Wednesday, 21 December 2011

“The book that killed colonialism.”

I remember one particular observation made by an alim from India about colonialism. He said this back in the 1930s or so, in a book that I found in my friend's dorm room many years ago, and it sounds something as follows.

The British who came to India, look at how they live their life over there. They wore the same clothes, ate the same food as they did in England. They would never touch local food, let alone learn to like it. When they went home they are practically same person culturally. Compare them to the Indians who went to England. Within a short period of time they would to dress like the Englishmen, talk like them, and love their food, their way of life.

This was certainly no coincidence. The colonial officers went to great lengths to ensure that they wouldn't assimilate with the culture of the locals in any aspect. Their attitudes were shaped by colonial policies, some of which were documented in some books that my undergraduate lecturer, Dr. Fathi, mentioned in his class but I never got them because back then I was a big idiot who couldn't be bothered with anything about history.

But among them there were a handful who defied this way thinking and decided to look around to explore this new surrounding and mingle with the local folk. Malaysia once inspired Anthony Burgess to write The Malayan Trilogy, which painted an unflattering (and somewhat comical) picture of the Malayan colonial society.

Source: Cinta Buku

And in Indonesia there was Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company. Published in 1860, it sparked a worldwide debate on colonial policies and their exploitative ventures in foreign lands. Pramoedya Ananta Toer boldly claimed this book as, “The book that killed colonialism.”

The author of Max Havelaar, Multatuli (real name Eduard Douwes Dekker) penned the book after a series of disagreement with how the colonial administration of Dutch West Indies were subjugating the locals by instigating ethnic feuds, use of torture, and economic oppression. Dekker objected to  these policies and tactics through his writings, which led him to be transferred several times across Indonesia. He retired from his post as a colonial officer at 29 and moved to Belgium, where the book was first published.

I first came across Max Havelaar while reading my first Pramoedya book, House of Glass. I thought it was something fictional, a book that was made up for the story. It turns out that the book do exist and a trip to Kinokuniya confirms it. The book in printed form is priced rather heftily but a gratis digital counterpart is available through Google Books.

[ The Book that Killed Colonism ]

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Every Living Thing

Alf Wight was an ordinary veterinarian working in the country sides of Yorkshire Dales, until in 1969 he published a book, If Only They Could Talk. The book is a collection of stories about another veterinarian named James Herriot, loosely based on his experience treating the animals in a fictional but realistically portrayed town called Darrowby in the 1950s. Wight was already 50 then.

This book might never come into existence if it were not for one woman, Joan Danbury. Joan is inspiration for Helen, the wife of James Herriot, and Alf's real life wife. Anyone who have read any of Herriot books, especially the later titles, would have easily guessed this.

After a series of unsuccessful attempts at breaking into the writing scene, Alf Wight was convinced that he was hack. He tried writing about one of his passions, football, but attracted very little interest from publishers. Joan stepped in and challenged him write about something else which is closer to his heart.

For Wight it was, "Challenged accepted." Well, he probably did not utter those exact words, but the result of that was a dozen of titles of what Wight calls "little cats-and-dogs stories." And Wight's "little cats-and-dogs stories" went on to become one of most beloved book series of the 20th century.

Wight passed away in 1995. His name, or rather James Herriot's, came into my knowledge only about four year ago when my former boss enthusiastically recommended the first book If Only They Could Talk. My former boss and I are both bibliophiles, but we do not exactly have the same taste in our reading selection. I took the book with a slight feeling of trepidation. My former boss is a big time Herriot fan. If I find this book uninteresting, our friendship could be jeopardised. Not to mentioned our professional relationship. I could get fired for not liking this book.

It turns out that despite the differences in our literary predilection, this was the one book we both falling in love with. Falling in love with a book is a level above liking a book. If you like a book, I would tell other people to read it. If love a book, it could be either you would tell other people to read it or you would never ever tell anyone about it, because love, as you know, can be weird and selfish. It was the Herriot's charm at work and we could do very little to resist it.

Treating the animals in Darrowby is actually part veterinary and part public relations. There are farmers sceptical of modern treatments, pet owners who are clueless about their four legged family members, and the worst of all, the heartless folks who treat animals like discarded trash. Herriot's patient list is clearly a mixed bunch. A lot of them had me smiling till my face hurts. Others me made feel glad I am not veterinarian, although that used to be a childhood dream of mine.

