Sunday, July 24, 2011

Medicine for Melancholy

I had imagined writing about this. This very moment.

I had imagined writing about a beautiful day, with beautiful weather, the warm sunshine coating us with its warmth, filling us with the kind of happiness that would temper the feelings of nostalgia, melancholy, perhaps even sadness, that resides in our heart.

Whether I would indeed write about it is probably another thing. That had depended on how brave and how willing I was in opening up things that I did not necessarily want to open.

“Well, here we are.”

Her mother, Kyung-nam, had brought us, me and Dahei's friend Set-byul, to the place. It had been a short little hike from my old university, which I was glad about; I have come to consider that area to be my home turf, and anytime I want to visit her, it would not be too far.

We stood near the place, silently. “It’s where the sunshine is,” her mother said. It’s true; the formation of the branches and leaves had parted enough to allow a very strong ray of light to land there.

Her mother greeted her. “Dahei, we’ve come here for you,” she said silently. “Fikri and Set-byul is here as well. Fikri came all the way for you and for me." She turned to the both of us, suggesting that we should greet her as well. Set-byul took the mother’s place, and did exactly that, speaking to her in a friendly manner. It was quick, a little too quick, I had thought, because then it was my turn.

I suddenly realised that all my preparations, mentally, spiritually and emotionally, did not prepare me for this. For a long time, I did not say anything, for there was a swirl of emotions that moved through my mind and heart. There were so many things I wanted to say, so many things I wanted to know, but can’t because of the circumstances.

Mengiris hati, the Malays would say. One literal translation would be ‘scratching the heart’, but it is not just any kind of scratching. Imagine, if you will, the kind of fingernail scratching on a blackboard. That would be a fair description of the kind of hurt I felt at that time, and still do feel even now. However, it doesn’t really come close to the signified itself. How ironic: all the beautiful idioms, sentences and words of the Malay, English, Korean and French languages could not come to my rescue now.

I felt someone’s arm around my shoulder. It was her mothers, and it was then that I realise that I had been crying. The tears had been coming without me knowing about it. Immediately, I felt very conscious of myself, and shifted my gaze away, looking at something else, anything else to give me some kind of focus. Something I could focus on while trying to forget all these feelings.

I failed miserably. My tears flowed ever faster, and there was even some snot that started to dangle from my nose. I wiped them away with my sleeve, but it did nothing, for the flood did not stop. My body started shaking, and I started to moan in pain with my tears. I could not control it now; the more I tried to exert my will over it, the harder my body, my emotions and my heart resisted. The mind can only do so much.

It was only now, at this point, that I started to let go of the pressure, the strain and the hurt that had been building up since Set-byul herself told me of Dahei’s passing. All the sleepless nights, the sense of waking up and thinking that it must have been nothing more than just a dream, has been building up to this.

My lover, my friend, one of the few who truly know me inside out, have left us.

“It’s OK, Fikri,” said her mother. I don’t believe that description fit the role she has in my life, for in many respects, she is my omma. It is the informal Korean term for mother, and I am, in many ways, her son. She had treated me as such during my relationship with Dahei, and even beyond that. She had helped me grow, helped to care for me, guided my in my Korean studies, and I would not have been here without Dahei or her mother, my omma.

I had arrived a few nights earlier, at around midnight. The first thing I did was to hug her; my trip here is just as much about her as it is about me. I did not know what to say before, and I didn’t know what to say now. She told me how they found out about her death; Dahei lived alone in Seoul, while her parents are away in the countryside, helping to manage an apple farm. They only knew of it after the fact.

I had not known of what had happened exactly, but it wasn’t something I wished to explore during a phone conversation. I did not want to put her through that pain, and neither do I want to do it now. I could not, however, stop her from talking about that fateful night. She sat across from me, leaning against a wall I had painted when Dahei first moved in here. When she started to cry, I went to her and hugged her, but I could not stop her from crying. I could not give comfort to her. She opened up her heart, and gave me everything, but I could give nothing in return.

