Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Andrea Hirata, Bilitong and Inspiring Novels

I was born in Mersing Johor but brought up in few places in Pahang (both of my parents are from Pahang), namely Cameron Highlands, Chenor (Temerloh) and Kuala Rompin until I was 16. I was more a Pahang guy than a Johorian.

Kampung is an essential part of my life. Like other ordinary kampung boys, this part of my life remains a strong force in shaping up my outlook.

During those early days, it was a bit out of ordinary for my interest in kesusasteraan (literature). I had read all the 'heavy' Malay novels including those from Indonesia written by Pramoedya Ananta Toer such as Keluarga Gerilya even before my standard 6.

I had lost touch with Indonesia's kesusasteraan until 'Ayat-Ayat Cinta' became phenomenal. The novel itself did not appeal to me as it was kind of soft and normal love story blended in 'islamic' environment. I can't even remember the name of the author.

However, a week ago, during my visit (together with YB Zulkifli Noordin) to PTS, I was given two novels written by Andrea Hirata, 'Laskar Pelangi' dan 'Mariyamah Karpov' by Puan Ainon Muhammad. Out of interest, I bought two other novels of Andrea, "Sang Pemimpi' dan 'Edensor' from PTS showroom to complete the tetralogy.

The rest is history and Andrea Hirata has managed to convince me about Indonesia's revival in producing excellent writers as well as novels. I love those novels and read them all in 4 days between other chores.

These novels are inspiring indeed. The childhood story in Belitung island mesmerised me.

Andrea has also inspired me of writing novels..he he he..I wanna start with teen years in Wainuiomata though...

Andrea Hirata: Asking all the right questions, from the start to The End

Initially, Andrea Hirata was trying only to reconcile himself with his bitter past when he decided to write about the earliest fragments of his life.

One thing in his mind was to share his manuscripts with childhood friends who had been in the same boat.

Living with a lack of almost everything is traumatic, especially for children, he said recently.

"It's a real struggle to go back in time to growing up in a poor neighborhood (in Belitung), while next to our place was a giant state mining company that had all the luxuries in the world to offer its staff and their families," said Andrea who was born on Oct. 24.

He is very strict about not revealing the year in which he was born, not wanting readers of his semi-autobiographical novel to confuse fact with fiction.

Never mind though, the way in which he tells his story is so frank that, without knowing exactly when it took place, it's not hard to guess.

An economics graduate of the University of Indonesia, Andrea received a scholarship from the European Union, which allowed him to take his master's degree at the Universite de Paris, Sorbonne, and at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK.

"(But) my childhood period lingers within me. My memories of that period of my life are the fondest. I learned then about sincerity, friendship and the many virtues that perhaps today's children cannot learn from their environments the way I did."

Andrea seemed to find his panacea when he decided to write. He could not stop. His debut novel Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Warriors) was completed in less than six months.

The alive and fluid narrative of the novel, complemented with the vivid details of the old-time setting, as well as the right angle to put the story in a contemporary context, are the sterling outcome of Andrea's struggle to overcome his past bitterness.

"A friend in Bandung read the manuscript and urged me to send it to a publisher," said Andrea who now resides in Bandung and works at the state telecommunications company.

In his preface to The Portrait of a Lady, literary giant Henry James once said that perhaps a better way to approach the question of defining the greatness of great literature would be to ask questions about personal experience and the use made of it.

James said all art is expression, and the thing expressed is personal experience, either external or internal; the congruence between the experience and the expression is also an issue.

"There is, I think, no more nutritive or suggestive truth in this connection than that of the perfect dependence of the *moral' sense of a work of art on the amount of felt life concerned in producing it."

"The question comes back thus, obviously, to the kind and degree of the artist's prime sensibility.

Andrea's case may fit this description.

His riveting novel (or memoir to be precise) has breathed a new air into the Indonesian literary world, which, in recent years, has been dominated by religious hardcore or pop culture-related works as well as teen-lit.

The popularity of the book is evident as millions of copies of Laskar Pelangi have been sold at home. The book is also sought after in neighboring Malaysia. Yogyakarta-based publishing house Bentang said police had recently confiscated a truckload of pirated copies of Laskar Pelangi.

The book is the first in the Laskar Pelangi tetralogy. The three other volumes are Sang Pemimpi (The Dreamer), Edensor and Maryamah Karpov. Edensor was nominated for the country's prestigious Khatulistiwa Literary Award last year.

Only the hit novel Ayat-Ayat Cinta (Verses of Love) by Habiburahman Er Razy outsells Andrea's books.

It is hard to believe that he only recently developed a reading habit.

In fact, in his own words, Andrea said,"I begin to read fiction only after writing Laskar Pelangi."

"I think what matters most in literary work is the context, not the text," he said.

Now that his best-selling novel is about to be adapted for the big screen, Andrea said he was very fortunate because the wide-screen adaptation was being handled by the country's best filmmakers: Riri Riza and Mira Lesmana.

The Arabs, the Malaysians and the English Premier League

When Emirates Airlines sponsored the Chelsea jersey and later the Arsenal Stadium (and named it as...Emirates Stadium), I applauded these brilliant advertising moves.

