Saturday, 24 April 2010

The Right to Write in Bahasa Malaysia

To become a Bahasa Malaysia writer is one thing but let me warn you that a greater struggle awaits.
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I personally believe that “Bangsa Malaysia” starts with loving “Bahasa Malaysia”. For one thing, I grew up with Bahasa Malaysia. Though I am a Malayalee, I wouldn’t shy away from admitting that I’m most fluent in Bahasa Malaysia. English only comes second.

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“How can you be so fluent in Bahasa Malaysia when you’re not a Malay?”

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I am indeed very glad that I don’t get such questions anymore from reporters, workshop participants and readers. It took me years to convince others that there’s nothing amazing to see/hear a Malaysian speaking fluent Bahasa Malaysia. Nowadays, I hear primary school students speaking fluent Bahasa Malaysia. A personal Bravo to them all!

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I was a Bahasa Malaysia TV news editor and a Bahasa Malaysia lecturer in private colleges. Besides that, I’m also a Bahasa Malaysia creative writer. Bahasa Malaysia is all around – and in – me. Indeed I urge my students to use Bahasa Malaysia, as it is an easy way to make one feel proud being a Malaysian.

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In my Bahasa Malaysia and Malaysian Studies classes, I often explain to my students why the government in 1970 under Dasar Pelajaran Kebangsaan introduced “Bahasa Malaysia” term. My students – the younger generation – understand.

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Of course now some of my students in college and in the workshops say, “No wonder it’s easy for you to write stories in Bahasa Malaysia since you are a Bahasa Malaysia lecturer” without realizing that it’s actually the other way around.

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Other than that, everything looks just fine. I love Bahasa Malaysia. Everyone aroud me knows that for a fact. So, do I live happily ever after writing in Bahasa Malaysia? No. Life is not easy for a Bahasa Malaysia lover. Trust me when I say so.

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I have had a bad experience when dealing with a well-known publisher a few years back. Being a literary and language body, one would expect the publisher to be supportive to the use of “Bahasa Malaysia” term.

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In 1999, the publisher agreed to publish a book that I compiled. The agreement documents had been signed. Then came trouble. The editor in charge informed me that the publisher had decided not to allow me use the term “Bahasa Malaysia”!

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When I asked for explanation, I was told by the editor that the term “Bahasa Malaysia” is political and therefore, incorrect. I really don’t know why the publisher is so much against our government’s decisions to use “Bahasa Malaysia” as a way to unite us all. Irony number one: government controls that publisher.

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Imagine the surprise I had to face. I grew up with “Bahasa Malaysia”. I love “Bahasa Malaysia”. And when someone tells me that the term “Bahasa Malaysia” is incorrect, what was I supposed to do?

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The publisher that I’m talking about has published a number of my books. My short story compilation was published in 1996 and went through a second printing in 1997. Another book was also published in 1999.

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The publisher never told me “Bahasa Malaysia” term was incorrect when I used the term in both books. Indeed, I checked the agreement documents for at least three of my books published by the same publisher. Guess what? Irony number two: it says “Bahasa Karya: Bahasa Malaysia”.

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If that sounds surprising, wait till you hear this: the agreement document for the book that the publisher was suppose to publish in 1999 states “Bahasa Karya: BAHASA MALAYSIA”. Irony number three.

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Even after I pointed that to the editor in charge, I was told that the publisher’s decision was final: the term “Bahasa Malaysia” cannot be used. [READ HERE]

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While the matter was still an issue, former Education Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak made a statement that the term “Bahasa Malaysia” can be used for all purposes.

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“In a multi-racial community, it is easier to accept ‘Bahasa Malaysia’ since it reflects that the language belongs to the different races too,” Datuk Seri Najib was reported saying to the media. (READ HERE)

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The publisher finally sent me a letter to inform that they have decided not to publish my book. Irony number four: no mentioning of any reason for not publishing the book even though agreement document has be signed. So much for my struggle for the right to use the term “Bahasa Malaysia”.

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After that incident, I’ve decided not to disgrace my writings and myself by sending it to any publisher who disallows the use of the term “Bahasa Malaysia”. I self-published Sasterawan Pulau Cinta in early 2001. In February 2002, I published Vanakam, an anthology of Bahasa Malaysia short stories by Malaysian Indian writers and in April 2002, Panchayat, a Bahasa Malaysia novel.

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That aside, I still fear what will happen to the term “Bahasa Malaysia” since the country’s leading publisher disallows the use of that term. What will happen to our hope after the 13 May 1969 incident? What will happen to our vision in creating “Bangsa Malaysia” through Bahasa Malaysia?

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In my creative writing workshops, I meet youngsters who love Bahasa Malaysia and believe it can be used to unite the nation. And at the same time, we have a leading publisher who has decided that the term “Bahasa Malaysia” is political and therefore, incorrect.

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Imagine: I am accused of using a term which the publisher says does not exist!

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I can either simply keep quiet like a loser and have my books published by the “great” publisher or keep fighting for my right. Some day, justice will prevail. [Read all about it HERE!]

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So, if one thinks that being a Bahasa Malaysia writer in this country is easy, think again. You have to struggle for your right – even to use the term “Bahasa Malaysia” in your works! Not to mention using “Bahasa Malaysia” to unite a nation.

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But one thing I can say for sure: Bahasa Malaysia is my grandfather!

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(Dijadikan kertas kerja bertajuk “Bahasa Malaysia, Bangsa Malaysia” dan diedarkan pada Forum Bahasa Kebangsaan & Bangsa Malaysia di Sudut Penulis, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 8 Jun 2002.)

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Sila gunakan Bahasa Malaysia atau Bahasa Inggeris yang betul apabila mengemukakan komen. Hanya komen yang menggunakan bahasa yang betul dari segi ejaan, tanda baca dan struktur ayat akan dilayan. Pencemaran bahasa diharamkan!