Saturday, August 29, 2015


by Azly Rahman

I am beginning to believe that my life is structured to be lyrical; I get stimulated by songs I hear from my childhood and they become opening acts of my stories; an opening act of Kid Rock for Bon Jovi in a stadium in New Jersey; an orchestral symphonic orgasmic feel of musical sensibility; I supposed the idea of a lyric essay hits home; I cannot escape from finding rhymes even without reason, every time I think of a sentence; words from songs come a visitin’ in the cave of my contemplating abyssimality almost like some revelation of the Divine I cannot see because it is obviously all tattooed in me from cradle to the grave and from here till eternity in all its linguistic glory; and that even the last sentence is a rhyming non-dangling modifier that came out naturally; and that just last night I fell in love with the semi-colon and I wrote these words on my facebook page:

with the SEMI-COLON; a great way not to end a sentence quickly
a way to compete with James Joyce --- who will write the longest sentence in English Language history; I love you SEMI-COLON! ;;;;;;;;;;;; LOVE;;;;;;
-- ar 

Here is an example I just wrote on my facebook page; this is about Hang Kasturi and the problematique of Malay/Melakka history, concerning the argument of the fact and fiction surrounding the traditional heroes of the ancient kingdom of Melakka, circa 1400 A.D:
" ... some say Hang Kasturi is only real person and true blue Melakkan and not some Hang-clone-drone of the Ming Dynasty sent to hegemonize the region; some say the entire history of Melakka is a plausible fiction overblown for some vainglorious reasons; some say Melakka was nothing great except that Tun Sri Lanang the well-paid court writer made it too-great to be true; some say Melakka was just a small coastal town as big as my village in Sin City J.B.; we don't know: but the Malay Annals as a work of epic-historical-pulp fiction worked well as a literary propaganda tool up till today; but then again, who knows?; the winners write history, the losers study anthropology and write poetry; this entails the entire history of the Malay kingdom is suspect; one needs to read deconstructionism to test this theory; I don't know; but a good question you have asked; Kasturi is a Sanskrit word; Tuah, Jebat, Lekir, Lekiu sounded Bangladeshi and Vietnamese combined, and so Kasturi might be the real hero of them all. Or-- if we follow the theory of karmic cycles, Kasturi might be a reincarnation of all the four guys; Kasturi was a hero whose epic story started off with him hanging upside down, like a Melakka lemon, from a durian tree in Durian Tunggal. … “

On writing about memories 

To say that we are going back to the past and revisiting it;
that we are to journey into the world of yesteryears of the days of our life,
that we are to open again the doors to the dungeons
leading to the artifacts of the things we have kept only to ourselves,
to open the box of letters unopened and therefore unanswered,
to mount the white horse of our well-garnished glory
and to ride into the horizon of our childhood to confront the ghosts inside of us
demons Fate has bestowed upon us --
to say all these is to express meaningless utterance.
We are here -- past and present;
a wasteland of uncharted territories
of the child of wonder,
the old man and the sea,
and the weary and the mundane soul
pounded by the infinitesimality
of life's own doing.
We are it-- the amalgamation of fear and hope.
We are it. We are: the child, the being-in-this world,
the deteriorant, the decayed, the diseased, of death inevitable, of decomposition next
in the seasons of our lives.
--- A cycle of memories trying to forget and forgive each other
a speck of dust
we are, not yet --
in the wasteland of this canvas
of the colors of remembering