What do you give to someone who had lost their only child? It served as a timely reminder that I am nothing more than just a speck in the lives of others. I may have lost a friend, but her parents lost a child. Dahei was their only child, and now there is no one else left to carry on their family’s legacy. They have no grandchildren to speak of, no son-in-law who could continue living the family’s way of life. And yet here they are, still living their life. For all of the strength I could muster for myself, it pales in comparison to the courage and bravery shown by my omma and appa.

It was this very woman who brought me back to reality. Now we're back at the hill, and I realise I have soaked her shoulder. I pulled away, gradually letting go of her grip, assuring her that I was OK. Set-byul stood silently some feet apart from us. I had practically shouted at her on the line, when I called her after she texted me about Dahei’s passing; though I had apologised later, perhaps she feared a similar rebuke.

We cleared a small area for ourselves, and started to unpack our foods. Omma had made some of Dahei’s favourite foods, which happened to be some of mine as well. I had helped to make them earlier that morning. “Thank you for helping me,” she had said. “No, it’s OK,” I had started, before she cut me off. “No, I mean, thank you for coming. You have helped me just by coming. Just by seeing you, you made me feel better.” That wasn’t the direct translation, but it was the gist, enough for you, dear reader, to understand.

“You’re doing the right thing, man,” said Jack. It was late in Australia, but I had to call him. I needed to hear a voice, a familiar voice, one who would understand me. “Not many people would have done what you did. Not many would have spent so much money, so much time, so much effort to do what you did. I think Dahei’s mom appreciated that.” I did not realise I needed to hear it until I heard it.

“You could make a movie, out of this.” My omma said that, while lying in bed. I slept on the floor in Dahei's bedroom, while her mother slept on the bed. The TV droned silently in the background, a device I had turned on for the sake of adding life to the room at night. I could not sleep well, and so the TV became my savior. She suggested a title: “3 Days and 3 Nights With My Girlfriend’s Mother.” She then chuckled to herself, and so did I. Dahei was no longer my girlfriend, but the fact that her mother, a Christian Korean, still see me, a Muslim foreigner, as her daughter’s boyfriend means a lot to me. I suppose only someone who is somewhat familiar with the social, national, cultural and religious complexities of such relationships could appreciate that sense of acceptance.

We had come back from a movie that night, a horror movie called The Cat, out of all the things. After that, we went to shop for some food, and stopped by the Paris Baguette near their house. I stepped into it, and realised that the layout had changed. I had stopped by every time I went to Dahei’s house. It’s slightly out of the way from my dormitory, but it was worth it. Dahei had liked some of the buns and breads available; perhaps it was a relic of her living experience in France. At that time, Kim Yu-na had just won the Olympic gold in Vancouver, and they had named a bun after her.

Now, however, the shop has changed. The position of the door remained, but the interior design and the positioning of the breads and buns are no longer the same. A reminder, perhaps, that over time, things will always change.

Hearts, minds, souls.

I still wonder what went through her mind during her last moments. I wondered whether she had thought of me. In my darker, idler moments, I wondered whether there was something I could and probably should have done. Was I somehow a part of the cause? Our separation was not one that happened easily. As I searched my heart, I identified feelings of sadness, but surprisingly, I found anger as well. Not at her, but at my father. I realise that on some level, though I had accepted the situation as it is, I am still angry at him for lying to me about his film.

Back then, I had several different choices. I could stay on in Seoul, working on a friend’s film, a Korean-American co-production called Hype Nation, either as an assistant producer or assistant director. My friend was the producer, but he had wanted someone who he can trust to serve as a kind of liaison between the Korean and American sides of the production. With my level of skill and experience, and relative fluency in both Korean and English, I was a perfect fit. In addition, UNESCO also strongly encouraged me to apply for a job there. Their head even sat down with me, and talked to me face-to-face about it.

It was a difficult decision, but I turned all of that down, because I wanted to work with my father on his film, which promised to be an interesting period tale of a mak yong dancer. Furthermore, I don’t when else the opportunity for my father to make a film would crop up; his last feature film was made when I was ten. It was only when I have arrived back in Malaysia that I realise it had turned into a lie. Now his ideas for me consist of working for UiTM and making films for David Teoh. In my heart, I laugh at the idea of making my first film for David Teoh. He is a man I respect, but I will not pop my feature film cherry with him.

