Promises untold.

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What would life be like if she had chosen a different route?

At 26, she had been juggling the roles of housemaid, resident cook, as well as adopted parent, sibling, and friend for six years now. She’d never intended to lose her girlhood the way she did when she crossed land and sea to work in Malaysia. Like all other human beings, she’d often lie awake at night as she skimmed through What Ifs in her head.

Maybe she’d be manning a food stand. Her days would begin at five in the morning with huge silver pots of beef broth simmering away on the stove. The sky outside would shift from the velvety darkness of night to hues of blue, the air containing a crispness she’d never find in any city. She’d then clean a basin full of beansprouts, nimbly removing their roots, her fingertips pruned from being in water too long. With hair neatly tucked underneath a bandana, she’d move to chopping coriander and chilli as condiments for the bowls of steaming beef noodles she’d sell.

Or, alternatively, she’d be toiling away on the fields as a farmer’s wife. The weather would reign over their fortune and sorrows. Day-by-day, she’d be dressed in cotton trousers folded high above her knees as she’d trudge through the fields and tend after the animals. Nights would be perfumed by the smell of the sea cucumber ointment she’d rub all over her aching joints, her back sore and bruised from carrying heavy rattan baskets filled with freshly harvested crops.

Or, what if she had chosen to marry and stay at home instead? Perhaps she’d show off a fuller body and a softer stomach, with stretchmarks across her abdomen and her buttocks — all emblems of successful births she’d relish with pride. Her husband would be her first and last glimpse of each day. While he’d be at work, she would fuss over keeping their house in tiptop condition, making sure their finances were in check and that they’d have enough to go around. Her hands would be rough and they’d have little to make do with, but at least it’d be through the expense of their own home.

Most of Imah’s nights were coloured by the notions of these other lives. All the while, the ceiling fan would whir rhythmically as her mini pink radio blared Hindi songs singing promises of love, warbling occasionally from bad static. Promises, like all the things she was promised in her life.

*This is a snippet of my revised edit of ‘Imah’, a piece I have been revisiting during my MA Fiction Workshop. 

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Hues of blue: a short update.

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I can’t remember much now of the energy I had before I left for England or what it was I was hoping to find when I traveled all the way here with my maroon luggage bag which equaled me in weight and height. When I think back about how I was, desperate to find some vestige of meaning in an age where it feels elusive, I still feel disbelief at how I  managed to forge through in spite of the doubts and challenges.

Some days move by slowly, some weeks fly by much too quickly. In the blink of an eye, I am already halfway done with my program. These recent months have been much more welcoming than the earlier ones and I have been grateful for the longer days, the warmer company amongst friends I’ve made, the skills I’ve developed as a person.

It has been humbling to realise how much I lack in writing, to read other stories and marvel at other voices trying to develop as much as my own. I used to write for myself; because it was cathartic, because it felt good and it was the only way I knew how to things fluidly. Writing feels a lot more weighted these days and sometimes this feels uncomfortable. There is a distance between the reader and the pages at hand I still try to bridge. I may not always be successful, but I’m aware of the responsibility that lies in wanting to convey important messages and the promise of growth keeps me going. Writing is the attempt to approximate what others feel. Isn’t that still a wonderful task to endeavour upon?

And perhaps any worthwhile fight is meant to be uncomfortable at some point. 

Prague, 2015

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I want to speak to you about the beauty of Prague, a place close to heart to luminaries whose books we read and speak of till this present time, about how the loss of day would begin with its remaining light casted onto the oldest and grandest of buildings, leaving beautiful hues of blues, pinks and golds reflected on the waters of the Vltava river beneath the Charles Bridge. Think about the ensuing shadowplay as the descent of the velvety night-time darkness would begin its slow, certain crawl leaving an aftermark the way certain aches do, the balustrade of the bridge lined with enigmatic statues in poignant poses as together we questioned and thirsted for its history, wondering if there would ever be space for another day filled with scenic sights of such breathtaking beauty, and its trees and trees with branches like skinny limbs, so needy in its wait for greenery.

