Saturday, December 25, 2010

The (attempted) murder of joy

For years I have had an ambivalent attitude towards Christmas. It would require a 3,000-word essay to clarify why I tend to feel a deep sense of futility and weariness whenever the “jolly season” rolls around.

Last year I managed to survive the “jolly season” by taking a two-week vacation in Sungai Buloh Hospital. It wasn’t much fun for my folks, I realized, so I won’t do it again. Besides, you only get to experience resurrection once, right? Unless you happen to be a coward with a habit of dying a thousand deaths.

This year I have indisputable cause to feel depressed.

Somebody murdered my dog in cold blood. Roger Putra wasn’t just any dog – he was more like a second son to Anoora and me.

We both doted on the chubby little tyke who celebrated his second birthday in November and was in the prime of health and beauty. Roger was the only dog – apart from his father the late illustrious Mr Wong – allowed into the house. Some nights he insisted on sleeping in the bedroom, curled up beside me on the floor. In the morning I would awake to see him smiling at me – and if I decided to laze around too long, Roger would jump on the bed and make himself comfortable next to me until Anoora shooed him off. Then he would leap over my horizontal body and run outside to lie in the sun.

Roger Putra was the embodiment of joy around here. Whenever I felt irritable, weighed down by the density and abominable quality of some people’s consciousness, Roger would magically appear with an ear-to-ear grin on his face and I would instantly cheer up.

There is a particular rock under a shady tree I enjoy sitting on and watching the river flow, with Roger beside me. I would run my fingers down his neck, looking for ticks I could flick into the river for the fish. It was a daily ritual, almost, that never failed to fill me with a profound sense of contentment. Roger Putra was good medicine for my soul.

Roger's Rock where I often sat with him, contemplating eternity

Today I sat on that same rock and felt him as a familiar presence. My hand involuntarily reached out to stroke his thick fur… but found only thin air. I thought about the man who killed Roger, not with anger but with unfathomable sorrow. What a nightmare it must be for him to even live each day. Only a soul devoid of any self-esteem and zest for life could descend to such depths of depravity and gratuitous violence.

So who killed Roger Putra and why?

A friend had gone for a long walk early on the morning of 14 December. Roger had followed her, accompanied by two female dogs. When she returned an hour or so later, Roger wasn’t with her. My heart sank. “Where’s Roger?” I asked. She assumed he had gone home ahead of her. I was unable to go look for him right then because I had visitors, so she took off again with another friend to try and retrieve Roger. After my visitors left I drove down the trail as far as I could and headed to a spot about 20 minutes’ hike from where my friend has last seen Roger. I called for Roger over and over again, my voice echoing around the hills. At a river crossing I called again and within moments a figure appeared… it was Anoora’s stepfather Rasid.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“Looking for my dog, have you seen him?”

“Yes, not long ago, running through the rubber forest.”

“He seemed okay? I’m concerned about boar traps around here.”

“He’s probably on his way home,” Rasid said.

I felt a surge of optimism. My main anxiety had been the jerat or wire snares set by Orang Asli to catch wild boar. A year ago Roger had been caught on one of those horrible devices and it took him three days to gnaw through the wire and liberate himself. He managed to limp home with his right leg almost cut through at the shoulder. Took him a month to heal but he was completely fine.

Mary & Ahau taking Roger to the vet after he almost lost his right leg to an Orang Asli snare

Rasid’s report gave me a surge of optimism. I was praying hard that when I got home a familiar furry thunderball would be charging down the grassy slope through the undergrowth to greet me. Instead, I found both my friends standing at the top of the steps looking forlorn after a fruitless search. Over the next few days I kept going back to where Roger was last seen, hoping to find him busy licking some horny bitch’s bottom, lost to the world. The best case scenario was that he had found a willing playmate in the vicinity and decided to stay close to her – out of sight of Mary’s dog Baggins, who would never give Roger a chance to mount any female found in heat within his territory. Bitches remain in heat a least a week. And male dogs in love tend to forget about food. Roger, I figured, had enough body fat to last at least that long.

