The Literary Works of M. Shanmughalingam

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Dato’ Dr M SHANmughalingam was hyperactive in the debating, literary and drama fields and played football and table tennis in the V.I. First in Malaysia in the national pre University Sixth Form Entrance Exam with a 96% score, he was the secretary and later joint editor of the Seladang, steering the V.I. newspaper through one of its most vibrant periods. He was in the first group of Victorians in 1958 to be awarded the coveted “Club 21” badge for meritorious service to the school. He was the lead speaker of the very successful school debating team as well as the leader of the school quiz team from 1955 while in Form IV and chairman of the Senior Literary and Debating Society.

Shan holds an Honours degree from the University of Malaya, a Masters from Harvard and a Doctorate from Oxford University. At Harvard he graduated First in class with Grade A in all eight subjects with “the best grade average for several years past” (Prof. John Montgomery). He was admitted to the Ph.D. programme directly without formal application. At Oxford he won the Gertrude Hartley Memorial prize for Poetry, a graduate scholarship from Balliol College and the second prize in the Short Story competition judged by famous novelist, Iris Murdoch and John Bayley, Prof. of Literature, sponsored by ISIS, Oxford University and The Observer. He was sole representative of the Third World in meetings with the President of Harvard University. On invitation by Harvard University he helped in the design of a new Executive Programme for Leaders in Development: Managing Economic and Political Reform developed jointly by Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Institute for International Development, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass, USA.

He was on the Board of Selectors, Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University.

Shan’s short stories, poems and essays were published/broadcast in national and international anthologies in Australia, France, India, Ireland, Malaysia, Singapore, the UK and the US, in universities (Harvard, Malaya, Oxford and Singapore) and in national literary journals (Dewan Bahasa). His poems were published in Malchin Testament:Malaysian Poems, January, 2017, his latest short story and poem were published in TRASH: A Southeast Asian Urban Anthology and the Little Basket 2016 both launched at the London Book and Screen Week, at Kinokuniya, K.L. and Borders, the Curve, April 2016. Within 3 days of its launch TRASH was on Kinokuniya’s weekly bestseller list. Another short story was co-published in ku.lit:asian literature for the language classroom by Pearson Education South Asia Pte Ltd and National Arts Council, launched at the S’pore writers festival. One of his poems is required reading for Form Two students in Malaysian schools. He is co-editor of An Anthology of Malaysian Poetry in English with Malay translation (Dewan Bahasa). One short story won the British Council Short Story Prize and another was an Editor’s choice from 1,450 entries for Ireland’s Fish International Short Story Prize. His poems are in New Voices of the Commonwealth an Anthology of Poetry in London with Nobel Prize winners, Derek Walcott, Wole Soyinka and Seamus Heaney, ISIS, Balliol College Annual Record (Oxford) and Asianist Asia in Paris. Participant and read own work at the 26th Cambridge Seminar on the Contemporary British Writer, Cambridge Univ., U.K. Participating British writers included Doris Lessing, Muriel Spark, David Lodge, Malcolm Bradbury etc. Reviews: For short stories, Far Eastern Economic Review (Hong Kong), The Hindu (India), The Statesman (India), the Edge, New Straits Times, Kaki Seni. Articles: Malaysian Culture Group.

Dramatised Performance Readings of short stories and poems at the ASEAN India Writers Festival, S’pore, Jan 2018. Nottingham Univ., Jan, 2017, the Georgetown Literary Festival, Penang, Dec 2016, Readings, Seksan, Kuala Lumpur, the Cooler Lumpur Writers Festival, a 2½ hour’s solo Performance Reading at the English Language Teaching Centre, Education Ministry in Nilai, N.S., to 200 lecturers, teachers, trainee teachers and students, Nat. Univ. S’pore (NUS), Oxford Cambridge Society to 400 students, Performance Poetry with Director, Apples and Snakes, UK’s leading performance poetry organization, 11th Biennial Symposium on Literatures and Cultures of Asia-Pacific Region, NUS, Dome Literary Readings, NUS with Prof. Edwin Thumboo, Taylor’s College, Creative Writing class to 120 students, Univ KM, Voice and Place: Writers’ Forum, Substation Guinness Theatre, S’pore, Garden International School, K.L., Lycee Francais de Singapour, Symposium Singapore-Malaysian Literature, Univ. PM, Creativity and Poetry Classes, S’pore Management Univ, Malaysian Culture Group and Book Club, IIUniv.M and Litfest Univ.KM. At Bookstores: Borders, London, S’pore, Kinokuniya, MPH, World Poetry Reading K.L. at Planetarium, at Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka and at Univ. Malaya, KL, at BFM Radio Station, Radio Fremantle, and at several national and international readings led by the then national poet laureate, Dato’ Dr Usman Awang.

Producers from Australia and New Zealand have offered to make movies of two of his short stories. His work has been the subject of theses in universities in Malaysia and Germany. Peter Carey, twice winner of the Booker Prize and Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, in his ‘My Life As A Fake acknowledged ‘Malaysian writer, Dr M Shanmughalingam, not only offered advice and friendship but also allowed me to read his unfinished autobiography, which proved invaluable to my understanding of the Tamils...’ and wrote that he ‘hugely enjoyed Victoria and Her Kimono and the humour in Shan’s other stories.’

He was an interviewer on international and current affairs, film critic on Malaysian TV, and radio and a member of advisory panels to leading national literary and cultural journals in Dewan Bahasa and the informal advisory panel to TV3. He was interviewed on Malaysian TV profiling Royal Prof. Ungku Aziz ex Vice Chancellor Univ of Malaya and Usman Awang and quoted in TIME magazine cover story, Dec. 9, 1996 on Tun Dr Mahathir, Prime Minister of Malaysia.

At the Treasury, Ministry of Finance from 1962 to 1978, last post, Dep. Secretary (Economic). He led the preparation of the first-ever annual Economic Report of the Government to Parliament and initiated Socio-Economic Indicators in the Economic Report on the Quality of Life in Malaysia. He led official delegations in negotiations with the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and several foreign bilateral agencies from Japan to the UK. He was a regular member of the Malaysian Government’s delegation to the annual meetings of the Boards of Governors of the World Bank and the IMF and to annual consultations with the IMF.

At PETRONAS from 1979 to 1991, last post, General Manager. He helped initiate and implement the National Oil Depletion Policy for Malaysia and was Chairman of the Committee for the National Gas Master Plan. He was a member of the first-ever Malaysian Government two-man delegation to attend the OPEC Ministerial Conferences in Geneva which led to historic cuts in Malaysia's crude oil production. He was also a member of the Malaysian delegation led by the Prime Minister to the UN Special Session on International Economic Cooperation and Development in New York. He was a PETRONAS representative at meetings with the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Cabinet Committees. He was a Chairman and Lead Speaker at Pacific Economic Cooperation Conferences (PECC) on Energy Policy, Petrochemicals etc in Canberra, Jakarta, Seoul, Tokyo and Vancouver and a member of its Task Force on Energy and Minerals. He was Managing Director, Sri Inderajaya Sdn Bhd from 1992 to 1996.

