Thursday, May 30, 2013

Story


We are what are told and tell.

****

My interest in stories lies in the fact that, in many respects, I have a professional obligation to better know a story, and how it is told. The methods with which I conduct myself in certain settings determines whether I am acknowledged positively or otherwise.

Let’s take, for example, a lecture. Being a lecturer means that we are constantly communicating. The difference between lecturers lies in the differences they have (and choose to have) in communicating their ideas. Some lecturers prefer to speak, using nothing more than their oratory abilities to convey meanings. Others can’t live without the combination of audiovisual complements; I myself fall prey to this, largely because I believe it is the best method to get the most concentrated form of attention (my voice and I, alone, up there, on stage, holding people’s attention? Please…).

So what do we do up there, then? Well, simply put, we tell stories. We stand up and move around, waving our hands and pointing our fingers. A click here will lead to the appropriate slides, which has their own stories to tell. Words and pictures tag with each other, as they deliver the message of the moment, be it a fictional concoction of half-truths, or a delivery of trues stories based on the half-truths that we see and hear.

Lectures are a kind of story. The pictures used, the films screened, the knowledge and ideas I impart…they are all a kind of story. Think back to the very basic definition of the word ‘story’. What is a story? Some sources would cite it simply as a basic recounting of events. True events? Yup, like what happened at work today. Not so true events? Yup, like the movies we watch.

How do we know that these are true events or stories? Consider the methods of verification utilised. We hear that someone is of child. We call up another friend to confirm; that friend will narrate the sequence of events as she best understands it. Even if she does not, she will deliver something that will somewhat resemble a modicum of the truth that is the situation itself. Stories being verified by other stories.

Perhaps we fire up our laptops, and log on to the Internet. Sign into Facebook, and voila…you are bombarded with all sorts of stories, all sorts of events in all sorts of sequences. Sequence here is important, too; upon signing in, you’ll be delivered the kind of information that has been post the latest. Not the best, the truest, but the newest. Putting that aside, it could have been something done with monetary considerations behind it, as Facebook seek to monetise its product.

You check your friend’s profile, stalk them through their pictures. Each word, each picture there, tells you what she has done. What universities she attended, who she is dating, what she had for lunch that day. Again, stories of a person’s life, whether begotten through face-to-face communications or extracted via more digital means, are what we are dealing with.

We close the laptop, feeling somewhat satisfied. We turn on the news, flick open the newspaper, have a brief look through our messages. Signs and symbols, delivering signifieds and meanings we’ve been conditioned to understand. Even when we don’t understand it, we get the fact that we don’t understand it; the usage of the hashtag in Twitter, for example, is something that we probably know, but attempting to come up with a conclusive definition rudimentary enough for simple storytelling  explanation is tricky.

Of course, to say that we believe in everything we hear and see is not an argument that believes in the human agency. I believe that we still do have the power in many respects to decide for ourselves. In this context, then/though, the upholding of our beliefs and ideas is dependent upon...you guessed it, stories. Even when confronted with stories that suggests otherwise, we seek validation in the stories we know and turn to as 'the truth'; there are loads of stories out there, and we shall, as is our supposed right, pick and choose the ones we want to believe in.

The books we read, the news we hear, the films we watch, the religion we believe in, the faiths and ideals we hold dear and close to us. If the very foundations of these are not entirely constructed of a story, their continued existence lives on by way of storied verifications. Our own experiences, perhaps, may not necessarily qualify, for the are in themselves the actual sequence of events. They exist in their own right as…life.

Once we tell of our life to others, though…would that not qualify that version of our life as a story itself?

Is it possible, therefore, to consider ourselves as being beyond the stories we are told and tell?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Kuningan


Kuning.

Adakah itu satu warna yang secara umumnya dianggap sebagai warna alternatif?

Menonton perlawanan bola sepak di antara Borussia Dortmund dan Bayern Munich dalam pusingan terakhir Liga Juara-Juara Eropah, saya rasa agak tertarik kepada teori dan konsep yang tersirat di belakang warna kuning ini.

Pasukan bola sepak Dortmund ini, semenjak beberapa tahun yang lalu, telah dianggap sebagai pasukan sokongan golongan mereka yang ingin menunjuk perasan. Tunjukan perasan tidak semestinya digambarkan sebagai satu perhimpunan haram atau sebagainya, seperti yang ahli politik tertentu inginkan, walaupun kita akan kembali pada isu tersebut kemudian.

Tidak, ini adalah sesuatu yang berkaitan dengan konsep hipster. Hipsterisme, jikalau saya dibenarkan menterjemah perkataan tersebut, juga adalah satu cara pemikiran yang tidak begitu lama wujudnya di alam arus perdana ini (sesuatu yang ironik, kan?).

Bagi mereka yang menganggap diri mereka sebagai seorang hipster atau, dalam konteks ini, sebagai seorang penyokong bola sepak hipster, pilihan pasukan yang telah diutamakan oleh ramai dari golongan tersebut ialah Borussia Dortmund. Sebagai satu kumpulan pemain bola sepak yang unggul, mereka memang layak untuk dikenali sebagai juara tersendiri; walaupun mereka tidak berjaya meraih kemenangan bila bertentangan dengan Bayern, tetapi mereka tidak melupakan prinsip-prinsip mereka.

