22 Oct 2009

Cikgu Seman’s Legacy

By: Bissme. S (TheSun, 22 October 2003)

The literary circle recently mourned the passing of Malaysian Literary Award winner Dr Haji Othman Puteh, who died in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah on Sunday, 19 October 2003.

The 59-years-old author of more than 40 youth novels was in KK to attend a poetry reading and book discussion on Raymond Majmumah’s novel, Selamat Tinggal Sabah.

He fainted at his hotel room at 2:30 pm on Sunday and was rushed to the hospital. He was pronounced dead at 3:15 pm. He was believed to be suffering from heart problems and diabetes.

Othman leaves behind a wife, Timah Baba (55) and five children – Hizairi (33), Hiazulasham (31), Mohd Hafiz (28), Sadhila (26) and Marini (24). Incidentally, Hizairi, who was an up-and-coming writer, went missing several years ago and the mystery of his disappearance has yet to be solved.

This humble author and motivator was born on 5 January 1944 in Kampung Kuala, Kuala Sungai Baru, Melaka. After completing primary education there, he attended English secondary school in Bandar Melaka, before furthering his education at the Sultan Idris Teaching College in Tanjung Malim, Perak.

Cikgu Seman, as he was affectionately called by his students, spent nine years teaching before attending Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia to take his first degree in Malay Literature in 1977. He followed up with a masters in 1981 and a doctorate in 1992.

Othman wrote many adolescent novels and was a motivating force in encouraging youths to try their hand at writing fiction. He also wrote two adult novels, Munajat di Perkebunan (1990) and his defining work, Kalut seven years later. Kalut is about the children of Chinese and Indian immigrants coming to terms with being Malaysian.

His other works include Debu Hiroshima (1987), a book on experiences of Haji Abdul Razak, who survived the atomic bombing of the Japanese city in 1945.

“During fall 1996, Pak Haji Othman attended an international writing programme at the University of Iowa in the US. That is where he wrote Kalut. I am personally touched because he named one of the main characters after me,” recalled Uthaya Sankar SB, the President of Malaysian Indian Writers’ Foundation (Kavyan).

Upon receiving the SEA Write Awards in 1998, Othman said: “I am convinced that literature still has endurance, relevancy and significance as a vehicle of critical and aesthetical expression in humanity.”

Othman was always on the move, and was very active in the National Writers Association (Gapena) besides accepting invitations to various workshops to deliver papers.

[In September 2003, Othman was appointed advisor of Kavyan; along with Datuk (Dr) A. Samad Said and Prof Madya Dr Krishanan Maniam. He has also accepted an invitation to present a paper about Malaysian Indian writers in Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) in December 2003; and to be the head judge for a short story competation organised by Kavyan and Ashwin Trading.]

Recently, he participated in Baca Cerpen Kavyan which created history as the longest reading event in Malaysia by having 96 hours and 32 minutes of non-stop Bahasa Malaysia short story reading. Unsurprisingly, Othman led the reading with two of his own stories, “Guruh” and “Ario”.

He will be missed.

TheSun, 22 October 2003
Kavya, November 2003

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