I realise, however, that all of this is nothing more than mere nomenclature compared to this: regret. That is one word that would also come close to describing the mix of emotions in my heart. What would have happened if I had stayed? What if I had not come back? Would Dahei still be alive? Would she not be in the dark places she was in before her death? Did she think of me before she died? Was I ever as significant to her as she was and is to me?

I have tried to live my life with as little regret as possible, but this is one situation I cannot escape from. These are the questions that, until the day I die, I will never be able to answer.

I did not, however, regret coming here. I had shut myself off from the rest of the world, only to be here, at this moment, with my omma, Set-byul and Dahei. We ate, we reminisced, we talked, we laughed, and we remembered Dahei the way she deserved to be remembered.

There is so much more I want to write, so much more I want to share with you, but this is where it ends. I did not even know whether this was something I dared to write, but I know why I have written it: so that others may not share in my mistakes and regrets. I know now that I may also write, whatever the indescribable feelings in my heart, of the beautiful weather and sunshine, the happiness and sadness, the warmth of nature tempering our nostalgia and melancholy.

For it was indeed a beautiful day.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

City of Gods


The city of gods.


“Yeah, the radio’s been working recently,” I said, turning the volume up a bit. My little sister, down from Penang for the Bersih event, shifted comfortably in her seat; the alternative would have been yet another joke from me.

We had been driving around Kuala Lumpur. She had come down here with my mother and stepfather. They had gone for the event itself, but had not joined the main rally. There were several different hotspots throughout the city, and after the event, she had decided to spend some extra time in KL.

I picked her up, and she spent some time relating her experiences from the day. At one point, she was communicating with someone else on the phone about an unrelated matter, and it was something that actually brought her to tears. A passing protestor thought that she was crying because of the tear gas, and loudly passed her some salt for her to suck on to counter the effects of the tear gas. I couldn’t stop laughing at that, and a few of the other stories.

After having spent some time eating, recharging our batteries and checking out the news updates online (which angered me no end, but not in the way you might expect. I will certainly write about that in the near future), we decided to drive around KL. I wasn’t sure if the roads are opened again, but it was worth the shot. We had time to kill, and the worst that would happen would be a rejection and a U turn to whence we had come from.

That was when I realised what a beautiful city KL is.

The streets were sparse. A light tinge of what had happened hung in the air, but it was an ethereal record of what had happened earlier. Memories occurred in these spaces, memories of unity, disunity, violence and peace, but ultimately, the sense to walk (or drive) in the footsteps before you fills you with something.

These sensations, however, are nothing without the walls within which they live.

There were hardly any cars about. People walked from one end to the next, but not in any discriminate colour. You’ll hear of reports of tourists being turned off by the events; for my part, I spotted plenty of touristy-looking types walking about with maps in their hands.

In my head, as I drive around the landmarks of my birthplace, I had the rhythm of Iridescent, by Linkin Park, bumping along softly. In part, that was because it was also on the Transformers soundtrack. Funnily enough, though I am also familiar with it via A Thousand Suns, I had not listened to the lyrics properly. I came home, looked for it online, and realize why I had made the subconscious connection: “Remember all the sadness and frustration, and let it go…let it go.”

I drove ever slower, taking in the city, in awe of the place that had seemed so incredibly busy before, but one I have never experienced empty. After the storm, the calm engulfs us with a serenity I have never experienced in KL. “This is amazing,” I repeated, over and over again. My sister nodded. She was somewhat drained by the day and by my jokes, but she could not fail to appreciate the city either. Dataran Merdeka. Bagunan Sultan Abdul Samad. Pudu. We even took in Bukit Nanas, for old times sake (she was formerly a CBNer). I used to send her to school almost everyday for a while. Retracing our steps was a given. In such moments, we reveled in the past, before heading back to the locations where the present hopes to change the future.

Change will come, and it will be positive, sooner or later. It is because of the people we have here, but the people are no good if the city can’t live up to us. Driving around today, I am able to confirm otherwise: it is Malaysia, the country, and Kuala Lumpur, the city…this city of gods that we have to live up to.

It deserves nothing less.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Unconsoled

“It’s over, man.”