The interplay of salty, sweet and fruity scents from the market would greet us as sellers peddled their wares of mulled wine, soups, chocolates and roasted meats at the Christmas markets. My heart felt light and free as we got on trams and trains and walked along roads and buildings that made it feel as if we were exploring more the inside images of postcards instead of real life. The Old Town Square was congested with locals and tourists trampling along the snaking cobbled roads to bring home the souvenirs that are photographs. We ate meals of fish and pasta during our time there, hardly local delicacies, but it was apparent to us how prominent meat, pork in particular, was over there. However, what we lacked in choice certainly made up in affordability.

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Processed with VSCOcam with a6 presetWe walked till our feet were sore, having coffee and tea in cafes including one that used to be frequented by Kafka and Einstein. Most of all, I was grateful to be there with a friend I’ve known and who has known me well over the span of five years, and counting. Not many friendships get to taste the same age and depth of intimacies we have grown to have and this winter break has given space for endless meaningful conversations in the cold with a person I feel comfortable in sharing my monologues with, without feeling the slightest hint of embarrassment. Perhaps accepting another is a greater gift than being accepted. The only loss during the trip was getting my iPhone stolen while we were crossing a busy intersection but I was duly consoled by the reminder that stuff is stuff and stuff unlike certain things can at least be replaced.

We perused a secondhand bookstore during one of our final nights where I picked up an old copy of Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, a novel with such weighted and meaningful prose contained in the type of stories I hope to be able to write someday. It was a fitting discovery, like other moments in Prague. How lovely when inspiration creeps up most when you least expect it to.

I went home convinced that Prague is a place to reminisce on past and new loves.

Happy New Year to all friends and readers. I hope 2016 will be a year filled with more good than bad, as well as continued growth and progress. This is not something to be said often but although living is a struggle, remember that there are many things that make it worth it. I still believe in this.

All my best.

Considerations.

It’s been awhile since I last wrote. I will try and summarize in as little and as much as I can, the same way I’d do if I owed an explanation to a friend.

Days here have been filled with its own sort of presence, making up for the absence which appears in being someplace new. Two months in and I have found once again a new palate in being a student abroad. This place is so different from Malaysia, or America, and there have been numerous confrontations; with the cold, with a change in culture, with how my English is not the English of an English girl, the pause before speech and the wariness of not being fully acquainted with a language I always thought I intuitively knew best.

There have been good moments: finding beauty in old brick buildings and the silence of being in a dusty albeit well-stocked library, having an abundance of time to read and think and cook and write, picking up exercising and drawing again, the rich availability of Halal or vegetarian-friendly food, being surrounded by classmates that love the same thing as I do. I’ve been actively reading and venturing into the art of writing short stories. My stamina has not been this great in a long time.

There have been bad moments: dealing with a less than ideal accommodation and realizing Manchester isn’t the safest of places with its own share of seedy neighborhoods and people, homesickness, the pulsing questions surrounding one’s own identity and originality when displaced from home, comfort, and friends, dealing with ridiculously disorganized administrations and repeatedly poor customer service and a frustratingly condescending old instructor who appears to have more interest in anything aside from the class he’s been hired to teach.

Writing isn’t easy, especially when it feels stringent and measured. The pleasures which I’d often found through spontaneity have been lost, replaced by finding myself in areas where I feel foreign, raw and new. As weird as it sounds, I never had rules whenever I wrote and there was a relaxing sense of liberty to this because I never questioned that voice. Having restrictions and a sudden visible audience has replaced that freedom with a weird sense of naked vulnerability. It feels, to me, like relearning how to love in a new way and through wielding a new body.

I tried feeling better and began introducing more clutter to my room. I added candles, I bought different kinds of tea, I played different kinds of music and made playlists to suit every mood. I wore more makeup and on some days, barely any. Then I started cleaning which took on almost a religious effect in how the physical practice of it was therapeutic. I wanted control through every semblance of my life. Through my body, by practicing clean form whenever I pushed myself through exercise. Through cooking, which vastly improved and surprised even myself. Through writing, by recording my reflections to later investigate and interrogate them further. And I drew deeper and deeper into the night.