Of grandma’s gangsta chicken curry 

Circa 2005 it was. In a class of almost 100% American kids of the suburbia, of jersey shore, and the sopranos, and bon jovi - type and tatoo-displaying masculania... i shared this story of anatomy and chemistry and complexity of globalization of the american "chicken-run" global industry ...
told them that their life is cool and easy when it comes to eating Colonel Saunder's KFC ... all chickens are powered by batteries and of the same size and made to taste delicious with that perfect recipe of uniformity with the elements of calculability, profitability, and the aura of glorified global economy framing the lives of chickens globally ...
I grew up, borrowing a gangsta rapper’s high-school da’ Bronx lingo, “jumping chickens” (as in yo’ Jamaal I got jumped after school yo’ I was going to my crib’ in my hood’ in East Philly and they Jackie Chan’ed me yo’ … unlike that jump entirely) like a hunter and gatherer in a kampong that still had snakes like anacondas and tigers roaming like the "open zoo" down south in Singapore city...
i told them this in rhymes that is :
- grandpa told us boys to go after those chickens; we're going to have gangsta curry
so me and my bro and cousin and all; would get our gears ready;; this means changing from our sarong to a standard hot pants for males only  ...
and so we roam around the house that has no electricity; for thomas alva edison was still had 999 invention to go before he found out he had misplaced his batteries; and skinny-Gandhi-looking grandpa, like a godfather of chicken industry commanded us to hunt down that one chicken ripe for the that gangsta curry; and we run around the house and saw one that looked one from the movie Chicken Run fearful-looking of a bipolar pedigree
we strategized the arrest for a good many hours, till the sun and the moon from each other they broke free; the next day the mighty chicken was found finally; we all … brothers and cousins  jumped on it happily; and held it by the neck and the body as it struggled pleading amnesty ..

no mercy .. no mercy  ... said we …
(we think jazz; we drink gin; we play hooky; we groovy)
blesse grandpa, bless his soul  ...' i am sure he is smiling reading these gleefully..
and grandpa had his butcher's knife; me and my bros and my cousins aplenty held the chicken by the neck and prayed together in perfect harmony ... Ebony and Ivory  as the McCartney-Stevie Wonder tune of the Awesome 80s now playing in me …
“ we all know .. that chickens are the same wherever you go … there is good and bad  ... in every chook … learn to eat grandma’s gangsta chicken curry … la la la … what we do to survive … together we cry “
as grandpa uttered the golden words before the feast of this gangsta chicken curry ..
"O' God ... Merciful and Most Compassionate One ... bless thouest this chicken that will be today’s gift for my family ... and unto Thee shall this chicken too return ... as all of us shall return .. from then till eternity … " and the drama of the chicken dance was laid out already
and with that little mantra of Islamic spiritual ideology ... the sharpest part of the knife went straight across the jugular vein … a practice perhaps borrow from the Jewish rabbis who slaughtered goats with precision and humility …  downwards once ... upwards once get the poor soul’s great vein .... … go for the jugular as some American comedian down in New York city would say … and maybe one more time if resistance is  not yet futile as grandpa agreed; and we're done our job as tradition decreed ... as blood spurted and spouted and sprinkled out of the neck onto the ground that will too receive the body ... from dust to dust from ashes to ashes, from Earth we cometh unto Earth we shall return … interstellar beings we might be though unlike those conceived in the religion of Scientology … do not go gently into the night O’ Chicken and executioner and all … do not take the road not taken, for it will not make any difference … Mother Earth Mother Ganges … Father Sun O’ Jupiter .. O’ Deus Pater … O’ Mi To Fu , Ohm Ohm Ohm , from Nothingness that becometh a chicken back to Nothingness we do not know what its karma will be … many paths to truth, many doors to salvation … but this is a chicken right down there in the food chain … of the Man appearing in the eleventh hour of Creation to own and to administer whilst the chicken struggled in vain … ahhh .. grandma’s gangsta chicken curry we wait patiently
ahha .. we then threw the chicken onto the ground ... it did a bit of a dance move wobblingly like a bad groove of a James Brown move ... not like Ginger’s in that movie Chicken Run … as me and my bros and my cuz’ did all at once, and that poor chicken did like a funky chicken dance that might be ... play that funky music right on’ as the Black Panthers of the sixties would sing
and grandma was ready with big earthenware-pot of boiling water so that the chicken can then be ready to be stripped naked, feathers and all gone forever ...
and we would all... brothers and cousins sit around stripping those feathers ... while grandma would prepare the grounded spies for that gangsta curry better than anywhere served in a Malaysian  restaurant in Greenwich Village, NYC  ...
and when the chicken's ready ... and the gangsta curry's all served over white rice and we sat and ate quietly on the floor as if listening attentively to an interesting folklore ... as we prepare for the hours next, of playing football barefoot in the fields of grass and dandelions aplenty ... kicking the rubber ball barefoot imaging ourselves that famous Brazilian "Pele" …
Of Blackie’s death 

Way, way, way before there was this  Malaysian public square event to encourage people touch dogs" my grandfather had "Blackie" guarding our kampong house in Johor. Blackie, true to his name, was a black dog and not of any color, including white. Back in the day of the early 60s, the village was brand new and there were only a few houses. Grandpa "relocated" us from the fishing village of Stulang Laut near where the Johor causeway is now.

