Tuesday, 27 November 2012

promethed land

we are all so lonely in a world so populous. until we meet the halves we were split from at creation, the ones we were destined to be with for an eternity and a day. or so the greeks would have us believe.

where has gone the everlasting virtue of affection and love? all has died except for the transience of lust and the temperamental nature of fancies.

pandora has succeeded, and all of women are knives and knaves. prometheus has failed, and all of men are imperfect and disgusting. and to laugh? is zeus, for he has squandered away the woman from which his dethroner is born, in a mythical place, for no man is worthy to seed him, and no woman is true enough to bear him. and that place is more sacred than all zion and makkah and holy lands abound - it is the one promised to nobody at all - the promethed land.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

mentera semerah padi

the incantation of semerah padi9

hey! let flow the embodiment of kersani1 steel,
that becomes mercury2,
and fills the veins of my haunch3,
that i may stand,
steadfast and dignified,
as a malayan warrior4 of old.

hey! ten pieces of betel leaves5,
that i clench together with,
cloves that beget you6,
thick sanguine blood,
that fills my veins,
that i may stride,
steadfast and dignified,
like a rooster that crows7.

wherever i may roam,
is where i settle and call home,
as long as i may ardour a task,
i shall perform to the best of my abilities8.

quoted in malay:

mentera semerah padi

Hei! kersani mengalir lah dikau
Menjadi raksa
Mengisi belikat punggungku
Agar aku bisa berdiri
Tegap dan segak
Bagaikan laksmana Melayu

Hei! sepuluh helai daun sirih
Ku gentas bersama
Bunga cengkih jadilah dikau
Darah merah pekat
Mengisi uratku
Agar bisa aku berlangkah
Gagah dan tampan
Bagaikan sijantan yang berkokok

Di mana bumi ku pijak
Di situ langit ku junjung
Alang-alang menyeluk pekasam
Biar sampai ke pangkal lengan

Aku seru mentera pusakaku
Mentera semerah padi 

translation notes:

1. kersani is one of those words that gets lost in translation. there is no specific word for it in english, much like how the eskimos have handfuls of words which translate into the same word, 'snow'. except that kersani in itself does not mean anything, but is somewhat an adverb to describe a type of metal that is commonly associated with malay rituals to strengthen themselves for battle, or to ward of dangers or curses. i am not entirely certain what metals or metalloids would come under the categorisation of kersani, but it seems to be more related to the 'spirit' and 'appearance' of the metal than the chemical composition.

2. to have a metal become mercury is an odd thing, even for song lyrics. i can only assume that this reference is not to mercury in itself, but the nature of a mercurial substance - fluid but congealing, possibly silvery, giving the impression of strength and endurance. i am more inclined to use the word mercurial, but the literal meaning is lost.

3. 'belikat punggungku' is a phrase hard to translate. belikat in itself, again, has no meaning, but can be taken to mean the substance, or a vein, or even an artery; while punggung literally means buttocks. the previous lines lead into this sentence, where a metal is used to imbue the writer with superhuman strength or fortitude, the metal in itself becoming part of the writer by flowing through his veins. additionally, the reference to his posterior goes on to lead into the next few sentences about being able to stand, and to be steadfast in the writer's task.

4. laksamana is actually a specific rank in the old malaccan empire, roughly translating to the position of admiral. however, i felt this unfit, as the stature of the writer is more a common warrior or even a conscript defending his lands rather than an admiral leading the ranks of a fleet. in addition, the term bagaikan indicates this a simile, hence a more figurative translation is more relevant than a literal one.

5. besides the fact that there is no specific collective noun for leaves (unfortunate, that if it were something else, i would be able to write, 'ten leaves of xyz'), i would point out the relevance of betel nuts in the malay culture. quite possibly a traditional centrepiece brought to malacca by the indians via trade, the nuts and leaves of the betel tree are commonplace amongst the elderly, where they are chewed for a distinctive taste, and for the red dye (though i have no inkling as to why you would want to dye your teeth red). in traditional weddings, it was once a symbolic 'offering', though i see this happening less and less, and is possibly now a dead cultural remnant, at least amongst the more modernised malays. interestingly enough, it is not featured at all in the indian wedding ceremonies (at least none of the ones i have attended).

6. it is uncommon to associate cloves with betel, the former being a mainstay in malay cooking. however, i have observed the elderly to chew cloves on their own (and having tried, the bitter taste is too strong for my buds). more commonly, cloves are one of the 'empat beradik' (literally, four siblings) of spices used in pretty much every malay dish - cloves (bunga cengkih), star of anise (bunga lawang), cinnamon (sticks) (kayu manis, literally 'sweet[ly] sticks'), and cardamom pods (buah pelaga). in addition, the following words of 'jadilah dikau' is an interesting choice. it would appear to mean 'to make you' or 'make yourself', but that has neither figurative nor literal meaning in the text. i only presume the writer to mean that he makes of the spices, and incorporates it by ritual into his own, hence granting himself powers similar to that thereof the kersani steel from earlier.