Dari senarai pemain yang terikat kepada Dortmund buat sementara ini, tidak ada satu pemain pun yang tidak diidamkan oleh kumpulan lain di Eropah. Khabar angin mengenai penyerang utama mereka, Robert Lewandowski, tidak akan meninggalkan mereka sampai titik permulaan musim bola sepak baru sekiranya dia masih ada di sana. Selain dari dia, penjaga gol mereka, Roman Weidenfeller, memberikan satu persembahan yang mantap di Wembley, dan gol jaringan Arjen Robben tidak boleh disalahkan secara keseluruhannya kepada dia.

Pada masa yang sama, cara mereka menjalankan tugas mereka bukan sahaja sebagai kumpulan bola sepak, tetapi juga sebagai sebuah syarikat yang bertanggungjawab, telah mendapat perhatian yang positif dari ramai pihak.

Tetapi itu bukannya sebab saya menulis ini.

Bukan, sebabnya adalah mereka bermain dengan jersi yang mengutamakan warna kuning.

Ia, memang baju mereka berbelang dengan warna hitam, tetapi pada masa dulu, belang-belang tersebut tidak ada lagi. Saya teringat jersi mereka musim selepas mereka menang Liga Juara-Juara Eropah pada tahun 1997. Kawan saya, Eser, bukannya seorang yang menyokong mereka atau bola sepak Jerman (malah, dia lebih gilakan Manchester United dan Fenerbache; sekarang dia menjadi seorang peminat kumpulan bolasepak Crystal Palace), merasa agak tertarik kepada baju dan warna tersebut sehingga dia memutuskan untuk membeli baju itu. Ianya langsung dipakai ke mana jua; kalau kita hendek pergi menonton filem di panggung wayang, baju itu juga yang dipakai.

Adakah ini bermaksud bahawa Borussia Dortmund dan warna kuning (dan yang sewaktu dengannya) boleh dianggap sebagai hipster dari penghujung abad ke-20? Saya tidak pasti, tetapi sekarang saya ingin mengenalkan anda semua kepada Encik Eddie Jordan.

Siapakah Eddie Jordan? Dia adalah bekas pengurus dan pengasas kumpulan Formula 1, Jordan. Mereka mula bertanding di gelanggang F1 pada awal tahun 90an, dan pada penghujungnya, mereka mula mencatat markah dan kemenangan yang memberansangkan.

Damon Hill berjaya meraih kemenangan mereka pertama di Spa-Francorchamps pada tahun 1998, dan di tahun seterusnya, Heinz Harald Frentzen meningkatkan lagi prestasi mereka. Dia memberi satu cabaran kejohanan pemandu Formula 1 yang kuat, bertarung dengan Mika Hakkinen dan Eddie Irvine, hingga beberapa pusingan yang terakhir. Bagi satu kumpulan yang tidak mempunyai latar belakang yang besar di dunia korporat, ianya sebuah kumpulan yang kecil yang hampir mencapai impian yang diidamkan oleh ramai pelumba di seluruh dunia. Makanya ramai orang yang mula menyokong mereka, terutamanya orang yang berminat dengan pencapaian kumpulan yang lebih kecil di Formula 1.

Warna Jordan? Kuning.

Beberapa tahun selepas itu, Eddie Jordan menjelaskan dalam sebuah temuduga bahawa walaupun dia hampir digelar juara dunia, ada ramai juga orang yang berpendapat bahawa dia tidak patut menang kejohanan tersebut. Kononnya, ianya akan memberikan kesan yang negatif kepada cara kumpulan Jordan telah dipasarkan, dan mengurangkan tarikan bagi orang ramai. Konsep tentang apa yang bagus buat kumpulan Jordan…diramalkan oleh mereka yang lebih beruntung jikalau Jordan tidak dilihat sebagai pemenang, dan sekaligus dimasukkan ke arus yang lebih perdana.

Mereka dianggap sebagai pilihan hipster dan alternatif, kerana mereka tidak menang. Seperti Borussia Dortmund.

Seperti Bersih.

Dan sekarang kita kembali ke apa yang saya jelaskan tadi. Perhimpunan Bersih yang telah diadakan beberapa kali di Malaysia merupakan satu acara yang terjebak di sejarah sebagai titik permulaan sesuatu yang tidak dijangka oleh ramai orang. Ianya bergerak sebagai satu cara penyampaian pesanan kepada pihak-pihak yang tertentu. Ianya diterima oleh orang ramai dengan cara yang berlainan, tetapi yang pentingnya adalah…ianya menggunakan warna kuning sebagai satu cara mengagihkan lagi perbezaan di antara mereka yang menyokong pihak-pihak berlainan. Objektif dan misi dan visi mereka tidak semestinya selaras dengan penyokong Bersih yang lain; akan tetapi, warna kuning telah digunakan sebagai satu cara menunjuk perasaan yang lebih alternatif.

Saya merujuk kepada soalan yang dikemukakan di awal penulisan ini.

Adakah warna kuning secara umumnya dianggap sebagai warna alternatif? Ini merupakan sesuatu yang menarik bagi saya pertikaikan kerana, walaupun saya tidak ingin menyatakan bahawa warna ini sahaja yang boleh digunakan buat objektif-objektif tersebut, sebagai sesuatu yang boleh mengatasi masa, ruang, lokasi dan sebagainya, ianya telah disiratkan kualiti-kualiti yang ramai orang kenal sebagai alternatif. Bebas.

Hipster.

Siapakah yang menentukannya? Pihak manakah yang memutuskan ini?

Yang lebih penting adalah ini: pergerakan hipster, alternatif, independent dan sebagainya menggunakan pertentangan dengan arus perdana sebagai sesuatu yang membentuk kewujudan mereka. Mereka adalah lain kerana mereka tidak menggunakan idea atau cara yang ditetapkan oleh orang lain. Lain sebab mereka lain.

