The Malaysian author and writer on his favourite stories, his own writers association, Kavyan, and our national language
By Tham Ying Hui
You've done various genres of writing - news articles, short stories, poetry and novels. Does any specific genre provide a special sense of artistic achievement? I would say the fiction gives me more satisfaction. I'm a columnist, so there are times when I present my column in the form of fiction, as a story, not just an article. It's because I love telling stories.
How do you maintain your voice throughout the changing styles? By writing what I want to write. Like in this particular book, 'Kisah dari Siru Kambam', I compile selected stories from '92 to 2012 or 2013, and what I see is that I'm writing in a similar style. I like to portray Malaysians in their everyday life, to tell what happens in society. That's how I maintain my voice. I can't differentiate between the writer in me and the person in me 'cause what I write is what I feel about a certain topic. There are stories where I talk about women's emancipation, giving the rights to women, because that's what I believe. I also talk about family ties, family values. My stories are what I'm thinking.
Speaking of stories, you wrote about the Ramayana epic, but provided your own twist on it. What inspired you to do that? I have been an ardent fan of the classic since I was small. I've read it in various editions - in English, in Bahasa, from different parts of the world. I remember even in secondary school, I was wondering: Why must the story be like this, why can't it be different? So I wrote a novel called 'Hanuman: Suara Hati' where the whole story of Ramayana is retold from the point of view of Hanuman - the Monkey God, Sun Wukong. I wanted to give it a different angle using Bahasa Malaysia.
Tell us more about Kavyan, the group that you founded. We started out with Indian writers. Not to be racist but when we talk about Bahasa literature, we have Persatuan Penulis (GAPENA), where the majority will be Malays, and their activities very Malay-centric. So we wanted to form a group - not to show off, but to highlight that Malay literature is not just about Malays or by Malays, but we also have non-Malays writing in Bahasa. And we wanted to encourage Malaysians to use Bahasa, to love the language. That's why our tagline is 'Bahasa Malaysia, Bangsa Malaysia'.
What's the best method to encourage new readers to check out your work? We need to understand what they want. When I was a lecturer, I was lecturing students who were 18, 19, 20. So when I mix with them, I can understand them, see what their problems are, what they would like to know, so that I can write stories that concern them. But I make sure that I use proper Bahasa Malaysia, even though we have lots of teenagers and adults who are using broken language.