The new Malay village had tigers roaming. Yes, tigers! I did not recall any campaign to "touch a tiger" or "kiss a frog' by the then Prime Minster, Tunku Abdul Rahman. He was one happy man with his race horses; a first prime minister of Malaysia who drank and prayed as a Muslim and happy about it; his philosophy being: water and oil will not mix. 

Now—back to Blackie’s story.

I remember Blackie the faithful black dog who acted both like a border patrol and a national security dog against undesirable elements that will threaten our kampong house and us. All kinds of snake would come into the house and one day while I was bathing with a red plastic hand-held water container, when I was a little teeny weeny boy, a cobra crawled into the bathroom through an opening by the side of the huge dirty brown earthenware pot the size of a half Saudi oil barrel; it peeked its head into the opening and when it saw me gasped, I think, it went away- while I was bathing. I must have had magical powers to still be alive. I came back one day as I recall my grandfather was in the bathroom screaming and next I heard him shout to my grandmother to bring him a kettle of hot water he poured onto the black slithering reptile that again quickly went away. That must have been the cobra that had a battle with Blackie; that could have been the cobra’s wife or elder son or daughter or a distant cousin that went to combat with our faithful dog; that could have been the one that killed Blackie.  Hunger games of the slithering society. Mortal combat of the animal kingdom. 

Blackie was there maybe outside the bathroom when I was gasping and naked obviously and perhaps hiding behind the huge pot like the one you see in the New York Botanical Gardens, gripping that read plastic water container and perhaps cheap soap lather all over my body; soap, smelling of Jasmine or rose, my mother usually buy at a discount in that store in Singapore, across the causeway; and Blackie was there though I did not remember him helping me out that day. And Blackie our dog died after battling some wild animal, perhaps. I suspect it was a snake, as big as an anaconda of the Brazilian samba as I would have imagined when I was five or six; and I am sure like a Viking Black version of Lassie from the Black and White TV series of the shamed-Yankee-in-post-Vietnam seventies, Blackie fought it well and lost. Such a heroic struggle of Absurd Drama proportion.

We all woke up one day and saw him motionless inside the small monsoon drain right in front of our house. The morning was gloom; like the day’s weather that would perhaps not see the sun shine and happy as the last stanza of Wordsworths’ poem on wandering a cloud where he said: “ … My heart with pleasure  fills/And I dances with the daffodils” There were no daffodils in fact; just a monsoon drain and patches of tall grass partly covering the drain where Blackie lie; his eyes closed.
Grandpa sobbed, grandma sobbed; I sobbed too. We were very touched by Blackie's death. I call him a family martyr and I could still remember the day I cried while taking poor Blackie out of the drain, using a piece of wooden plank, to be buried with all the rights and honor of a fallen hero that died in the line of village duty. Honorable Blackie. And, like all dogs that went to heaven, like the 1001 Dalmatians, Blackie was the 102nd.

I become so emotional and touched every time I hear the word "Blackie" or derivatives of "Black". I was touched by the songs of the Singapore pop group Black Dog Bone, and Led Zeppelin's classic "Black Dog" and soundtrack from the movie Dog Day Afternoon in which there is a scene where Al Pacino’s boyfriend and lover wanted to fly out of the country to seek asylum, after robbing a bank to get a sex change surgery: in a place he blurted “Wyoming!” 

May you rest in peace, Blackie. As they say, all dogs go to heaven. But I hope Blackie will not be neighbors with those scriptural 72 hourries or virgins or “white raisins” as the correct Aramaic interpretation of a reward for jihadists should mean. Blackie is too good a soul for that.

