Thursday, June 23, 2016

TIGER ISLE ~ A GOVERNMENT OF THIEVES (BOOK REVIEW)

“If religion is the opiate of the masses, as it pretty much is in most of Asia and the Middle East, then Tiger Isle was the drug capital of the world. It did not help that most Tigerists lived in a state of denial, in particular about their religion.”

First-time novelist E.S. Shankar: encyclopedic erudition

E.S. Shankar is an erudite, articulate, Renaissance Man of multitudinous facets. A UK-trained accountant and management consultant by profession, Shankar also maintains a satirical blog called Donplaypuks where he lampoons local politics with a generous dollop of schoolboy humor laced with sagacious insight.

Recently he published his first novel, Tiger Isle, A Government of Thieves – a highly engaging 380-page study of the evils of kakistocracy (defined as “governance by a clique representing the worst elements of society, from the Greek, kakos, meaning foul, or filthy”). I don’t know if he has found a local distributor yet but the book can be easily ordered online. I can assure you, nobody will begrudge Shankar the $13.49 price tag, considering the massive amount of brilliance and sheer hard work the man has invested in this epic read, replete with evil machinations, murder, sex, and apocalyptic mayhem.

Shankar’s spicy fiction is based on depressing facts anyone who has been monitoring Malaysia’s political milieu since 1969 will be familiar with: the bureaucratic apartheid created by artificially imposed racial and religious boundaries; the boundless avarice and power lust of a privileged coterie that wields a deadly stranglehold on the national psyche through absolute control of the mass media; the audacious and systematic plunder of a nation’s wealth and the methodical hijacking of its destiny for private gain and ego gratification.

Indeed, while the events and characters depicted in Tiger Isle appear to be broadly inspired by actual events and characters in Malaysia, the scenario is easily modified to fit any post-colonial Southeast Asian nation. As such, Shankar’s lovingly crafted debut novel sheds valuable light on the nature and internal workings of corruption, hubris and megalomaniacal delusions of grandeur – and deserves to be prescribed as supplementary reading in any meaningful political science curriculum.

It’s no mean feat to construct a parallel universe populated by doppelgängers of clearly recognizable personalities - and yet allow the characters sufficient autonomy to generate the tension and drama necessary to animate this fictional domain called Pulipore, or Tiger Isle. There is enough narrative momentum to keep the reader turning pages – although one requires a photographic memory to keep track of unwieldy names like Rekha Krishnasamy Roshan Prasad, Adhi Sri Dr Bhairav Oak Broad Leaf Sivan, Kapalin Blowfish Black Panther Chandran, Maitreya Blue Dolphin Suryan, and Sri Sanatkumar Mutthiah Muralidharan. Those in the know will smile at the inclusion of a few “ascended masters” in the colorful cast of characters.

Not only are the names extended, Shankar gleefully provides genealogies for a few of them, going back several generations – in the process adding a wealth of side commentary on the fascinating diversity of cultures to be found in the region. Place names like Pulijayam, Chandrapore, Shaktipore and Suryapore evoke a subcontinental aroma – hinting at the lingering influence of ancient civilizations like the Srivijaya and Majapahit Empires.

With an accountant’s eye for detail, Shankar delves into a morass of financial shenanigans conducted under the corrupt aegis of UNTA (United National Tigerists Association). Indeed, one might conclude that Shankar is merely making it all up - were it not for the fact that most Malaysians are already aware – thanks to the internet - of the endless list of dubious deals signed behind closed doors and labeled Official Secrets.

I couldn’t help but smile wryly at the irony of it all. Whenever Shankar relishes his role as novelist and puts effort into fleshing out his fictional characters, he succeeds in giving his narrative a measure of realism; however, his intimately reconstructed accounts of high-level wheeling and dealing come across as pure fiction because their outrageousness simply boggles the mind. We shudder at the realization that Shankar didn’t have to invent anything – merely switch a few acronyms and names around.

