Saturday, August 10, 2013

Down memory lane with Isa by Errol de Cruz
Malay Mail -- WEDNESDAY, JULY 31, 2013

I just heard that Errol has passed away today. It was such a shock because  had exchanged emails yesterday to meet up on Monday. He was such a dear friend. Below is the last review he did for Silverfish books on Isa Kamari's three Singapore Stories on July 31. We love you Errol.

MULTI-AWARD winning Singaporean author Isa Kamari must be extremely glad that three of his novellas are finding a brand new audience.

Thanks to Silver fish Books, based in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, the trio — Duka Tuan Bertakhta, Rawa and Memeluk Gerhana — have been translated into 1819, Rawa and A Song Of The Wind, respectively.

“The three originals were written for Malay readers and he asked for them to be adapted and translated into English for an international readership,” said Silver sh Books director Raman Krishnan who translated two of them himself and one (A Song Of The Wind) with Isa’s wife, Sukmawati Sirat.

The essence of all three are how the island nation’s premier, Lee Kwan Yew, ruled with an iron st and the displacement of Malays from Singapore. In A Song Of The Wind, Ilham is a 21-year-old whose family moves from Kampung Tekad to Kampung Tawakal and eventually a Housing Development Board (HDB) at in Ang Mo Kio.

It is the typical story of how a boy matures into a man, huffing and scu ffing with friends, falling in and out of love. Ilham, on his journey, unfortunately and unwittingly falls in with the wrong crowd and collides dramatically with the realtime history of an emerging independant Singapore.

The sad part is that the lad is blissfully unaware of the political changes and his ‘uneducated’ character is exploited by ruthless people with their own agenda. Author Isa is an engaging storyteller, who spins his tales eloquently and simply, painting vivid pictures with his words, and he proves that you do not have to be a Ludlum, Archer or Brown to keep your reader captivated.

All three novellas speak of the past. In Rawa, the title character relives his past and this includes living in and rowing his pau (rowboat) along the Seletar River and gradually nds he has to move his family to Johor because Singapore will not issue identity cards to the Orang Seletar.

Rawa’s story spans three decades and narrates how he falls in love with a village girl, raises a son, Lamit, is entrusted and loses an emerald ring given to him by the Sultan of Johore.

Rawa is a mystical story of how the character goes in search of his lost ring, crashes his boat and goes missing for two months, during which his wife Temah leaves to look for him and disappears.

The essence of this piece is that life comes full circle when a (not so) mysterious man reappears after Rawa dies and returns the ring to his grandson, Hassan.

1819 is the first of the three, chronologically, and in this, Isa writes about Singapore again, only this time it’s about Sir Stamford Ra es and his relationship with the Muslim saint, Habib Nur, who came there from Penang in the same year.

All said, Isa’s trio of novellas are sad. They tell of loss, the loss suffered by the Malays (orang asli, especially) as they bear the burden of progress and development and how they were ‘sacri ficed’ by Singapore. What do people in the higher echelons of espionage and national security call it all? Collateral damage?

Isa Kamari is a prominent figure in Singapore’s Malay literary scene. He has gained critical acclaim for many of his works, which range from novels and short stories to poetry and essays. He is also a musician and has crafted scripts for television and theatre.

In 1997, his short story Pertemuan won the Hadiah Sastera, Anugerah Persuratan, a Malay literature award given by the Malay Language Council of Singapore.

He received the award for the second time in 2001 for his essay, Milik Siapa Bumi Yang Satu Ini. He has received numerous awards for his other works, including his first novel, Satu Bumi. Released in 1998, Satu Bumi was translated and published in Mandarin and English in 1999 and 2007. It was also selected for the launch of the nationwide reading initiative Read Singapore! in 2005. Another novel, Kiswah, was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize in 2004.

Isa was presented with the distinguished Southeast Asian Writers Award (also known as the S.E.A. Write Award) in 2006 and has received two of the most prestigious cultural awards in Singapore, the Cultural Medallion in 2007 and the Anugerah Tun Seri Lanang in 2009.

He sits on various government committees, including the steering committee for the Singapore Arts Festival (organised by the National Arts Council), the implementation committee for the National Art Gallery project (under the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts) and the select committee for the promotion of the Malay language (under the Ministry of Education).

He frequently presents papers in international conferences and seminars on literature and the arts and conducts creative workshops for children, regularly.