Warna kuning telah ditetapkan oleh ramai orang sebagai warna yang diberikan kualiti-kualiti tersebut.

Makanya…jikalau itu memang benar, adakah definasi prinsip yang telah diberikan kepada warna tersebut boleh dianggap sebagai mainstream? Bolehkah kita sekarang, dari segi politik, sukan dan sebagainya, melihat bukan sahaja warna kuning ini, tetapi warna-warna yang lain yang sewaktu dengannya, tanpa memikirkan konotasi yang tersirat seperti yang telah ditetapkan oleh pihak-pihak yang tidak boleh dikenalpasti?

Just how hipster, then, is the colour yellow?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Antara...


I dream of memories, soft as a rose's touch, that does not wilt at the very breath of fog.

I dream of an evening, of the sinking sun that colours the sky as it does my life.

I dream of the wind, the soft shaving of the skin to brush away the pain.

I dream of ashes, and of dust, of lightness and of dark, a drought of love that floods in emotions.

Of rhyme and reason, harmonious as can be, hands and fates intertwined.

I dream of stars that bright shinely, of moons that crescent well, of the sand that floats forever more.

I dream a dream that could never be.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Politics of Arrogance


The grimace on the face of Cristiano Ronaldo as another pass, another shot, another cross goes astray is becoming more and more familiar. It could be because the shots and passes are getting more wayward in their execution. More often than not, that is becoming the defining image of the footballer, perhaps mirroring the man that is encased within.

Or so you would think.

Across the country, dazzling not only his home crowd but the global television audience, Lionel Messi streaks away from yet another defender, jinking left and right before slotting the ball home, usually in the only spot the goalkeeper can’t reach. Sometimes, he can even afford to whack one in from further out, but the smile plastered across his face after the ball nestles safely in the back of the net is becoming his defining image.

Or so you would think.

In many respects, we are incredibly lucky to be witnessing two wonderful footballers who are peaking at about the right time in their respective careers. The challenges that each have set for themselves (and indirectly, for the other) have made for some wonderful football with numerous records being broken time and again. They fall like dominoes, those records, as Ronaldo and Messi flat-track bully their way into history.

Of course, within the discourse we have been conditioned, there is apparently a need to define an undisputed number one. The crème de la crème, the best of the best, the greatest ever in the history of the game. When you think about it, it’s a very Highlander approach we have, except that we don’t necessarily behead the guy who comes in second. As Russell Peters' dad might have said, that would be counter productive.

Nevertheless, the one thing I wish to consider is this. Messi and Ronaldo have been paired against each other in pretty much everything. In pure statistical terms, Messi wins in the sense that he has scored more goals than Ronaldo. He has won more, too, especially if one is to consider only the Spanish-specific context of their duel.

However, that’s the team game. Football is very much eleven players pitted against one another, and the organic development and unit that is the Blaugrana should not be underestimated. Consider the more ‘instant’ culture that is the policy in the Spanish capital team, and we can see a bigger difference. In short, the winning team is only and exactly that: a team. Many have commented that there is no I in team, but fewer pointed out that there is ME in team.

The ME of both Barcelona and Real Madrid is definitely Messi and Ronaldo. They have been very effective, they are both only as effective as their team allow them to be.

What if you take all of that away, though? What if we are to consider only the two of them, stripped naked from the very protective cells of their respective teammates, and consider only their actual footballing skill and attributes? Gets trickier doesn’t it? 

Here’s another spanner in the works of this, and the main crux of this post. Who wins? We don’t really know. 

However, who would be the popular choice?

No prizes for guessing that one. I’d go so far as to put a sizeable amount of my rental deposit on that, should the odds be favourable. They won’t be, simply because Messi’s ascent has as much, perhaps even more so, to do with his image that it is with his skills on wheels.

As such, the nomination of ‘the best’ should always be prefixed with this question: do we pick the best, or do we pick a player who we like the most? Is such a choice predicated on what the player actually is, or is it more to do with the alignment of an assigned set of characteristics to our own?

Lionel Messi often wins the popularity contest, and he would therefore often be crowned the best. His smile, his stature, his boy next door look that breaks the hearts of mothers and daughters everywhere (one can imagine the complete opposite to the saying "Mothers, lock up your daughters!" should Messi happen to be strolling down one's street). That’s the narrative, the cause and effect right there. 

Just how fair is this, though?

I look at Ronaldo, and I see a man who is a winner. He wants to be the best. He wants to be acknowledged as the best. That is perhaps a very clearly and explicitly stated objective of his. 

He will, therefore, do every single thing in he can within his powers to expand his powers on the pitch. He sleeps the appropriate amount at the appropriate time. Despite the glamour surrounding him, he doesn’t do much off the pitch that would have, in a more sedate time and era, garnered that much attention. A couple of dates here, a few movie premieres there, and…that’s it. Everything he does is done in light of his focus on his performance on that green patch in the middle of the stadium.

So he gets angry when things does not go to plan on the pitch. That’s OK, though He’s a winner. And yet…

And yet.

It is the very expression of this attitude that sees him branded as arrogant. Certainly, within a very large group of people, the personal distaste that they hold for the footballer has something to do with this. He’s arrogant, they say. Too flashy, they think. Not one of us, it is stated.

I don’t know about that, to be perfectly honest. I do not presume that every single person on the planet hold the same view. However, I do believe that for those who do, it is this very same view that allows for a more blinkered assessment of someone who is a fantastic athlete, and, in many respects, the complete footballer.

