Prose, poetry and prattle: some published, and some ... well, not yet.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Wilting Without Grace

I am wilting. It is getting unbearably hot here. Not the kind that tingles the pores of your skin like a well-earned sauna. It is quite different. It is an oppressive kind of heat and I feel driven to jump from this kuali into Sungei Wang. Blame the humidity, the high percentage of moisture in the air that clots each laboured breath, makes the skin clammy, and makes even a harmless cotton-blend from British India feel like a Lycra straight-jacket fashioned for a rave at your local downtown asylum. It is the kind of humidity only fat Cuban cigars with equally fat price tags could appreciate. Not me. I cannot roll that way.

I am wilting. Even though my great-grandparents were born here (all eight should be enough), and probably their parents, too, the mitochondrial legacy within me struggles to acclimatize. Should I wonder why it would take this long? Will my children's children feel as alien? When is the time when my progeny will fully feel at ease, fully integrate and disappear into the kerawang? Until then, do we deserve to be treated like … well, termites?

I am wilting. I feel the energy draining from me. The oppresive temperature bears down on any semblance of hope I ever did harbour. Yes, it once sprang from my breast with enthusiasm born of youth. Perhaps, more than a port-of-call, what my post-adolescent hope really needed was an aircraft carrier. Not long ago, in the last millennium, as a returnee, that idealistic foreign graduate – stupid me – I should have launched my unapologetic assault upon these beloved shores. But now more than I had ever imagined, I feel embattled – like many around me; bullied by crafty, titled figures of authority, brow beaten by badge-wielding officers behind glass counters, held frozen by those swirling blue lights on screaming white Protons. The servants are not civil in this land of Planta. They look at me with contempt because they have been told that their gourd is more bitter than mine, or because language fails me. Annie Lennox knew this well. (I love her voice and know she sings for me.)

And you? Are you not wilting, too? Surely, sister, you must be choking in those swarthes of fabric meant to keep sandblasting winds at bay as they would (as you are so often told) those dreadful primal distractions. And, Tuan, can't you see how the sweltering demarcations are closing in around you, until where you may sip an iced cincau even will be governed by men with oily moustaches?

I am wilting. My knees tremble because the spot where I stand has shifting sands. I am told I should be thankful that it is not quicksand. This could be one of those places you see on CNN, they say. The kind that in time will become the setting of an award-winning epic movie or television blockbuster. Where the hundreds of extras the producers hire won't need to move too much. Listen … maybe they all started this way, too? Something strange would hang in the air which not nearly enough among them ever thought required speaking up about. So, the strangeness unchallenged crept over them like another harmless twilight. Lines drawn in the sand, differences no longer merely observed but legislated, and soon the yellow stars come out to play. Syurga forbid we ever come to that? Choy! Is it not strange that inclusion must be fought for?

Oh, I am wilting. Aku melayu. Can I say that? Well, I did. Because I so want to – truly.


This piece (a lightly abridged version) appeared in the Ramblings column of TELL (July 2007) magazine. Do pick up a copy - it's one of the more daring magazines around.