Friday, December 1, 2023

A POSTHUMOUS LETTER TO SALLEH BEN JONED (reprise)


Magick River
Kuala Kubu Bharu
21 March 2021

My dear Salleh,

You left your body in the wee hours of October 29th, 2020, alone in a hospital bed, with no family or friends in attendance (because of Covid protocols), and you were buried without fuss or proper farewell, no lying-in-state, as befits a literary giant, celebrated and cherished by those who knew and love you, and a few thousand others who only know of your greatness by reputation.

Poetry session with SBJ, July 2018
Nevertheless it must have been a huge relief to finally be free of your mortal shell, to once again soar upon the winds of boundless inspiration, in the spirit realms of pure imagination. 

I know it couldn’t have been much fun to be you, especially in the last decade or so, when you often sat and wondered if there was any point, after all, in expressing thoughts in words, and you began to question the value of the literary life, and even contemplated burning all the books in your library. 

No worse torment than being a gourmet who suddenly loses his taste for food. No wonder you often shut yourself from the world, unable to force yourself to be sociable, or to even leave the house. But it was delightful to see your face light up and break out in a broad grin, whenever we connected via a WhatsApp videocall, arranged by Anna or Adam.

I guess it also didn’t help that the gorgeous, doe-eyed, down-to-earth princess you married (who gave you a fresh start in life as literally the father of Adam and Eve) succumbed to religious fundamentalism in her later years, then to cancer and untimely death, when you most needed companionship and domestic stability. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy ride for dear Halimaton either, being married to a larger-than-life literary swashbuckler, prone to swinging from the chandeliers of biochemical and/or neuropsychic flux.

L-R: Jing, SBJ, Ridzuan Idris, Adam Kabir, Antares, Anna Salleh @
The Fusion Longhouse on 26 February 2019

SBJ by Lat
I especially cherish the memory of your last visit to Magick River on 26 February 2019, accompanied by Anna, Adam, Jing and Ridzuan Idris (resident of KKB and publisher of Rehman Rashid’s Small Town). That’s when you suddenly grimaced, lifted your kain pelikat, squatted on the riverbank, and released a spectacular, spherical turd. The look of utter relief on your face will forever be imprinted in my mind. You had been keeping it in for at least a couple of days, no doubt.

You once told me, when I asked what prompted you to piss on Redza Piyadasa’s surrealist exhibition manifesto (“Towards a Mystical Reality”) that it was only because you were unable to do a Number Two.*

The scatologist in me truly appreciated the scatologist in you, Salleh – and I suspect that we share similar eschatological perspectives too, although we rarely discussed metaphysics. You acknowledged and affirmed the ultimate sacredness of everything - even the apparently profane, because you understood polarity and the value of diversity, and readily accepted divergent views in a pluralistic world (which irked more than a few of your less urbane contemporaries in the local literary milieu). 

Live and let live was your credo, so what if some folks are so pompously ridiculous they deserve to be lampooned and laughed at, get their ego balloons popped by your Swiftian verbal pinpricks. Those who completely lack charm and talent will resort to sedition laws when their attempts at starving you to death do not succeed in shutting you up. Damn good thing, Salleh, the analogue era was much jollier and less politically correct, or you might have found yourself in hot soup (“Just make sure it’s bak kut teh!” I can hear you quip).

SBJ in Dublin, mid-1970s
What year was it that we first met? Late 1974 or early 1975? You got out of the lime-green Renault driven by our sweet friend Brigitte Neubacher (then attached to the Austrian Embassy) and we took an instant liking to each other. Your reputation had preceded you. I had already heard about your outrageous performance at Redza Piyadasa’s exhibition (probably from our mutual buddy Lat) and was absolutely delighted to meet someone of such iconoclastic verve.