Do we dislike him because he represents something we don’t like? Or do we not cast our metaphorical vote for him because he does not represent something we aspire to?

I see no problem in someone who has a clear objective, and states it. I have no issues with a man who wants to be all that he can be, and lives his life accordingly. He gets hurt, he feels pain, and he allows frustrations to overrule his head when the plan worked on so assiduously is not adhered to, either by design or by fate. Just like all of us, if you really think about it.

And yet, this is branded as arrogance. Super confidence is not something someone is allowed to have, should one wish to win popularity contests, simply because the judges have delusions of grandeur when it comes to either their own skill sets or aspirations.

Perhaps this is why I myself have been called arrogant. It could very well explain why Ronaldo is one of, if not my outright favourite player in the world. 

I spent years admiring the skills of Ryan Giggs, and consider him to be one of my biggest idols…on the pitch. Sleeping with my brother’s wife, however, is not something I aspire to, and yet let us compare the reaction Ryan Giggs provokes to that of Ronaldo.

My point exactly.

Now that, you can think of what you will.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Keep The Faith


“Keep the faith…keep the faith…” crooned Bon Jovi, gripping the mic ever harder. He leaned backwards, further extending himself to bellow the final round, the money shot if ever the singing of a certain part of a song could be described as such.

Bon Jovi were such icons for the working class. They have outgrown that now.

****

I drove up to my grandmother’s house. It has been some months since I last visited. It wasn’t that long, truth be told, but the gap prior to that had been even longer. This time around, though, this trip is somewhat necessitated by more urgent matters.

The last time I had left, she had a lot of difficulty moving. Quite frankly, it was one of those times I lamented further the divide and pressures between my professional and personal life. The decisions I made have defined me, but the person defined is not necessarily someone I would recommend.

Simply put, I could have been a better grandson. Circumstances within a more contemporary context means that my family is spread out far and few in between through the country; though I am now back in Malaysia, the difference felt in terms of familial relations is smaller than you might think. At the end of the day, more often than not my mother is little more than a voice on the other end of the line.

And my grandmother’s. As I said, a previous visit left me feeling some sense of dread, and as I called out her name outside her house, I was wondering how she would have developed as the weeks turned into months.

I shouldn’t have worried.

She walked up to the door, sprightly as ever, and was unlocking all the doors and gates in a fairly rapid time. I still could not quite get over this mini-shock I was feeling. I know that she had gotten some help from some ustaz somewhere in the vicinity, but I was still unable to register the scenes unfolding in front of my eyes, literally, as she hugged me close and tight. It was a warm hug, warm with love.

As we sat down inside, she had made some tea for me. I notice another pot closer to her, though, with a big, black block of…something. Unsettling? Not quite, but I was curious all the same. “Itu apa tu?” I asked. “Oh, tu Ustaz yang bagi,” she said. Anything that an Ustaz would give, a man with apparently considerable religious knowledge and experience, is generally regarded as ‘safe’ in Malaysia. The fear of even being seen as criticising religion and/or its practice is so strong, it can be overwhelming.

Nevertheless, while that may be the prevalent public view, my questioning mind works slightly differently. I was sceptical, perhaps a product of the environment in which I had been shaped and defined. I asked further as to what the block could have been made of, but my grandmother seemed content to not answer my questions in the way I would have liked. I’ll get an answer, but it may not be what you’re looking for.

What I was looking for, and what she had sought, though, are not necessarily the same things. We had the same end objective, in the sense that we both wanted her to get better. And soon. However, in my sceptical and questioning state of mind, I had allowed Reason and Logic, two of my very good friends, to trump the Gut and Feeling. My grandmother went the other way, leaning more towards the latter two, but she went with another, older, perhaps more favourable friend: Faith.

I don’t know what is in that block. I highly doubt whether the very origin of its concoction is something my grandmother is truly aware of either. Now, though, she turned to faith and Faith, and by that time she was moving as sprightly as I could remember.

What do I say to that?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Imposition of Suppositions


Another issue raised in the Warisan Minda talk by Yang Berbahagia Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Utama Arshad Ayub was the usage of language. He talked about the importance of using different languages, in response to a French language lecturer raising the issue of being looked down upon by other staff members and lecturers from other disciplines.

Before I go on further, it should be noted that he didn’t, unfortunately, actually answer the question or the actual issue raised by the lecturer. That’s alright, though, I guess so long as everyone is happy enough; one suspect that the lecturer himself simply wanted to bring that to the attention of a key UiTM figure, rather than expect any particular solution to be presented right on the spot.

He went on and talked about the importance of having a third language. “At the very least, even if you cannot write it,” he said, “then learn to read and speak it. Using it outside of the classroom environment is important.” He went on and on and talked about it, and I…felt bored. I certainly felt that he wasn’t saying anything new, or, perhaps more to the point, considered his point irrelevant to me. He had assumed that I, like everybody else, would not be able to speak more, that I had been content with what was given to me rather than clawing and scratching my way forward for more.

Then I stopped.

He had, of course, made that assumption, but was it an unfair assumption to make? At the risk of sounding very condenscending, many people I know in Malaysia do not have the linguistic ability to speak more than two languages.

But is this itself not an assumption that I myself am making?

Some people say that it is not a good thing to judge. I myself do not necessarily subscribe to that view, but judging (there’s that word again) from the way the word has been used, it implies that there is a negative idea that is attached to that idea. It's not good to judge.

However, don't we all do that?