He is Managing Director of Trilogic Sdn Bhd, an investment holding and consultancy company from 1996 to present. Trilogic has helped list six companies on the Main Board of Bursa Malaysia. He was a Director of several publicly listed companies including Delloyd Ventures Bhd, Chairman, Remuneration Committee and Member, Audit and ESOS Committees, Director of PBA Holdings Bhd, of Mamee-Double Decker (M) Bhd (all listed on Bursa Malaysia Main Board) and of CIMB (L) Limited (Commerce International Merchant Bankers) He was a Director of CIMB Discount House Berhad, CIMB Securities Sdn Bhd, Hextar Holdings Bhd, Edaran Otomobil Nasional Berhad (EON), Chairman, Remuneration Committee and Member, Nomination Committee, of MIDF Aberdeen Asset Management Sdn Bhd, of Malaysian International Merchant Bankers Member of Executive Committee (MIMB, subsidiary of Malaysian Industrial Development Finance, MIDF an associate of Barclays Bank Group, UK) of Mahkota Technologies (General Electric Company (GEC) Malaysia). He was on the Committees of the Malaysian Administrative and Diplomatic Service (P.T.D) and its Alumni Association, Committee Member VIOBA, on the Board of the VIOBA Foundation and Chairman, Scholarship Committee. He sits on the Board of Trustees, the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER) and the international/ national advisory panel to the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (ASLI). He is a Fellow, Economic Development Institute, World Bank, W'ton DC, USA.

Literary publications: Short Stories in:-

1. Marriage and Mutton Curry (to be launched in 2018)
2. TRASH: A Southeast Asian Urban Anthology, Fixi Novo 2016
3. Ku.lit: asian literature for the language classroom .Volume 2, Pearson Education, South Asia Pte Ltd, Singapore, 2014
4. KL Noir: White, Buku Fixi, Petaling Jaya 2013
5. Readings from Readings 2, Word Works, Sdn Bhd, Petaling Jaya, 2012
6. Malaysian Tales Retold & Remixed, ZI Publications Sdn Bhd. K.L., 2011
7. A Subtle Degree of Restraint and Other Stories, MPH Publishing K.L., 2011
8. 25 Malaysian Short Stories: Best of Silverfish New Writing 2001-2005, K.L., 200
9. Silverfish Literary Magazine, 2006
10. Malaysian Short Stories, Petaling Jaya, Maya Press Sdn Bhd, 2005
11. New Writing 4, K.L., Silverfish Books, 2004
12. Collateral Damage: A Silverfish Collection of Short Stories, K.L. 2004
13. Petals of Hibiscus: A Representative Anthology of Malaysian Literature in English, Pearson Longman, P.J., 2003
14. Silverfish New Writing 2: Stories from Malaysia, S’pore and Beyond, K.L., 2002
15. The Merlion and the Hibiscus: Contemporary Short Stories from Singapore and Malaysia, Penguin Books, India, 2002
16. Asylum 1928 and Other Stories, Fish Anthology of International short stories, Ireland, 2001 (editor’s choice from 1,450 international entries)
17. Ripples, EPB Publishers, S’pore, 1992
18. Malaysian Short Stories, Heinemann Edu. Asia, Hong Kong, 1981
19. ISIS, Oxford Univ., 1977

Poems in:- 1) Malchin Testament: Malaysian Poems, Maya Press, 2017.
2) The Little Basket 2016 Fixi Novo
3) Seven poems, 80th birthday of Emeritus Prof, Eng Lit NUS, Edwin Thumboo. Nov 2013
4) Indian Literature, Sahitya Akademi's Bi-Monthly Journal, New Delhi, 2012
5) Wellversed, the British Council, 2007
6) Asianists’ Asia, Paris, France, 2004
7) Imbauan, PPDKL (Glimpses), World Poetry Reading, KL 2004
8) In-Sights Malaysian Poems 2003 (RM15.00)
9) Antologi, Poetry in Our Lives Today, World Poetry Reading, KL, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 2002
10) Harvard Univ News & Views, 1997
11) Co-Editor, Anthology of Malaysian Poetry in English with Malay translations, K.L., 1988
12) Five Poems, Balliol College Annual Record, Univ. Press Oxford, 1977
13) Envisage, Oxford University, UK, 1977
14) New Voices of the Commonwealth, London, 1968 15) Focus, Literary Journal of the Univ. of Spore, with Prof. D.J. Enright.

Non-fiction publications:- Royal Team Player, Resource, Oct. 2016, Chapter in HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah: Reflections and Recollections, RNS Publications 2015, Univ of Malaya Press, Kuala Lumpur.
Chapter on Malaysia in Lasswell, (Yale) Lerner (MIT) and Montgomery (Harvard) ed: Values and Development : Appraising Asian Experience (MIT Press, Camb, Mass USA.)

Contact: Trilogic Sdn Bhd, A 2-2, Mt Kiara Aman, Jalan Kiara 2, Mt Kiara, 50480, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. blog:
T: 603-6201 0020/50 SMS Wapp texts 6012-2131 630

Blurbs and Reviews

Iris Murdoch and Literature Prof. John Bayley, Balliol College, Oxford Univ. as judges for the Oxford Univ. Short Story Competition, asked The Observer to publish Birthday, already published in ISIS, Oxford University. ‘M. Shan, Balliol, second prize-winner with its domestic ethos is, above all, unpretentious and warm. The sure sense of dialogue and timing is allied with a certain originality and the judges considered the whole as very charming (and without meaning that it was slight).’

Peter Carey, twice winner of the Booker Prize and Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, in his My Life As A Fake acknowledged ‘Malaysian writer, Dr. M. SHANmughalingam, not only offered advice and friendship but also allowed me to read his work, which proved invaluable to my understanding of the Tamils...’ and wrote that he ‘hugely enjoyed Victoria and Her Kimono and the humour in Shan’s other stories.’

“Marriage and Mutton Curry is a remarkable debut short story collection, introducing a fresh, original, satirical eye cast upon a minor ethnic tribe, the Jaffna Tamils, in a multiracial nation of multiplicities of ethnic tribes. The stories are compressed, their humor lightly deadly, and I welcome and celebrate the collection’s recovery of this almost lost tribe for Malaysian literature.”
Shirley Geok-lin Lim, author of Among the White Moon Faces, American Book Award winner, and recipient of the Commonwealth Poetry Prize.

“The stories in this collection are examples of Shan’s special gift of irreverent, insouciant, puckish, trenchant humour he brings so unerringly to aspects of his culture and his years in the civil service. They are such exhilarating social comedy and satire. His distinguishing style as a writer – the vibrancy, wit, irreverence and playful use of language especially of his portrayal of those irrepressible Jaffna Tamil dowagers. He is a very keen observer of human foibles.”
Catherine Lim, author of five novels, ten short story collections and recipient of the S.E.A. Write Award.

Shan's stories are wickedly very funny in particular, the stories about the Kandiah family, of Ceylon (somehow Ceylon seems more appropriate than Sri Lanka) Tamils. He observes them with a tolerant, forgiving eye, aware of their all too human foibles. The details of this diasporic community transplanted to Malaya, later Malaysia, are meticulously remembered and suffused with loving nostalgia.
Robert Yeo Singaporean author, of poems, plays and a memoir.

