Reclaiming My Ship

(You can play the video if you prefer to listen to this post instead)

In my ‘writing’ years when I devoted myself to the art of telling stories and weaving words, I enjoyed participating in writing prompts and exercises that I find on the web. One that I remember fondly was Plinky, which acted as a starter to kickstart your writing gear. All they did was give you a question; how you wish to address it or create your prose is all up to you. It used to be a feature offered here on WordPress. However, I used mine separately, as back then, my blog was where I wrote my writing assignments and I wasn’t sure if the journal-style writing I wrote there was up to my parent’s passing grade.

Similarly, I enjoy almost all of the composition papers I had to sit through recently on both my A-Level and SPM exams. Stripped from all of their disguises and the pressure of knowing that whatever your ink happens to spew at that moment shall determine your future career, they are in fact, writing prompts — with an added time limit and a wandering invigilator who sometimes glance over your work and remind you that you haven’t written your identification number at the top of the page.

Whenever I do those exercises, I try to detach myself from reality. I try to forget that this is going to make or break my future. The path of my pen, the shape of my ink and the message I craft were mine and my own. Even though I had technicalities to mind, formats to memorise and the examiners to please, I was an illusionist on stage, bending the limitations of senses to my will.

I may not be the best performer but I was my own and come what may, I have an audience waiting. I shall run my own show.

Naturally, when I opened my inbox today and received a message from the Australian Writer’s Centre asking me to share a one word theme I am choosing for the year 2020, my brain launched into a state of excitement, generating vague thoughts and ideas until a shape began to form. I lunged at it, peered at it and watched it grow into a word, a command, a statement: Reclaim.

Reclaim. The past decade had been like a tumultuous storm and waves of all sizes had crashed into my vessel. On the peak of crests, I had grown and matured, standing tall above the ocean and reading the curls of every wave as I do the names of every star. In the deepest of troughs, I had withered in fear as the sea, that I have loved as my home, stretched its maw and threatened to swallow me whole. For the most part, I had watched passively from the bridge with my compass long gone, glancing at the stars only when the whim strikes me. But this year, I want to try something I had been afraid of doing; to hold the wheel and reclaim my ship.

I am not delusional enough to think that the waves would stop crashing just because I tell them to stop. I am aware that shouting my resolution to the sky to be carried by wind is to tempt untethered wild emotions both from me and others around. I also know that I will have days when the storm seems everlasting and all I could think of is the deep set fear that haunts my nights and tortures my days.

But they will be my challenge, my journey, my adventure.

I am the captain of this ship and it is my hand that should steer it.

Grammar Discourse

The other day, I was talking with my sister when she said “it had shrunk”.

“Shrunken,” I corrected.

She paused and gave me a puzzled look. “No, it’s ‘shrunk’.”

Had shrunk. Past perfect.”

“But… ‘shrunk’ is the past perfect. The simple past of shrink is ‘shrank’.”

My mind went blank with confusion. When looking for the correct verb according to its proper tense, I usually refer to what sounds right to me and almost always it has served me perfectly well. However, now that my sister had mentioned it, my inner tenses directory did indeed agree with my sister. Shrink, shrank and shrunk.

“But why is the movie titled “Honey, I shrunk the kids?”

This little intermission in our small talk lead to a Google search that brought us to a page that listed the “10 grammatically incorrect movie titles” which indeed listed the movie “Honey, I shrunk the kids” as one of them and the discourse was settled – ‘shrunk’ is the past perfect tense of shrink. Had I not interjected and attempted to correct my sister’s perfectly correct tenses, I would probably still be using shrunken and be none the wiser.

In our casual conversations, everyone in my family is under constant grammar (and at times, pronunciation) scrutiny. We’re all acting as unsolicited grammar polices which, at times, can be incredibly frustrating when you have a good flow in your dramatic retelling of the previous day’s events and you are interrupted by “he has, not ‘have’.”

On the flip side, however, this attitude had been ingrained in our familial culture for so long that such corrections are, for the most part, taken without a negative perception or ill feelings which has created an environment that promotes and encourage constant improvement in our use of the language. I remember being constantly corrected for my tenses as a young child, doing the same to my siblings and now even have them correcting my mistakes. Speaking personally from my point of view, I correct other’s mistakes because I want my own mistakes to be corrected as I don’t know what I don’t know.

This is why I feel really strongly about correcting someone’s grammar whenever I catch someone using an incorrect term.