The tendency to talk about first impressions as something that is lasting is key here. The idea of making a first impression that is positive is prevalent amongst many, but it has also been expressed as if it does not really indicate any sort of accuracy as to a person's character. The more you know someone, the better you can judge (again, this word!) the accuracy of said first impression.

In which case, can we say that the said first (or second or third) impression is the kind of judgment we all fear and loathe to impose upon others? The impression, until the next time the chance to approve or disprove it appears, remains and lingers as more than just a residue of what we think; rather, it stays long enough to remain the final word until the next word. If we don't ever meet that person again, that impression becomes a little more permanent.

I suppose in that sense, perhaps it would be better to consider the removal of the negativity surrounding the word 'judge'. Neutrality should be restored, assuming, of course, that the identity of such words was neutral to begin with. More to the point, perhaps what we should consider is a bigger willingness to appropriately change our impressions as soon as the situation warrants it, to consider that the reality of a person's character is beyond what we understand through that first or final impression.

Or judgement. Whatever you want to call it.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Partner in Solitude


My housemate has a cat named Malaka. It was a street cat, but the emphasis is on the word ‘was’; Malek found Malaka in Melaka (where else), and brought him back to KL. Malaka has been in the house and by our side ever since early last year, if I am not mistaken.

Initially, it was a cat that was difficult to take to, once it grew beyond being a kitten. I remember coming back home after long days out, and seeing Malek and Melor on the couch in the living room, cooing over Malaka as if he is a newborn. It was sweet to see and nice to somewhat be a part of.

Malaka, though, was very shy. In the early days, he would often run away from me; any effort to rectify this slowly would result in the ice within melting, before freezing up in an instant as he would run away, heeding the call of Melor (though as she herself readily admits, it would be because he was more attracted to the food) rather than hanging out with me.

Over time, however, things changed. I work very odd hours, which means that I a lot of the time I get home fairly late. The house is dark and quiet, and everyone is asleep.

Everyone, that is, except for Malaka.

Having parked my car, I would walk to the front door looking up at the grilled balcony above. Malaka would be waiting, his head sticking somewhat dangerously out from the spaces amongst the grills. He sees me coming, and he would meow. At times, it would become a race, to see who would win: me, opening the locked gate and doors, or the cat, trying to see if he can get out for that one ounce of freedom.

At times, he managed to. He would go off to enjoy the freedom of the world that was denied to him for most of the day, while I would be worried sick about him. He is, after all, not my cat, and I would feel somewhat responsible had he managed to ‘escape’ during my attempts to enter the house. Once, after my sister's reception, I had returned home somewhat late, with plenty of things to be brought into the house. Opening the door, I could not anticipate the cat's wily agility, and he managed to escape.

Funnily enough, he didn't really run away. If anything, he loitered around the front yard and the area in front of our house. Had he been a Malay boy, he may have been called Mat Tembok. Alas, Malaka has to settle for the very unique, if somewhat still-racially-tinged, name.

Settle, however, wasn't what he was doing. So there I was, dressed to the brim with the proper Malay outfit, complete with the sampin and everything. As an aside, it is an uncomfortable adornment to have when one needs to relieve oneself in answering the call of nature. Also as an aside, it is not all that great to be wearing chasing after cats in the dark, and slipping down the side of an incline. Simply put, very uncomfortable. I let him go, and went inside angry and guilty at the same time.

The next day, however, I went out and when I came back, he was perched somewhere near the door, right as rain. I had thought that he was gone forever, and yet, here he was.

And here he was. Every night, staying home, with very little of the human company he may be entitled to claim. I often wonder whether he feels the same loneliness that we all feel. Surely, animals are sentient beings with more than a possibility of empathy for one another. Such feelings can't really be exclusive to just us, can it? I don't really know; sometimes I wonder whether the kind of solitude he finds himself in really does provide the contentment for himself.

Solitude.

Every night I come home, I feed him. I stroke him. Perhaps even more so than in the recent past, Malaka has become more than just a pet, for even though he does not belong to me, even if such a creature of God belong to another being, even if wonderful creatures retain the same memories and feelings we do, I find that it is in those moments of silence punctuated by the rain outside that I have found my partner in solitude.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

In My Head...



In my head, they are now all living their own separate lives.

Joey, as we know, went off to try his luck in Hollywood, but unfortunately he didn’t quite make it to the level he wanted to.

Monica and Chandler, meanwhile, would have their hands fairly full with the twins. They would be around ten years old by now, which would mean that certain things like costs and educational opportunities would have been seriously considered (or about as seriously it can be considered by Chandler), before being doubled down.

Monica would be a stern mother, insisting on the kids using the coaster every time they sit down in front of the TV watching Cartoon Network’s latest programme. Chandler, meanwhile, would be the good cop in the relationship, being the one his children would run to seeking advice on their own trials and tribulations in school. I suspect it would not be too early by that time to have had romantic crushes, especially more so in the Facebook age.

Ross wouldn’t really use it, though. He would have an account, but I don’t know how often he would actually use it. In fact, I reckon they would all be fairly traditional in that sense, prefering their communication to be done at least verbally, if not face to face. Rachel, on the other hand, would probably have @RachelGreen as her handle, which possibly suggests her being an early adopter of such social networking, simply because it is the latest.

The differences between the two, though, would not necessarily be a hindrance; if anything, they come together and be good and loving parents to Emma. Emma, by now, would have been about twelve years old. Though the difference is slight, it is enough for her to be the de facto leader of the Geller children whenever Ross and Rachel would come to the suburbs to visit Monica and Chandler.