I don’t think I had met Piyadasa at that point in time but we subsequently became friends and he used to drop by at my hermit’s abode and shoot his mouth off for hours. To his credit, Redza never held a grudge against you – indeed, I had the feeling he was somewhat in awe of you (he certainly regarded you as a bona fide public intellectual) and was acutely aware, savvy soul that he was, that without your theatrical intervention, his surrealist exhibition might have swiftly faded from public memory.

SBJ & Antares @ No Black Tie, 2016
Our first close encounter was made even more memorable when Brigitte suggested we go to town for lunch and you directed her to a noisy, jam-packed coffeeshop in Chinatown where we had the most exquisite charsiew ever. I was truly impressed that it was you who introduced me to that particular stall. You were never one to be swayed by exaggerated displays of false piety. Notions of halal and haram were differently defined by you: anything dishonest, hypocritical, pretentious, corrupt, obsequious, dictated purely by social convention and rigid tradition, you viewed as haram

You understood better than most that the Source of Life, Prime Creator, Allah, Call It What You Will, cannot be defined or confined by doctrine or dogma – that the creative impulse cannot be constrained by social mores and pseudo-morality, tribal totems and taboos be damned. This was what made you a cultural hero for some and for others, a social misfit. No one dared to nominate you for literary awards or ceremonial honorifics, not knowing how you might behave when invited to the palace.

In a world governed by hype and public relations, only the Madman and the Poet can experience true freedom. Kahlil Gibran, for one, and William Blake, for another, would have cheerfully raised a toast to you, Salleh Ben Joned, as an esteemed colleague - and it wouldn’t be with rose syrup, no way. 

You explained to me one day that your name derives from the Arabic  , meaning sacred or holy. That’s why you titled your first poetry collection Sajak-Sajak Saleh: Poems Sacred and Profane. You had an innate knowing that holiness is akin to wholeness, and that wholeness is akin to integrity, wherein one acknowledges and embraces the totality of one’s unlimited being – even, or especially, the parts deemed salacious or sinful by the publicly pious but privately perverted. And that redemption comes from reconciliation and reintegration, never harsh judgment and condemnation, for the unrighteous tend to fear a punitive deity while the righteous invariably put their faith in a merciful God.

On another occasion you hinted at something which took me a while to fully comprehend. Your scholarly research had unearthed the obscure fact that the Koran alludes to the Sacred Feminine as Al Ghaib, meaning The Unseen, The Hidden, the Mystery of Mysteries and Holy of Holies. There is a mystic in every poet, and your excitement at this revelation was matched only by the enthusiasm with which you disclosed to me that Al Ghaib was, in truth, a veiled reference to what in Western esotericism is called the Vesica piscis - the Primordial Vulva, the Black Hole from which issues Life Itself. Then you added with a hearty guffaw that modern Malays appear to have a decidedly distorted perspective – indeed, an entirely profane one – because they call female genitalia kemaluan, which suggests something shameful and scandalous . 

It also explains why you deliberately misspelled the location of Universiti Malaya (where you lectured in English for quite a few years) as “Lembah Pantat” instead of “Lembah Pantai” on your infamous namecard which you gleefully handed out at parties – the one where you declared yourself a proud holder of a BS degree from Buffalo University and which included the tagline: “Why be a man when you can be a suckcess?”

SBJ in December 2017
(photo by Malachi Edwin Vethamani)
Well, Salleh, you were certainly no pusillanimous biophobe (someone living in constant fear of being assigned to eternal perdition for breaking any number of priestly rules). On the contrary, you perfectly qualify as the quintessential biophile: a wholehearted lover of life whose spiritual core was aligned with your passionate human ego and your brilliant artistic temperament. 

Walt Whitman would have bought you a jug of beer just to enjoy a no-holds-barred extended conversation with you (although he might have had trouble getting a word in edgewise). For that matter so would have Chairil Anwar, your Indonesian counterpart, whose writings profoundly inspired you.