The first time I had to deal with negative criticism, I was gutted. It was so bad, so painful, that I called my sister up in tears. I’d always thought myself as tough, if not apathetic, but it hurt more than anything had in a long, long time. Yet it was necessary in the way it brought me face-to-face with several epiphanies that had been skimming through the surface but which I’d always looked past, things about myself which I had refused to confront but which I needed to. It was a good lesson in humility and  I won’t divulge too much into the particulars here, but it made me realize how lucky and loved I have been, and how spoiled I can be in taking this privilege lightly. It inspired me to want to be better, which I’ve not felt in a long time. Writing is a process that is extremely self-indulgent in nature and it is easy to get lost in one’s own thoughts and words. I am too long-winded and vain, I think. I am not clever or brave enough, but I want so badly for the good and the real. And how I cringed when I read of Emma Bovary’s delusions in her unlived fantasies and her eventual death which seemed so clumsy and vile in comparison to her grand expectations. It sounded too easily like a life I could mimic. All I’ve wanted is a life of intrigue. Too much that I overlooked the foundations underlying my own comforts.  

There is no denying I’ve found a strange creature in myself and in this place. I try to be more dexterous in my actions as I sort out all my wants and my needs, my desires and my affections, to belong and to understand through these given devices.

But I try, anyway.

I try and again, I know that I’ll keep trying. There’s just no other way about it.

The ways in which this city will change me.

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The city, the ways in which this city will change me.

Our tales of sound and fury, the parts recorded by logic, diligence and passion, the parts unrecorded yet known. I am at the very tender stage of being on the threshold, where my present self can take the proleptic backseat in anticipation of what is to come. Funny how even as I am here thousands of miles away, I still see scenes which remind me of my motherland. Till now, I am unsure if she truly likes me, although I know our love for each other exists by default. What a strange type of love.

The weather has not been grey enough to inspire despair. On the contrary, it has been pleasant and I have been surprised by the unfolding warmth and hospitality, how little I had hoped and expected to save from bruising me. Solitary visits to the city, its cafes, the smell of filth and promise in thrift stores, the clickclack of footsteps on wood floors in museums, furnishing a room with my own ideas, taste, eccentricities, the joy of having once again the access to libraries. I am thinking new things and feeling nervous, at long last nervous again, about my abilities and the subsequent mental growth which hopefully awaits me.

I know that to an extent, this city will change me.

Observing questions, reading and readers.

My father proposed an explanation the other day.  His rationale was that I grew up primarily sustained by a diet of books and thus consequently developed the mind of a reader in a nation of non-readers. This led to eventual difficulties in relating and emphatizing with not just my peers in school, but with essentially everybody around me. Nonetheless, like searching for Oz, I remained stubbornly invested in the idea that a more ideal environment still existed out there, maybe not in Malaysia but certainly somewhere. This conjecture of being better understood in distant lands led to leaving for America with bated breath and zealous idealism at the age of twenty, only to confront the reality that even in a land of supposed readers where made readily available were an abundance of libraries begging to be explored and all the books I’d ever wished for easily available via my 1-click Amazon Prime account, the real world would never be able to account for the concrete ideal I had designed in my head. It was exactly this vile mismatch between expectations and reality that I needed to be rooted back down to earth and leave the dank yet comfortable adolescent dreaminess which had so consumed me.

Not wanting to be subjugated so easily by this theory which stung in so many respects, my natural reaction was to immediately refute it. Yes, I can’t deny I’ve thought about this theory for numerous times afterwards, so whimsically thrown to me by a parent in the wee hours of a random morning, and considered the startling accuracy of some of the points. Even more so, it fascinated me not just from a personal navel-gazing perspective but in terms of how it brings to mind closer examination of the narrative of a reader. What do we subconsciously yearn for as we delve into a piece of text, into the land of books? Is there a verification that we yearn for to enable us as thinkers and as significant individuals amidst the privacy of hidden narratives and lands?

