Saturday, January 21, 2006

HOPE. Is it in the hands of China's industrialists, America's foreign policy-makers, or India's village women?

Mumbai, 8:30pm, Tuesday, 17th January, 2006.

I popped downstairs to the café of the hotel, to down a quick cup of masala chai (milky tea infused with cardamom, clove and ginger) before hitting the sack. It may have been 8:30 in Mumbai, but it was 11 back home.

A couple of Oriental blokes - a rare sight in India – were sipping coffee. One of them was lighting up a stick of Chunghua, China's most expensive cigarettes.

Neither of them could have been any older than 31 or 32.

They looked up as I sauntered over to my favourite table by the window, just next to theirs, their gaze following me all the way to my seat.

I offered them a broad smile. They deserved it, I thought, for flattering an old woman like that.

Soon after I had ordered my drink, one of them hollered.

"Ni naali ren?" (Where are you from?) "Woh sze Malaiseeya ren," I replied. That was the extent of my Mandarin, of course, but hey, out here in curryville, who's to know?

Not long after, they held a hushed and hurried conversation among themselves (Mandarin when whispered quickly sounds rather like distant helicopters, I observed). They promptly carried themselves and their cups over to my table, and sat down with the greatest aplomb.

They were wondering if I knew where the nearest Chinese restaurant was. There were several, I told them, but the best I had been to so far, was China Garden at Crossroads Mall.

"Would you take us there?" they asked excitedly. Dinner would be on them, they proudly declared. "Not tonight," I said, "but thank you for offering just the same."

A moment of silence.

"Are you here on business?" I enquired.

"We sell steel," one of them replied eagerly, "and we want to break into the Indian market."

"I think you'll find the Indians make their own steel," I said.

"Ah, but ours is a special grade of steel cables, the best for the conveyance of electricity, which they don't have." I caught them winking at each other.

"Would you sell people things they don't really need?" I asked. "I know all about that, you see. I'm in advertising."

They laughed heartily. "Ah, maybe, maybe," they nodded rapidly, and winked at each other again. "The whole world wants to sell, sell, sell more, and buy less, less, less. China will be number one."

"In my opinion, within my own set of criteria," I said, "India is number one, and has been so for many years."

"No, no, no, no, no!" insisted Xiao Gang, the older of the two, "India will be number two! They are good, but they will be number two."

"Number one," I repeated stubbornly.

The two of them fell silent and turned to each other. Now the helicopter fan blades started whirring furiously again. Then they stopped just as soon as they started.

Wang Di, the younger one, turned to me and asked, "Would you care to share with us the set of criteria you were talking about?"

"Well," I began, taking a deep breath before continuing, "I'm presently making a documentary about the working class women of India.

"Just the other day, I interviewed a wonderful woman called Chetna. Having received accolades in the field of economics from Yale and Harvard, Chetna came home and realised several things. One of them was that, in the small town and villages of India, women were never given loans by banks. The reason for it, they had no collaterals and they were largely illiterate.

"Besides, these women wanted loans as small as only 15 cents US, and preferred to pay back by the end of the day itself."

Xiao Gang and Wang Di threw their head back with laughter. "What bank would give such a loan?"

"Precisely," I said. "And because no bank would give them such loans, these women would borrow from moneylenders who charged them 200 to 300 per cent interest."

Now the men stopped laughing and cleared their throats uncomfortably. I continued to explain my case further.

"So instead of embarking upon a well-deserved lucrative career, Chetna opted for much humbler remuneration, finding ways to provide the women in the little town of Satara with loans; loans they needed to buy goats, and umbrellas under which they could sell their goods on hot days.

"She formed the Mann Deshi Mahila bank for women.

"Now, the village women, grateful for their new-found means of acquiring finances, turned out to be prompt pay-masters, prudent managers of their small businesses, and charted long-term plans for growth.

"But most inspiring of all, today, Chetna's good deeds are proof of the old Indian belief that kindness breeds more kindness.