“Similar to the Faulkner’s region-specific Yoknapatawpha County or Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age New York, Shan has set his collection of 15 stories within the Tamil community of Malaysia. The early "Victoria’s Kimono," set during the Japanese Occupation, and the more contemporary "Rani Taxis Away" are both prize winners. In the middle of the collection are the pair of stories about two sisters married to the same man, probably the most accomplished and affecting. Shan can’t resist a pun-studded repartee or a mouth-watering description of food, perhaps the two most endearing traits of his world. The characters and situations in many of his stories, especially those featuring Mrs. Kandiah, deserve to be dramatized on stage. The Tamil community and their concerns that Shan describes may have given way to modernity, but is kept alive in these stories.”
Ronald D. Klein, Prof., Graduate School, Hiroshima Jogakuin Univ. Interlogue: Studies in Singapore Literature; Vol 4: Interviews, Interlogue: Studies in Singapore Literature; Vol 8: Interviews II The Other Empire: Images of Japan in Singapore, Malaysian and Philippine Literature.

I greatly enjoyed Shan’s short stories. They are well written. Younger people don't like length so short stories might appeal well to them. I am now re-reading one of my favourite writers, Shiva Naipaul's Fireflies which I liked a lot. Honestly, Shan’s short stories are more enjoyable and charming, sharper too. His Jaffna Tamil tales make an interesting insight into the Jaffna community. His heavier, darker Flowers for KK and the Indra Quartet, the institutional stories (school and government) have their own charm. I like his empathy and kind portrayals but I also liked the darker tale of two sisters and the twins: parts I found riveting. Shan’s fiction evokes the times, often much more so than many social or political histories e.g. Hilary Mantel.
Hugh Peyman, Founder of Research-Works and author of the forthcoming China's Change: The Greatest Show on Earth (World Scientific Publishing 2018).

“In the Malaysian Short Fiction scenario, M. SHANmughalingam is probably the most prolific and consistent writer today. His tales range from reinterpreting the myths and legends to exploiting the rich alluvial of cultural matrix. In this collection, he experiments with the English language as it is wielded by the Malayan Jaffna Tamil community of Malaysia. The stories display the writer’s sardonic wit, a native humour, and a critical eye for detail. The characters emerge as intimately as they do in an R.K Narayan story while they profile them with an equal mastery that one finds in Joyce’s short stories. The domestic context which forms a locus of most of his tales provides a rare insight into the shadow world of esoteric aspirations and social constrictions that constantly stymie them. There are stories that afford the reader a peep into the political class as in “Money Man”, where the satirical mode is tinged with an attendant admiration for the astuteness of the political masters of Malaysia. The reality of growing up in hard circumstances as well as the victim syndrome of a postcolonial is related with no rancour in tales like “Rahman’s American Visitor”. “Rani Taxis Away”, introduces the new, coming of age, Malaysian woman, independent and strong of will. The collection traverses a lot of Malaysian history from first generation migrant life through Japanese occupation to the present, allowing the reader a glimpse of Malaysia’s complex history. No Malaysian narrative can be complete without the three major races, the Malay, the Chinese and the Indian being represented. SHANmughalingam’s stories do certainly adhere time and again to that frame. The stories have for theme, deceit, survival, ambition, war, love, friendship, custom and modernity. The collection is engrossing and cannot be put down. It is an invaluable addition to any who is a keen student of Malaysian Literature as well as entertaining for the uninitiated reader who may casually pick up the collection.”
Dr. Ravichandra P Chittampalli (Northrop Frye Fellow) Formerly Professor and Chair Department of Studies in English, University of Mysore, Mysore, India.

“With these stories, Shan recalls the war time era of transition and upheaval in Malaya as it affected the country’s different ethnic communities. They remind us that cultural identity is both an asset and a refuge during hard times.”
Michael Vatikiotis, Regional Director, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Singapore.

M. SHANmughalingam's "Victoria and her Kimono" reflect on the Japanese occupation, which left people of the peninsula feeling ambivalent over which was preferable-British colonial rule or Japanese overlordship. "I not only think English, I even see English," muses the Tamil schoolteacher in "Victoria and her Kimono." Yet, he is saved from execution at the hands of the Japanese army by his wife, speaking Japanese and wearing a kimono. Her only perception of English was of a language spoken badly by the villains in popular Tamil movies.

“It's been quite a while that I enjoyed humour in Malaysia stories. But Shan's is a humour that it full of everyday irony, and therefore very humane and down-to-Malaysian-earth. His end-of-story surprises are done with sensitivity and well-hewn skill. He has a sharp eye for the uniqueness of the ways Malaysians express themselves, albeit with all the special mix of English and the many languages spoken here. Then of course the contrast between characteristic ways of the different races. A mixture of ethnic groups, idiosyncratic styles, languages and cultures is a potent potion for fiction, and of course, for life itself. He has helped us look at ourselves more clearly, but without prejudice. The portraits are done through a long period of time. They bring back to a Malaysia at simpler times, and therefore very precious.”
Muhammad Haji Salleh is a poet and National Laureate.

“Dr. Shan writes of the Malaysian Jaffna Tamil community with a light, often humorous touch, deftly capturing the syntax and cadences of his subjects' speech, but this light touch disguises a sharp satirical bent and much trenchant commentary on social and family dynamics.”
Preeta Samarasan’s first novel, Evening Is the Whole Day, won the Hopwood Novel Award. She also won the Asian American Writer’s Workshop Hyphen Magazine Short Story Award.

I have much enjoyed Dr M Shan’s short and carefully observed stories of Malaysian life. I hope our paths may cross again somewhere in the future.
Sir Drummond Bone, Master Balliol College, Oxford.

“Shan’s beautifully crafted story, Victoria and Her Kimono, might serve as an example of the manner in which the writer chooses to parody both the inherited legacy of colonialism and the dramatic confrontations of this. I enjoyed the humour of Shan’s stories very much and his eye for irony. I think his short stories work because he is so pithy.”
Dipika Mukherjee’s debut novel, long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize as an unpublished manuscript then published as Thunder Demons (Gyaana, 2011) and Ode to Broken Things (Repeater, 2016). She won the 2016 Virginia Prize for Fiction with her second novel, Shambala Junction.

“Dr SHANmughalingam is one of the finest short-story writers writing in English today. He is in a class of its own, enriching the genre, in fact nourishing it with subtlety and finesse. He writes about common people, those that we can relate to - reverting at times, disturbing in other instances and delightfully optimistic in facing adversities. Many of the fascinating short stories are in fact inspiring ones written with grace and gumption to remind us of human’s grit and tenacity. Dr Shan is a wordsmith extraordinaire, a brilliant story teller and a writer with a Cause. The 15 short stories in this collection manifest the best of Dr Shan. They are gems that demand attention.”
Tan Sri Johan Jaaffar - Journalist, Editor. Writer. Dramatist.