And, just as happens in real life, we are confounded by a plethora of acronyms: PACC (Pulipore Anti-Corruption Council), CCCP (Chandrapore City Center Plaza), PPC (Pulipetrol Corporation), PSA (Patriot and Security Act), PSB (Police Special Branch), and PITS (Pulipore Information Technology Service) – so much so the reader is at times compelled to refer to the acronym list on page 382.

As a writer, E.S. Shankar occasionally suffers from what may be called “the fisheye lens” syndrome – in effect, his omniscience and encyclopedic knowledge compel him to throw in too many asides and insider jokes. This slows the pace down – but only minimally. On the whole I was impressed by Shankar’s fluid syntax and flashes of literary virtuosity, for instance, when he begins a chapter with a killer line like: “The economic picture was pretty from far, but actually far from pretty.”

The story acquires a hint of Ian Fleming towards the end, when Shankar conspires to put all the biggest crooks of Tiger Isle together on board a private jet – and then leaves them at the mercy of seven female amateur ninjas and a couple of renegade pilots. Regime change through the ballot box is simply too banal and boring, I suppose. Or too unlikely. Or perhaps the eternal child in E.S. Shankar just felt like giving the plot a tiny twist of Quentin Tarantino.

Regrettably, Shankar’s magnificent effort will not qualify for the epithet “The Great Malaysian Novel” – simply because it’s all about Tiger Isle, heh heh, not Malaysia.

GOOD NEWS! Shankar has found a local publisher, Gerak Budaya, and Tiger Isle ~ A Government of Thieves will be officially launched at the Royal Selangor Club at 7PM on 20 November 2012.
[First posted 28 September 2012. Reposted 23 November 2014 & 28 May 2015]



Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Never too late to meet Pete Brown, a totally hip poet and lyricist I greatly admired in the 1970s...



Lost in the stations that sleep in the cold
Nights were so bold – old times
Ring up the chimes I used to hear
No point in saving what's left of the love
For clouds up above
I see the faces that dance in the glass
Lights chase them past each other
Walking with people that fell from the sky
Better to try
Under the candles that cry in their cage
Tears were all the rage – strange times
Broke up the rhymes I used to know
No point in keeping the last of the wine
For years in decline
I see the faces that dance in the flames
Playing their games with each other
Talking to people who came from the stars
Driving their cars



Pete Brown in the 1970s

Peter Ronald Brown (born 25 December 1940 in Ashtead, Surrey) is an English performance poet and lyricist. Best known for his collaborations with Jack Bruce and Cream, Brown also worked with The Battered Ornaments, formed his own group, Pete Brown & Piblokto!, and worked with Graham Bond and Phil Ryan. Brown also writes film scores and formed a film production company. Comedian and actor Marty Feldman was Brown's cousin.

Before his involvement with music, Brown was a poet, having his first poem published in the US magazine Evergreen Review when he was 14. He then became part of the poetry scene in Liverpool during the 1960s and in 1964 was the first poet to perform at Morden Tower in Newcastle. He formed The First Real Poetry Band with John McLaughlin (guitar), Binky McKenzie (bass), Laurie Allan (drums) and Pete Bailey (percussion).

The First Real Poetry Band brought Brown to the attention of Cream. Originally, he was seen as a writing partner for drummer Ginger Baker, but the group quickly discovered that he worked better with bassist Jack Bruce. Of the situation, Bruce later remarked "Ginger and Pete were at my flat trying to work on a song but it wasn't happening. My wife Janet then got with Ginger and they wrote 'Sweet Wine' while I started working with Pete."

Together, Brown and Bruce wrote a significant number of Cream's songs, including the hits "I Feel Free," "White Room" and (with Clapton) "Sunshine of Your Love." After the breakup of Cream, Bruce and Brown continued to write songs together for Bruce's solo career. Brown wrote the lyrics for Bruce's albums, Songs for a Tailor, Harmony Row and Out of the Storm.

