commission if their painstakingly prepared reports are going to be chucked under a pile of papers to be rudely ignored in any meeting anyway? (SUHAKAM, to cite an example) Are these so-called social ‘watchdogs’ merely put in place to assure the public that something is being done, in the very least? We must have a ridiculously low standard by which social responsibility is judged, then. And shame on us. Wag, wag, goes the finger.

The mentality of come and go cannot be the way forward for a society so eagerly yearning to be classified a developed country. Can we ever achieve this? Not when blacklisted issues are swept under the carpet, and it takes a whole lot to brave the dust and dirt to reintroduce them all over again. Please, society, document these things and start speaking up for your own sakes!

Have short-term memory loss on your personal grievances with humans because others are equally as forgiveable. But when it comes to forgotten national issues that can be a slow poison to the country as it seeps in, don’t be slippery – make a stand and collectively, perhaps the disease of this amnesia of sorts can be treated successfully.

January 22, 2006

The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born

Posted in Malaysia, Religion at 11:11 pm by egalitaria

Perhaps the need to speak up and speak out stems from a deep desire for justice. So much so that the possibility of muzzling the mouth that speaks does not justify silence. When it comes to this, this pervasive fog of “foul pestilence”, then one can no longer sit on the fence and smile foolishly.

Malaysia has oft been described as a time-bomb. In its seemingly peaceful state, it avoids conflict by pacifying certain parties and playing down national issues. But all are fearfully aware of the actual situation. That all it takes is a single event to spark off something frightful.

And so it was that Moorthy’s wife and family watched in horror, buried a Muslim and without Hindu rites as traditionally precedented. These followed:

  1. Candlelight vigils to be held for a month outside the High Court.
  2. Wife unable to claim benefits and pension.
  3. Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCBCHS) state that Article 121(1a) ought to be repealed to ensure that the Syariah Court (Islamic Court) does not hold jurisdiction over non-Islamic matters.
  4. Moorthy’s wife to receive pensions and rightful benefits now.
  5. Pak Lah assures the public that the Constitution and other laws will be looked into such that there exists no such confusion over ambiguous matters concerning conversion.
  6. Candlelight vigils called off by Chief Secretary to the Government Samsuddin Osman.
  7. Memorandum signed by 9 Non-Muslim Cabinet leaders submitted to Pak Lah.
  8. Pak Lah decides that the Article should not be amended despite not having read the memorandum,whilst other parties call for resignations en bloc due to a lack of respect for the prime minister.
  9. As a result of personal request, memorandum is withdrawn and matter is to be resolved in a ‘future’ Cabinet meeting.

Now let’s see here. The heated debate about the modus operandi of the memorandum submission was based on 2 issues: First, that it was unprecedented and that whatever matters need be raised ought to be done in a Cabinet meeting. Second, that it was a blatant insult to the PM and called by certain quarters ‘kurang ajar’.

It is not that the citizens want to repeatedly return to an issue that might cause havoc. Racial politics are not even the issue. What is fundamentally wrong with the structure of the law such that even such vague ambiguities of religious conversion cannot be resolved immediately? Have we indeed reached a constitutional crisis?

As long as the Civil Court and the Syariah Court can move along hand in hand, each governing its respective and supposedly mutually exclusive matters, then all is well and happy. All citizens can go home for their nasi lemak and join their friends for a midnight mamak session, fine. But what happens when one converts out of Islam? What happens when one converts into it and then changes his mind? That the Syariah court continues to rule on converts out of Islam (despite the logical fault in this argument, since a Muslim court ought not to rule upon a non-Muslim) is in itself sufficient for all to wake up and call for change.

As in “The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born” by Ayi Kwei Armah, the Man is symbolic of the one all too aware of impending doom surrounding him. In his case it is corruption afoot in the nation, and despite personal cost, he decides to make a stand against the tide. I believe in the concept of conviction. All that follows is merely manifestation of such a stand. This is a question of human rights, and I do not hesitate to call upon justice to prevail.

Wide Open Spaces

Posted in Malaysia, Reflections at 2:07 pm by egalitaria

Starting this at a time when controversy and volatility strap the nation, there’s no better moment to then quote one of my favourite verses by WB Yeats, solely because it represents the fragility and quiet desperation of a situation.

Turning and turning in the gyre,
The falcon cannot hear the falconer,
Things fall apart,
The centre cannot hold,
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

No doubt we live in interesting times. The thin line to tread between what is interesting and what becomes dangerously grave – therein lies the crux. Open your eyes and ears, Bolehlanders. It’s Wide Open Spaces out there. Or, perhaps not so wide after all…