Birch Road or Jalan Maharajalela?

Jalan Tun H.S. Lee now and when it used to be Hight Street. This picture is taken from Kuala Lumpur Dahulu dan Sekarang, an article on Photo Credit: Mohd Radzi Jamaludin’

I didn’t grow up in Kuala Lumpur so I don’t know the old names of the roads and streets in the capital city. By the time I moved to KL (1996), the names had all been changed.

I believe the major renaming happened in 1981 when Mahathir Mohammad was the prime minister. Wiki describes the exercise as a ‘post-independence decolonisation’ effort: the original names of the roads and streets in question were of British public figures. (I’ve been told that Jalan Madge was named after the young daughter of a British official, but I haven’t been able to confirm this. The name of this road has not been changed.)Read More »

Gadis di Kuburan by Usman Awang

Gadis di Kuburan

Nisan condong tegak bertaburan
Gadis menangis kehibaan
Tidak ada padang perjuangan
Pahlawan gugur tergelimpang

Lari gadis menyembam ke tanah
Diiringi sedu menggoncang bahu
Tenang pahlawan dipeluk bumi
Senyum terakhir tenang tersembunyi

Kenangan lama bermain di hati-
Pelukan dan kucupan kasih
Tidak ada garisan tepi-
Kata dipadu, janji dikunci.

‘Sungguhkah dinda?’ tanya pemuda
‘Benar, kanda,’ sahutnya manja
Ke jinjang pelamin setahun lagi
Hilir berbiduk ke laut hidup

Datanglah lamaran ke ayah bunda,
Penuh khidmat junjung berduli
Tapi pemuda emas sesaga
Tertolaklah lamaran, terurailah janji

Matahari bersembunyi di balik awan
Pulanglah orang membawa usungan
Air di kendi kekeringan
Terkejut gadis dari menungan

Melangkah gadis menahan denyutan
Pandangan terakhir terlempar ke nisan
Setangkai kemboja gugur perlahan
Merangkak senja menutup pandangan.

~ Usman Awang (1929 – 2001)

Not his best work but I was a sentimental teenager. Hell, I’m sentimental now.

A lit fest in KL?

A friend (a Singaporean writer) told me that she will be in Kuala Lumpur next month for the KL Lit Fest, i.e. she has been invited to participate as a speaker and/or panelist.

‘What is that?’ I asked.

She was, quite understandably, surprised that I had not heard of this event. After all, I live in Kuala Lumpur and I am supposedly part of the arts/writing community. (Hmm … well, admittedly I try to distance myself from most other Malaysian writers because, as a whole, I can’t stand their mutual masturbation, self satisfaction and inability to accept criticism of any sort. Individually, they seem sensible enough, but as a collective, say, on the Facebook Malaysian Writers group, they seem impossibly, aggravatingly petty.)

But anyway.

I googled the Kl Lit Fest and found a website that reveals that this event (organised by Perbadanan Kota Buku) will run from 11th to 13th November. This is less than a month away and yet, no venue has been fixed, no events listed.

Kota Buku’s Instagram account tells us a little more, with a poster featuring the country flags of speakers. A venue is also mentioned (Art Printing Works in Bangsar):


But, still, no names of speakers, or specific events.

I guess I’ll have to rely on my Singaporean writer friend to keep me informed.

Book Review: Mahsuri by Ooi Kok Chuen

MahsuriFirst published in The Star on 31st July, 2016

IN Mahsuri: A Legend Reborn, Ooi Kok Chuen expands on the legend of Langkawi’s famous icon who was supposed to have cursed the island during her execution for adultery. My ex-husband, whom I met in Langkawi 20 years ago, says that the curse actually involves anyone who visits Langkawi being doomed to listen to Mahsuri’s story being repeated, ad nauseum, by all and sundry. I have to agree that it really gets milked to death and would benefit from some skilful re-telling.

Preeta Samarasan, the author of Evening is the Whole Day, actually wrote a compelling version of the tale for my collection Malaysian Tales: Retold and Remixed, but I feel the story, like this region’s other fairytales, myths and legends, offers Malaysian writers endless scope for fresh interpretations, and its potential has not been maximised.

Such stories have usually survived generations stripped down to the barest, most basic of plots, their key players little more than cardboard figures just crying out to be fleshed out and reimagined.  Read More »

Book Review: Faultlines, edited by Raman Krishnan


First published in The Star on 13th March, 2016


Review by DAPHNE LEE


AUTHOR: Chin Ai-May, Jenny Ng, Shazwani Abdul Kabur, Shazra Aishath, Tan Yet Mee, Teja Salehuddin Tan

PUBLISHER: Silverfish Books

ISBN: 978-9833221516

TWENTY-FIFTEEN was a quiet year for Silverfish’s publishing arm. In January of that year, it produced Rumaizah Abu Bakar’s A Call to Travel. Bunga Emas, originally published in 1964, was re-issued  mid-year, and in December, Faultlines, a collection of all-new short stories by six new writers, appeared. Of course, in the 10 months between the publication of the two Silverfish originals, the bookstore moved from Jalan Telawi to the Bangsar Village II shopping mall. No doubt that transition meant an adjustment period for all concerned, and an understandable slowing down in its publishing schedule.

In any case, Silverfish Books has never been the kind of publishing house that spits out books on a monthly basis, and to hell with whether what’s published is fit for print or not. With Silverfish, books are, at very least, edited and proofread – that’s what I’ve always believed in anyway.

That’s why I was very taken aback by Faultlines. This collection, comprising 24 stories, four from each of six writers (all alumni of Silverfish’s popular writing programme), is choc-a-bloc with grammatical errors, typos, inconsistent tenses, wrongly-used words, and other mistakes. Were these stories published in a hurry? They don’t seem to have been proofread, and I must say that most of them read like they’ve not been edited at all.

Read More »