7. again, possibly inherited from hindu roots, the rooster is symbolic of strength, iridescence, the sun, and a plethora of other similar traits. animism being a mainstay of hinduism (though not a defining or even particularly prominent feature of the religion), has been adulterated with culture and other religions to form a melting pot of references which may still reflect their origins, or have taken on new meanings relevant to the malays during the malaccan empire (at this time, being predominantly islam).

8. the final verse is composed of two peribahasa or proverbs in malay:

'di mana bumi kupijak, di situ langit kujunjung' literally means, where i may step, there is where i uphold the sky. it refers to the life of a nomad, who calls home wherever he has to, wherever his travels brings him.

'alang-alang menyeluk perkasam, bar sampai ke pangkal lengan' literally means as long as (i am) delving hands into perkasam (which is a type of preserved or pickled fish), (i) may as well do so till i am elbow-deep in it. i never really understood this, for who would want to put their hands into such a thing? but we were all taught at an early age that this is to mean that, if you do something, you might as well do it right.

9. initially i was having trouble translating the title, for i wanted it to be near perfect in literal and figurative meaning. mentera and padi are easy to translate, respectively meaning 'incantation' and 'rice' / 'paddy'. however, 'sermerah' caught me off guard. i had thought it to mean relating to the hue of red, or 'as red as'. however, with a little research, it seems that 'semerah padi' is actually a place in indonesia (thank you film by p. ramlee).

p/s: i started off with this rough translation because this song is both literally and symbolically an epitome of malaysian literature and song. i know full well that i have not done the song and its writer (m nasir) any justice in my translation, but i figure, if am to even try to integrate some of my heritage in this blog, it might as well be something that i am damn well proud of. more iterations or even similar entries in the future, i hope!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

only in fiction

fact and fiction are detached, and for good reason. life never plays out like a storybook or a movie, particularly if they're good ones. life is all about the inconsistencies and flaws, shortcomings and caveats. more importantly, life is about how we deal with those things, and make life work anyway. a story, no matter how well written, is only as good as the ending, which is, though not always predictable, scripted and complete. the book never ends randomly, or without indication, and this stereotyping of a book is what gives us control over it, even as a reader - something entirely absent from living life.

when you read the last chapter of a book, you may not know how it will end, but you know it will, and therefore you can prepare for completion, closure, and even in the possibility of a cliffhanger leading on to another book, sit back and know for sure, that this is it. this is fulfilment. this is absolution. this is reward.

in life, nothing is so predictable. nothing is so comforting as a 'known'. and best of all, even the best arranged plans can still end in disaster, just the same way that the most ill-defined ones can end in an infinity of (undeserved) boons.

i like to draw parallelisms with love and rezki. or more accurately, i like to draw upon these themes and relate them in parallel to life. of my favourite books, these examples embody the hypocrisy of the themes, and i choose love here if only because i have been so besotted once that i can only justify its absence with a righteous self torture that would exalt me to the status of the heroic men that have love and lost, which is better than never to have loved at all:

1. severus snape. to have loved lilly potter, having barely known her - and to have sacrificed his all, to ensure that even the shadow of her existence is preserved, in the form of harry; even if this meant he would have to let live a shadow of james, who so undeservedly won lilly's heart. this perpetuates a common incidence in life - that all the jameses will go on to win the lillys, though them have been terrible douchebags in the very least of words, and all the snapes will fade into non-existence, some of which will harbour, cultivate and cherish their adoration for the women of all women, even and particularly to their deathbeds. i honour you, severus, your undeserved death and unrequited love, your unsung sacrifices and unknown hardships. i honour you, severus, especially if you hold that flame more dear than your own happiness, to the day that all is revealed, and your lilly? she doesn't even give a whim for your own, by not being able to, or not wanting to at all.

2. florentino ariza. to have fallen, and have one fall for you, even in the most smattering of existences, is your true reward, in bliss and in pain. i apologise that i cannot exalt you to the stature of severus, even if you had been more a fool for romance, even if you had never raised your hand in such contempt and unbestowed harshness; for you have been a hypocrite that has confessed to an unyielding love, yet succumbed to the pleasantries of the flesh, with woman and women and more. possibly the worst, though is that even if you were a slave to the temptations of men, and required in the most loose restrictions, a love for the senses, florentino, where has gone that uncapitulated surrender for true and truthful love? where has lived the heart of a true gentleman? where has gone, the singular promise, to yourself? to your heart? to your love, fermina daza? i honour you, florentino, your eventual place in love's embrace after all that is beauty and lustful has died and decayed. but i hate you so, for never having held on in idealism - but maybe that is the lesson to be learnt from and for life, that the book is so great not because of an utopian possibility, but because it has not been.