"At a recent gathering of these account holders, Chetna found a lady feeding the hundred village women in attendance with food she had prepared the night before. When asked why she was doing such a generous thing when she herself was a wage labourer of meagre income who wasn't even certain where her next day's meal would come from, the cheerful little woman replied, 'On God's earth, there are two types of people. Givers and Takers. Givers will give even when they're poor, and the good Lord will often mysteriously place things into their hands, that they may continue giving. Takers, on the other hand, will keep taking, no matter how much wealth they've amassed. You just have to decide which one you want to be. In today's world, many wealthy people have a bad habit of taking, taking, taking, and from people who are poorer than them.'

"India has its fair share of Takers, of course. But unlike most greedy societies like yours and mine, India has Givers too. Mrs Chetna is just one of many.

"And that, my friends, is why India is number one to me."

Mumbai, 10am, Wednesday, 18th January, 2006.

Seema, our project manager, and I were in a taxi heading for the edit house that's working on the final touches of our documentary entitled "Voices At The Bottom Of The Pyramid."

The driver was on some sort of a death wish, weaving through hordes of pedestrians, narrowly missing an old lady hobbling across a back alley.

"Sabar karo (have patience)!" I bellowed, tapping him on the shoulder.

He turned to me, smiled cheekily, slowed down, and said…

"Sabar karo, sabar karo
Sabar badhi cheez hai
Aaj raat chand niklega
Kal subha eidh hai."

Seema translated it for me. It was a poem that said, "Have patience, have patience, for patience is a big virtue. The moon will rear her head tonight, and tomorrow we shall celebrate the Eidh."

I turned my head to him sharply, scowled, turned away again, and looked out the window.

In response to my sulking, he broke out into another poem that went something like this:

"When my eyes met her eyes
she turned her head away.
The world is made of hearts so small
With no place for Love today."

I smiled quietly, still gazing out the window. A taxi driver who recited poetry. I couldn't imagine it happening anywhere else other than this crazy but blessed country.

"Yes," I thought, "India IS number one."

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Final List

Originally uploaded by yasmin the storyteller.
Folks, remember the screening for your hall begins at 9pm. Please don't be late.

The other hall is taken up by Alliance Cosmetics and the people from Mercy Malaysia. Their show starts at 9:30pm, inshaallah.

Yes, these are charity screenings for Mercy and the work they're doing for victims of war, earthquake and tsunami in Iraq, Pakistan, Aceh, Sri Lanka, and many other parts of the world.

Here's the list of people who booked places for the 9pm screening, donated by GSC Mid Valley and someone who prefers to remain nameless:

Visitor + Ah Mui



Silly Pat – 016 6253115

Prakash – 012 6412838

Faiz Akhbar – 016 9172963

Mushriff Abdullah – 013 3977819

Sultan Muzaffar – 012 301 3029

Taj Firdaus Tajudin – 013 6299717

Midy – 019 6025233

Arivind Abraham (10 passes) – 017 2689641

Rapunzel – 012 2802536

PebblesJetson – 016 2344294

Irma (2 passes) – 012 7924650

Jimmy – 019 3832886

Kimster – 012 2488699

Aidid5 – 017 6256785

Aliya – 019 3922726

Kekure (10 passes)


Vernon Emuang (2 passes)

Chit (3 passes)


Hardesh Singh

Important Announcement

Originally uploaded by yasmin the storyteller.
Ok, the list is closed effective now - 1:15pm, 3rd January, 2006.

“Sepet” free passes for tonight’s show at Mid Valley will be distributed at Grappa’s café on the ground floor of Menara Olympia, 8, Jalan Raja Chulan, at 3pm today.

RSVP if you’re coming.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Pure Malay?

(This article, written in Bali on the 28th of December, 2005, appeared in the New Straits Times on the eve of the new year. Here is the original version, with headline and copy as I had originally intended.)

Let me begin by laying my cards on the table. I know next to zilch about the etymology of languages.

That's why it impresses me to no end when someone speaks, with utmost conviction, about the preservation of the purity of the Malay language. They must know something I don't.