Three words. That’s all it took for me to fully understand, a phone call that started without the usual pleasantries. Then again, there’s nothing pleasant about the ending of a relationship, even if it is something that’s becoming more usual than otherwise.

I closed my eyes, letting out a soft sigh that confirmed my surrender. The letting go of the entire body to the universe, the moment when you realize that some things, some things are just beyond your control. “I’m sorry, man.”

Those three words were the only words that came to mind, certainly at that moment, at least. What could you say to someone who had had a whirlwind of a romance? Who proposed two weeks after the meeting, whose happiness was something I had not witnessed for a long while? I had my misgivings, but I realised that those were nothing more than the devil whispering misleading doubts in my ear. My role was clear: I am the friend, and I am to be there for her. This is not about me, it is about her.

“I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”

“I know.” Pause. “I needed a friend, that’s why I called you earlier.”

A little context: she had tried to call me earlier, but with my phone safely embedded deep into my bag, I had not attempted to stop my driving to answer it. I was on my way to Kedah, to visit my grandmother. Eventually I did stop, to double check on some things about my car, and eventually I did get around to calling her back.

“Well, perhaps this is not the best time for me to say it,” I started. Nothing else came to mind; whatever words I could use to comfort the unconsoled, I shall try it nonetheless. She needs a friend, after all. “But you and I, we’re the lucky ones.”

It is true. Love comes and bites us, and then gives us a little more, before it swallows us whole. Yet the feeling when you are in a relationship with someone, that feeling is unbeatable. It is a high that only the drug that is love could give. It’s the sensation, knowing that the kind of things that you’ve always wanted to do is within your reach, to imitate from the movies, to relate from love songs since time immemorial, to fully express the you the way you intend to, to hear the birds chirping just that bit louder the morning after…that is a sensational feeling that mere words could do no justice whatsoever.

The bump that comes after, the drop that precipitates that sinking feeling in your stomach and paralyses the body, that feeling is unpleasant, to say the least.

But the high is worth the price. Or is it?

“We’re the lucky ones,” I continued, “because at the very least, at a very fleeting moment in time, we were the ones in love. We were the ones who the other thought of the first thing when they wake up in the morning. The one whose always on their mind, the one who always makes them feel warm inside, a feeling that no one else could give them at that time. For that moment, at least, we are…” I paused, considering the order of the words, before I gave in once again to the universe, “…we simply are.”

“She wants to marry someone else.”


I bit my lip. Perhaps, then, that wasn’t the wisest thing to say. Then again, I knew better than to beat myself up. The context required was not given for me to make more sense of the text. I had caught wind of the news, but I’m not the kind to give credence to the words of others. For that one moment, I wish I had paid more attention a lot earlier.

A few more moments passed. “Listen, I don’t know what else to say,” I started again. I was honest before, but if possible, I couldn’t be any more honest now. “You know I’m here for you, and I’d dearly love to be with you and give you a hug more than anything. But I’m on the way to Kedah now…”

“I see,” she interrupted, taking the lead for the first time in the conversation. “I understand. We’ll meet when you get back.”

Pause. “You know,” I said, “I could name a bitch in my film after her. Just for you, I would do that.” I imagine her smiling, ever so slightly, at the other end of the line. That’s the advantage with being a filmmaker: the world you immortalize is at your mercy. “You give me her full name, and we’ll call it even. Or as even as it can be.”

Soon after, the call ended, and I continued my journey northwards of the country. My mind was still fraught with the situation, considering the ins and outs of it all when I saw a plume of smoke rising in the distance, becoming thicker as I get closer to it. The number of cars that slowed in front of me to a crawl certainly indicated that something was wrong up front, very wrong.

I soon saw the cause of the crawl. A Mini Cooper, one of the older models of the classic car, was on fire. It was literally engulfed in a very angry flame. There were people around it, but I could not make out whether there were people inside it or not. The emergency response teams surrounded it, trying to get the situation under control.

I eventually drove past it all, as I slipped into the smoother traffic that would take me all the way…home.

It may not be directly related to the issues at hand, nor does it cure the heartache of a breakup.

But in so many ways, sometimes we really are the lucky ones.

