Saturday, June 27, 2020

The War on Poverty is Over! (repost)

"The War on Poverty is over. All the poor people have surrendered." - Swami Beyondananda

[First posted 3 November 2008, reposted 27 June 2017]

Tuesday, June 23, 2020


“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 & 23 June 2017]

Monday, June 22, 2020

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. Reposted 22 June 2016]

Dream Interview ~ inspired by a student in pursuit of better grades (updated)

She wrote such a sweet message, requesting my consent to be the subject of an interview. It was an assignment she had to hand in within a couple of weeks. How could I refuse? She emailed me a set of questions; then she turned my response, simply by substituting a few pronouns, into the most flattering narrative I've ever written about myself...

Mr. Antares Maitreya is a writer, musician, blogger, jungle chef and that’s perfectly true. He wasn’t always known by this name which kind of grew organically over many years. He was named “Lee Kit Fong” at birth but as soon as he was able he dropped the feminine sounding “Fong” (which means “fragrant” in Chinese) and became simply “Kit Lee.”

At the age of 19 he became interested in numerology and added an E to his surname, thus becoming “Kit Leee.” He thought he was the only Lee with three E’s in the world but later discovered, when the internet came along, that there were two others with “Leee” in their names - Leee Black Childers (David Bowie’s former company manager) and Leee John (a black musician). You can say he discovered the power of words and, thereby, names, very early in life. If you’re kindly disposed towards somebody, you’re inclined to describe them as “determined” rather than “obstinate.” Some might label him a “Jack of all trades “but he prefers to be viewed as a “holistic problem solver” - in other words, a comprehensivist rather than a specialist.

The name “Maitreya” isn’t actually a surname. It means “a good friend to all” and he began to use it as a title or job description after November 2009. Maitreya is also the name of the Buddha’s “final incarnation” meaning, once you are fully conscious, you become a good friend to all.


He is originally from Batu Pahat in Johore State. He moved to Kuala Lumpur at the age of 20 and lived there 22 years until he relocated to Pertak – a forest reserve 44 miles northeast of Kuala Lumpur, on the route to Fraser’s Hill.


In Mr. Antares’s current life he does as little as possible, since he generally prefers to simply BE. As he said, one doesn’t simply exist and one also does whatever one feels inspired to do. So when asked what he does, “I usually say I’m a writer/musician/blogger/jungle chef and that’s perfectly true, even if it isn’t the full story.”

Before he relocated from KL to Pertak in 1992, he was very active on stage as an actor and musician. He is also a published author of several books: ADOI! (Times Books International, 1989), Moth Balls (Magick River, 1994), Two Catfish in the Same Hole (Times Books International, 2000), and Tanah Tujuh: Close Encounters with the Temuan Mythos (Silverfish Books, 2007).

Some people know him as a cartoonist - yes, he has done a bit of that too. But he has also dabbled in documentary making (Rhythm of the Rainforest, a DVD produced for the Sarawak Tourism Board in 2006); and for a while he even guest-lectured on "Aesthetics, Creativity & The Imagination" at a private college.

View from the bridge (Antares)

However, when he left the city to stay close to Mother Nature, he embarked on a new job as Ceremonial Guardian of Magick River - serving as an intermediary between urban consciousness and the wilderness, between the visible and invisible worlds. Living for 7 years without electricity, he became re-sensitized to subtler frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum and became aware of and attuned to the many different dimensions that overlap and occasionally intersect with our familiar physical world.

For example, he became aware that all life-forms - whether mineral, vegetable, animal, human, angelic-demonic or deific - possess a unique energy signature and consciousness; they are, in fact, integral components of a vast and complex, multidimensional universe, unimaginably diverse, yet ultimately a grand unified whole. It became his task to learn how to attune and harmonize with these different frequencies and energy fields - and to find different ways to share these insights with others - whether through words images or sounds.


Magick River is his codename for an ecstatic vision of heaven on earth he experienced at the age of 19. People around him assumed he had gone mad (mainly because he was brimming over with energy and joy) and attempted to put him on medication; but he found the drugs were designed to numb, not heal, so he opted to spit out all the pills he was forcefed. Many years later, he discovered a magnificent, wild river in the area where he resides now with his Orang Asli wife and only son Ahau, born in 1996. The surrounding landscape was breathtaking – no, breathgiving! It corresponded vibrantly with his vision of paradise, where Mother Nature reigns supreme and humans have mastered their own egos enough to live once again in perfect harmony with the wilderness – instead of constantly trying to exploit, abuse and destroy it, in the process destroying only themselves.