I never did get around to asking you to show me your identity card and that bothers me slightly, because you are the only Malay I know who has opted to use the Hebraic form of Ben, rather than the Arabic Ibn or the Malay Bin (meaning “son of”) in conjuction with your father’s name. You admitted to calling yourself Salleh Ben Joned just to annoy Yahudiphobic local sasterawan in particular and jingoistic bigots in general – but how on earth did you manage to convince the bureaucrats it wasn’t an act of subversion?

In any case you did it and shall evermore be fondly remembered (and read) as Salleh Ben Joned. Congratulations! 

In eternal friendship and with all-encompassing love,

Antares Maitreya
Ceremonial Guardian
Magick River


________________

*Speaking of scatology, I am reminded of SBJ’s ebullient and hilarious review of Kisses in the Nederends (a Rabelaisian novel by a Tongan writer named Epeli Hau’ofa), written in November 1992 and provocatively titled, “Kiss My Arse – In the Name of Common Humanity.” It may well have inspired national laureate Shahnon Ahmad to produce his 1999 political satire, SHIT

[First published in the June 2021 issue of Men Matters Online Journal. Reposted 22 October 2021]


Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Do we really want to march to Putrajaya? (reprise)

Heart-shaped cloud over Putrajaya. Was it Photoshopped? (Pic by Saeed Salem)

I've been to Putrajaya total of three times. The first time out of sheer diabolical curiosity. I was on the highway and spotted the Putrajaya exit; decided to make a brief detour just to see for myself what the hoo-ha was about. I parked in front of the PM's office and noticed the Egyptian-style obelisk outside his window. I couldn't believe the rococo lampposts and idly wondered how many there were and how much each cost (after mark-up).

The place was utterly soulless. A monumentally overpriced concrete fa├žade. Like a colossal movie set for very boring and unimaginative epics involving millions of demure concubines and uncomplaining slaves. Only an evil emperor with massive delusions of grandeur (or terminal ego insecurity) could have conceived such an anachronistic monstrosity - and the man who launched the Putrajaya project was indeed an evil emperor wannabe, albeit of pathetically mediocre caliber. Unsurprisingly he left us with a cumbersome and morally diseased mediocracy to dismantle.

The second visit was with my ethnic fusion group Akar Umbi. We were invited for a gig in Putrajaya in conjunction with something or other. We even overnighted in a local hotel there. Luckily, the presence of giggling Orang Asli neutralized the robot city vibes of Putrajaya. It wasn't too bad an experience and we even got paid for our efforts.

Last week I went to Putrajaya to assist my friends with their application for a visa extension. Our visit to the Immigration Department turned out to be rather surreal and decidedly unpleasant. My friends were only given two weeks when they re-entered Malaysia after a trip to Singapore. However, the immigration officer at Tuas reassured them they could apply for an extension at the nearest immigration office and led them to believe it was a routine procedure.


Well, it was hardly routine. We were made to wait nearly 5 hours, only to be told the application for an extension was rejected. No reason given. But judging by the smug unfriendly tone in which the betempurunged and betudunged immigration officer pronounced that my friends had to leave the country, it was only too clear that our immigration policy discriminates against citizens of certain countries, in this case, China. If we had been treated with courtesy and not made to wait fruitlessly for hours, not getting an extension would have been much easier to accept.

The cold unhelpful treatment we received at the Jabatan Imigresen in Putrajaya merely confirmed what all of us have known all along: that BN slogans like "Performance Now" and "People First" are just a huge load of Najis (absolute crap, for the uninitiated).

Ironically, my friends had been seriously considering investing in Malaysia and making it their second home. Now I'm not so sure they would want to live in a such a rabidly and crudely racist country - even though all the Malaysians they have encountered - outside Putrajaya - have been very friendly and hospitable.

This foul-tasting encounter with post-Mahathir bureaucracy has prompted me to question the wisdom of wanting to take over Putrajaya - an architectural abomination which carries the reek of an accursed kingdom, something only a reptilian warlord like Sauron could relish.

