5 Dec 2019

Malaysian Indian Culture in Bahasa Malaysia Short Stories


Malaysian Indian writers have been actively involved in the Bahasa Malaysia creative writing scene since the 1970s. Researchers including Hashim Awang (1969), Abu Bakar Hamid (1971), Mohd. Taib Osman (1976), A. Wahab Ali (1989), A.M. Thani (1990), and Othman Puteh (2000) noted that the Malay writers have failed to portray an accurate image of Malaysian Indians in their short stories. On the other hand, the Malaysian Indian writers, especially after the 1980s, have the advantage of understanding the Indian culture and portraying it creatively in Bahasa Malaysia short stories. They present an alternate reality where Indian characters exchange dialogues in Bahasa Malaysia but proudly maintain their Indian identity without compromise. This paper looks into an alternate reality of the Malaysian Indian culture as portrayed by the Malaysian Indian writers in award-winning short stories published in a series of anthologies — Menara (1988), Menara 2 (1989), Menara 3 (1990), Menara 4 (1991), Menara 5 (1993), Menara 6 (1995), and Menara 7 (1998).


The National Cultural Congress (Kongres Kebudayaan Kebangsaan) held in University of Malaya on 16-20 August 1971 discussed in detail the concept of “national literature” (sastera kebangsaan) in the Malaysian context. It was agreed that Sastera Kebangsaan (national literature) refers to literary pieces – poems, short stories, novels, drama scripts etc – written by Malaysians in Bahasa Malaysia.

When the draft of the National Literature Policy (Dasar Sastera Kebangsaan) was discussed in Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) on the 23 April 2019, emphasis was made that the Sastera Kebangsaan pieces must not only be written Bahasa Malaysia by Malaysians, but also reflect the reality of the multiracial and multicultural society, and contribute towards national unity.

Notwithstanding the fact that the concept of “national literature” is still being argued, questioned and challenged – especially by Malaysians who write locally and internationally in English, Mandarin and Tamil – for the purpose of this paper, the Dasar Sastera Kebangsaan framework is used entirely without prejudice.

Kamaludin Muhammad @ Keris Mas (1971), Anwar Ridhwan (1985), Krishanan Maniam (1993), Ismail Hussein (2005), Chew Fong Peng (2013), and Eh Chot Cha Chan (2015) are only a few of the writers and researchers who unanimously agree that non-Malay writers play a vital role in enriching the national literature by portraying the issues, lifestyle and culture of their own community. While Malay writers have tried to portray non-Malay characters in Bahasa Malaysia short stories, Mohamad Saleeh Rahamad (2003) admits that they have failed miserably.

Abdullah Abdul Kadir (1796-1854), better known as Munshi Abdullah, was perhaps the earliest Indian to produce creative works in Bahasa Melayu, commonly known as Malay (Uthaya Sankar SB. 2011). The late 1960s and 1970s saw the emergence of Ignatius Dev Anand, G. Soosai, Joseph Selvam, N.S. Maniam, Belaetham K and Nathesan Selappan (Eksentrika. 2019). Among them, only Nathesan Selappan is still actively writing, but he does not produce creative pieces (short stories, poems or novels).

More prolific Indian writers emerged in the late 1980s and Hadiah Cerpen Malayan Banking-DBP undoubtedly played an important role (Eksentrika. 2019). More importantly, some of these writers consciously portrayed Malaysian Indian characters, issues and culture in their award-winning short stories. This paper focuses on selected short stories from Hadiah Cerpen Malayan Banking-DBP.

Read the Full Paper — [Part 1— [Part 2 [Part 3

The above is an abstract of the paper entitled “Malaysian Indian Culture in Bahasa Malaysia Short Stories: Analysing the Menara Anthologies” presented by Uthaya Sankar SB at the Alternate Realities: A Postgraduate Colloquium organised by the Department of English, University Malaya on 6 December 2019.

Uthaya’s area of research is related to the Malaysian Indian writers (Sasterawan Kavyan), Indian culture, National Literature (Sastera Kebangsaan), and Bahasa Malaysia.

If you are keen to know more about Uthaya’s area of research, these articles (mostly in Bahasa Malaysia) would interest you Sasterawan Kavyan (Bahagian 1–5)Sasterawan Kavyan dan Sastera Kebangsaan—  Speaking in Tongues: The Kavyan WritersPenulis Tamil ke GapenaKaum India dan Sastera Kebangsaan” Sastera Kebangsaan dan Penulis Kaum IndiaGambaran Budaya India dalam Cerpen”.

Uthaya could be reached via e-mail (uthayasb@gmail.com) and WhatsApp (011–11411952). More articles in English [HERE]. Join  Kavyan’s language and literature events [HERE]. Whats’s new? Check his [Facebook].