As an American educated Malaysian Tamil poet/writer, I am burdened, shackled and fettered on Malaysian soil. The National Religion, Islam, and the National Language, Malay or Bahasa Malaysia weighs heavily on me. The Hindu-Tamil cultural and religious considerations of my culture of origin add their weight. To critically consider and/or repudiate one or both in favor of what is ‘new’ is an exciting process for the writer and potentially a landmine.
In the words of Jari Thymian, a fellow Colorado poet, “Writing is not an apology.” Writers do not write to apologize but to consider afresh the issues that confront us. The Malaysian identity is one such issue, that begs the great minds of our generation for consideration. I believe that all Malaysians -and Malay Muslims who develop the ability to repudiate in spirit and truth the racial/religious politics of Malaysia-will liberate themselves. Given the current politicized environment in Malaysia and Islamic countries, this will require courage.
Prior to conversion and departure from Malaysia, I found myself only timidly approaching the subjects my pen wished to take on. Malay Muslim supremacy prior to 9/11 was gaining the subtle but diabolical strength that is now boldly and openly articulated by Malay-Muslim government leaders as threats to non-Muslims and non-Malays in Malaysia. The willingness of Malay Muslim leaders to ‘shed blood‘ in defense of Malay Muslim supremacy is evidence of racial and religious politics that defies the ethical and moral considerations of modern civil society. This underscores what I have said before of Muslims in Malaysia – they live lives of public victimhood and private privilege and are loath to lose it in favor of modern civil government.
Religion, politics and sexuality is taboo given the nature of Malay-Muslim government so writers/thinkers and poets are either limited to writing about Malaysian flora and fauna or penning obsequious poetry in the ‘mother tongue.’ A fine example of the latter is the poem written in Tamil by Datuk Samy Velu in praise of the Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. As the young American writers like to say here in contemporary language, and with a rolling of their eyes upward to heaven, “That’s a no brainer!”.
Writing in the English Language is a beautiful experience, simply because for some moments on the page, and in my mind, I can let my pen and my spirit soar ahead of me. I need not worry about the ghoulish figures of prophets or saints looming over me, demanding that I write around the elephant in the livingroom. I can confront stereotypes and search for ways in which we defy those handles and descriptions put upon us. By writing, and naming this world in a fearless way, we begin to engage, empower and own our lives and our liberty. The secret to American success and strength is that liberty.