So, reading about the Islamic campaign of "I want to touch a dog' bored me to (Blackie's) death. I was already touched by Blackie -- touch by his loyalty and the sacrifice he made to keep or family safe in a village where tigers roam and all kinds of Malay ghosts roam our neighbours.
Of an Alien invasion in my school

The country where I grew up in was given independence by her British colonial master, somewhat on a silver platter; a prince from the Malay royal court of the Northern state of Kedah became her first Prime Minister. It was on August 31, 1957 that shouts of “Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! or Free at Last! Free at last Last! Free at Last! (Today it will be chanted O’ merde! O’ merde! O’ merde’, if you may excuse my French, as corruption murders the nation) were heard in the National Stadium; suddenly the country was free; I do not know what that means even today. Singapore, the island and city where I was born was then part of Malaysia and when there we a large population of ethnic Chinese, originally brought in as indentured serfs to work in the tin mines.

When I was a child in primary /elementary school back the mid-1970s, there was an alien invasion in my elementary school, Sekolah Temmengong Abdul Rahman, Johor Bahru. A spaceship landed, my friends said. It was a UFO, they said too; little people in strange suits the ones you see in the popular cartoon series from the Singaporean television running around shooting our legs and leaving red ant-bites all over, scaring the shit out of us kids. Yes, nobody saw what these unfriendly visitors look like but we all agree, based on images we saw on TV that they are invaders. Scary but exciting; this added to the excitement of the days at school

And so, that day sometime in the year 1969 or 70; circa the Apollo moon landing, during recess, hundreds of kids ran around the soccer field screaming as if they were hearing the last 10 minutes of the broadcast of Orson Welles' The War of the Worlds'. There was total chaos. Each little scream added up to become a symphony of a cacophony of some alien invasion mystery.
Kids were knocking each other; we were running as if we were out of gas; I am now thinking of Jackson Brown’s song “Running on Empty,” The scene of chaos was like the street where those rhinocerouses ran wild in Eugene Ionesco’s play “Rhinocerous”

I recall falling on my face as I jumped across the huge monsoon drain that separates the field from a building leading to the classrooms. I tried to run away from being attacked and taken into the spaceship, into a world of weightlessness in which teh tarik becomes teh terbang.

I almost fell into the drain and was helped by my best buddy, Fook Shiang, a bespectacled chap who would roam around with me even into the Chinese graveyard on the north side of the school. I was curious about what a Chinese ghost looked like, having been quite well-versed in how Malay ghosts are presented.

Years later I discovered that ghosts, supernatural beings, and aliens are actually big business in Corporate America. Halloween is a great celebration of spiritual awakening – wherein America danced it to the tune of Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'.

In the case of the Johor sighting, kids were talking about seeing a spaceship landing in the middle of the field and about children being shot with laser guns that left them with red spots, just like those you get when bitten by red ants.

The invasion and the attack by the aliens on the kingdom of Johor did not stop in the school field. Two of my classmates saw battalions of little creatures (actually not seen by the naked eyes), the size of red ants, marching across the classroom as we were ready to resume class. Some claimed to have been shot in the legs and thighs.

In broad daylight we were attacked - in an age when TV was still black and white. That was almost 10 years after Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, in a race with the Soviets. That was the beginning of technological fantasy - that we will one day colonize space when we have devastated the Earth enough.

The incident at my school, which I heard was reported by Utusan Melayu, happened almost 50 years before we sent our first space tourist/cosmonaut/space participant aboard the Russian rocket. A giant step for Malaysian but a small step in our understanding of spaces of knowledge and power. Here's why.

Outer space, inner spaces

We go in and out of spaces and create these as well. We let the entire nation become mesmerized by our ability to launch a man into space. This could be good education for our kids, so that they may get hooked on rocket science.

But science ought to also teach us how to think rationally, promote free inquiry, cultivate academic freedom, address economic disparities, solve our educational problems, haul corrupt leaders to justice easily, how to recognize the rise of totalitarianism, solve the issue of our dispossessed and violent youth, and most of all decolonize our minds and let us live a life free from being colonized by the spaces of knowledge and power.

Science ought to be democratized to teach citizens to live in republic that is founded upon scientific socialism and transcultural ethics. But we are still colonized.

We let aliens colonize our living rooms; through TV programmes we allow Hollywood to dictate how we should invent our reality. We saw the 1961 Apollo blast-off and thought that only when we have sent a native to the moon would we be recognized as an advanced nation.

We are misled by the notion of technological advancement. We have not learned what science for social purposes means and we have not delved into the philosophy of science for the advancement of the Third World nation.