3. noah calhoun. for someone to have love and lost, it is only customary, even expected, to let go. i would not hold this against you, i would not not love you any less, and so would all the people of the world. but that you had held on - be it for desperation, or inability to move forward, or complacency, or apathy (that you knew you could not find any more). that you held on. that you wanted to hold on. this is your blessing, and your curse. and your reward? is death! sweet, irreversible and without the evil of a countenance in hand. death, and to be followed by your allie, if only in hope, if it was not known to happen, i could only hope for the same. i honour you, noah, for your steadfastness, though it must have been easy to have succeeded from the start. and i envy you, for your blessed rewards, particularly in untimely, but deserved death. i envy you so.

4. romeo montague. to love in a second, or to second for love in a heartbeat; to have your heart beat in love for only a second, or to love one's heart only second to your own's beat - that is all one craves from life, and all that one gives to deserve love. a high order, that not all attain, and for those that do, must have taken for years and decades and eternal lifetimes. but halt, romeo! for you have done this in but a heartbeat. three days! three days! of an immortal love, that transcended life, then feud, then living, then battles, then death. and lived longer in the eyes of men than does a love in some hearts. and must be asked, oh, so stereotypically, not how, but why? and i parse from my own heart, for in it is embedded:

oh, romeo, romeo, wherefore art thou, romeo?
deny thy father, and deny thy name;
or if thou shalt not, be but sworn, my love (and i prefer to paraphrase, be sworn by love),
and i shalt no longer be a capulet.

romance, forsooth! but only in fiction. and never would you find in real life. so, for this, i honour you, romeo, for your devotion and faith, though i grant you stupidity beyond reason that i do not envy in the slightest. but as with noah, i have envied for his demise, so do you, not because it has been also at the hands of your juliet, with poisoned dagger or drunk by hand, but because it has granted you greater gain. truly as starstruck lovers you have come to be, but i beg to differ, that for yours be fiction, my tale of lost love is by far and by worse, a tale of more woe than your love for juliet.

5. majnun. i recount here for the umpteenth time, the story of love that cannot be agreed with - for what love is defined as unreciprocated or even unknown to the other? certainly not a love by this humble's standards. yet, i cannot let this go, for a love that has persisted through a battering and mutilation and adulteration and scorn, and flourished evermore? this is a love i can only hope to attain, one that in desire i feel i have had, but in practice i know nobody can. except only for the most pious for their gods, and the most unbelieving for their logics - and maybe, the most foolish for their own, unknown, stupidity. and, perhaps, that is why love makes us do the most silly of things. but, majnun,

you pass those walls, those walls of layla's house,
and you have kissed them from the outside,
though your love is not for the walls themselves,
but for the one that resides within.

have you not considered, that perhaps, with only a sliver of doubt, that the one who lies beyond those unspoken doors - the one whose beauty surpasses that of angels and queens - maybe, that one does not love you? does not feel for you? does not care? not even in the slightest? i honour you, majnun, but not because of your love, but because you are so blind to disregard the folly of your pursuit. that you would seclude yourself from all reason to let your love blossom. but when layla does not know, so does not her heart, so does not her love, so does not her thoughts. and she is happy, married and have lived, while you carve, desperately, your last three verses of poetry upon her gravestone, as you die yourself. unknown. unrequited. unashamed. and most importantly, unloved.

i regret that five is far too large a number to continue with examples. but know that if i could write more of fiction, i would love to. but fiction, as we have said, is not life. is not reality. and for all the heartstrings that would be twanged for choired notes in love - none will even venture a fancy if any of these were to happen in reality - except the opposite, where one so much in love? in like? is a fool, deserving of nothing more than ridicule and ostracising slander.

and to that, i deserve no different. i apologise for this.

Friday, 2 November 2012

flight of the sin

trifling sins, oh paltry sins, without whom we are gods,
but in their presence even kings may live like vulgar sods;
of course, their faces, dainty, plain, and ugly all at once,
is never shown in mirrors, glass or by their carried stance.

but beauty, oh, you beauteous stray, that prances, pirouettes,
and whirls and twirls to devilled tunes, then sculpting silhouettes;
against a sky, so bright! so blue! with fired passion'd sun,
betraying yet your sinful smile, awaiting for the one.

this nameless beast, that seeks unveiling of a shadow's boon,
but waiting till the ocean's waves come high tide 'fore the noon;
instead, to find that cadenced tune still playing in the breeze,
that makes the world revolve reversed, and hell's over to freeze.

but matters not, for faceless shroud that's used to hide that sin,
which lurks beneath the scaly skin, and haunts the soul within;
oh, banish, thee! to far away! return not till the day,
that death takes hold, from these frail grips, and love has lost its sway.

pretend no more, oh sins of six, or seven - eight if may,
or double that, to sixteen still, that pales to chocolate grey;
revealed, thine face, so scarred and pocked! and marred with no respite,
i'll save you yet, with mind and might, i've not given this fight.

envy? lust? and avarice? with peppered pride to taste,
one's weakness through the quietude, has only beget haste.
forget not, though your acedia, too, that made you apathy,
these masks, of trifling, paltry sins, without whom you are free.

so let those wings of rainbow'd spate, let loose unworried flight,
and maybe, perhaps, fly on home, you'd wish, you'd want, you'd might.