Every structure in Putrajaya is designed to dwarf and diminish the common man and exalt the abstract notion of financial and political clout. It flatters the megalomaniacal ego and sneers at the whole idea of the soul. The architecture of Putrajaya insults all notions of human warmth and peremptorily dismisses the idea of democracy. Instead, we are browbeaten into submission to whomsoever operates the machinery of government from within those imposing stone fortresses.

If Pakatan Rakyat succeeds against all odds at vanquishing the Barisan Najis, the new federal government ought to seriously reconsider moving into Putrajaya. I'm convinced that just occupying those cold unfeeling premises will swiftly turn the newly elected government into an ugly replica of the old guard. Very bad fengshui, in other words.

Hard to imagine putting on the clothes of a moral leper - and not getting infected almost immediately.



Putrajaya is the concrete and glass manifestation of Mahathir's megalomania - which is really no different than that of Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini. In an earlier age, Mahathir could have been Atilla the Hun or Genghis Khan. These would-be world-conquerors are essentially cut from the same crude cloth. They have no time for the simple and the wholesome. They curl their lips and snarl in contempt at those who show compassion, forgiveness and mercy. They are prepared to do whatever it takes to seize earthly power and hold on to it with a vice-like grip. Their egos crave abject adoration from their disciples and followers - a sure sign that these personality types are descended from fallen angels and false gods.

Only false gods enjoy being feared by those who worship and unquestioningly serve them. The corrupt Umno priesthood established by Mahathir to serve his unholy ambition are the ones who typically work in ideological think-tanks and indoctrination agencies like Biro Tatanegara (National Civics Bureau). Just as Hitler's Third Reich was founded on a perverted sense of racial pride and prejudice, Mahathir built on Abdul Razak Hussein's Ketuanan Melayu agenda and infected two generations of Umno Malays with the dangerously divisive notion of racial supremacy.


Imitation of false gods is what prompts potentates to construct monuments and palaces to their own vainglory. In Malay the word raja (king) constitutes the root of the word for government - kerajaan. This suggests that government officials represent the rulers.

Instead of serving the public, the bureaucracy believes its primary purpose is to serve the symbols of Malay power, the sultans. That's only in theory, of course. In practice, most bureaucrats are programmed to serve their political masters, while helping themselves to the goodies at every opportunity. The upshot of this unhealthy practice is that we invariably end up with a rusty can of overfed maggots in public office and greedy, grasping, dragons of debauchery in the palaces.


Which means the common people, the rakyat, don't really feature at all in the power equation - except as a source of revenue and labor. This may have been the prevailing pattern in which power has been misused for millennia - but this sort of top-down hierarchy is no longer viable and should have become extinct along with the belief that Time is linear and Space strictly Euclidean..


Oppressive and authoritarian misrule is the primary cause of mediocrity. The docile, obedient, unimaginative and uncreative get promoted to positions of authority while "cultural creatives" - the innovators, mavericks and real talents - get sidelined or persecuted till they go into voluntary exile.

I hope the next government of Malaysia takes very careful note - even though I already know they won't and that they will rapidly become an almost exact replica of the bureaucratic tyranny they once vociferously opposed, proving once again and irrefutably, that those who consider themselves adult should unsubscribe from the notion of external authority (especially in the guise of their own parents, family clans, political parties, Cosplay governments and fictional off-planet deities).

[First posted 23 November 2010]


Sunday, November 26, 2023

I've been wishing I could share this extraordinary video with everybody for many years. Now you can view it for free!



What About Me?  is the second album by UK duo Jamie Catto and Duncan Bridgeman under the name 1 Giant Leap. The duo traveled around the world recording vocals and music by artists of various genres. The DVD/CD version of the album was released in March 2009.

I consider the 1 Giant Leap  project among the most brilliant and accomplished independent productions since the start of the Digital Era. A must-watch, especially now it's on YouTube!

[First posted 9 January 2013. Reposted 23 November 2019]