Monday, July 04, 2011

The Twitter Experiment

I’m not quite that big on trying out new technology as it comes out. I’ve stated before that I’ll try anything once, but that one time may occur quite some time after it has become a fad.

“You have a lot of money, why don’t you buy an iPad?” my student once asked. She had brought in her own iPad, and I was just busy flicking through its functions. Having lots of money, of course, is a subjective notion, but while I will not claim to being poor, a part of the reason why I don’t see myself as that is because I don’t see the need to spend lots of money on something I don’t really consider as a necessity as this point in time.

Then again, I never did want to get a mobile phone, either. My father had to practically force me to get one. That was one unwanted bit of luxury that grew into a necessity. Damn it. One of my students doesn’t have an email address, and I admire his resolve/stupidity for not making the not-so-supreme effort to get one. It’s so easy to get one that everyone has at least two, but it is the resistance of the easy things in life that requires more discipline, and may be more difficult to uphold.

Anyways, I digress. The same student also practically pushed me into submission in getting a Twitter account. It wasn’t a situation I engineered, but then again, I did nothing to truly avoid it, either. Truth be told, I am not a big fan of Twitter. I understand, before the fact, that there is a limit of 140-odd characters that one can write. Within such a limited space, I wonder about the kind of effects it may have on language. Language, as it is, is not being practiced in the most proper of ways in day-to-day life. It is something I can accept, but when my students start to use SMS and Twitter language in their scripts, assignments and tests, eyebrows are raised, and question marks arise in inverse proportion to the marks given. I wonder whether there will indeed come a time when such language will be accepted within the confines of legal and official business. “Ur honor, we tinks he iz gilty.” Perhaps not, but then again, such is the evolution of life and language that it’s difficult to keep track.

Going beyond that, there is an immediacy with Twitter that makes it all the more sensational and sensationalised, at times. It is considered almost a requirement for many celebrities these days, for example, to have a Twitter account of some sort. Coupled with Facebook, the T and F logo of both social media entities have become commonplace even in nationally-run advertisements. I remember when it was still a big deal for an advert to have the URL of its website. Now such things are considered passé.

It is because of its immediacy that it seems to me to inspire a sense of…well, stupidity. Quite frankly, because Twitter allows for people to post something almost instantaneously (not that it’s the only one, mind, but I suppose blogs and Facebook would require you go take more steps in the process), I personally think that it has reduced the thinking time required between the action and reaction. An event or an issue may well inspire strong feelings in us, but the time required for deeper trains of thoughts to leave the station is now reduced significantly. I find that a lot of people who do post do so with less thinking of the consequences of their actions. What that results in is a number of very reactive, and very strong comments being posted. Since that post itself is very limited, the issues that already lacks the proper context when reported in official media is stripped bare of the facts and figures, as the lines between which we can read is being further deleted into non-existence.

Furthermore, for myself, I don’t particularly find the things that many people post to be very interesting. I suppose there is a value in it to other people. An acquaintance I met recently talked about how he enjoys reading about Jack Wilshere’s daily routine. He is a big fan of both Arsenal and the footballer, and so he gets a kick out of reading things like, “Just finished training. Heading out with Gael now. Feeling good, feeling good.” I happen to think it’s a little banal, but then again, maybe I would feel differently if I am as big a fan of Wilshere as he is.

I fear, however, that Twitter is not necessarily a revolutionary medium, more of an evolutionary one. I say ‘fear’, because from what I have observed, it appears to be the next step in the creation of images.

What is this creation of images I'm talking about? Simply put, people use it to make themselves look cool in the eyes of others. Case in point: the taking of pictures in almost every situation imaginable. I do not initially understand this notion of taking pictures of everything, until I realise that it’s not quite done for the reasons I take pictures. People do it so that they can be seen eating the nice kind of food in the nice kinds of restaurants with the fleeting moments of fleetingly famous people you’d meet once in a while. That sentence sound somewhat degrading of the lives of others (cheap plug of awesome German film), but while I can see that clearly some people enjoy this, I make no apologies for not subscribing to this notion. The memories of the experiences I live through, I prefer to live through myself. I no longer enjoy living my life through the looking glass.