A whole week passed and I forced myself to remain hopeful that Roger was merely undergoing his rite of passage into full adulthood. There were times when I felt Roger didn’t like being pampered too much – his male pride, perhaps. He possessed a strong sense of the dramatic and heroic, always standing on a high rock gazing into the distance, beyond the treeline, nose twitching at the scent of monkeys and other assorted fauna. It was as if he was always listening for the call of the wild…

On the lunar eclipse solstice of 21 December, we were at a restaurant having lunch when Karim the deaf mute appeared, intoxicated as usual. He rubbed thumb and index fingers together and showed me five fingers. I opened my wallet and found only four ringgit in small notes to offer him. He took the money and went off, only to reappear a few seconds later. Karim pointed to my van, indicating he would like a lift back. I gestured to a chair and he sat down. Using his hands and inchoate noises from his larynx, Karim managed to communicate that Roger had been slashed by somebody wielding a parang. He saw a little dog run whelping towards the river and collapsing. As Karim acted out his story I saw an image of someone in my mind. I uttered his name and Karim nodded – but only just. A few days earlier I had chanced upon this man at the river crossing and asked if he had seen my dog. He said no in a nonchalant tone and carried on his way. There had been a slightly surreal air to this encounter but I decided not to make too much of it at the time.

It was at that point that the gravity of the situation hit home.

I noticed Anoora had moved away to another table to join Ahau. She heard but didn’t want to understand. Her face was impassive but I saw her breathing heavily and there was a flash of silent fury in her eyes. What had once been a tranquil, relatively crime-free Orang Asli village had now become unsafe. Anyone who can murder a dog in cold blood can easily murder another human being.

The heavenly hologram we live in appears to have been infiltrated by the legions of hell whose headquarters are now located in Putrajaya. Demented sadists and killers abound within the corrupt law enforcement agencies – that much is clear – but to see this emotional plague spread to the fringes of the forest and infect even the Orang Asli is deeply troubling.

Since 1998 the Orang Asli psyche has progressively deteriorated. The older ones with a memory of their ancestors’ teachings have mostly died, leaving a lost generation raised on low-grade TV dramas and subjected to systematic brainwashing through the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli which openly espouses Umno’s Us-versus-Them ideology. Being rudely thrust into the cash economy has made the Orang Asli insensitive to their own environment. They not only throw rubbish everywhere like the majority of Malaysian picnickers, but now they, too, have become greedy. Harvesting bamboo for the Chinese towkay is a way to earn more cash – but in recent months the amount of bamboo cut down has increased almost tenfold. The Orang Asli don’t seem to have enough foresight to realize that in four or five years, the riverbanks will erode with so much bamboo being removed so carelessly - and the streams will be badly polluted. This will undoubtedly degrade the entire rainforest ecosystem.

Under the influence of Saruman, the Orang Asli males are visibly transforming into Orcs. The same subhuman species that gravitate towards the police, volunteer militia and armed forces. Devoid of empathy, compensating for their own feelings of emasculation by treating with heartless cruelty anyone or any creature they perceive as weaker than themselves.

Remember Nurin Jazlin Jazimin, the lovely eight-year-old girl who disappeared on the evening of 20 August 2007 after she went downstairs from her apartment to buy something from the night market? Almost a month later her body was discovered in a gym bag outside a shophouse. Nurin had been brutally violated by sexual perverts and murdered. The perpetrators of this hideous violence against a totally powerless child have never been identified and caught.

Nor have the perpetrators of an equally nauseating crime against all sense of decency ever been identified and brought to justice. I refer to those who ordered the abduction, torture, and shooting of Altantuya Shaariibuu, a Mongolian translator who got herself entangled with unsavory characters from the defence ministry over some shady arms deal – topped off by her corpse being blown to smithereens with C4 plastic explosives in the wee hours of 20 October 2006.