I watched a Youtube video today by a literature major who aptly described the beauty of literature as gaining permission to examine various psyches. There lies a profound loneliness and yet absence of loneliness which I find in the world of a reader and consequently, as a writer. Loneliness, because of exactly what was said above about being able to relate less to non-readers, about how even while being in conversation with non-readers there is a palpable sense of an almost emotional disconnect in some areas. How is it that we are reading the same passages in a book, yet you are unable to experience the same delights, the same stings, the same terrors? We share the same sky and yet we are so different, we have such different loves. Saying all this now at a later age, I understand how gratuitous it sounds, because it is so narcissistic to only want to be limited to people of the same supposed ilk. To want to idolize only a certain type of intellect or beauty seems so unjust and even unkind. And surely reading and writing is about humbling down to look at both differences and similarities in order to put it all to pen and paper to understand better? 

Yet there still is the problem — I tell people I am going to pursue Creative Writing only to elicit polite glances or condescending responses that hint at doubts as to why anybody would want to pursue such a line in the first place. I understand the assumptions and the doubts, about how our society has been conditioned and how perhaps to study language and writing is such an unwarranted luxury, have grown almost immune to the lack of conviction in its importance or success as a career path which even I admit is not as appealing in forecast as say, perhaps more practical options would be. How important can the study of language and its aesthetics be? I feel isolated when most of my loved ones don’t understand. Yes, this is all good, but to what effect then, my dear? Shouldn’t we agree to disagree that we are in pursuit of different things, even if we may be unable to regard them of possessing the same value?

There are many things of which I owe to reading which would always be accounted for. It was through reading that I, simply put, found the appetite and strength to live. Without it, I felt, and considerably might even still feel, powerless. Reading was an escape and I fell in love with the world of prose, with the beauty of understanding that others can convey how I feel towards this life in all its splendor. Even better, it shed light in unfound perspectives and nourished the beauty of meaning. This all still seems naive to profess now in a state where I still feel very much adrift with a lack of direction but I can’t think of anything more fulfilling than to inspire or prompt thoughts in others through the channel of language and fiction and prose. It might change your life — I know it did mine.

A disintegration.

Manusia yang daif, manusia yang akur.
Kerana tanpa aturan manusia gentar, sayu, kekok.

Amidst a profusion of tender feelings inspired by the dusky body of the night-time, the individual feels like he can finally give enough to invest in the present being. The relief of having this motion silently passed is a huge and unsurpassable liberation. Lately he has been praying again, often with his eyes closed, imagining the reach of a ship arriving on a distant shore. Lately, he feels he is able to look past the disembodied state of his fears, past the wildfire of alienation, and the decreasing self-confidence of being able to make it in this cut-throat dog-eat-dog world. He understands the frailty of living and the smallness of not just his own life, but the lives of others surrounding him, as he peers outside the window and sees the lighted cars driving on the wet road and pedestrians sharing umbrellas in the chill, like bedouins in the night seeking refuge within the silent shrill of the wet, wet dark. Still falls the rain as accompaniment, the nymphs of his desires threatening to surface past the threshold of his conscious conscience.

Perhaps death is a famous passenger ship which greets us at the most inopportune moments as it reminds us, startlingly, of brief mortality and of how what we have is not really ours to always keep. For awhile, he did not care anymore about the keeping. If it was his, some higher Being’s, anyone’s, no one’s. He wanted, simply, the quiet comfort of having the days pass by – obligations, paid; needs, met. And if the end came then, well, to hell, kiddo.

The news of his friend’s abrupt passing came as a shock. It wasn’t a friend he had particularly kept in touch with in recent years. But he was a decent guy, good-spirited enough to stick around under any occasion and always well-received for the strong sense of easiness he emanated. A bit of a joker with a sharp tongue, a bit of an asshole sometimes, but always well-liked.

He thinks of the idea of perishing in an accident and it is to him so rude and alien. The disembodiment of a form once known, gone to blend within the asphalt, form gone to further distances past mortal comprehension.

Perhaps tomorrow, a week, or even a month later he will choose again to forget the bruising urgency of this moment. Perhaps he will choose to be invulnerable again. The panic will dwindle and time will cease to feel like thin fabric. He will shelve the books back after they move him, flee again to other towns for something bigger and better, refuse the promise of commitment at the brink of intimacy with gratifying and vile bodies, forget the serenity of this sudden humility now filling him. Indifference may arrive, with the hours and the days and the growing years.

“Think of something poetic before this moment passes,” he thinks, before reaching out for pen and paper.