Because given my limited knowledge on the subject, I often find Bahasa Melayu to be littered with words originated from places as far afield as the Middle East, India, China, Indonesia, Portugal and England.

Allow me illustrate my point:

"Jangan asyik duduk memuja televisyen tu, tolong abah buat kerja. Padamkan tanglung di luar tu, ambilkan mentega yang dalam peti ais, keluarkan pisau dalam laci, tapi kalau tak ada pisau, garfu pun jadilah. Pagi ni, abah nak makan sarapan roti sahaja."

Asyik: Rooted in the Urdu word 'ashiki' which means passionately, or with love.

Memuja: Rooted in the Sanskrit 'pooja' which means to worship, or prayer.

Televisyen: Hah! No prizes for guessing where this one came from.

Abah: Rooted in the Aramaic term for father. Also frequently used in ancient Hebrew.

Tanglung: Nice word, this. Cantonese for dragon light, I think.

Mentega: Portuguese for butter; in Spanish it's 'mantega'.

Peti Ais: 'Ais' is of course ice, phonetically transcribed.

Laci: Pronounced "lah-chee". Don't hold me to it, but I think it may have originally been Dutch.

Garfu: Portuguese for fork.

Sarapan: Breakfast in Malay, Minang, Javanese, and Balinese.

Roti: Hindi for bread.

There you go. Roughly 11 out of the 41 words used here are foreign. Nothing to be ashamed of really. It's the same with English.

An Englishman traversing our country once remarked to me, with more than just a hint of ridicule in the tone of his voice as he surveyed the signages on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, "Pejabat Pos? Hah! I presume 'pos' comes from the English 'post'. Why don't you Malays invent your own words instead of borrowing from ours?"

So I turned to him and replied, not just with a hint of ridicule, but with great relish, "Ah, but John, the term 'Post Office' isn't English at all, dear. They come from the Latin words 'postis' and 'officium'. Yes, Latin, mate. West-central Italy. Romans. Spaghetti-ville. Mothers with moustache. Yessiree, the English language is a mish-mash, haggis-like, illegitimate child of Latin, German, Scandinavian languages, Viking conquer-speak, Hindi (remember bungalow and veranda?), Malay (yes, 'amok' is Malay!), and who knows what else!"

John kept well silent after that.

Why, even my second sentence at the beginning of this article ("I know next to zilch about the etymology of languages.") has words more mixed up than Penang 'pasembor'. 'Zilch' is a cross-breed of two words - 'zero' (from the Arabic 'sifr', which is a state of being nothing) and 'nil' (from the Latin 'nihil'). 'Etymology' comes from, among several other words of different ethnic origins, the Greek 'etumologia'.

So much for the purity of language/langage/lingua (English, French and Latin, respectively).

Which brings me back to my point. The Malay language. Or Bahasa Melayu. (Is it still Bahasa Malaysia now, or has it gone back to Bahasa Melayu? Who knows? All too often it depends on the political agenda of the current guardians of the language, unfortunately.)

Being myself a Melayu (well, half Javanese, a quarter Bugis and a quarter Japanese, anyway), I wonder what all the fuss is about. Now that we've established no one speaks pure anything anymore, why the endless crusade for linguistic purity here in Malaysia?

Recently, a well-renowned Malay film director went up in arms over the sanctity of the term 'Filem Nasional'. (Not a very Melayu phrase at all, to begin with, given that we can easily unearth the origins of the words 'filem' and 'nasional').

In any case, a 'filem nasional', he insisted, must be in Bahasa Melayu. Which means that Malaysian-made films which have the actors speaking in Chinese or Tamil will not qualify as 'filem nasional'. In other words, they will be classified as foreign films, and therefore, will not be eligible for local film award shows, tax rebates, and worse, will be taxed as foreign films are taxed.

Poppy, and more to the point, cock! What is the point of all this self-important paranoia? Here we are, singing "Malaysia, Truly Asia" for all the world to hear and see, but here in our own backyard, it's "Malaysia, Truly Melayu" and everyone else can go to pots.

Come, come.