The political and social typhoons caused by the book "Interlok" had come and apparently gone. A "solution," in the form of a compromise, has, as is usual in Malaysia, been found and announced.
I have not read the book. From whatever I had read in the past few weeks on the subject, as I understand it, the book is a mandatory read in our school as part of the Malay literature curricular. The objections taken against the book is the fact that it contains the dreaded "P" word, which is deemed demeaning by Indian Malaysians.
Interlok is a book authored by our National Laureate, Abdullah Hussain. It was written in 1967 as an entry for a national writing competition commemorating the 10th anniversary of our independence. Apparently in the 1970s, the book was already used in our schools as a text book for the Malay literature subject.
Quite frankly, I can't for the life of me remember that book although I was in Form 4 and 5 in late 70s. If I recollect, the modern Malay literature mandatory reading at that time was Sandera (which had also won some sort of a competition to commemorate our independence - I remember that book well because it was one of the worst novel I had ever read!) The non-prose mandatory book then was a poem anthology called Di Penjuru Mata Mu, which was a gem of a book, if I may add.
From various reports, I gather that Interlok's theme was one of unity between Malaysia's three main races, the Malays, Chinese and Indians which ran back from the 1900s. In other words, it is a period story, which is a story set in a certain era in the past.
Why the sudden outcry, if I may ask?
It has been around for so many years and now suddenly it has become an issue. Why?
The arguments against the usage of the book, among others, is that it contains the dreaded "P" word (well, heck, this is a blog, and so I am going to use it anyway, it contains the word "pariah"). Granted, that word, if used to describe an individual or a group of individuals now, would be demeaning to them, especially if they are Indians.
However, the story in Interlok is set in the early to mid 1900s. Such word was in fact being used then, just as the word "Keling" was being used in Sejarah Melayu, 400 hundred years ago. (In fact in Penang, we do have Masjid Kapitan Keling. So, are we to change that name?) In keeping with the period against which the story was set, the author used the word. I suppose he had wanted to make the story realistic.
What is the problem with that? It is not as if the author is saying all Indians come from that caste.
The deeper objection is not the against the book but against the decision by the Education Ministry to use that book as a mandatory reading in our schools. While I agree to a certain extent that the Ministry should have been more circumspect in choosing a book for mandatory reading, I could not see anything principally wrong with the decision.
On Tweeter, someone said that the usage of the book may give the impression to the students that such derogatory term is acceptable.
Okay. First of all that consequence is not the result of the book. It is also not the result of the decision to use the book as mandatory reading. That would be the result of the lack of education or the lack of depth among our students. That signifies a wider and deeper underlying social, and perhaps even, political issues which pervade our society at large nowadays. The book has nothing to do with that.
In fact, I would dare to argue that the usage of the book Interlok as mandatory reading could be used to create positive awareness among our students that such derogatory term is unacceptable; that it is passe to do so; that political correctness in this millennium demands the removal of such term from our daily vocabulary and that it is not cool to call any of our brothers and sisters as such.
As a Malay student in late 60s and early 70s, I was taught Malay folklore where the Malays were portrayed as stupid (read Lebai Malang); lazy and dreaming (read Pak Pandir). In Si Luncai and in fact Sejarah Melayu (which was mandatory reading in Form 6), we were told that the Malay rulers were greedy, sex crazed, willing to sacrifice their people for personal gains and that the palace was full of intrigue, back stabbing, jealousy and envy and power crazy people.
In Hikayat Hang Tuah, we were told that Hang Tuah went to Pahang just to steal a woman from her fiancee so that he could present that woman to his King as a present. Hang Tuah had also apparently jumped into a sewage pond to safe the King's horse, such was his undivided loyalty to his King. Hang Jebat on the other hand frolicked with the King's concubines.
In Badang, he even swallowed the puke of a jembalang just so that he would get superhuman strength!
Isn't that demeaning to me, a Malay? Do we change those story in 2011 in order to make it politically correct? Or to make it - to borrow current parlance - "cool"?
As a young student, I was confronted with those innuendos about my race, my culture and even my faith. Did I shout and scream and run away to a dark corner, sulking and brooding? Were the people of my generation too laid back such that nothing was said about those things?
The answer is surely no. We did not do a thing as like everybody else, we have to confront reality, no matter how hard or harsh the reality may be. The truth is, we will never be peaceful with ourselves until we accept reality. Only after that can we strive to be better and stronger.
While the above is true of everyone of us as individuals, it is also true with us as a nation - as Malaysia. Why must we view everything through a racist and jingoistic eyes?
Having said that, I must comment on the supposed "solution" announced by the Deputy Prime Minister yesterday.
Truthfully, I just wanted to laugh!
The so called solution is that the book Interlok is going to continue to be used but with amendments. What the hell for, if I may ask bluntly?
If a book - by our National Laureate, no less - had to be amended before it could be made mandatory reading in our school, why the hell did we decide to use that book in the first place?
What do we do next? Take away all the work "Keling" from Sejarah Melayu? And amend Pak Pandir and Lebai Malang to make the main Malay protagonist look and sound smarter. And what shall we do to Si Luncai? Do we change the part where he jumped into the sea with his "labu" just so that the King's man would not look too stupid?
Where do we stop?
And, if I were the author of Interlok, I would say, "over my dead body, mate!"