At the same time, I am fully aware that grammar policing is generally frowned upon as a ‘prescriptivist’ approach towards language by linguistic aficionados while the rest of the society often view it as being rude. Thus, it bothers me when I go to various places and notice signs which are misspelled or are grammatically incorrect and I have no acceptable way of letting the owners know and giving them a corrected alternative. If the place has a suggestion box lying around, I could simply write a note and hope that it would be taken seriously by the person who is going through the forms and that they would act according to the manager’s wishes.

I am not strictly a prescriptivist when it comes to my approach to language (I might write on my approach to language someday) but I do know that there are many people who are eager and willing to improve their proficiency but are either not given the chance to, or are simply afraid of being perceived as a bad speaker of the language. I myself might feel a little uncomfortable if a stranger decides to correct my grammar simply because I am aware that in our society today, such acts are often considered as distasteful and I could never tell if it was meant as an honest correction or a thinly veiled insult.

But as strongly as I feel about having the capability to use good the ‘standard’ version of a language, I don’t feel the need to force it down throats that does not wish to swallow it. I am sure that some people are perfectly contented with speaking a language at a basic comprehendible level even if they only use a single verb for all of the tenses. If it isn’t detrimental to their own chosen paths, that’s perfectly fine with me. It’s just unfortunate that those who are struggling to improve their Standard English proficiency are not able to get easier access to as simple a help as a gentle correction or even a lengthy discussion on why a word is used in a certain way.

I believe that if we wish to improve our language proficiency as a group, be it a community or a larger society, we should adopt a more receptive attitude towards corrections. However, it is just as important for those involved to not abuse this accepting nature by hiding behind disguises of superior grammar to throw insults and win petty arguments (as witnessed by anyone who is familiar with the comment section of YouTube videos or any posting on the internet in general). This attitude of mutual correction should be used as a means for growth and improvement and remarks should be made politely with the intention to help and not to scorn or belittle.

And don’t be ashamed to ask for corrections or guides either. If you have a disagreement the way my sister and I did, have a discussion and search for more information. At the end of the day, everyone would be learning something new about the convoluted system of English grammar – or any other language of your choice.

If we all work together to guide each other, it would not only help to improve our capability to use language in both writing and speech, it would also create an environment that promotes an open approach to learning and growth, where a curious thought is not dismissed by embarrassment but developed by discussion, research and voluntary study.

What A Waste!

I found this gem from my journal where I used to write down my thoughts and, from time to time, events which took place in literary nonfiction form. This particular writing is taken back from December 2010 when I was 15. As you could probably tell, I was very emotionally affected by the events in the story. Some of the dialogus are written in Malay as exactly as I could recall them when I wrote this down hours later. I have neither changed the formatting nor edited the writing so please forgive my teenage imperfections. 

“I can’t believe it – it’s a real wastage of papers and ink!” I thought, as I saw Pak Cik Amin tearing off our paper signs and crumple them, ready to be thrown away. I don’t know if I have the courage to tell him so but I do know another way of reducing this wastage. I sprinted down the hall and very carefully, I pulled the paper off the wall and stripped off the tape. I managed to pull out quite a lot but I’m not fast enough – I had to run.

And so I ran upstairs to ‘rescue’ more signs… and that was when the Mak Cik, who was the head of the catering, called for me. “Dik, ni ada banyak makanan tak habis ni. Kalau nak, mari pek. Kalau tidak, makcik masuk tong sampah je ni.” I was stunned. I mean, throw all the tasty, food! How can you do such thing when there are thousands of poor people out there who couldn’t eat and would grab all these even if they were from the bin! How can even one think of throwing!

“Tapi makcik sayanglah kalau buang,” I stammered. I briefly closed my eyes to recover from the shock I had. “Em, macam ni, saya pergi tanya orang nanti saya datang balik.”
“Ok,” she said, “ Kita orang ada plastic dengan bekas nak bungkus semua ni tapi getah kita orang tak de tau. Cepat sikit ya. Kita semua ni nak balik dah. Kalau lambat nak buang je ni.”
I nodded. “Makcik tunggu ya, nanti saya datang. Saya janji.”

I ran downstairs, two steps at a time, and leapt down at the bottom of the stairs, skipping the last five steps. I felt pairs of eyes burning at me, accusing me of misbehaving, but I believe that manners and the perception of others could be ignored at a time like this. I found my dad packing in the conference secretarial room. “Abah, makcik caterer nak buang makanan tak habis. Dia kata kalau nak, pergi pek sekarang. So nak buat macam mana.”