“Yes, Size Does Matter If the great theme of the legacy of British colonialism still dogs all English writing, the colonialism that haunts these stories is that of the more recent Japanese Occupation of World War II. The memory of subjugation and suffering permeates stories such as M. SHANmughalingam’s Victoria And Her Kimono.”
By Buck Song, The Straits Times Saturday, June 22, 2002.

Fixi Novo’s, latest collections ? Heat, Flesh and Trash. In fact, I found it more pensive in parts. One story which caught my attention was “Flowers For KK” by M. SHANmughalingam. Another story told from a woman’s perspective, this time it is Indira who narrates what is basically a character study of her husband, King Kana or KK. KK comes across as one who is not deliberately cruel but cold, clinical. He marries Indira’s sister apparently due to her own infertility. I was especially moved by Indira’s observations of KK’s language and how it twists and turns in accordance with his political posturing.
Malay Mail Online, Opinion Farouk A Peru A look at South-east Asia through three anthologies MAY 06, 2016.

Particularly fun to read was M. SHANmughalingam’s Rani Taxis Away, a charming tale about a young teacher’s first day on the job. Part love story, part coming-of-age tale, SHANmughalingam’s story shone due to its humour and engaging characters: I think all of us have met an interfering busybody like its Mrs. Kandiah at some point in our lives!
Readings from Readings 2 Stories from the heart Sunday STAR 2 14 April 2013 Terence Toh.

Penguin India's 'The Merlion and the Hibiscus' opens a window on World War II and the Japanese occupation in M SHANmugalingam's 'Victoria and Her Kimono'. M SHANmugalingam's Victoria and Her Kimono is a parody of colonial hangover as well as a critique of Japanese occupation. SHANmugalingam vividly portrays the occupation days when listening to the BBC or the failure to bow low at the Japanese sentry points would lead to extreme penalties.
The Statesman Sunday, April 21,2002. Exploring Multiculturalism By Sayantan Dasgupta

"Victoria and Her Kimono" by M. SHANmughalingam is a touching story which narrates the calculated risk that Vickneswari takes to save her ideal teacher husband Ramanan from Japanese soldiers.
The Hindu Sunday, Jun 02, 2002 Stories of the Soil. By K. Kunhikrishnan

Fine Cuts from three Generations/This anthology, The Merlion & the Hibiscus, The writers deal with a myriad of subjects from colonialism (M SHANmughalingam’s Victoria and her Kimono which struck a much welcome humorous note in the anthology) and the Japanese Occupation New Straits Times Wednesday, July 10, 2002 By Rahel Joseph

A Subtle Degree of Restraint and Other Stories. Kuala Lumpur: MPH Publishing Group, 2011. 138 pp. ISBN 978-967-5997-81-5. Another is an Indian man, who speaks a variety of languages including Japanese, but is often mistaken for a Caucasian. ASIATIC, VOLUME 6, NUMBER 2, DECEMBER 2012 Karina Bahrin et al.

Literary Melting Pot Silverfish New Writing 2 serves up a mouthwatering selection of stories, setting and styles. Among this reviewer’s personal favourites: M SHANmughalingam’s Mother’s Joy about a mother singing her son’s praises came with unexpected twist at the end. : Cheryl Lim,28-11-2002

Dr Shan's web site

Dr Shan's blog


"I'm going to have a baby," Mrs Santha Ganapragasm confided to her husband.

"Afterwards, afterwards, let me finish hearing the commentary, lah. West Indies are four wickets down already," the Lord and Master of the house ordered absentmindedly; "Vie can't you wait for a little while, ah?"

Just then someone began to chant about some free gift offer or perhaps it was a pop song, Santha was not sure. Anyway she retreated to her housework. She would wait till the West Indies lost all their wickets.

Settling among her plates, her pots and her pans Mrs. Ganapragasm attempted to hum a Hindi tune to herself. She was much too happy to let Ganam or his cricketing Gods upset her.

I hope she's going to be a girl. She will stay at home with me all the time instead of roaming about like all these boys in neighbourhood. A little more chilli powder for the fish curry. Girls are reliable. They listen to their parents but not boys. You feed them, bring them up, and educate them. Once they start working they scoot off with some Chinese or Eurasian woman. How very treacherous of them. I think I'll call my little girl Nithi. She will have long wavy hair like her grandmother. And she will play the violin. Mm, the brinjals are cooked. It's almost eight-thirty and Ganam will be roaring for his dinner. I think I'll tell him about our little girl during dinner.

"I say I'm getting gastritis," Ganam announced. "Vat, vat, curries have you made? You have been in the kitchen since I came from the office."

Now it was the missus' turn to ignore him in this duet of monologues. She laid the table while Ganam measured the floor with his feet, chewing on his cheroot.

The first item on the menu was white rice stripped of all its vitamins (and consequently more expensive). There were also mashed brinjals and lady's fingers. Ganam had eyes only for the fish curry. Reaching out for his regular dose of sour milk Ganam launched himself onto the food.

While Ganam's fingers wallowed into his plate Santha decided to repeat her secret. Ladies secrets like murder will out.

"You know what Ganam I'm going to have a b-baby."

"Vat - a baby! Very good idea Santha." As if Santha had just decided to have one and he was in favour too. Slowly the words seeped into his skull. "I say, vie vie didn't you tell me as soon as I cam home, ah! You mustn't keep things to yourself like this you know."

Santha smiled to herself. Ganam was not so bad without his cricket, his politics or his newspapers. Not oozing with gallantry but nevertheless very attentive .............

"Can I have the day off Inche?" Ganapragasm asked his boss. "My oif is delivering her baby today."

"Sure," Inche Nik grinned. "I hope you get a boy. But girl also not so bad. We need someone to look after us when we retire."

By the time Ganam reached the hospital he could see the rest of his troupe performing a war dance with their jaws. Towering above the crowd, totem-like but gesticulating and interrupting everyone else was his father-in-law, Arumugam.

"That fellow is just coming, lah. Oi, thambi, hurry up!"

Ganam responded to the call of the old buffalo immersing himself among Mr. Arumugam's subjects.

Santha was in the operating theatre.

"It's going to be Caesarian," a nurse hailed Mr. Arumugam. "But not to worry."

"Macduff was born that way," ejaculated Arul.

"Nor!" corrected his father "It was Alexander the Great".

"I'm sure it'll be a boy!" Mr. Arumugam dispensed with all controversy. "He will grow up to be a doctor or an engineer."

"He must get at least a B.Sc." pronounced Mrs. Muthuthambi. "My daughter is very stubborn. Insisted on doing Arts. Her father is very disappointed with her. What to do. Our children think they know better than us."

"For a boy to do Arts is a complete an utter waste of time. Don't you think, Master?" quizzed Mrs. Arasu.

"You're completely right," nodded the local Mathematics master. "Arts is for all those morons who cannot understand Science.

Ganam wished they would stop jabbering but he knew better than to say that. Santha had been feeling a little weak for the past few days but of course the obstetrician knew best. If he thought Santha could take it that was all there was to it. As long as Santha was alright and the child was healthy he did not give a damn if it was a boy or a girl.