We saw Pakistan triumphant in testing its nuclear bomb near Kashmir on May 28, 1998 through the achievement of Nobel Laureate in Physics Abdus Salam, and we thought that an Islamic nation had progressed.

Little did we know how Pakistan has evolved as evident in the rule of General Pervez Musharraf. The nation's Nobel Prize-winning scientific achievement has its contradiction. There is so much disparity in the national-cognitive evolution of Pakistan.

We must get Malaysia to come down to earth and look at the reality of empty spaces and the spaces in knowledge and power that we have created over the last 50 years.

At present we are looking at Outer Space as escapism and a national fascination and alteration of consciousness - so that we may be made to forget the harshness of the daily lives of the people. We create newer grounds for play and fantasy.

Now for example, the Johor Kingdom is heading towards another fantasy world - the Disney Project. It will become Johor Darul Disney and Sekolah Temmengong Abdul Rahman will become the Malaysian office of the American project called Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence.

Critical thinking is all the more needed to equip the next generation to 'come down' from space and through science and technology, build a socially meaningful paradigm of economic development that benefits all races so that to evolve into a nation that prides on bridging the gap between the filthy rich and the abject poor.

Who benefits?

The world around us and inside of us continues to become more complex. We continue to be given bread and circuses. We continue to be mesmerized by inventions, institutions, and installations that are slowly killing our critical sensibility and eroding our ability to analyze realities that have been invented by those in power.

We have been turned into alienated beings amused to death with things we do not need. Our economy has been transformed beyond our control - and we think that this is the only way to 'progress'.

We think 'progress' is linear, following what Walt Rostow suggests in his book 'The Stages of Growth'. The 1960s brought us the hippy movement and the World Bank formula, a precursor of the Reaganomics ethos of the 'magic of the marketplace'.

We were trapped into believing that modernization means liberation. Now that we are in the post-modern era, we cannot turn back unless we revolt against the rule of instrumental totalitarianism. It has to be a revolution of the mind and a reconstruction of our consciousness.

With those many little 'super corridors' being installed in major states, what will 'human development' mean to us? Where is the concept of 'development - of the people, by the people, and for the people'?

Let us come back to Earth and be grounded in the social reality of things.

Of Malay girls and mass hysteria in Pahang

And then there was this story of hysteria again; if there were kids screaming during the alien invasion in my school, there were also slightly bigger kids screaming in yet another school. This time it was girls screaming; there was a “mass hysteria” when I was in high that was psychologically designed as a hybrid of an ashram and a kibbutz, with a tinge of Americanism. It was then in the n the mid-70s, many girls were "possessed by demons" for a good two weeks as I recall... It started off with an American-Idol type of singing competition that night. 

The school had to call a famous bomoh from Pahang. The ustazs (Islamic Studies teacher) called him. He used chicken feathers to ask the evil spirits to get the hell out of the girl’s bodies. The ghosts were busted. The girls were cured of the strange illness. But a parent trained in modern psychology spoke up at a meeting upset that the bomohs were called in. She said that it was purely psychological and the demons possessed can be explained by Freudian theories of repression, the Electra and oedipal complex and that the girls were not possessed by were actually emotionally repressed perhaps because of girl-boy love.
I was fascinated by the debate between Tok-Bomoh-ism and Pop-Freudism. I started reading Freudian theories after my exams. Till now I don't know whether it was the bomoh with the chicken feathers dancing around with mantras that healed the girls and the evil spirits had repented or because of the ghost of Freud that released them and spoke to the girl's libido telling them that love is not real. 

If I had the chance today, I'd request for in-depth psycho-anthropological interviews with the girls (now grandmothers with Coach bags) and ask them what actually did they "see" in their heads. 

I don't know ... but that was an interesting debate I was closely listening to, and could still enjoy movies such as The Exorcist and Ghostbusters. 