My dad stood up and thought for a while. In the end he said, “Pergi cari Pakcik Burhan, suruh dia pergi berkira,” and he continued with his packing. I can’t blame him for not bothering. As the head secretary of MUAFAKAT, he has loads of things to do.
“Mana Pakcik Burhan?”
“Tadi ada dekat atas. Pergi cari.”

I ran for the stairs. On the way, I passed by the conference hall and decided to peak in. Nobody was there except for the two reporters from Utusan Malaysia and the TV crew from TV ALHIJRAH. I ran back up, two steps at a time and sprinted into the dining hall. He’s nowhere to be seen, I ran across the whole area of the 2nd floor until I came back to where I started. Presently, I found Pak Cik Amin tearing down more signs. I shook my head; I can’t be bothered just yet. Instead, I walked over to him to ask him a question.

“Pakcik Amin.”

No answer.

I walked closer and tried again, this time slightly louder. “Em, Pakcik Amin.”

He turned around, “Ya?”

“Pakcik Amin ada nampak Pakcik Burhan tak?”

He straightened up and thought, his eyes wondering far away. “Tadi Pakcik Amin makan dengan dia dekat dewan makan.”

“Aiman dah tengok dah tapi tak de.”

He wrinkled his eyebrows, “Ya ke? Oh… mungkin ada dalam bilik.”

“Aiman dah cari tapi tak ada.”

“Dalam dewan?”

“Pun takde”

He frowned and looked down to the floor. Then, he suddenly smiled and said, “Takpe lah. Adalah tu Pakcik Burhan pergi mana mana tu.” He then turned and went back to his paper tearing.

My brother came running with a few more crumpled signs. “Ni Pakcik Amin,” he announced and proudly handed him his ‘assignment’. A thought suddenly struck me. “It might work,” I thought and chased after Ali as he ran back to pull off more. “Ali, jangan koyak, ni semua waste kalau koyak sebab kertas ni boleh guna untuk lain kali.” Ali paled slightly. He hadn’t thought of it. As a boy who is very much concerned about the environment, he thoroughly understood what it means to waste, even if he is only seven. “Tapi Pakcik Amin yang suruh,” he said as he cast a guilty glance to Pakcik Amin.

“Tahu, tapi Ali tahu kan Ali tak boleh buat macam ni. Ali try save yang mana Ali boleh,” I suggested to him.

“Tapi Ali nak buat macam mana?” he asked me. Knowing how smart my little brother is, I knew that he’ll think of something himself. “Ali fikirlah, Kaman ada benda lain nak save.”

I left him standing solemnly with the paper sign in his hand. I went past the dining hall and the lady called for me again. “Cepat, dik. Kita nak balik dah ni!” I was already almost in tears. “Kejab, sekejab, please tunggu sekejab,” I pleaded to her and I ran back downstairs in the same manner as I had done before. This time, nobody bothers much. Everyone is just as busy at the moment, packing and rushing here and there. I found mum talking to Aunty Ram.

“Ma, makcik caterer nak buang makanan,” I almost yelled, words tumbling upon each other as they jumped out of my mouth. “Abah suruh cari Pakcik Burhan tapi dia takde. Nak buat macam mana ma. Diaorang nak balik dah. Kalau lambat they’ll just throw them away. Sayanglah. Mama, cepatlah.”

“Chop, chop, sabar. Nantikan mama pengsan dulu. Pening mama laju sangat.” Mum excused herself and walked up the stairs. I attempted to run but she stopped me from doing so. I thought we were wasting precious seconds.

Mum came up and met the woman. The woman told mum that there were a dozen packs of food, about 3 to 4 trays of kuehs, a whole tank of teh tarik and another of pengat pisang. “Tapi air dengan pengat tak boleh nak pek sebab kita tak de getah,” the woman said.

“Tak pe. First things first. Jom kita pek. Nanti akak pergi kutip lagi askar askar kat bawah,” mum replied.

“Em, ma?”

“Yes, Aiman?”

“Ju, Hana, Khadijah and Sham dah balik.”

Mum looked at me and sighed. “Alamak, kalau macam tu susahlah. Tak pe, mama pack dulu. Aiman go and look for your sisters and Abang Sha-din,” mum told me.