"It's a boy!" trumpeted Mr Arumugam.

"A boy, boy," chorused the rest. "Mrs. Pragasm is feeling fine," whispered a nurse giving Ganam a broad grin. Santha and the baby were alright. Was he relieved!

"His nose is just like his mother's," said one.

"He has got his grandmother's eye alright," whispered another.

"He's even fairer than my daughter," admitted Mrs Sinnappu.

"Thirty years I've been in Government Service and this is the healthiest baby I've seen," came Mr. Arumugam's verdict. You would have thought he was some Government midwife or other.

"You see his eyes ... his nose, mouth, his whole face is exactly like his mother's; boys tend to take after the mother. I read this in a magazine the other day in the U.S.I.S. Library. I read a lot you know" gloated Sinniah, anxious to show he was too good for his Division 3 post in the government. At a tea party for Muthurajah's daughter's wedding Sinniah had reported that the other office fellows were boot licking his boss but he was going to be promoted on merit alone.

Mr. Arumugam felt compelled to let his fans hear his voice again.

"I tell you my grandson will not only be a doctor, he'll be a specialist. One look at his face and I know. Just like my daughter, Santha, very clever this boy, ah? I think he should be a heart specialist. My oif has been suffering from heart trouble since the Japanese occupation. I would have taken up medicine but my father couldn't afford to send me to college."

"The bugger failed his Standard Eight, lah. Who's he trying to bluff?" whispered little Arul to his cheap matinee companion Retnam.

"I expected Santha to get a baby boy. She's such a nice homely girl. She really deserves a son," said one. Obviously those with daughters were either not nice or not homely, reflected Ganam. He remembered Santha wishing she could have a girl. She would learn to play the violin. They would both go to hear her play at concerts and perhaps over Radio Malaysia too. They would both sit at the front row as they did at the cinema with their eyes riveted to the violin.

Mrs. Sinnadurai was extolling the virtues of women who produced sons. In her past life Mrs. Ganam must have been priest or very religious person. The baby was the exact duplicate of Mrs. Ganam. Anyone who had seen Mrs. Ganam need not even see the baby.

Poor Ganam. Nobody bothered about a mere postal clerk. Mr. and Mrs. Arumugam had donated their daughter to him because he did not smoke or drink. Why, he did not even play cards. They had many daughters and postal clerks were not supposed to request much in the form of dowry anyway.

"Can I see you a minute Mr., Kana …Kanapra"


"Well can I have a word with you," inquired the Sister on duty.


"I'm afraid there's been a terrible mistake. I'm really sorry."

"What do you mean?"

"We've got mixed up with the babies. Your baby is in Cot No. 13. Can you see a little girl in the pink cot. That's your baby."

The silence was sudden.

From a Lighthouse

(for E.T.H.)

I'm a lighthouse
A lighthouse that's

I'm a dark house
A was, a has been, an also

I'm a heavy house
Broad crow feet roots and thin

I'm a louse house
A sorry, excuse me, I beg your pardon

I'm a jilt edged security house
An unsociable, stubborn, stay put

I'm a no house
No place in the sea house


(Winner of the 1978 Gertrude Hartley Poetry Prize)


Civil Scream

I am directed to
I am directed from
Am directed herein
Am directed therein

I remain your obedient servant
Your obedient servus
Servant, server of time

$000 plus Cola plus housing allowance.
Plus Seniority allowance
Plus Mediocrity allowance
Allowance, allowance, allowance!

Timescale, Superscale
Hail, Hail, Hail
Not with a bang but with a Yes Sir.

Auntie Climax

Distant glances hint
Of cramped pages in my diary
Casual winks glint
With unscheduled toasts in a hurry

Rendezvous by lottery
Only the exits are rigged
Portrait pose but eyes jittery
Excuse to stay each one out fibbed

Mutual friend breaks thro'
'I can see you haven't met
Come and say hello to
Missus. . .'

Weak smile of defeat
Weak end of moral inhibitions and heat.

Understanding Us

The strumpet sidles by
I'm so innocent, so pure
I'm brand new

We confess
This is all Sanskrit to us
But we understand

The strumpet sidles by
He's so innocent, so pure
He's brand new

We confess
We've heard it all before
And we all understand

The strumpet sidles by
Unruffled by yesterdays'
Eternal loves

We confess
We merely want our money back
Do try and understand

At Home from Abroad

The Asian who could not care
Is referring
To his unsophisticated cousin
Who's neither been abroad
Nor felt at home
In a lounge suit.

He can tell you the British
Election results county by county
But you'll have to tell him
That Bangkok is in Thailand and that
Algiers is nearer to us than
The Big Ben.

The pure pale wife, the nasal accent, and
The Course in Interior Decoration are designed for
Exterior Display
The loud reminiscence of
Santa Claus in the snow is more than a
Seasonal Greeting in the tropics.

And so from Western rags to
Accidental riches
From richly earned native naïveté
To accidental success
Of the have beens
(to England and the States)

The foreign expert who echoes
What the natives have been chanting
For years only to see it
Eagerly accepted and
Faithfully implemented by the Natives.

And so we gather round
Hearing speeches by
Clowns with woollen mufflers and dark glasses
(Ninety degrees in the shade)
About Australians who should know better
Than to consider themselves Europeans in Asia.


A fractured kitten
Into my world


A hideous inflated cat
Sneaked out of my cage



As when you stick on a stale shirt
After a bath
Or renew a library book
You meet at the same party
Each time
The hellos and the
Backslapping and
The stabbing
You think you want to yell
But you've only just been


Smiles unpaid for
Not as in the adverts
Wholesome greetings
Midst the emptiness of Ramadan

The breeze giggles through nets
Relaxing on the laurels of the last catch
The China Sea regularly spurned
Lashes back at the frigid beach

Naïve mermen spawn
Children and poverty
On the periphery of octopus middlemen
Are Malthus and Cooperatives two kinds of fish?

No diesel engine, nylon nets
No cancer, gastric ulcer
No overdrafts for Savings Bank accounts
No telephone. Sometimes we see a postman
Parcel civilisation to Beserah
By express post or cable
Exile delinquent teachers and push
Western leftovers East

Little shrimp on the Malayan coast
In the capital they have a whale of a time
But we grow up in time for the elections
Then deep freeze while ballot boxes rust

Turtles laying eggs, a rare sight
Air conditioned hotels, Yankee Go East
Beach of Passionate Love. The kids ask
Do people live there too?

Shall we, lazy natives barter
Our fishes for fish tails on Cadillacs
Or hang on unenlightened, untutored, unburdened
To our Nirvana

What price your brand of progress?

Jasmine Seller by the Sungei Gombak

(Penjual Bunga Melor di Tepi Sungai Gombak)

Where the Sungei Gombak
Had arranged to meet The Sungei Klang
To exchange
Effluent before the Affluent
New pollutants from representatives
Of all the communities
And old-fashioned mud
Many came to trade and
Some to pray or to stare

Beside the Stock Exchange
The Commodity Exchange, the Rubber Exchange
The Money Exchange and the Maya Exchange
Peri amma conducted her
Flower Exchange
At the Maya Exchange there were
New Maya for old two Maya for one
My mirage is better than your illusion,
Stocks are held up never shared
Prepare to meet thy Broker.