Their kids would potter around in their backyard. Playing Twister? Maybe, maybe not. I imagine that they’d be pretty active, but not to the point of disobeying their parents. Monica being Monica, she may be strict, but she only has their best interests at heart by insisting that they don’t go too far. Perhaps by now, Chandler would have gotten over his fear of dogs, and there’d be one or two dogs around. Joey, in theory, would have eaten almost all of the food, but he’s not back as often as he used to be back when they first moved out here. Though his stuff is still in his room, the room above the garage is becoming as much a garage of junk in its own right. Monica would insist, fight and scratch, but she would have accepted that a family of four (and a couple of dogs) would not necessarily be exactly the same as how she imagined it to be.

Mike and Phoebe, though, are the furthest. Phoebe would end up spending more and more time with Mike’s friends and family, and though they still keep in touch, their actual physical connection to Phoebe is probably the weakest. By now, she probably would have taken full advantage of the fact that she can travel internationally. Mike being relatively wealthy, they would have taken in the Bahamas again, where things really got going for them. Perhaps France, where Rachel nearly went, because Phoebe can speak French. That’s a plus, so why not we make use of the plusses we have, right?

What would they actually be like, though? What kinds of lives would they really have led? To ask these questions and more of characters that existed as nothing more than mere figments of someone’s imagination is not really practical. You’ll never get a prim and proper answer. Perhaps they would all have gotten a Whatsapp group set up. Maybe, just maybe, people like Carol and Ben would also pop in (maybe not so much Ben, since he would be in university by now), and let’s not forget Janice.

When a TV show dies, sometimes it is sad to not know what happens next in the lives of these others we call our own. We become attached to the characters and their stories, and we see how these iterations become important figures in our own lives. They serve as a point of reference in conversations, they become archetypes that we compares ourselves to. In short, they become our actual Friends.

I don’t know whether it’s all that appropriate to consider the above, but in my head, that’s how it went.

That's how I would quite like it to remain.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Heritage of the Mind


Attending a talk by Yang Berbahagia Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Utama Arshad Ayub, there were some points that Tan Sri raised which I felt warrants further discussion, but I’m gonna stick with one, which had to do with books.

He talked about learning and teaching from a book. Books are wonderful artefacts which serves as a conduit that connects the past and present, the new and old, the wonderful and the mundane. That’s not to say that the mundane is necessarily boring, but of course, many people have strong connections to specific areas they have interests in.

Something like an exploration of storytelling through the application of Aristotle’s three-act structure to contemporary professional wrestling, for example, may appear to be somewhat mundane to others. To me, however, it is goldust from heaven.

But I digress. Books in and of themselves, serves as a medium that transmits knowledge. There are plenty of books in the world, and, just like the films produced in the world, it is impossible to read and know all. Nevertheless, as I have once mentioned before, it is not perfection we aim for, but the search for perfection that will lead us to a higher plane; we may ‘fail’ to reach what many consider to be perfect…but what we achieve is more than enough in many respects.

Plato’s cave theory sees man being chained for a long time inside a cave, with only shadows created through a fire behind him to keep him proper company. He escapes, goes out into the world, and finds that it is not the same as the shadows. It is now his task to go back into the cave and to release the others from the chains of ignorance and enslavement.

Do books do that? Yes. Do practical experience do that? Yes as well. There has to be a bigger understanding in the relationship between the two. They are simbiotic, a two-way street that cannot exist without the other.

Someone asked me recently whether UiTM is a better university compared to Monash. I laughed, simply because what I teach at the universities are incredibly different with different objectives. As a point of reference to further illuminate what I mean, subjects like Media Texts and Contemporary Television Studies, with their cultural studies approach, is very difficult to compare with courses such as Short Film Script and Screenplay, which places a bigger emphasis on producing practical screenplays. Though screenplays and teaching its writing is a lot closer to what I have far more experience in, I well understand the importance of understanding society and culture from the theoretical approach as well; Syd Field and Robert McKee are as important as Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes, as far as I am concerned.

Who are we to place a bigger value and currency of knowledge on one field over the other? What makes us qualified enough to judge whether a certain university or education institution is good enough? Different universities and institutions, just like human beings, have different objectives and approachs, different missions and visions.

It is a very tricky thing to balance, in many respects. However, the reading of books, much like the watching of films, allows us the opportunity to view the insights of others which we may ourselves not consider. Practical experiences, as valued as it can be for some people, are still only predicated on our own perspective. Reading through different books, is, in a way, its own practical experience.

Better yet, read very different books. Like football? Move beyond the Manchester United books, and consider Feet of the Chameleon by Ian Hawkey, a tome deeply researched on African football. Like films? There are more filmmakers to the world than Steven Spielberg, and more industries apart from Hollywood.

The bigger key, then, is not necessarily to stop teaching straight from the book. Rather, it is the combination of different experiences and approaches, including different books, that will help to further inform us not only in our teaching, but also in the learning of life.

OK, I’m rambling now. I’ll stop.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sijil Propaganda Malaysia



A number of you may have known of this, but late last year, I took my Sijil Pelajaran Malaysian at the grand old age of…well, I’m not telling. I’ll let you guess that, but I think it suffices for now that many people are somewhat surprised at my candidature for the papers.

This came about as a result of my direct employment by the Faculty of Film, Theatre and Animation of Universiti Teknologi MARA. In effect, being employed by a government university also means that I am a government servant, which is a whole other kettle of fish together.