I giggled as I ran back downstairs. Sha-din isn’t his real name but his actual name (which we found out later was Syarafuddin) is just so long that the ‘sha’ and the ‘din’ parts were the only ones that mum managed to remember. We all climbed up the stairs and went into their pantry. The floor was really, really dirty and it has the icky-sticky feeling that the kitchen floor at my house never had. I had to walk on tiptoes and imagine that I was somewhere else. Mum gave out the tasks: Aeshah and Anisah were told to bring down the food and offer them to the people around the area while Abang Sha-din and I would pack the food. And so we worked out quite well until Abang Sha-din’s parents were looking for him. Anisah brought the message to him saying that they were about to leave. Abang Sha-din took a generous amount of food back with him when I told him that we are unable to distribute all of them.

So I was left packing alone. We ran out of plastic bags and I went out to fetch more. Upon reaching the serving table (where on it was a box of plastic bags), I saw my eager brother at the other side of the corridor, waiting as Pak Cik Amin pulled out the signs. Once he did so, Ali would snatch it, solemnly fold in the tape and waited for the next one. Pak Cik Amin looked curiously at Ali but he then smiled. I stifled a giggle. Although Ali is famous for his ingenious ideas, this one is really funny. Especially when you look at Ali’s serious expression and Pak Cik Amin’s confused look.

I brought back the box with me and continued packing – the sticky floor doesn’t bother me any longer. The boys (employees of the caterer) ridiculed at me when they see me frantically packing the food. I ignored them. They then tried to insult me by asking questions on the wacana. Thankfully, I could answer all of their questions, I believe, correctly. They stopped their ridiculous behaviour after I answered them straight without showing signs of anger or despair. The lady pitied me and helped me packing after she’s done with her job, scolding the boys and told them to behave.

“Nak tak pengat ni?” one of the boys asked me. “Nak, tapi tak ada getah nak ikat.” I answered.

“Ha? Tak nak?”

“Dia kata tak ada getah. Dah, pergi buat kerja kamu tu.” The lady said angrily to the grinning boy.

“Okay! Jom buang!” yelled the boy and the others cheered. I closed my eyes when I saw them tipping the large tank of pengat. I just don’t want to see this. I prayed that I’m not a part of the crime. How can you laugh while throwing food? How would you feel if you throw a tank of edible stuff? Certainly you won’t laugh! What about your obligations to Allah? Oh, and they’re all Muslims, mind you.

I inhaled slowly and realized that my body is shaking from anger. I believe that had they acted out just once more, it would set my already boiling temper ablaze. This is REAL crime killing THOUSANDS of people who die from starvation and malnutrition. You could save many with that tank of food and they did what?

I opened my eyes and looked down at my unfinished job. Right now, this is my work and I must concentrate. I thanked Allah for allowing me to save most of the food. At least these won’t go down the drain, Insya Allah.

Show Your Support To The Sovereignty of Our Country

Seperti buah padi, makin berisi makin rendah; jangan seperti lalang, makin lama makin tinggi

A common problem faced by developing countries is getting their ‘developed’ peers to respect their sovereignty. Indeed, our forefathers have long warned us against arrogance and imperiousness in the Malay saying quoted above. Technologically advanced and developed countries tend to belittle the significance and importance of their less developed counterparts, perhaps unconciously believing that their success in managing their own people earn them the rights to rule (or guide, as they say) the helpless.

Although countries worldwide need to establish good, well rounded relationships with each other, like in interpersonal friendship, there is a limit to how far we could intervene in another country’s decision making. When one party tries to force their domination over the others, whether their intents were based on malice or goodwill, it could easily escalate to bullying.

The generally accepted standards of the world set by international bodies such as the United Nations are very majorly those of their founders; the developed Western countries. Just as they want us to accept their norms in our own places, they first need to realise that we too have the sovereignty over our own country. Just as they wish to decide for themselves on what is going on in their grounds, we too have our own vision for our future.

In the latest case of Anwar Ibrahim’s imprisonment for sodomy, in an unpatriotic and disrespectful act against the country that gave them food, shelter and support, Anwar’s supporters are trying to lobby foreign powers to force the Malaysian government to release their idol both publicly and privately. Under the various claims from ‘political imprisonment’ to ‘archaic laws’, they are calling for the intervention of foreign powers into Malaysia’s internal affairs.

As no humans are flawless, it is possible for developed countries to take their power for granted and unintentionally fall into the trap of bullying their developing counterparts. Let us all remind them that while it seems more imposing to force their will onto other rightful countries, they would likely to be more respected if they first learn to respect the sovereignty of other countries.

To all Malaysian, let us all show our support to the sovereignty of our own country and that no foreign bodies have the right to impose their wills over us. Sign the petition here!