I devoured each books expecting new experiences, and by extension, more things to be excited about the country side veterinary practice. Instead by doing so I found myself being satisfied instead with the simple tales about people and their animals. No earth-shattering plot twists here. Just as Herriot had said, little cats-and-dogs stories.

Every Living Thing brings the series to a close, although I doubt that was the plan. As a writer who had a late start, he keep writing till the end of his life churning out books about animals for adult and children readers. His sincerity, warmth, and love for animals were visibly retained throughout his book series, and I imagine if he were still alive we would be hearing more about the people of Darrowby, and their cow, horse, sheep, dog, and cat problems. I imagine problems with iguanas or tarantulas were still very much out of the picture back then.

I close the book after finishing the last chapter, in which Herriot had made a friend, a wild cat that keep showing up in his garden but refused any physical contact. A bitter sweet tale about a friendship earned, and a wonderful way to cap off the series and to sum up my feelings for the books. 

The biggest lesson learned from Herriot is to open myself the lessons that animals can teach us. Living in the city for the large part of my life has made me to see animals mostly as either pets, pests, or pictures in a book or magazine. This lack of positive relationship between human, nature, and animals is beginning to sound to me as a huge disadvantage of being a city dweller.

If you are willing to look past the Yorkshire accent sprinkled throughout, you will find yourself a treasure. I know I can be a selfish person, but out of love I say this, never pass up a chance to read James Herriot. You could become a better person because of it.

Source: alikewise

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Keluarga Si Mamat

Berbelas-belas tahun yang lepas, ketika saya membaca Keluarga Si Mamat buat pertama kali di rumah pak cik saya di Sungai Buloh, saya ingatkan Si Mamat adalah Lat sendiri. Lat atau Datuk Lat atau Datuk Mohammad Nor Khalid nampak serupa di dalam kebanyakan kartun-kartunnya, dengan rambut seakan-akan afro dan muka dengan bulat (dan Lat itu asalnya singkatan daripada "bulat", nama gelaran beliau semasa kecil).

Keitka itu juga saya tidak tahu yang beliau juga mempunyai seorang adik bernama Mamat, yang sekarang seorang pengarah filem yang berbakat di sebalik Estet, Man Laksa, Rock, Di Kala Malam Bulan Mengambang, dan Hantu Mak Limak Balik Rumah.

Dalam merungkaikan kisah di sebalik kisah sesebuah novel, komik, filem, dan sebagainya, kita selalunya cepat untuk menganggapnya sebagai autobiografik atau sekurang-kurang biografi. Mamat itu Lat atau Mamat yang sebenarnya, kita sangka.

Sebagai nasihat kepada penulis fiksyen yang baru bermula, Pat Schneider berpesan menerusi Writing Alone and With Others, setiap karya harus diterima sebagai bukan autobiografi yakni tidak berkenaan sesiapa atau apa-apa peristiwa benar. Melainkan penulis yang mengaku. Pokoknya, sama ada penulisan itu fiksyen atau tidak adalah tidak relevan. Setiap karya adalah adunan antara realiti, fantasi, dan pseudo-realiti, yakni realiti tafsiran peribadi.

Seperti yang ditulis oleh Lat di awal Keluarga Si Mamat sama ada watak-watak di dalamnya benar-benar wujud, itu beliau tidak boleh beritahu. Barangkali Mamat adalah Lat, atau Mamat, atau watak komposit daripada kedua-dua mereka.

Saya faham kenapa orang bertanya sedemikian. Sesiapa yang digeletek oleh cerita-cerita Mamat dan gengnya akan ingin tahu bagaimana mereka ini mempunyai kehidupan yang diselangi begitu banyak saat-saat melucukan.

Sayangnya, pada pendapat saya, koleksi ini hanya mengumpulkan kartun-kartun Keluarga Si Mamat yang terkemudian kerana kartun yang seperti di bawah tidak disertakan.

Namun kekurangan ini tidak mencacatkan. Daripada tiga orang yang telah membaca naskah milik saya, tiga orang telah ketawa hingga menggigil badan.
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