The thing is, all full-time, permanent government servants must have at least a credit in Bahasa Malaysia (BM) at the high school level. This is something I do not have. I have garnered enough experience and paper qualifications for someone, somewhere, to deem me worthy of imparting some of these film and media knowledge and experience unto the next generation. However, the fact that I never actually did sit for my SPMs is a fact that would come back to bite me firmly in my buttocks.

So, register for the papers I did, and sat for them I did as well. It was a very interesting and enlightening experience, and there are some aspects of that I wish to explore further here.

I have to admit that I can finally see and understand where my students are coming from. In asking for their critical analyses of different types of films, many of them have been keen to include a certain film’s moral values, or the directors intended social statement. I hasten to add that while these are not necessarily unnecessary, this tendency to lean so far to this side has left me feeling underwhelmed when it comes to the more (for the lack of a better term) critical stuff.

For example, in answering the questions for the literature selected for the exam, I notice a strong tendency in emphasising the moral aspects and social values of a certain book or literature. It appears to be somewhat straightforward, but this, I think, directly masks what many would consider as moralising and dakwahing under the umbrella of critical thinking. Perhaps that’s not quite the outcome, but as I mentioned before, I can imagine this being confused and mixed up as one or the other.

This wasn’t necessarily limited to the BM papers, of course; having time to sit for the English papers as well, I did exactly that. If anything, it was a mere translation of the same exact questions. The methods of the devils were exactly the same, with only a change in name and locations for the perpretators and the scene of the crime.

Thus, I can see how easy it was to somewhat game the system. It is true, then, what many people say; starting a mere 12 hours before the actual exam itself to study for the papers, I managed to achieve what I had wanted. Of course, once again, the situation and circumstances were vastly different, and my candidature cannot be directly compared to a more typical candidate. Nevertheless, having taken part in the programme, I understand better that memorisation mattered far more than actual rethinking of certain issues that would truly test a student’s understanding.

More to the point, however, the entire system seems to point towards a very certain notion of what is right and wrong, and what is good or bad. This, of course, is nothing new, but nevertheless I found it entirely interesting to have gone through all that.

The SPM is a very important part of someone’s life. Hell, any kind of examination, one set as the final benchmark of high school and scholastic ability, is important. The fervour with which people treat it with, the sense of importance and enthusiasm does not dampen the fact that in many respects, it is a part, a rite of passage, that any single person has to go through in order to move on to the next part of their life.

I didn’t do all that. I had a different passage, a different rite, but going through this as I am now, at this stage of my life, makes me somewhat melancholic. The years, however, predictably made me wiser, and here’s a little something I want to share.

It is important, but is not the end of the world.

That's it.

It really isn't.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Impact Zone


Teacher’s Day came and went last week, and it was the first in which I’ve gotten large scale wishes and greetings from my students. I take that as a fairly positive sign, but for obvious reasons I still have a long way to go.

Setting me on this path here, I must first admit that I never really thought of myself as a lecturer. It certainly has never been a stated ambition of mine, the majority of which largely resided in the area of making films or something related to it.

However, though I consider myself to have stumbled into the profession by chance, and while I still see myself as a storyteller and filmmaker first, I must admit that this is a fine profession that has been a delight for me in so many ways.

To that end, a lot of the people who have done something fairly positive in influencing me in this way have been my own teachers and lecturers themselves. This started right from the very beginning of my memory on my education career itself, with Cikgu Soraya who helped me out tremendously in my studies while I was in Standard 1 or Standard 2. She was a lovely lady to whom my mother sent me for tuition even after school.

Strangely enough, I can’t quite recall many of the teachers I had when I moved on up in my primary school, apart from Cikgu Soraya. Things changed a bit more, when I moved to another school, Lyndhurst Primary, and was assigned to Mrs Buchanan’s class. The system there was that each class is basically a group, and each group has a teacher who basically teaches everyone everything. I remember being moved up to another group temporarily, led by Mrs Read, who actually did not do that much reading in her class. I didn’t enjoy this class as much, for some reason, even if the cause for my moving was for positive academic reasons.

For some reason, there was an occasion for us to have a little chat about VE Day, which by that time I had no freaking clue about. After everyone had gone, Mrs Buchanan sat down with me and explained what the whole thing was about. Such a lovely lady. And to think that I had pronounced her name as Buck-a-nan (it’s supposed to be Bew-kahn-an). Orang Melayu lah, katakan. Our headmistress at the time was Mrs Temple. My sisters and I (and my mother as well, it should be said) had fun pronouncing it as Tempel in a very kampung way.

Moving on to the main reason why I never really was much of a lady’s man (because it can’t be because of my good looks and charm), Forest Hill Boys proved to be a proper making of me. It was not all that shabby in many respects, but it was populated by more than just a number of boys who thought of themselves as pseudo-gangsters. I laugh now, but it was not all that pleasant a memory, but I was lucky enough to have been given the proper guidance and education by a large number of my teachers there.

One of the most memorable personalities of my years there has to be Mr Pinfold. The name itself was hilarious in a way (my imagination worked out a pin being folded), but he was an amazingly wonderful teacher. He speaks with a similar tone and voice to James Richardson, the former Football Italia presenter on Channel 4, and he was also very patient with us while remaining very good humoured on a number of occasions. He was not, however, afraid to be strict when the time calls for it.