Picture credits to Ahmad Ali Jetplane

When The Confused Man Speaks…

One of the most overlooked responsibilities of Muslim leaders is that they are answerable for the faith and beliefs of the Muslims that they lead and as well as the position and dignity of Islam. It is especially so for Malaysia, whose Federal Constitution has stated that Islam is the religion of the federation (NOT the official religion).

This is the fact that Dr. Reza Aslan, a confused outsider with a skewed idea of how Islam should be, but claimed himself as a theology expert could never understand.

From The Malaysian Insider:

Putrajaya is setting itself up as a “parent” rather than an elected government, in banning the use of the word Allah among non-Muslims and dictating how Malaysian Muslims should practise their faith, prominent Iranian-American theologian Reza Aslan said.

In October, the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) said that Malaysia as a nation “officially” adhered to the Shafie school of thought, in response to the backlash over the “I want to touch a dog” event which proved popular among Muslims.

(read the rest here:

It is also interesting how Dr. Aslan blamed the Putrajaya for the Allah issue when the Head of the Religion of Islam is in fact the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong. By pointing his finger at Putrajaya instead of Jakim alone, it is safe to assume that either Dr. Aslan or The Malaysian Insider or both of them, were politically biased (not that it’s a big surprise).

Please take notice the words coloured in red where The Malaysian Insider wrote, “…in banning the use of the word Allah among non-Muslims…”. That statement is incorrect. The word Allah is not banned from use among non-Muslims but instead they are banned from referring Allah to anything but the Muslim God alone.

The article also mentioned:

He said that centralised religious authorities should not exist in countries that profess to adhere to Islam, adding that such a practise was akin to usurping the authority of the Prophet Muhammad.

“Islam allows me to follow any mufti that I please. We don’t have a pope, we don’t have a bishop who tells us what we can do.

“The very notion that a group of old men gets to decide for me or for you what is the proper interpretation of my faith, that goes against the very fabric and nature of Islam,” Reza told The Malaysian Insider in a phone interview.

“Anyone who tells you there is only one version of Islamic behaviour or ideology or morality is speaking out of pure ignorance,” said Reza.

As you can see from his statement above, it is obvious that his views are that of a liberal and of a person who seems to be so egotistic to believe that only he knows what Islam really is. He is apparently ignorant of the fact that the Muslims in Malaysia are Sunni Muslims;”people of the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad and the consensus of the Ummah”, meaning that we follow a consensus and not make up our own rules as he did.

And atop of that, he declared in another interview that Islam is simply nothing but a man made institution.

See 19:42 of the video:

Islam is a man-made institution. It’s a set of symbols and metaphors that provides a language for which to express what is inexpressible, and that is faith. It’s symbols and metaphors that I prefer, but it’s not more right or more wrong than any other symbols and metaphors. It’s a language, that’s all it is.

Also, at 05:14 of the video, he said:

Somehow Harris is a better expert at what Islam is or means than the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world.

When (Sam) Harris shares his imaginary idea of Islam, Dr. Reza says that this one person is better than “the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world”; but when commenting about the Islamic authorities of Malaysia; he argues how the minority voice can claim that they are right. Remember what he said earlier in The Malaysian Insider article?

and then you tell me that 99.9% of Muslims who don’t think what you think, who don’t feel what you feel, are not Muslims. That only you and your version is the correct one.

If he does not believe that his version of Islam is the correct one, he would not enforce its principles now, would he?

This is not the first time Reza Aslan has shared (or forced) his opinions on Islamic matters in Malaysia, especially on the Kalimah Allah issue despite he believes that Islam could be interpreted as any way a person wishes to. And as before, his statements had been very self contradicting as well as embodying the voice of a liberal Muslim.

I wonder what is the opposition media ‘The Malaysian’s Insider’s motive in featuring such an ‘expert’? This certainly says a lot about the supporters of the oppositions’ stances on the principles of Islam.

NaPoWriMo Poem #11: Why?

Today I decided to use the NaPoWriMo’s daily prompt: Twenty questions.

Why must it rain to make a brilliant rainbow?
Why must animals eat others to help them to grow?
Why must there be heat for birds to fly high?
Why must eyes be wet before they could dry?

Why do creatures evolve to adapt after time?
Why do freshly cleaned hands get dirty with grime?
Why do cells regenerate before they die?
Why do joys make us smile, with sorrow we cry?

Why is there a silver lining under each cloud?
Why could some see the sun behind the fog and shroud?
Why couldn’t disasters stop the birds from singing?
Appearance can be blinding, reach behind them and think.