The Flower Exchange bent its stalks to none
The time it took the Earth
To rotate itself or to circle the sun
These gyrations are gymnastic joys
Not maturity periods for loans
Or fixed leases on lives
Her jasmines were age blind
Old was young and young was old
They mended tired souls born again in young bodies
Fresh souls caught in worn skins

This was no fadist
Flower power turned sour
Or gone to pot
Nor retired spirit in force faded jeans
Flowers without formula neither plastic nor paper
Was this a new cry from the East and the South
An encounter of the Third World Kind
A rejuvenation of timeless philosophies and faiths
Or just Mother Earth shaking her head and flexing her heart

Seller at Money River Plaza

(Penjual di Plaza Sungai Wang)

Anything you wan
We sell
You dowan
Also can
We sell some more
Better still!
What for
You dowan?
So stupid one
Let other
People buy
Your simply bring
Your Money
Take home back
Your money
Waste time
Simply stare stare
How many window
Window you can buy
Like that
Next time
Better don come!

Pertemuan Rohani

Seorang Malaysia bertemu roh
Meminta 3 cita

Cita tak boleh
Aku bukan pari-pari
3 soalan boleh

Soalan Soalan-nya
Kau kaum apa
Kau makan apa
Bagi nombor 4 ekor

Spiritual Encounter

A Malaysian meets a ghost
Asks for 3 wishes
No wishes I am not a fairy
Only 3 questions

The questions
What race are you
What food you eat
What number for 4 digit

29 July 1992
Kuala Lumpur

People Just Like Us

One view in the West
In Africa tribesmen
Slaughter indiscriminately
But in Eastern Europe
There is a tragedy involving
People just like us

In Asia napalm or
The atomic bomb were
Alright for Asians
But atrocities anywhere are
A threat to mankind everywhere
All are people. Just like us.

Orang Macam Kita

Satu pandangan dari Barat
Di Afrika orang liar
Membunuh melulu
Tapi di Eropah Timur
Tragedi melibatkan
Orang macam kita

Di Asia napalm
Atau Bom atom
Untuk orang Asia ta apa
Namun keganasan di mana mana
Mengancam manusia merata rata
Semua-nya orang. Macam kita.

Spring in London:

Sparrow, Squirrel and Malaysian


Welcoming spring and man
In that order into Russel Square
Cleaning out our paper plate of
Baked beans and tomato sauce
Immersing itself for a spring
Bath in man's muddy puddle


Squatting without license
Close to the bench we were
Sitting on in Hyde Park
Dining on his meal while
We were eating ours
His also carried out
From the same establishment chain
As our pancakes - his
French fries from McDonalds
Sparrow, squirrel and Malaysians
Dining together in the Park

May 4, 1995

At Cherating

Three fourths of the earth
Is water
Yet the inhabitants of
Part of the balance
Control all
Eat the fish
Drink the water
Pollute the beaches
After a long journey
From the city
To the clear
Gentle sand
Of a secluded beach
Wind in your beard
Twilight on the horizon
Paradise on earth
Is not a dream

Sat 27 May '95
Cherating, Pahang

Digital Century

We saw watches go digital
What if clocks went ditto
The Big Ben silenced into digital
Look no hands! Feet of clay?
Would church bells follow suit
Ambulances trail fire engines to
Join this new conspiracy of silence
Ask not for whom the bell tolls
For it will not. Will man follow too
Surrender bells, hands, feet
As the Century turns, to be a digit
Himself, without limbs, without sound
Without chime, without rhyme
A silent digit marking time marching
Into the distant digital day

May 3, 1995

Heir Conditioning

Grand dad did you breathe
Before air cons were invented
Wasn't it hard staying
Alive without modern inventions
Gandma weren't you flustered
As you fluttered with paper fans
Could you communicate before
Faxes and long distance calls
Became basic necessities?
Grand child we lived
Before your age because
Of our ignorance,
We did not know
Pollution, stress, traffic jams
Destruction of forests, streams and hills
We feared God and nature
Now nature fears you and
Money is your new God

May 4, 1995


Several millions
Trooped out to
Celebrate VE for
Victory in Europe Day
From the expanse of Hyde Park
All the way to
Their TV sets
With several hours
Of nostalgic sounds and
Heads of State in hordes.

A few hundred mere
Heads huddled together
Standing in total silence
For one full hour
In little Tavistock Square
To commemorate all those
Men and women who have
Established and are maintaining
The right to refuse to kill
Their PE for Peace on Earth Day

Two world wars
Holocausts and Hiroshima
Solved little for so high a price
The time is overdue for
An international treaty for
The proliferation of
Conscientious objectors to
Military disservice and
Volunteers for peace service
For the future of our earth

May 7, 1995
Tavistock Square, London

High Rise (for Nirm)

In the capitals
Of the old industrial world
Natural parks and gardens
Breathe fresh air into
The lungs of their cities
Our developing villages know
Growth into tall towns and
Even higher cities only by
Shrinking our gardens and
Jungles into concrete. Our
Angsana to highways, high
Rises and high hopes
Can we develop so that
More means better instead of worse
In quality and equality of life?

May 5, 1995

Art Historian

Walking on a spring late evening
Through the parks and gardens
Past the British Museum and the
University to a vegetarian restaurant
Surrounded by art and classical music
Owned and run by a poet
Arguing the pros and cons of
The pragmatism of the East Asian
The idealism of the South Asian
Argument for the sake of argument
Democracy before development
Sensitive, gentle and erudite
Several research and conference
Papers no time for the cinema
Makes time for a committed
Artist and even a dilettante poet
Then fades gently into the spring night

May 5, 1995

Seat of Self Learning

Sitting in the park
On a wooden bench
Seat of self learning
Introspection, reflection

Kinships uncomplicated
With birds
Leaves, petals
Blades of grass
Statues for peace

Where have I been
All these decades
Scheduled, treadmilled
Programmed preoccupied

Time only for
Priorities, major
Corporate objectives
Key Targets

More and more
Of what?
No time to stare
At my inner self

May 6, 1993

For more worse or both better?

"Mrs Kandiah who
More worse ah
Your husbuurn
Or my one?"

"Puan Salmah both
Also betterr
Without their
Backside behind

Us how we
Can grumble
Everyday in
The market?"

"Complain, complain
What for
Mrs Kandiah?
One day

They divorce
Us only.
Some more"

"You ah must
Be a good
Cooker. Simply
Cook extra

Hot hot
Curry. Then sure
They raash
Back home"


Kandiah was one in a million. Certainly at least one in a thousand, if one wanted to be fastidious about decimal places. His father had bestowed on him the same name that a few hundred other sires had granted their offspring.

This proliferation of Kandiahs (and) Kandayahs, Kandasamys (and) Kanagalingams, Kanagaratnams, Kanagasabais and Kanagupeiars was to become the source of much creative activity in the community. You could not go beyond uttering any one of these names, let alone complete a sentence about him, without half a dozen members of the community pouncing on you with 'Which Kandiah?' or 'Whose Kanagaratnam? Sinnappu's son? Pariappu's nephew or Sinappah's drunken son-in-law?'