Pete Brown in 2005
Brown formed Pete Brown and His Battered Ornaments in 1968, and in 1969 the band recorded two albums - A Meal You Can Shake Hands With In The Dark and Mantlepiece - with a line-up including Pete Bailey (percussion), Charlie Hart (keyboards), Dick Heckstall Smith (sax), George Kahn (sax), Roger Potter (bass), Chris Spedding (guitar) and Rob Tait (drums). Brown then suffered the ignominy of being thrown out of his own band, the day before they were due to support The Rolling Stones at Hyde Park. His vocals were then removed from Mantlepiece and re-recorded by Chris Spedding, and the band was renamed The Battered Ornaments.

After the Battered Ornaments, Brown formed Pete Brown & Piblokto!, which had several line ups and issued two albums and three singles before disbanding in 1971.

[Source: Wikipedia]



What I liked about Pete Brown's lyrics was their trademark ambiguity that hinted at all kinds of mysterious, initiatory knowledge. I figure Pete just had this knack of churning out singable words - and he was lucky to team up with Cream, riding on the group's phenomenal commercial success to become one of the very few exceptions to the rule, a well-to-do poet!



In the white room with black curtains near the station.
Black-roof country, no gold pavements, tired starlings.
Silver horses run down moonbeams in your dark eyes.
Dawn-light smiles on you leaving, my contentment.
I'll wait in this place where the sun never shines;
Wait in this place where the shadows run from themselves.
You said no strings could secure you at the station.
Platform ticket, restless diesels, goodbye windows.
I walked into such a sad time at the station.
As I walked out, felt my own need just beginning.
I'll wait in the queue when the trains come back;
Lie with you where the shadows run from themselves.
At the party she was kindness in the hard crowd.
Consolation for the old wound now forgotten.
Yellow tigers crouched in jungles in her dark eyes.
She's just dressing, goodbye windows, tired starlings.
I'll sleep in this place with the lonely crowd;
Lie in the dark where the shadows run from themselves.


[First posted 20 November 2011]

Sunday, June 19, 2016

BLUES FOR ALLAH ~ The Grateful Dead (complete album)

Blues for Allah is the eighth studio album by The Grateful Dead.
It was recorded between February 27 and May 7, 1975,
and originally released on September 1, 1975.


Published on 11 Oct 2013

Side one "Help on the Way" (Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter) -- 0:00 / "Slipknot!" (Garcia, Keith Godchaux, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, and Bob Weir) "Franklin's Tower" (Garcia, Hunter, and Kreutzmann) -- 7:21 "King Solomon's Marbles" (Lesh)"Stronger Than Dirt or Milkin' the Turkey" (Mickey Hart, Kreutzmann, and Lesh) -- 11:55 "The Music Never Stopped" (John Perry Barlow and Weir) -- 17:11

Side two "Crazy Fingers" (Garcia and Hunter) -- 21:47 "Sage & Spirit" (instrumental) (Weir) -- 28:29 "Blues for Allah" (Garcia and Hunter) -- 31:40 "Sand Castles and Glass Camels" (Garcia, Donna Godchaux, Keith Godchaux,Hart, Kreutzmann, Lesh, and Weir) "Unusual Occurrences in the Desert" (Garcia and Hunter) "Groove #1" (Instrumental Studio Outtake) 44:20 "Groove #2" (Instrumental Studio Outtake) 50:07 "Hollywood Cantana" (Studio Outtake) 57:41

Grateful Dead Jerry Garcia -- guitar, vocals, production Donna Jean Godchaux -- vocals, production Keith Godchaux -- keyboards, vocals, production Mickey Hart -- drums, production Phil Lesh -- bass guitar, production Bill Kreutzmann -- drums, production Bob Weir -- guitar, vocals, production

Additional musicians Steven Schuster -- flute, reeds


[First posted 19 May 2014]