Being Ceremonial Guardian of Magick River is not exactly a "career" - he adores and honors Mother Earth but she doesn't pay him a salary, although he learnt over many decades that money is merely a symbol of wealth - it is not wealth itself. Money, he says, was invented as a universally accepted currency to facilitate everyday transactions - whether it comes in the form of copper, brass or silver coins or some pretty seashells, that's simply to represent a system of measuring value. Indeed, unbeknownst to the masses, an elite cabal of bankers and financiers has been printing and circulating worthless paper currency, while hoarding vast amounts of precious metals, land, and priceless artworks. Already, this gigantic scam is unraveling and it won't be long before the entire spurious "economy" implodes and paper currency is exposed as nothing more than Monopoly money or Hell Bank notes!

When that happens - when, not if - people will panic and ruling families will squabble amongst themselves, and governments will topple. For a period there may be global mayhem as humans attempt to find some sort of equilibrium and reclaim the power and sovereignty taken from their ancestors. At some point, the machinery will grind to a halt; the robots will rebel, and that's when the task of reawakening and reconnecting humanity to its long-confiscated divinity (with the able assistance of an interplanetary network of illustrious healers and guides) will become far easier than it has ever been.

Obviously, this isn't a "career" that can be chosen; it chooses you, so long as you are open to the mystery of existence and the infinite possibilities all around us. He was, perhaps, fortunate in being born to parents who never attempted to force him into a prescribed mold, who allowed him to grow and evolve as he pleased, and who always provided a stable, strong foundation of love. They were in many ways very ordinary humans - but they were always supportive and didn't stop him from choosing an extraordinary path in his life.

Contemplation by Nathan Jon Tillett
Nobody is spared their share of suffering, disappointments, bereavement, and an occasional sense of futility. However, he had the benefit of learning yoga, mudras, and a few meditation techniques which have been extremely beneficial at moments when he had to turn inwards, rather than outwards, for solutions to life's inevitable problems.

Caricature by Lat @ 1986
Thinking back about the hardships he has endured, they seem in retrospect to be nothing more than a few unexpected wrong turns, a few potholes in the highway, and a couple of close shaves - that's all. He believes, to be able to stay calm and clear-headed, friendly and open-hearted, and to feel genuine empathy with and compassion for all of life is the accomplishment he truly desires.

Everything else - books he has written, cartoons he has drawn, songs he has written, music he has recorded, plays he has acted in, and so on - these are essentially fun ways to use his excess energy; and he is happy to have produced a modest number of artifacts in his more energetic days, although he still looks forward to producing new artifacts – “one of the greatest and most intense thrills in life, much like the rollercoaster ride of love, romance, and sex.”


He said: “Of course, I have my share of memories - pleasant as well as unpleasant - but these are best addressed if I am ever prompted to write my memoirs.” When he was a kid, he spent hours studying, observing and sometimes dissecting insects and other tiny creatures (pretending to be a scientist); but he soon abandoned such cruel behavior and became a great animal lover, often preferring their companionship to that of other humans.

Later he started collecting stamps, but got bored after a couple of years. He was never keen on sports - although he was active in gymnastics at school. For a while he enjoyed long walks in the forest, and long conversations with kindred spirits.

These days he can't think of any activity he would call a "hobby" - unless maintaining a blog qualifies as one, but it's more a way of communicating with the world at large, a platform for him to share his insights and interests with others.


As for "ambition" - well, his mother bought him a white sweater emblazoned with the words, "If I were King..." when he was 9 or 10 years old. It took him a long time to finally understand the true meaning of kingship: it simply means to be master of your own domain, your own destiny - to regain the nobility of consciousness to which all living beings are entitled but so few actually enjoy (and then, only at the expense of others).

Now that he has achieved his ambition, all that remains is to enjoy seeing others around him reclaim their individual sovereignty, nobility and regality. This is the only way we will ever see an end to the cruelty, tyranny and oppression generated by false hierarchies - for these are the negative traits of a species driven by fear and scarcity conditioning.


Asked what he would wish to say to the public, he laughs and says: “Ultimately, the illusion that each of us is separate from the other will fall away - and then, who would constitute ‘the public’?”

An important insight he has gleaned over many lifetimes is that there are always two sides to everything - the inside and the outside. “Let's call it the private and the public. For many eons, there has been a wide gulf, a serious misalignment between what we consider private and what we consider public. This is what leads to secret societies, secret police, secret lives, secret governments, secrecy laws, and so on.

This is why we speak of wolves in sheep's clothing, demons disguised as angels, perverts masquerading as priests. When the inner and outer selves become realigned; when Dr Jekyll becomes reconciled with Mr Hyde; when the diabolical consciously merges with the divine; when the public persona matches the private; that's when almost all our petty problems will vanish as though they never existed.”


A New Heaven on a New Earth by Andrew Forrest
“And that's when everybody will share my vision of heaven on earth,“ he smiles, adding as an afterthought: “Those who don't like it and stubbornly cling to their limited egos, well... they can go to hell.”

[First published 30 June 2012, reposted 24 May 2013 & 26 September 2016]