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Cultural Diversity in Malaysian Literature

In conjunction with UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) World Book and Copyright Day, four guest panelists from various ethnic backgrounds were invited to speak at the April edition of pened Word held at the Old Andersonians’ Club on Saturday, April 15. They were Elly Van Dalen, Malim Ghozali PK, Peggy Tan Pek Tao and Paul Gnana Selvam.
Elly Fazaniza @ Elly Van Dalen is a journalist and author. She published her first sci-fi novel entitled “Almost Human: The Rebellion” in 2015.
According to Elly, writing was not a calling. She started off reading all kinds of materials, ranging from magazines to encyclopaedias and Greek mythologies. As time went by, she started writing short stories.
“Science fiction is just a platform I’m very comfortable with. For me, writing is a hobby. I find it very spiritual and therapeutic. Instead of spending a thousand bucks to see a therapist, I can write all day long,” remarked Elly.
Elly’s advice for young aspiring writers is this, “Don’t be afraid of that pen or pencil and that piece of paper. Don’t worry about what others say. Learn from the styles of other writers and expand on them.”
Malim Ghozali PK, or Haji Mohamed Ghozali Haji Abdul Rashid, is a Perakean bilingual writer. To date, he has written about 100 short stories and has garnered multiple awards such as the Southeast Asian Writers Award in 2013.
Malim admits to being rather undisciplined when it comes to writing, as he only writes when he wishes to.
“I try to find a different topic every time I write a novel. When I was in Europe and Canada, I wrote short stories based on my experiences,” said Malim.
Malim’s works have been translated into different languages. His short story, “Sepanjang Lorong Mimpiku”, was translated to English and Mandarin.
A lecturer by day, a writer by night, and a scuba diver and mountain climber on weekends, Peggy Tan Pek Tao hails from Penang. Her book, “Life: The Malaysian Style” won first prize in the non-fiction category of The Star Readers’ Choice Award 2010.
Peggy’s books revolve mainly around Malaysian culture and Malaysian English or “Manglish”, for short.
Peggy alluded to how creative Malaysians are when it comes to creating new phrases and acronyms. Example, Permanent Head Damage (PhD) and Married but Available (MBA).
Peggy recalled how her mother made her drink burnt heaven incense paper during her university days.
“I hated it, but I had to drink the ashes so that I could study and graduate,” she said.
Ipoh-born Paul Gnana Selvam is a lecturer at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) in Kampar. He was a Sharpened Word panel speaker in November 2015. His works include “Latha’s Christmas & Other Stories”.
“Malaysia is a potpourri of cultures. We’ve a symbiotic relationship where everyone celebrates everybody’s cultures,” Paul remarked.
Cultural diversity is very beautiful and interesting. This is what makes Malaysia a popular holiday destination for tourists, and a liveable country for Malaysians.
“The fact that we celebrate each other’s idiosyncrasies and differences, solidifies our identity as a multicultural society. “It’s very important to retain a part of our indigenous culture to retain a part of our identity in our multi-faceted society,” Paul added.
Paul believes that stories are universal because the human psyche is the same for everyone.
“Stories play a vital role in uniting Westerners, Asians, and others. They bring culture to the centre stage. Whatever our identities are, we exchange and move within them. And I believe this is how literature heals the world,” Paul concluded.
Leanne Tan

 

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