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City stories: Roslan, 50, petition writer

Written by
Joyce Koh
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We talk to one of the last petition writers in KL about his work, owning a computer, and writing for the Taliban.

Hi, can I know why are you guys hanging out here? 
Boleh. My name is Roslan, he is Jimmy [looks to friend beside him]. We are petition writers. We write surat rayuan (letters of appeal) for others. If anyone comes to us for help, we’ll write letters so they can submit the letters to different government departments. We help people lah. 

So these people don’t have computers? 
Some do. But some don’t. Even if they own a computer, there are many people who don’t know how to write surat rasmi (official letter). 

Do you write official letters only? How about love letters? 
There’s one. It was for a Chinese girl. 

Do you know what happened to these people after you write the letters? 
After the applications were approved, some people will come and give me an update. They come back to say thanks lah.

How long have you been doing this? 
Twenty years. 

Do you have a computer? Which one do you prefer? 
I have one kat rumah. But if you bring a computer, you need batteries and electricity. Mana boleh? 

Why did you start doing this? 
I like meeting people. I also like helping others. 

Can you tell us about your background? 

My background is accounting. I was an income auditor. However, the company closed down, so I had nothing to do. A friend asked me to help him with his business, but that didn’t happen. So now here I am, from high up, to the ground. This is the ground, right? Now, to teach people what to say in letters, I have to have the knowledge of what to do. This work looks simple, but it is not.

I'm curious, how much do you charge for the letters? 
Macam-macam. From RM5 to RM100. 

Wow, what kind of documents will cost RM100? 

Ada. Agreements are quite long, and then you need the format to be just right for the lawyer. 

petition writer

How about the RM5 ones? 
Those are the common surat-suratSurat rayuansurat permohonan kerja.

What’s the most interesting letter you’ve ever written? 
The Taliban. A guy from the Taliban came to me, asking me to write a letter to Afghanistan. His child, his family is trapped in the war zone in Afghanistan. 

The Taliban? 
Ya, I also surprised. You never know what people come to find you. I write to all sorts of people. To sultan-sultanagong-agong. I write to all over the world.

How’s the business? 
Hard to say. There is still business. But now with better knowledge, increasing education, less and less people need my help. But there are still people who come to me. 

Are there any other petition writers in KL? 
They are very rare now. If you find one, it’s your lucky day!

Why did you choose here to do your writing? 
This spot, it is very old. It used to be the mahkamah, the Sessions Court. So most people know this place.

Apart from letters, do you write stories? 
Hmm. Cerita? I write sajak (poems). Sometimes, at night my friend would text me and ask for my sajak. I have a group of friends from high school. We write sajak together last time. They like my sajak.

If I want something written, do I bring the paper?
I have the paper. You tell me what you need.

Can you write something for me?
Sure. What do you want? I can write anything. Apa-apa pun boleh.

Write something about KL then. How much is this? Let me pay you.
No need, this is my gift to you.

Find Roslan at Panggung Bandaraya. Mon-Fri, 8am-3pm.

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