Of watching men turning into horses

I grew up roaming around the Malay village exploring a world rich in cultural tradition, immersed in the sight, sound, and sensibilities of many worlds of tradition. One vivid memory was watching for hours till late midnight the Malay dance of trance called the "Kuda Kepang"; a mystically-inspired dance form of the Hindu-Buddhist tradition brought to Johor. I remembered being mesmerized by the dance form and psyched up and stoned by the trance music as well as the incense-smelling smoke that filled the air. The dancers, mostly male started the dance conscious and ended up sub-conscious, being possessed by the spirit of horses. Hence it was called "tarian kuda kepang" At the end of the dance, a few of them went really haywire and started to ram into the audience. The guru (chief trance-inducer) of the dance appeased the dancers by feeding the, with petals of different flowers. They devoured the petals like hungry horses.

In the Malay kampong where I grew up, there were enclaves of Javanese, Bugis, Bawean, and those of Indonesian origin. The kampong as I clearly remembered had houses that were far away from each other and I was told that there were also tigers roaming. It was a newly established Malay village; perhaps whose origin is as old as the days of British Malaya.

The place where I was born, Singapore was an exciting "other world" where in my later growing up years became another place of exploration of modernity

Of hanging out in “tuck” shops” 

When I was a child, the word "tuck" is supreme: your mom tucked in your shirt before going to school, Brylcreem is tucked to your hair, you eat at the school "tuck shop", you tuck a Malaysian hard candy bar in your waist, your mom tucked you to sleep in your sarong pelikat ... when you grow older you start watching movies of American gangsters with guns tucked in their pants robbing their tuck-shops while Third World countries are tucked to either the Western or the Eastern block.

Of a scouting childhood in Johor Bahru 

Late one night while googling songs from the forties I found this song “The Happy Wanderer,” that goes: 

I love to go a-wandering,
Along the mountain track,
And as I go, I love to sing,
My knapsack on my back.
My knapsack on my back.
I love to wander by the stream
That dances in the sun,
So joyously it calls to me,
"Come! Join my happy song!"
I wave my hat to all I meet,
And they wave back to me,
And blackbirds call so loud and sweet
From ev'ry green wood tree.
High overhead, the skylarks wing,
They never rest at home
But just like me, they love to sing,
As o'er the world we roam.
Oh, may I go a-wandering
Until the day I die!
Oh, may I always laugh and sing,
Beneath God's clear blue sky!

My Boy Scout song; from the late 60s. Remembered a painful walk from my school, Sekolah Temenggong Abdul Rahman in Jalan Abdul Rahman Andak with other kids. We walked along Jalan Sultan Ismail and I had forgotten which other road we took before ending up at a huge water pipe (that send clean Johor water to Singapore.) We almost died of exhaustion. I remember feeling as if my whole body was about to disappear from my soul; like a Gandhi on a hunger strike but for a scouting reason. We ate bread and sardine (cap Ayam/Chicken brand) and were rejuvenated. Felt like karma all over. "Scout curi ayam," was a popular phrase used against us; meaning "boy scouts steal chickens,". But happy wanderers we were. And Johor Bahru was "the city as educator. " Much safer than today.  

Of a conclusion—somewhat:

this child in me
there is this child in me
that is alive and well
roaming around the village
the neighbourhood
the city
the principalities
the world
alternate worlds
of other-than real- worlds
of the world of possibilities
in which each child of the other
has no color
no race
no religion
no hate
just a smile
or maybe a look of curiosity
of what our play would be
in our togetherness
beyond the screams and yells of those adults
given the voice to speak to many yet speak of building tallest towers, promising the most emptiness, scheming the best so that each race will fight the bloodiest, and triumph with the most money acquired out of the best way to steal for the poorest rest--
there is this child in me
whose dear friend
is the language he is most at ease with
like an alice in wonderland
a world of being
and becoming
of perfection
and contradictions
and wild imaginations
as thoughts race up and down the heavens
as the mind refuses
to bow down to neon gods
or man-made gods who called themselves
kings who rob others poor every time the world blinks
a child is the father of man as a sage once said
close to Nature as
close as to oneself as the vein they called 'jugular'
there is this child in me
that will live till the end of eternity
unless the adult running the country
slaughter him for trying to roam free
like abraham's sacrifice
in that moment of confusion in history
-- ar
# And at the end of this prelude to a child’s story I hereby present you readers a photo of me:

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Fake degrees in the age of post-truth

Fake degrees in the age of post-truth Opinion  |  Azly Rahman Published: Today 5:40 pm  |  Modified: Today 5:40 pm ...