By Bunga Pakma
Merciless Necessity drove me away from HU these past two weeks. Shortly after arriving back in Sarawak for a well-deserved rest, my laptop began behaving capriciously. First it would accept only certain letters I typed, and then the keyboard and trackpad ceased to respond at all.
Are any of you out there old enough to remember the pocket transistor radio? These suddenly became a very popular toy in the early 60s, the perfect thing to listen to Elvis and the Beatles on. Alas, these little radios were doomed to short lives. First the telescoping antenna got bent, and lost its top sections, then the volume dial developed “dead” spots here and “staticky” spots there, and finally the thing stopped working altogether. You threw it away and (maybe) bought another one.
Computers are the transistor radios of the 21st century.
A new keyboard assembly put my laptop to rights, but then it was I myself who was laid low with, a genuine organic—not digital—virus.
Neither disaster in fact kept me from my plan of research. Not long before leaving KL for home I had come to understand that despite my being in the big city, I had become more and more out of touch with what most Malaysians are exposed to and with the “pulse” of feeling as Malaysians feel it out on the street or in the coffeeshop. The nature of my isolation was two-fold. On the one hand I simply lacked resources. I didn’t have a TV. You can’t touch a TV for less than RM500 these days and I couldn’t justify the expense. I was working hard, living alone, had little opportunity for mixing with a variety of people in my off hours, and no hope of a truly free conversation. “A great city is a great solitude,” says the proverb.
I was in a situation where if I were to be informed, I had to go out and get myself informed. I’ve told you that I’m old enough to remember when transistors came in, and you may infer that I’m at a point in life where energy is waning. Naturally enough, to conserve effort, when we go to find things out, we try to find out what pleases us best to hear. In my case, I head for the intellectual and historical, and anything anti-UMNOputra.
Automatically we filter our news, and our ability to assess and judge a situation suffers. “Don’t cut your input” is a must for novelists, and advice of permanent value for any thoughtful person.
Since June began I’ve left off (by necessity) reading Malaysiakini and RPK and other blogs. Instead, I’ve been watching RTM on our old-fashioned CRT Panasonic, eavesdropping on coffeeshop chat, and paying attention to the neighbours as they come in to schmooze and gossip. These are people I know and they’re not shy about saying what they think in front of me.
In revisiting the MSM it’s quite a refreshing feeling to take off my shoes, as it were, and stick my feet into the mud and be reassured that it’s the same old mud. TV news is as bland and soapy as usual, tinged with its awkward tendentiousness. It must be a continual heart-ache to be a conscientious news-director for a state-controlled TV station, and here by “conscientious” I mean “concerned with the esthetic quality of the content and presentation.” Nothing that could get the viewer’s pulse racing is allowed on RTM. The producers have only Israeli atrocities available as material to up their ratings.
I was grateful to have had, at last, a small taste of our Prime Minister’s oratory in order to place it. It’s pretty much standard polyester demagoguery, slick, shiny, thin.
Many of you may disagree with me, but I think that once one gets past the first three pages, reserved for Taib and Jabu to bellow and fart in, the Borneo Post is an excellent paper. The New Straits Times and the Star are mostly air, but the Borneo Post has got stuff in it, things that concern me and which I should know about. It’s good on local news, and it prints five times as much world news as the NST. I read it all, including the classifieds.
Politics has not been prominent in oral input from “the field.” There are three reasons for this. First, June, the month of Gawai, is traditionally the idle month of the year, reserved for relaxation. Two hundred years ago, when the rice was in, people took it easy, and these days, mutatis mutandis (“changing what you have to change”) the feeling is the same.
Two, rubber is up. We’re in the Money! as the song goes. I hear plenty about who got so many kilos last week and now they can repair the roof or build a new perau. Timber and oil-palm are down, and the snarl of the bulldozer and chainsaw is not heard in the land. You wouldn’t believe how happy people can be when they don’t face a dire threat and are actually enjoying prosperity.
Three, the World Cup is on, and beside the World Cup politics are very small potatoes indeed. To locate the World Cup in Sarawak terms, football is like ngayau and headhunting with the beautiful spectacle of bujang berani trying their skill against each other but without the deplorable loss of life. One can certainly take an interest in that. Mrs. Pakma stayed up all night to watch the first two games, and reported, with relish, that the England-US game was a real grudge match.
Of course the report concerning Taib’s Canadian assets received no coverage in any media here. Even so, enough Sarawakians are connected to the net, and I would have expected to have someone express a degree of indignation regarding this plundering. My hunch is that this is all old news to Sarawakians. Everybody knows what Taib has stolen, and nobody feels he or she can do anything about it. Why bother eating ones heart, then?
“Thinking is a curse, when thinking brings no help to the thinker.” This is a quote from Sophocles’s tragedy Oedipus the King. It is spoken by the shaman Teiresias, who knows exactly what kind of disaster is going to happen and is powerless to prevent it. I bring up Sophocles—in a final reversion to intellectualism—because I have an uncanny tickling sense that our Chief Minister is building up a Greek tragedy for himself, himself in the tragic role.
I think others too may have sensed an evitable sort of slide to disaster, and perhaps this is one reason why political griping, as I have witnessed, has gone on hold here. A terrible spectacle is in preparation, and we sit still and wait for it to play itself out.