Unfortunately, memories of Mr Pinfold also brings with it Mr Buzec, my former history teacher. He went missing on a hiking expedition sometime in 2000, and he was never found, as far as I know. He was a good teacher, but it was a fact further exacerbated by the fact that he supported Nottingham Forest. Given their general lack of on-field footballing success, he took more than just a few sticks from us on that front. This was around the mid-90s, when, despite their early successes of the earlier part of the decade, selling off players like Roy Keane and Stan Collymore did not help with the team at all. They got tonked 5-0 by Manchester United once, and the next day he was sheepish, to say the least. “Sir, you know that Nottingham Forest is on top of the table, yeah,” said my classmate Perry Clifford once, “if you turn the table upside down.” He had to laugh. We all did.

It was Mr Buzec and Mr Pinfold who took my friends and I on a school trip to Aberystwith for a week. I was not keen to leave home, because I had just managed to work out how to work the tractor beam in Wing Commander 4 the very night before I left for the trip. It was very frustrating to begin with, but I soon got into the swing of things.

There were a number of very interesting activities being done, though that was said with the benefit of hindsight and experience; at that time, abseiling and walking through the freaking forest in the middle of the night weren’t exactly our idea of fun. It wasn’t helped with the very immediate bout of homesickness I experienced on the final night. Strange that. My friend, Steven Buss, had his on the first night we were there. It was the first time I had gone away for a while without my family, ever. I suppose it might have been the same for him.

Killing time, we spent it playing games like hangman and stuff. Once, someone listed out the spaces for the capital of Scotland. We nearly got it, but Perry stepped up, confidently proclaiming he can do it, and proceeded to spell E-D-I-N-B-R-O-U-G-H. Wanker. I, the humble colonised subject of the British Empire, stepped up to the plate and showed them how it was done with E-D-I-N-B-U-R-G-H.

We had a science teacher, Mr Debba, a bespectabled, balding man who undoubtedly loved the science, but of course, that made him a prime target for some fun from the boys. His room was room 260, and he had a tendency to say it in a very funny way. My friend Eser Bayraktar once said that if he could, he would probably make love to the number 260. Well, maybe he did not, but it certainly sounds like something Eser would say.

Once, Clive Grant, a pint-sized gangster wannabe if there ever is one, was penalised for something, and Mr Debba asked him to stay back after school. Unusually, he did not say the number of the room beyond the “See me after school, Clive.” Clive, knowing full-well how the game was played, pushed the buttons. “What room, sir?” “You know what room.” “I just want to know, sir.” “Room 260.” Cue widespread laughter in the class. Fairly naughty boys, we were.

And then there’s Mr Lawrence, someone who had no qualms about saying the word ‘fuck’ in class. His classes were very relaxed, but then again, they were usually related to literature, so that helped. It was in his class I was first exposed to Benjamin Zephaniah’s work, which seemed somewhat revolutionary at that time.

Also, he was a lecturer who also spent a lot of time in class fooling us up. Once, after we had packed our bags and was ready to leave for home, he insisted that there is a word we had to search the definition of over the weekend. Somewhat audibly dejected, we took off our bags, took out the daily book, and prepared to write the word. He started to spell it out. “Y-O-U-P-L-O-N-K-E…” The final letter was drowned out by the boys’s universal rejection of the word, but we all laughed. He laughed. It was a trick I repeated on some of my students some of the time, and I always think of him every time I do that.

Mrs Ryan-Tucker, a teacher’s helper who went above and beyond the call of duty to actually help us. Mr Elliot, a deep-voiced Yorkshireman with a love for Rotherham United. He became our group teacher in the final three years at Forest Hill, and under him, we enjoyed our times tremendously. He was quick to anger, actually, but it’s not difficult to get into and remain in his good books, as well. Mrs Cranmer, the Head of House (my house, or overall group, if you like, was Harvey; think of the different houses in Harry Potter. In my school, there were Reynolds, Drake and Shackleton, in addition to Harvey), was a woman who wrote in my school leaver’s profile: “Fikri is a fun-loving young man.” It’s not entirely inaccurate, but coming from a senior academic figure in your school, I suppose that says something about you.

Ahh, Mrs Ward. The gypsy, the hippie, the purple lover. Short, plump, and covered from head to toe in everything purple. Even her ink was purple (my dear UiTM students, you now know why). She taught me Maths, and she was actually rather good at it. Unlike some of the other teachers, she gave it back as good as she could, sometimes. Once, Eser had a runny nose, and asked Mrs Ward whether he could borrow a tissue. “Well, you can keep the tissue, I’m not taking back.” Oh my English!

She would also be the lecturer who would famously catch me writing my own graffitti on the wall. It was something of a trend back then, to leave little markings all over the place, saying that “Jason woz ere.” I suppose it highlights our need to show to someone, somewhere that we existed or existed, somehow, and prophesied the coming of Facebook, where we would write incessantly on walls. Of course, the perpetrators were never caught, simply because there’s quite a number of Jasons, Davids, Stevens, etc. in any given school. It was a fact I failed to truly consider as she berated me for my act. “How did you know it was me, Miss?” I asked, as stupidly as stupid comes. “How many other Fikris are there in this school?!”

Good point.

All of the above were selected memories I remember until now. I could have gotten some of the things wrong. It could have been a mistake, maybe Perry spelt Edinburgh differently to the way I described it above, for example. Nevertheless, these are my memories, and I felt moved enough to share it. It was a long post, wasn't it? If you have managed to stick all the way to the end, then congratulations.

It wasn’t all fun and games, though, and some parts of my own experience not shared here are things that were not all that funny. Ultimately, however, these are the people who have made an impact on me. They are the people who have helped to shape me, and while the list is not quite done, for there are others in subsequent years, I have to admit that as a kind of teacher, I hope that my own students will remember me in similar fashion for years to come.


To have made an impact. That’s all we could really ask for, I suppose.