If your listener wanted to be helpful, which temptation was rarely resisted, he would volunteer with 'You mean Railways Kandiah,' or 'You must be meaning PWD Kandiah' if the said gentlemen had retired, or 'JKR Kandiah' if he was still active as a builder of roads, the last word on the maintenance of government quarters or the first word on his chief clerk's lips.

Such voluntary assistance in identifying the right Kandiah was always inadequate. There was more than one JKR Kandiah and half a dozen PWD Kandiahs on the loose.

Since they were mere civilians, rank and serial numbers were out of the question. People carried their identity cards with them but it was enough trouble remembering their own. So 'You mean Kandiah IC No. 3318840, Kandiah IC No. 8813340 or the Kandiah 4418830?' would be most unhelpful.

Since they were not accustomed to retaining surnames together with their given names, 'You mean Kandiah Bottomley or Kandiah Topmann,' would not have been of much help either. There were no surnames to live up to or to live down. The historian's alternative of 'It was Kandiah the Eighth who had only one wife all his life, Kandiah the Ninth who had none or Kandiah the Fifth who had never led his country into battle' was not available either.

There were just too many Houses of Kandiah. The geographer's alternative of 'You mean Kandiah of the Valley?' or 'You must be meaning Riverside Kandiah,' was not closer to a solution. Most of the Kandiahs were found huddled in towns. They could not be distinguished by contours or compasses.

The educationist's approach epitomised by the headmaster's query 'Kandiah from Form Five A or the Kandiah from Form Five D class' did not advance the subject any further. There were as many in the D now as there had been in the A class then.

The first edition Kandiahs were unanimous in their reception of the reprints.

'They are all like Mr Xerox. They never do anything original,' complained one.

'Every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to call himself Kandiah,' chorused another.

'Surely our people can tell the difference between the real McCoy Kandiahs and the roadside ones,' said a third.

'Which stupid fool cannot tell the difference between a King Kandiah and the garden variety,' asked another Kandiah who claimed to have suffocated a python or two in his youth.

'How can you compare an original Mona Lisa with a small, postcard Mona Lisa sold on the roadside,' snorted another pioneering Kandiah whose acquaintance with art was at an even more pioneering stage. The only artists he had been introduced to by his British expatriate teacher were Constable and Turner. He could not say for certain which one of his 'dynamic duo' was responsible for the Mona Lisa.

'You mean an original Made in England Kandiah should stay in the same room as a local product?' As rooms now were only a fraction out of those in the old PWD government quarters the indignities were enhanced.

'If the Americans and the Russians can have a treaty for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons why can't we have one for the non-proliferation of Kandiahs,' queried one of the community's many international affairs specialists. 'How can we rely on these small boys to handle such a highly sophisticated name without getting into trouble?'

'A law should be passed to say that anyone who was named Kandiah after the War should be renamed by any lesser name.' From which Kandiah the controversy extended to which War and even which point of the said War. No sooner had the Kandiahs drawn the line for their war babies born at the end of the Second World War leaving the Korean boom offspring out, when another cluster of Kandiahs blanked out any heirs born after Pearl Harbour.

'These journalist Kandiahs think only of today. My son was born before the Japanese even heard of Pearl Harbour, jewel harbour or any other harbour. Any Kandiah born after World War I should be banished from this country to make his name elsewhere - not just rest on my father's laurels.'

Prof Kandiah did his usual erudite summing up, 'This whole mess comes from too much freedom. How else can you explain this free for all, this chaos where the riff raff can grab names from our illustrious families - and in broad daylight too. There is nothing a man can call his own. Not even the name his own father gave him. If a thief picks your pocket he can be arrested. If he counterfeits money he can be jailed. If he sells imitation goods his shop gets raided. The state and the law are extremely good at catching small boys and giving out parking tickets. But anyone is free to plunder, murder and rape our names. What we need is a central planning commission for the naming of names. That may be radical for our Parkinson's Law committees who specialise in trivia like GNP, GDP and Gee, Gee, Gee. At least a Registrar of Individual Names is an absolute necessity. Imagine the chaos to our free enterprise system if every corner shop called itself General Motors and any scoundrel could set up a bank and name it the Bank of England.'

'Vat is all this vailing about, ah? Imitation is the highest form of flattery. The more Kandiahs there are the greater the tribute to the original Kandiah. Can a roadside artist sell as many reprints as Picasso? The more the merrier. Some of my Chinese friends kill themselves and their wives in the process to make sure they produce a son to carry on the family surname. We are getting Kandiahs not just at cheap sale prices but for free. And not just while stocks last but in perpetuity. Kandiahs of the world go forth and multiply. Don't be divided by doubt and dissension. As in the insurance business your target for this month should be a million. Surely we can do better than the humble rabbit with just his carrots.'

'Very clever my mass-produced Kandiahs. And how do we tell between Kandiah the distinguished and Kandiah the dumb? Which is the Hamlet and which is the drainsweeper of Denmark?'

The community descended into darkness. Did Kandiah x equal Kandiah y? Wasn't Kandiah p worth at least 2 Kandiah qs?

From this pitch of night a light flickered. A seventy year old Kandiah had stumbled on a means of distinguishing between himself and another Kandiah in the same queue to collect their monthly pension at the local post office. He had discovered a means of splitting all the Siamese twins in their community.

'It is the greatest thing since the splitting of the atom. No, no, none of this false modesty. I have never been one for any kind of falsehood. It is even greater than the splitting of the atom or Alexander the Great's cutting of the Gordian Knot. Our community shall be free. Free of confusion, chaos and calamity. Did you notice, the other Kandiah keeps hunching all the time, his eyes always drooping in the direction of his stomach? Eureka Kandiah, the answer to our dilemma, our Quo Vadis is before our very eyes. The nickname.

'Hereafter that Kandiah queueing in front of me shall be Vaithu Vali Kandiah - Stomach Ache Kandiah.'

A thousand flowers bloomed. And this time the decimal was slightly nearer the right place.

From apparent ailments the nicknames spread to portions of the anatomy. There was Kundi Kandiah or Backside Kandiah who was the butt of misleading jokes which suggested that he was a buttocks pincher or a queer. At the bottom of it all was a more innocent basis. This Kandiah used to amble like a matron. In the process he gave no little prominence to his posterior.

The sobriquets were hardly confined to ailments and postures.

There was Kandiah who gave lifts in his jalopy. That would be putting it mildly. He would not merely offer a lift but insist on one. Not just to friends or mere acquaintances but to just any passerby. There were no complaints about his driving or the nature of the conversation he struck with his passengers. His nickname arose from what he was in the habit of doing when his grateful and innocent passenger was about to alight from his vehicle. This Kandiah would clear his throat and announce the fare that he expected.

