Sunday, October 25, 2009

Malaysiana: This Is The Only Malaysia We Have

I am currently finishing off Leela Gandhi's Postcolonial Theory: A Critical Introduction. It's been a very good read so far - I've had so many moments of recognition within the book, I don't even know where to start with it! But while reading, Gandhi discusses the counter-narrative that Rushdie provides. She notes, "Rushdie's invective against India here ... is ... characteristic of his larger oeuvre. ... we might consider the fact that Rushdie's narrative renditions of [India] have always been pathologically and unequivocally reductive."

(Shorter layman's terms: Rushdie's a jerk who simplifies India in a completely non-productive manner.)

So how to respond to this anti-colonial, anti-nationalistic prescriptive method? Gandhi suggests, "we might still observe that perhaos what postcolonialism literature needs is a properly romantic modality; a willingness to crtique, ameliorate and build upon the compositions of the colonial aftermath." (italics mine)

She concludes the chapter with the following quote:

"No, dear Rushdie, we do not want to build a repressive India. On the contrary, we are doing our best to build a liberal India, where we can all breathe freely. But in order to build this India, we have to preserve the India that exists. That may not be a pretty India, but it's the only India we have (Appignanesi & Maitlin, 1990, p.209)

I don't know why, but that really resonated with me, and I cried. I'm not sure why. Actually, I think I do know why but haven't found the words to say why, yet.

But I think it helps me synthesize exactly why I was mad during the whole Cowhead Fail aftermath, where people were all up in arms and angry, frightened that their fellow Malaysians would do such a thing, and reactionary, distancing themselves away from the entity of Malaysia, as if it was Malaysia at fault for housing such people. "What is our country coming to?" they demanded, as if it was Malaysia's fault and they had no part in it.

It felt as though they were trying to distance themselves from this one Malaysia, just to move on, as soon as possible, to this brand new Malaysia which they fought to achieve in the March elections, except that they're both the same Malaysia. It was tiresome to read email after email denouncing the state of the country - "we would never do that. Real Malaysians never do that. This country is going to hell." Because behind all those words, I could hear, "I don't care what this country is coming to now. I don't need this country and I refuse to have anything to do with a country that is going down the drain." All said without a consciousness that maybe, the country was finally falling apart due to the strain of all the tensions that we refused to address ... and continue to refuse addressing!

And I think the word I want is: despair. I was in despair because everyone was behaving like we should wash our hands of the whole thing, and in fact, this was merely a symptom of our troubles, not the cause, and moralizing over the state of the country - which is falling apart - wasn't doing anything productive to address the issues that causes the friction, and people were setting up this meme that somehow, Malaysia was this Separate Body, and they were Not Part Of It. Since they were Not Part Of It, they had every right somehow to judge it, and wring their hands, and moralize, and I am not sure exactly what came out of all that which was entirely productive.

But this - "we have to preserve what we've got to build what we want" approach - this makes sense to me.

Except, of course, Malaysia is on tenterhooks on exactly what to preserve. Everyone seems to be arguing about what Malaysia is supposed to be like, and arguing about what the future should be. It doesn't feel like anybody is talking about what we are, except, of course, going down the drain.

... So malang wan.

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