Then after watching from the sideline, Abu Dhabi Group took over Manchester City and turned the MU neighbour into one of the most wealthiest clubs. Etihad Airways joined the foray as well.

The Arabs are now pouring billions into English Premier League. Recently, Portsmouth FC is also owned by Sulaiman Fahim. The Arab money could well end up changing the face of the Premier League for good but not necessarily the Arab football standard and survival. It is all about investment and good returns.

These savvy businessmen may not have any considerations to keep the local players at the heart of any plans they have. As long as good players bring more revenues and profits, what the hell, as in the EPL itself, frenzy of activity on transfers, buying and selling - most of whom were foreign.

The Premier League now has nine of 20 teams in foreign hands and England did not qualify for Euro 2008. Enough reason for Football Association chairman Lord Triesman to want to explore the possibility of introducing a quota system on foreign players but not enough reason to worry the League itself. The more money, the more world-class players, the more interest and the more people watching on television around the world. All this will be good for the England team, claims the Premier League.

But that is not a view widely shared.

The interest by Air Asia or Ananda Krishnan to take over Newcastle was applauded by a lot of people and even the Sport Minister. However, if it makes business sense, so be it. Buy and own whatever football clubs for sound and safe investment.

Forget our messy football affairs. As long as the same person helming FAM like his own company and other politicians running the sport associations like they know all, we are always in deep shit.

Even if we poured trillions into sport, the real winners will be those robbers who would use whatever means to enrich themselves under the name of sport. Young players need time to develop and need real competitive environment, guide as well as true, genuine sporting spirits under the right professional management, which we always lack in Malaysia since everything is about politics errrr....corruptions!

Put the money in local talent

BRITONS first heard of him last spring. The English were brooding that they had not qualified for the European Cup when he landed his helicopter on the hallowed grounds of the Lords with bags full of money. He offered US$20 million (RM71.6 million) in a winner-take-all cricket match between England and West Indies to be played in Antigua. Even before the match started, the British tabloids went to town with pictures of him with wives of cricketers sitting on his lap. At the match which was televised live, he had golfer Vijay Singh for company, sipping champagne as the West Indians won and each player going home with a million in cash. He was referred to as the “Texan Billionaire” who was doing his little bit for the game.

While the cricket season took a break over winter, he was in the news again. This time for a different reason and sans the three-piece suit. He was brought to a court-house in Houston, wearing an orange jump-suit, with his wrists and ankles in chains. The flamboyant Sir Allen Stanford pleaded not guilty to charges that he orchestrated a US$7 billion (RM25 billion) fraud at his sprawling financial empire. Bail was refused and he’s still in jail.

Thereafter, all hell broke lose at the England and Wales Cricket Board which promptly cancelled all dealings with him. So, these days when foreigners arrive with wads of money wanting to buy clubs in England, they are treated with some trepidation. But not so with media tycoon Tan Sri T. Ananda Krishnan, or AK as he is better known in Malaysia. In fact, he did not even make a bid for Newcastle and yet the tabloids in England went gaga over his supposed bid.

They quoted the Press Association which reported as follows: A Malaysian’s move to snap up Newcastle could have a major impact on the development of football in that country. That is the view of the nation’s sports minister, Datur (sic) Ahmad Shabery Cheek, as interest in the club from the Far East hots up. He said: “We should be proud if it really happens that a Malaysian is involved in such a huge transaction. It’s not impossible and I hope it goes through. It can have a big impact on the development of Malaysian football.”

Sounds familiar? If not here’s a re-cap of previous foot-in-the-mouth quotes by Malaysian personalities:

» Spending RM1.6 million for Australian aerobic dancers at the opening of the Women in Sports Games will enhance Malaysia’s image as a good organiser of sporting events.

» The forward base in Brickendonbury will help our athletes to prepare and acclimatise for competitions in Europe.

» By sending a youth team to Arsenal, our players will have experience and they can enhance their skills.

Malaysian personalities, politicians included, have the penchant to shoot themselves in the feet and trundle on as if they offered their best opinion but barely take cognisance that they make major boo-boos.

Yes, the taxpayers’ money is not going down the drain a la Brickendonbury or the World Youth Cup, but then, how does buying a club in north England co-relate to having a major impact on Malaysian football which has already hit rock-bottom? Then, there is web-TV which the ministry wants to spend RM14 million on. It appears to be another syiok sendiri exercise which benefits a few.

The message to the minister and all other promoters of glamorous events, hoping that the taxpayers will foot the bill, is that let’s invest in local talent, especially the youth. It’s no use hosting an ATP tournament when we can’t even get past the first round of the Davis Cup. The ministry, three years ago, spent an arm and a leg to bid for the Youth Olympics which Singapore eventually won. Such bidding exercises are always carried out by Olympic associations and not by governments.

Why the ministry ventured into it will perhaps make good reading for those doing their thesis on government abuses. Shabery should find out how the funds of the National Sports Council dwindled from an all-time high of RM400 million to its near-insolvency status now. National associations are owed large sums of money and the ministry’s funds are being used to bail out a troubled organisation which was set up to enhance sports.

R. Nadeswaran and Terence Fernandez are in London to hone their skills in investigative journalism. Nades can still be reached at