Which is why I myself have subscribed to Twitter.

That may run counter to what I have just written above, but the observation was made without me being a part of the mob. Such observations may have its merits, but it can never quite impart the same kind of experience, knowledge and credibility of having actually been in the trenches. Lest I be accused of picking the wrong metaphor and lessening the efforts of those who died at Somme, I do believe in getting down and dirty with subject matters; given the circumstances, it is not enough for me to hold strong opinions from afar. In fact, a lot of the opinions I hold can be traced to the experiences I’ve subjected myself to. ‘Subjected myself to’ is not inappropriate either, since this won’t quite be something I do as willingly, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt to try and see what it’s like. Maybe I can be convinced to change my mind; what is more likely, however, is that, not unlike my Facebook, it will serve as nothing more than an extra conduit for the extension of my personality and character (a side of it, at least), in a different medium.

Evolutionary, not revolutionary. Whether that will veer positively or otherwise, I guess we'll have to check back here at a later date.

*You can check out Fikri's Twitter antics at @thekingoflame.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Doggy Style

“Do you know how to take a dog out of a TNB substation?”

It sounded like a bad joke, and my mind quickly traversed the possible answers, before giving up. “Well,” I began my reply, my fingers tapping against the keypad fast, but not so furiously, “I suppose you could climb over the fence and…get it out.”

I had only messaged her to ask for her help. Producing a short film to be directed by a friend of mine, she has a chess set I wanted to use in the film, and so I had kindly asked whether we can borrow her set for the film. Of course, when the reply is a question, you can’t help but feel obliged, somewhat, to respond in the positive.

Soon enough, it became clear that what she meant was there was a small dog, possibly a puppy, stuck in a drain in the TNB substation. I still couldn’t quite comprehend the actual situation, but nevertheless, I drove all the way to TTDI to see what I could do.

“We put the food and water near it, and we called out to it, but it wouldn’t come out. I think it’s stuck, and it can’t get out.”

I crouched myself lower and lower, but still couldn’t quite align my line of sight deep enough into the dark hole. Eventually, I got on top and turned my head upside down. Believe me, dear reader, that may sound strange, but that’s the best that I could do for now: I got on top of the small drain, and turned my head upside down. It’ll have to do for now.

“Hey doggy…” I called out, softly at first. I didn’t know what kind of dog it was. Some dogs are beautiful to hold and look at, while others seem like they couldn’t wait to sink their teeth into your balls. I silently prayed for the former, while audibly calling out to it.

I momentarily gave up, and looked at my friend. “Are you sure it’s in there?” “Yes,” she insisted, “I saw it go in just as I was about to leave the house.” She was as well; she and her mother had gotten ready to leave for something called boot camp. When they first told me about it, I had a mental image of her fashioning boots out of raw material, but of course, that had nothing to do with it.

Or this. “OK, fine.” Lacking a functioning torchlight, I went to the shoplot across the street to look for one. The workshops and car accessories shop didn’t have one, but the stationery shop did. I came back with one and flashed the drain. No cigar.

“It’s very quiet,” I said to myself, allowing for a moment the worst thought to occur. I’ve read somewhere that it’s wise to always plan for the worst, even if the worst isn’t something you’d want to consider. “Let me go to the other end and check it out.”

I went to the other end, and repeated the process. Turning on the light, I put it inside the drain…and was rewarded with a pair of curious, if slightly pitiful eyes looking back at me. “You’re right, it’s here!”

I called out to it, but it did not respond. Of course, I wasn’t quite expected it to articulate itself. “Yeah, mate, it’s a bit dark in here, would you mind hurrying the eff up?” I did, however, expect some kind of sound, a bark or a whimper, anything. At the very least, I know it’s alive, but I did not know what condition it was in.

Putting all of that aside, I formulated a plan to push the dog out from the other side. We got some pieces of wood and tried to push it out using that, but it was too short, too ineffective. Someone said that there’s a house under construction somewhere nearby, and maybe there is something we could use there. I craned my neck, and spotted the said house. The workers there did indeed help out, fashioning a long piece of wood connected together with nails (safely hammered in, of course). They even removed any stray bits of nail and sharp metal from it, bless them.