And, of course, we haven’t forgotten 22-year-old Kugan Ananthan, arrested because he was reportedly rude to a police officer, accused of being involved in a car theft syndicate, and savagely tortured and beaten to death in a Petaling Jaya police station in early January 2009.

Six months later another young man named Teoh Beng Hock was tortured by Anti-Corruption interrogators, and found dead the next afternoon, having apparently fallen from the 14th floor Selangor headquarters of MACC.

On 26 April 2010, a 14-year-old boy named Aminulrasyid Amzah was shot in the back of his head by policemen on patrol for absolutely no reason at all, apart from the fact that he was speeding and driving without a licence. A few weeks ago, several teenagers were executed in cold blood by the police in an incident shrouded in mystery. The authorities are not at all interested in investigating these cases – only in covering them up and hanging on to power.

The mindless, utterly meaningless murder of my beautiful, brave and beloved Roger Putra has made me feel a deep sense of kinship with the family and friends of all those who have encountered a similarly cruel fate at the hands of the demented, the despairing, the degenerate debris of humanity - many of whom moonlight as public servants, as security guards or soldiers, policemen or even prime ministers' wives.

Who is ultimately responsible for this state of moral degradation?

The King, of course, and all his fellow rulers. When monarchs and icons of leadership fail to uphold equality, integrity and justice – entire nations begin to morally implode and eventually fall into ruin. The Chinese character for king - 王- reveals a great deal about the nature of rulership: the three horizontal strokes represent heaven, humanity and earth, while the vertical stroke which holds the celestial, existential and terrestrial realms together and apart symbolizes the upright, honorable and noble qualities required to maintain balance and harmony on all levels. When the central pillar of justice, compassion and truth is rotten to the core and devoid of courage and integrity, we are faced with inevitable collapse and disaster.

In February 2009 the Sultan of Perak sacrificed honor and justice when he succumbed to greed and connived with Najib to wrest control of the state government from the popularly elected chief minister, Nizar Jamaluddin. Two months later, the Yang Di Pertuan Agong acceded to the official installation of Najib as crime minister, knowing full well that here was a man indifferent to all notions of integrity, burdened with a long history of corrupt practice and profligacy, and ineluctably linked to a high-profile murder. The King failed to heed the warning signs – a petition bearing thousands of signatures had been sent to 141 members of parliament urging them not to endorse the appointment of such a morally tainted figure to the nation’s highest office. Especially one not even popularly elected to the post but pushed up the ranks by political manipulators.

Only a complete idiot or outright villain would plead ignorance in such a matter of national importance. In less than two years of Najib and Rosmah’s enthronement in Putrajaya we have seen the negative outcome of this ill-fated endorsement and exaltation of moral putrefaction. The spiritual cancer has spread fast and not even the rural psyche has been spared.

Since 3 April 2009, evil has permeated like an obstinate infestation of ticks every nook and cranny, every dark crevice across this once fair land. Most people I meet seem to be in despair. The pernicious poison the Wicked Queen of Putrajaya has injected like a black widow spider into the collective psyche has precisely that effect – it demoralizes, enfeebles, and paralyzes.

What is the antidote?

Courage, perseverance and clarity of purpose. The black widow’s venom works fast and will weaken even a healthy body - but it cannot kill and wears off within hours. So, people, despair not. Now is the time to renew your resolve and upgrade your operational software – reassess your life priorities and ennoble yourself rather than succumb to the cowardice of pragmatism. Embody your own ideals and hold your head up high as you make your way through the stench of entrenched and institutionalized corruption. Quit being petty and unnecessarily quarrelsome, especially with your allies and comrades-in-arms. The Mother of All Battles draws near – not only for us in Malaysia but across the political spectrum of planet Earth. The old cycle is over and a new one is ready to emerge, never doubt this.

Roger Putra was the embodiment of joy for me. You have murdered only the embodiment – but not the joy itself. Roger’s spirit will be appeased when those who embody deceit, greed and hypocrisy are finally banished from the realm, hanging their heads in shame and endless regret. That day is not very far off. Be it so.