Sunday, September 24, 2006


It is my favourite month cos' somehow I am in control of time (or feel so) I have more time to connect to everything outside work. That's the wonderful part of it.

But still...I have some nice memories of my kampong..mandi sungai (bathing in the river berkemban as an 8 or 10 years old girl) Best ooo...balancing yourself on the rakit was an experience too.The rakit didn't last for my gal to experience.The river is no longer a recreational place.

So when Alfian documents a dying kampong, I could relate to it.People have left, the old surau is now abandoned and drug addicts are everywhere.

When Jai and I showed the bedok (shown in the play) to our kids, they went blank.They could not recognise the kemenyan scent (Gene bakar kemenyan in one scene).My daughter asked, "Bau apa ini, Ibu?" Jai's grimaced, "What is this nasty smell?" How do you explain?

Can we bring back our kampongs so that our kids do not feel so culturally alienated?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

School Reunion

Last night I was at my school reunion (Mahmud Secondary School Raub).It was organised by Batch 1973 (I was of Batch 1980).I was there cos' the President's sister was my classmate and she said they needed to fill a table and could we please share a table? (at this point, I wasn't aware that it was not actually open to all..only those celebrating their 50th year).For old times' sake, I said OK although the idea of sitting up all night with middle aged friends, whining about stones in the kidneys or weight they'd put on or rising cholestrol level..wasn't that appealing. :)


I met a few friends who I had not seen since I left school in 1980.They all have done well in their lives...(the boys kawin lambat..some baru dapat anak!the most intelligent and popular boy sampai sekarang tak kawin2.One friend said it's becos' he's a stud..too many women and not knowing who to marry or sees no need to marry)We carried the spirit of celebrating Msian multiculturalism at the reunion (I was the only Malay who turned up at the Batch 1980 table.The rest were too busy working on meeting deadlines I guess.Or busy with young kids.Or taming down grumpy husbands!)

But I value my school days friends (esp those from my younger days..friends from MGS days who would eventually be at MSSR.They were at the reunion too)They helped shape who I am today.We had gone through life together.We may be of different race and religion, but sometimes we are like blood sisters.SF whose first marriage failed some years ago is now remarried and I feel for her.I share her happiness and I pray it will last.The mom used to complain apa la budak2 ni datang pagi sangat beraya! But they never failed to turn up for ketupat and lemang every raya.I promised them this year it would be no different.Please come eat your ketupat and rendang.After 27 years!

We often speak of racism in Msia.It is hard to be racist when you feel like brothers and sisters.And I think we need to instil this amongst our young ones.

Our teachers (well into their 60s and 70s) were there too.One teacher said many of them retired as teachers not because they didn't have any options in life to move on but because they truly loved teaching.I almost cried at that.It is true..I think the teachers we had were of a different class.They laid us solid foundations and it is no surprise that amidst us were the second richest man in Hong Kong...MDs and CEOs of this and that...

As a Malay, I had learned commitment, determination and diligence from my Chinese/Indian friends.I hope they had learned something from me too. :)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Book review

There have been quite a few book reviews written on my The Art of Naming: A Muslim Woman's Journey. But I would like to share with you the latest, reviewed by Dr Norman Simm of New Zealand.This appeared in a journal called Matrix. For those who haven't bought your copies, please get them from MPH Midvalley or email me direct at Faridah dot Manaf at gmail dot com

Nor Faridah Abdul Manaf.2006.The Art of Naming: A Muslim Woman’s Journey./Satu Perjalanan Wanita Muslim. Subang Jaya: Awards Publishing.123pp.ISBN 983-42784-0-3.

Reviewed by Norman Simms, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.

Half in English, half in Bahasa Malaysia, this little book of poetry, with an introduction by Susan Sheridan praising the author’s feminist credentials, confirms our first impression that this is a very important document in a world filled with fanaticism, hatred and ignorance. It is not just that Nor Faridah writes in clear, crisp verses about her pride in being a Muslim woman at a time when to so many in the West (at least) that seems, if not an erroneous then at least a foolish thing to do, but that her poems celebrate her own education, world-travels, and wide-circle of friends in diverse cultures and countries, something the press of the daily news makes us sit up and think about – for we are made to feel it is politically correct only to focus on different people in their own little nationalistic spaces. But here in this Muslim woman’s modest and understated poetic lines is the true meaning of cosmopolitanism, as well as of tolerance and compassion.

There is nothing political in Nor Faridah’s poems. They are about herself, her family, her friends, about being a foreign student in New Zealand, Australia and the UK, about getting married, having children, and pursuing a career, about thinking, feeling, loving and being in the world. They are also poems about poems and other literary experiences. But they are not simplistic and nice, sweet or sentimental;rather they are disarmingly brief, cutting, to the point because being in the world for anyone, especially a Muslim woman in the early twenty-first century, is no easy or light matter. Take, for instance, this brief piece called “Balancing acts in Hanoi”:

The vegetable woman
Walks as if on a tight
But life is not a
If not here, she would be serving
Some white
Men too hungry for
Asian flesh and sweat.

Though I can’t tell what wonderful musicality and wit there might be in the Malay version of this poem, it is quite clear that a powerful sense of the need to expose injustice in the world and speak for those who are maltreated drives the plainspoken voice of this poet.

In another poem the topic of which seems so odd to the eyes and mind of a modern Western reader some other kind of rhetorical game is played. “The veil which is me” begins with these opening lines and also says what can only be a shock, a provocation – a shock to middle-class secular sensibilities, a provocation to prejudices about traditional roles of women in patriarchal religions:

The veil which is me
Is also my body my mind

The absence of punctuation reduces the chance of rationalizing away the implications of such a statement. Then the reader is irked even more when addressed directly and told not to impose his (her) tastes and expectations:

Never wonder the length of my
Or ask to know its colour
Unveil it, says the wind
Show us your poetry

But who does the wind speak for here – some kind of universal or local voice of disapproval? But to show poetry in this way is an impertinence, a violation of the woman’s own integrity as a person, a Muslim, a poet. What text we are reading is doing is challenging us not to know in the normal way we think we ought to know what poetry is, a natural wind-born assumption, but to accept our own position of ignorance about some things in order to appreciate others, those which the poet will allow us to see and hear, and therefore to take the things we do not know about as a condition for being privy to the rest of the work of literature. Hence the poem goes on:

But poetry must never be written
for the wind
An imagined swaying audience
Must never be
My poetry is for the sea
It would never undress itself
For something sacred simply be

Yes, some things must be simply be accepted, taken as given, and what is sacred, what does not belong to the world that can be questioned or ordered to explain itself, is here taken as oceanic, profound, vast and over-whelming. Yet there is, at the same time, something very disturbing about this implied contrast between the wind and the sea: both sway. It may be that this ambiguity, this problematical relationship between what is allowed and what is forbidden, is below the surface if but for an instant. The mystery is too dark to be explained here.

Other mysteries exist, aside from what is hidden to non-Malay readers, particularly in the private and intimate poems alluding to persons, events and feelings perhaps known to the poet herself and no one else. Nevertheless, it is this sense of deeply private that balances the poems of ideological and religious statement. Hence we find “Love Thoughts (in memory of…)”:

like butterflies they stay awhile
and ‘out of season’ rain brings
to the heart…

it’s like loving someone

is too mysterious to be expressed in a little poem of this sort. Yet there is more, another two short lines:

The veil, poetry and me
A float which never swims.

Three separate but related, contiguous but which is not equivalent to or mirrored, things, like the veil, the body, and the mind in the second line of the poem. The contrast here is between the float and what swims, what rests calmly above the sea perhaps moved by the wind and what cuts through the waters exposing what.