I went back with my trusty sidekick, and pushed it in. “OK, let’s see if you can pull it out by now.” “Err…” came the somewhat tame response, “I don’t touch dogs.”

I looked up. By now, my friend had left for the aforementioned boot camp. In her stead, a friend of hers had dropped by and agreed to aid me. However, as it turned out, she has never touched a dog in her life, and wasn’t about to start now. My dad won’t be pleased to read this, but I, on the other hand, had no such problems. “Fine, I’ll do it.”

I moved over to the other end, and got her and one of the workers to push the wood from the other side. “OK, push!” They pushed, and the dog moved forward a bit. It must have been painful, having a piece of wood stuck up your ass in that way, but in this case, time is of the essence. “It’s coming out. Push, push, push!”

Eventually the head showed itself, its eyes wide open in fear and stress. It was a distressing sight, but I grabbed for its paws, cradled its neck, did anything I could to actually grab the dog and pull it out. Eventually we did, and for a few moments I held it in my arms. It reminded me so much of my ex-girlfriend’s dog. It was a Corgi, and we got it when it was only a few days old. She had wanted to call it something, I can’t remember what, but it was not responsive to that. In fact, the only thing it was responsive to was Corgi, so that ended up being its name.

This, however, wasn’t a Corgi. It’s more like a beagle, like my former housemate (and current landlord) used to have. Unfortunately, before I could examine it any further, it escaped and ran through a hole in the fence of the substation. We had locked the gate, so it wouldn’t escape, but that plan was thrown to the wind in moments.

I was concerned about its medical condition, and went to track it down, with the bowls of water and cat food (my friend has cats, but no dogs) in hand. It proved to be impossible, though, because every time I get close enough the dog would run away. I ran out of ideas in the end and just sat tight, maintaining a perimeter near where the dog was at.

“Don’t worry about it,” said a passerby who was walking his own dogs. “These dogs are survivors. It’s the one at the substation, right?” I confirmed it. “Yeah, the mother and father will come back sooner or later. I think they’re house-trained, but was abandoned there for some reason some time back.”

Eventually my friend and I left, leaving behind the bowl of water and food somewhere nearby. I don’t actually know whether dogs eat cat food (they probably eat cats, though, given their rivalry), but there wasn’t much else I could do.

Later that night, my friend returned from her boot camp, and we went out, all three of us, to see whether the little doggy was still there. It wasn’t, and we walked back home, somewhat disappointed.

“Look, over there!” my friend pointed. “Can’t you see it?”

I squinted two of my four eyes, and after much effort at adjusting itself, I finally see three outlines, dark shadows roaming about in the middle of the park. They messed around for a bit, and then they went to the food and water I had left earlier in the evening. As they consumed the food somewhat ravenously, I couldn’t help but smile, thinking that I did something good today.

That thought turned quickly to a kind of dread. I started to consider the possibilities, of what would have happened if my friend had not seen the dog crawl into the substation. What if she had taken an extra few minutes to get out of the house? If she had left her room but forgotten her wallet or keys, and went back up? What if no one had known of the doggy being stuck there?

I started to think about the rest of animals that we don’t know about, being stuck in a situation of distress somewhere without any kind of relief. Wails of helps going unanswered, the need for attention and care finally needled away in the darkness because no one was around. No one.

Then I started to think about the human beings, the real second-class citizens of this and other countries, the ones for whom certain situations would almost certainly mean life and death. Desperation drives us to do dastardly things, but when push comes to shove, most people would at least feel the inclination to do something to help.

But what if most people don’t know about it to begin with? How many other animals are stuck in such holes throughout the country, throughout the world? How many other people need such help, but are denied not because of who they are, but simply because their existence is not noted by others?

I shuddered, and let that thought fly away, if at least for the moment. I cannot save the world, but at least I had done what I could. I suppose, at the end of the day, that’s all we could ever hope for. Not a new realisation, but a realisation relearned all the same.

That, and the fact that dogs eat cat food.

Something new everyday.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Mighty Films

As a whole, I personally think that the 1Malaysia concept is not a bad thing. As I drive further and further into the country, read more and more about the efforts done under the programme, I don’t quite disagree with its notion, and certainly the principles of equality and such.

