Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Speaking in Tongues: Part 4

What “Bahasa Malaysia”?

I have had a bad experience when dealing with a well-known publisher years ago. Being a literary body, one would expect the publisher to be supportive of the use of the term “Bahasa Malaysia”.

In 1998, the publisher accepted the manuscript and agreed to publish an anthology that I compiled in 1999. It contained Bahasa Malaysia short stories by Malaysian Indian writers. The agreement documents were duly signed in June 1999. Then came trouble. The editor in charge informed me in July 1999 that the publisher had decided not to allow me use the term “Bahasa Malaysia”!

When I asked for an explanation, I was told by the editor that the term “Bahasa Malaysia” is political and therefore, incorrect. I really don’t know why the publisher is so much against the Malaysian government’s decisions to use “Bahasa Malaysia” as a way to unite the nation.

While the matter was still an issue, former Education Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak made a statement in October 1999 that the term “Bahasa Malaysia” can be used for all purposes. He explained that in a multi-racial community as in Malaysia, it is easier to accept “Bahasa Malaysia” since it underscores that the language belongs to the different races too.


History has been created, anyway. The very first compilation of Bahasa Malaysia short stories by Malaysian Indian writers was published in 2002.

Vanakam, the title of the compilation, is a very common Tamil language word. It means “Good day” or “Greetings” – and can be used any time of the day, or night. Frankly speaking, the publicity for this book was started as early as 1998; that’s four years before the book was actually published.

Back then, I compiled 15 Bahasa Malaysia stories by six writers.

Vanakam was the title of the compilation approved for publication in 1998 – and later rejected in 1999 – by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) for the sole reason that I as the compiler used the term “Bahasa Malaysia” when referring to the language in which all 15 stories were written.

In 2002, I self-published Vanakam with finance support from the writers involved in this project. Vanakam was published as part of Kavyan projects. Finally the anthology was in the bookstores and received positive reaction from the readers.

Nowadays, “Vanakam” has become such a common word even among non-Tamil speaking Malaysians. So, finally, when Vanakam was published, everyone found the title familiar; and catchy.

Compiling the first Vanakam anthology in 1998 was an interesting experience. Things got even more interesting once DBP decided to stop the press when I did not approve the idea of replacing the term “Bahasa Malaysia” with another term.

And it was such a beautiful experience compiling the new Vanakam anthology which was published in 2002. Tiring, yes. But at the end of the day, the ten writers involved created history: our stories are now included in the very first anthology of Bahasa Malaysia short stories by Malaysian Indian writers. Something to be very proud of.

History should have been created in 1999 – the year the book was supposed to have been published – but no thanks to DBP, it took nearly three more years to make it a reality. Four of the writers involved in the 1998 Vanakam were also involved in the 2002 Vanakam. The other two opted out without any specific reason. Anyway, six new writers joined the project of publishing Vanakam in 2002.

Saroja Theavy has two short story compilations. My stories are compiled in a few books. But Vanakam is the very first anthology of short stories by ten Malaysian Indian writers.

All the stories in Vanakam revolve around Malaysian Indian characters: their culture, beliefs, religion, politics, problems etc. Selection was made in order to present an insight into the community to Bahasa Malaysia readers.

Do not expect stories about Indians suffering in rubber estates or in Tamil schools. No free propaganda for any Indian political leaders in this anthology. All the writers talk about more interesting – and more important – matters.

A wife in Sritharanee’s “Bahang Pelukan” (The Heat of the Embrace) wonders why her husband doesn’t want to become a father. Bathmavathi takes a look into gangsterism and how love can make a difference in “I Love You, Raj”.

“Cat” (Paint) is not only about gender bias but also about a cat (and his name is “Cat”) who wants to become the leader of the country. Meanwhile, Retna Devi includes Indian music in her “Kamovarthini”.

If you are wondering why Indian girls are too shy when it comes to love, join Vijayaletchumy to help her character pour his love to a neighbour. Or you may find interest in Mahendran’s “Manggei” about a Chinese girl brought up in an Indian family.

Domestic violence and issues of a good-for-nothing husband is portrayed by Prabhawathy in “Meenatchi” while Saroja Theavy talks about the survival of Indians in the near future in “Mendamba Puyu di Air Jernih” (Catching Fish in Clear Water).

Raja Rajeswari Seetha Raman takes us on a flight to France through “Vie en France” and Ganesan Duraisamy blames parents regarding problematic teenagers in “Tidak Sehaluan” (Different Route).

Each and every story in Vanakam deals with a different issue – but they are all about Malaysian Indians today. Written in simple Bahasa Malaysia, Vanakam is an easy way for every Malaysian – or anyone who knows Bahasa Malaysia, or, Bahasa Melayu – to understand Malayian Indians better.

Above all, Malaysian Indian writers have proven – with or without DBP’s consent – that Indians in Malaysia not only love Bahasa Malaysia as a national language but we are also able to master the language and express ourselves through Bahasa Malaysia fiction. – To be continued tomorrow [HERE]