Sunday, 17 March 2013

Literature from home

The launch of Malay and Tamil anthologies will expose students to works of local authors
By Jennani Durai, The Straits Times, 16 Mar 2013

When local Malay author Mohamed Latif Mohamed attends writers' conferences across the Causeway, he is often asked what literature texts Malay students in Singapore study in school.

The 63-year-old is then forced to admit to his Malaysian contemporaries: "Yours.

"You have no idea how 'malu' that is for us," says the two-time recipient of the biennial Singapore Literature Prize. Malu means embarrassing in Malay.

That is set to change, however, with the launch of three new anthologies this month which feature local Malay and Tamil authors. These books are targeted for inclusion in the O- and A-level syllabuses for Malay and Tamil literature from next year, says the National Arts Council, which commissioned the projects. Two Malay anthologies, Tekad (Resilience) and Begitulah Kata-Kata (Bear These Words), will be launched tomorrow, while an anthology of Tamil literature, called Elakkiyach Charal (Light Over Water), will be launched on March 24.

Mr Paul Tan, the council's director of sector development for literary arts, says the new anthologies are part of a series of books the council has initiated since 2010, under the National Literary Arts Plan, to raise the profile of local literature in schools. "We wanted stories and poetry that would capture the students' interest and imagination, while giving them a sense of our nation's rich canon."

Other earlier releases in the series include the short story collection Telltale: 11 Stories and the poetry anthology &Words: Poems Singapore And Beyond, which are both now studied as English literature texts in secondary schools here.

The new anthologies of Tamil and Malay fiction consist of a mixture of short stories, poetry and plays. Tekad, which will be used for O-level Malay literature from next year, contains the works of 14

local writers, while Begitulah Kata-Kata, which will be used at the A levels, has 19 Singapore authors.

Mr Mohamed Latif, whose poem Tekad inspired the first collection's title, also contributed another story, Pungut Alias Zaharah Alias Yap Siew Hong. The story is based on the true account of his mother adopting a Chinese baby with Down Syndrome who was given away. He says the publication of the new Malay anthologies and their inclusion in schools' curriculum are great, historical moments.

"These books show Malaysian and Indonesian writers we exist. We have our own writers, philosophies, ideas, insights and stories."

Poet Kamaria Buang, 65, who contributed a poem about her childhood neighbours to Begitulah Kata- Kata, agrees. "It's time students read local writers so they can learn their history through local voices."

Her sentiments are shared by Tamil writers K. Mathangi and M. Elangkannan, who are among the 15 local writers featured in Elakkiyach Charal. Ms Mathangi, whose poem in the book is about a woman who strikes up a conversation with the stranger next to her on an MRT ride, says the book is a "gateway for students into developing an interest and expanding their knowledge about local literature".

Mr Elangkannan, 74, feels that the local context of the collection will make a big difference to students of Tamil literature. His story in the book is about a crippled Indian beggar and an elderly

Chinese woman who collects cardboard boxes for a living, and how they strike up a friendship over a mutual desire to return to the lands of their ancestors.

He says: "Because Singapore writers are included, the stories are like a mirror of their surroundings."

About 80 students a year study Tamil literature at the A levels, while Malay literature is studied by about 350 O- and A-level students each year.

Malay language and literature teacher Zainun Hashim, 49, feels that the new texts will be beneficial to her students. "I feel that our students cannot relate to many of the texts we study as they are all brought up in flats and the stories from Malaysia are often situated in villages," says the senior teacher from Pioneer Junior College. "Many of our students don't even have relatives in Malaysia. It's definitely time to highlight our local writers to our students."

No comments:

Post a Comment