Neither do I disagree with its execution and existence. Some would say it’s a waste of money, an idea that is not worth the amount of financial compensation paid for it. That’s not untrue, but in the land of slogans and sloganeering, there is a part of me that think it as inevitable. Some say that we don’t need it to begin with, claiming that 1Malaysia already exist in many levels. They have seen it, they have felt it, and therefore to describe it as a goal when we have already scored the hat-trick would be redundant.

I scoff at this notion. Sure, there are plenty of people for whom race, religion and others is not an issue. Being a regular in places such as Sunway, Bangsar and downtown KL, such factors are not necessarily the biggest or most important ones. Unfortunately, to claim that we have already achieved that particular goal merely highlights the lack of breadth and depth in our point of view. In short, there’s just too much baggage in Malaysia, a weight that weighs itself unconditionally upon many in the country. I don’t doubt that there are many who are truly Malaysian in their character and outlook. I also know that our esteemed prime minister is not just the prime minister for the Klang Valley, but for the whole country.

As much as I want to believe that many Malaysians see themselves as Malaysian first and foremost, to allow the land of their birth rather than the government define them, I have second thoughts when I’m asked to “understand lah, she doesn’t really know Malays very well, so don’t think too much of it.”

And let’s get it out there…as open-minded as the KLites may be, half of the girls I have met would rule me out on the basis of the colour of my skin. “I like you too, but your race and religion…” That was the message sent to me on MSN one time, a message I relayed to my friend who had somewhat set us up.

“Hmm,” came the sage reply. “I guess then you just have to accept it. I think it’s because of her family, perhaps, maybe her friends too. There are such pressures, and I don’t think that means she’s a bad person.” Sigh. It is somewhat unfortunate that we live in a mirage of mirrors, keen only for the reflection we want to see, rather than the truth that is truly out there.

So, 1Malaysia may well be something good. It may not be. It may turn out to be a wise investment, or it may be a complete and colossal waste of money. All of those things are still up in the air, in many respects, but I do believe that it deserves a chance to be properly executed, whatever it may be.

In spite of all of the above, I do have one big, huge problem with it. A massive problem.

The fact that it’s called 1Malaysia.

I don’t like it being called 1Malaysia because there is such a term in the Malay language. If, for example, you want to talk about something being known by the whole village, you’d say something along the lines of, “Kalau kau buat macam tu, satu kampung akan dengar nanti!” It’s a very holistic term in the Malay language, and I have heard of it being use in such manner on a regular basis. This differs, of course, depending on whether you’re saying satu kampung, satu bandar, or…satu Malaysia.

Thus, satu Malaysia existed before 1Malaysia. However, because of the campaign that has been done, the barrage and repetition of the same words over and over again, no one informed within Malaysia would think of satu Malaysia when someone says satu Malaysia. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that you’d have to be living under a rock of some kind to have not heard of it. I don’t like it when a part of the language is appropriated for such reasons, so much so that the original meaning is lost not so much because of natural evolution of the language, but because of its appropriation by others for their own personal gain. I feel the same way when some Christian groups use the word ‘youth’ to describe young Christians rather than young people in general (though fortunately that hasn’t really caught on…or has it?), and I feel the same about this.

The language does not belong to you or me. It is by itself, an entity unique to a particular time and space, one that grows and dies over time, just like a human being. Just like you and me, though, no one person or group should have a right over it, to appropriate it for their own ends and ambitions, altering the landscape for many when it’s only for the benefit of the few.

As an indirect aside, I’ve always wanted to reuse the name my father used for his production company. I imagined that some time down the line, way into the future, I’d want to set some a number of companies, dealing with filmmaking primarily, but also…well, anything I want, basically. It’s not too dissimilar from what George Lucas has set up for himself, with the likes of Lucasfilms, Lucasarts, Industrial Light and Magic and Skywalker Sound, amongst others, dealing with different fields of the arts.

My father’s production company was Perkasa Filem, which produced Sayang Salmah.

Let me know if Norish Karman pops into your head before Ibrahim Ali does.