That was Taxi Kandiah. A Kandiah whose transport perspective was slightly different was in the habit of loitering at bus stops. The furthest thing from his mind, however, was a bus. He lay there in ambush for any slight acquaintance whose car had to slow down at bus stops since there were few separate lanes for buses. On the surface of it he would be a ripe candidate for the title of Bus Stop Kandiah. But that was not to be. His cutting down on or rather eliminating bus fares from his budget was merely the last lap before he stepped out from the shadow of the bus stop to acquire his very own car. The number of streets with separate bus lanes and bus stops began to increase.

Own-car Kandiah never looked back. He merely turned down numerous offers of lifts from his old acquaintances and his new ones with a 'No thamby. I've got my own car.'

A variation on this game of musical cars was played by another Kandiah. His affliction was that he owned one car too many. His flourishing legal practice and his clients' penchant for sending him to exotic places overseas with their files and their money were the road to his troubles. He rode off in a different car each time and was late for his appointments most mornings because after deciding which tie to wear he had little energy left for the crucial decision of which car to take off in.

Multi-Car Kandiah won friends and influenced people neither through a Dale Carnegie course nor through his winning smile. He would make strategic requests for lifts from potential ring leaders of the community who lived to tell their grandchildren, 'With all his limousines, Multi-Car Kandiah still preferred to ride in my car.'

Lest it be concluded that Transport, Cars and Lifts had wiped out women, wine and song from the community we shall turn to other Kandiahs whose travelling habits were nondescript. They were given to joyous singing in all sorts of places including some very unlikely ones. Funerals, for instance. After much wailing, and screaming the womenfolk would allow the bodies of their departed to leave their households with just the men folk to the cemetery for cremation. At those otherwise thoroughly dreary occasions, these Kandiahs would burst into song. As they were religious songs no frivolity was implied. But it did not stand in the way of a veritable talent time as other Kandiahs burst into melody. One Kandiah would organise trips and pinics at seaside resorts for pensioners and widows with one object only in mind - song. More than one nickname was composed from all this music.

There were Paatter Kara Kandiah or Song Man Kandiah, Talent Time Kandiah and just plain M. Kandiah, 'M for Music he would hum,' while M for money was on the minds of most of his fellow men.

That was Kahang-Kothi Kandiah or Crow-Pecked Kandiah.

While five-year plans and family plans were the in thing another Kandiah believed in letting nature take its course. As with the case of inflation, the number of his children had to be expressed in double-digits that would shame some rabbits and many a Roman Catholic. Asian grandmothers and mothers-inlaw are supposed to bask in the glory of the number of grandchildren they possessed. That was not to be for our proliferating Kandiah.

'What is this Kandiah? Like a dog you are!' She would reprimand each time Mrs Kandiah returned with yet another baby Kandiah. Dogs were considered of a lower social order than rabbits. His mother-in-law was therefore more concerned at conveying her low esteem of such behaviour rather than with the accuracy of the analogy from the animal kingdom. The reprimands did not prove adequate. Having breached the two-digit barrier he galloped past family six a side cricket, full soccer and then even rugby teams.

That was 19-children Kandiah. Rumour had it that like the Group of 77 in the UN, the actual number exceeded this particular mile and milestone that hung around his neck.

The energies of the Kandiahs were not all of the 19-children variety. Many of them were noted for their civic consciousness which was expressed in many forms.

One of them spent much of his energies on keeping a particular society alive. This body had an unusual purpose which linked the next world with the present one. It focussed entirely on that point of time when its members departed from their bodies.

Financial aid was available to the widows and orphans of departed members. This was provided within hours of their departure without numerous forms being filled in triplicate, followed by equally numerous reminders sent in duplicates. To take care of the funeral expenses and immediate departures the society collected a very modest sum of one dollar payable every month in cash. IOU'S, credit cards and other forms of non-cash or delayed payments of the monthly subscription were not permitted by a single device.

The most important office-bearer in the society, namely the Treasurer, would turn up without fail every month at the homes of members with even fewer words than President Coolidge could muster. For this very first visit even he had only two words on his lips: 'One dollar?' For all subsequent visits his telegraphic style improved even further with just 'One?'

So mesmerising were these words or rather was this particular word that the benevolent organizations surpassed the record of the World Bank and other financial organizations with Triple A credit ratings. There was not a single delayed payment, let alone a default in the history of the society's existence.

As he rode or rather walked away into the sunset periodically after making the society's payments to the stricken widow many an orphan was heard to ask, 'Who was that unmasked man who just gave us all this money and left without a word before we could thank him?'

Without so much as a 'Hi Yo Silver'or 'Kemo Sabay' from his Tonto? That was the work of Oru-Velli Kandiah i.e. One Dollar Kandiah.

Another of the many civic conscious Kandiahs was able to do more than his quota of one good deed per day without any Gold, Silver or Tonto. The prevailing trend as Art Buchwald caricatured some time ago, was for people not to get involved.

This Kandiah did not merely get involved, he got immersed totally in the favourite American pursuit of happiness and security. The slight variation was that it was not for himself but for others. He was Honorary Secretary of countless associations ranging from his school's Old Boys Association through the Boy Scouts and the Cricket Council to the Spastic Children Association. One of the more than seven parts he played in his lifetime was that of Honorary Secretary of the local housing areas Residents' Association. So vigilant a guardian was he of the security of all households in his flock that they had little need for burglar alarms, security guards or Alsatians. In this capacity his favourite story was that of the Senior Army Officer's house which was broken into in the early hours of the morning while the officer was away. The wife could hear the 'eight footsteps of the four burglars creeping up the staircase.' She screamed for help.

'She could have called for the Police, called out the Army, yelled for Securicor, Safeguards, the Home Guard, her neighbours or just hollered for help to the neighbourhood at large. Instead her first SOS was for Kandiah!' he beamed.

That was Take-Care Kandiah who took care of everyone else before himself.

Lest this turn into a census enumeration of all the Kandiahs - illustrious and otherwise - we shall wind up this tale with just one other Kandiah. He was the one whose creativity went beyond the trivia on birth certificates and passports as he went round giving nicknames to all the other Kandiahs. That was Funny Funny Names Kandiah.

He was the Kandiah who told me this story.

VI The V.I. Web Page

Created on 19 March 2000.
Last update on 14 October 2008.

Ooi Boon Kheng

or Alsatians. In this capacity his favourite story was that of the Senior Army Officer's house which was broken into in the early hours of the morning while the officer was away. The wife could hear the 'eight footsteps of the four burglars creeping up the staircase.' She screamed for help.

'She could have called for the Police, called out the Army, yelled for Securicor, Safeguards, the Home Guard, her neighbours or just hollered for help to the neighbourhood at large. Instead her first SOS was for Kandiah!' he beamed.

That was Take-Care Kandiah who took care of everyone else before himself.

Lest this turn into a census enumeration of all the Kandiahs - illustrious and otherwise - we shall wind up this tale with just one other Kandiah. He was the one whose creativity went beyond the trivia on birth certificates and passports as he went round giving nicknames to all the other Kandiahs. That was Funny Funny Names Kandiah.

He was the Kandiah who told me this story.

VI The V.I. Web Page

Created on 19 March 2000.
Last update on 14 October 2008.

Ooi Boon Kheng