The Victorian 70

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Leong Yoke Keen, 3 East

He smacked his lips. Here was his chance, after half a century of existence in this world. A chance to feel big, to be big. In front of him lay the telephone, ready for him. All he had to do was to operate this simple mechanism, and five thousand dollars would come to him thick and fast. That would only be the first payment. Another five thousand would follow after the job was done. Ten thousand dollars was a lot of money, especially for him. Up till then he had been a petty thief, a 'parasite', sometimes blackmailer, sometimes 'beat-up' man. Now came a chance to be promoted', to be recognised in his world.

But should he do it? This was his first time on such a job, and the first time was almost always a failure. It was not superstition, because he remembered his first time stealing. Should he or shouldn't he? How to do it? A multitude of thoughts whirled around in his mind. He was sure that it was going to be messy. The Big One had said, "Find a way to send this man to heaven or hell, and ten thousand dollars is yours." He remembered it distinctly now. He had been called up to see the Big One. The Big One had spoken, and had given him until midnight to reply. It was nearing the hour now. His tortured mind tried to visualise the crime. It would be done by him, but isn't something dreadfully wrong with it? Criminal….. killing…. hanging, something ghastly, something not to be mentioned with pride, especially when this man had been so familiar to him. He had seen him day in day out, going to work every morning and returning faithfully every evening. This pleasant, seemingly unobtrusive chap was going to be killed by him. Somehow, he could not accept the fact.

"I'm going insane! Should I do it? Is it right? Blood… death…. murder!" He was confused, his mind a tangled web. "Stop it! Yes, yes, I'll do it! To hell with that man! I'm going to get ten thousand dollars. So what if I have to kill him." He had at long last decided.

His hand reached out for the telephone and lifted it firmly.

"Hello? Is he there? Please tell him that I, eh, agree. Yes?… All right."

He noticed that his hand trembled when he put the instrument down. It suddenly occurred to him the question: why had the Big One chosen him? He was only a 'small time' man. Surely the Big One had others? A frame-up? He shuddered at the thought.

He peered out into the night, and saw - his victim returning home, alone. The night was very still, not even the frogs were croaking. Should he kill him now? Why not? A knife was the only weapon he had, he could easily do it. No one was around. He walked casually down the steps, glancing at the teasing shadows on the wall. He met him at the lobby. As he walked past him, he noticed that the man was worried. It showed plainly on his face. As he passed the unsuspecting victim, he turned around and flicked his knife out. He would plunge it in, there, between the shoulder blades. He brought the knife up. Suddenly, the worried face of the man flashed into his mind. The image jolted him. Here was a man, flesh and blood like himself. A man struggling to exist in this pitiless world. He had problems, like himself. Could he really kill him? Even for ten thousand dollars?

Quietly, he pocketed his knife and walked back to his room. He did not notice the shadows anymore, but he did see the smile on the other man's face.

............... joy!

Christie Tan, L6B3

     Out of the deepest
        Down from the highest
           Comes joy;
     In the very prodigy
        Of God's magnanimity
           Lies joy;
     In Bethlehem 'neath starry skies 
        At Calvary 'midst fiery eyes 
           Lives joy;
     The man on the moon
        A child with a tune
           Tastes joy;
     "See me in the highest of spirits
        When with haste the heart beats,"
           Says joy;
     "I know the delight and cheer
        You want forever,"
           Reminds joy;
     In Vietnam the lamenting hearts 
        At Biafra the empty marts 
           Doubts joy;
     "Seek me in the hour of darkness
        Find me in all loneliness,"
           Whispers joy;
     "I count the tears which befall
        When you seem so small,"
           Comforts joy;
     "Take heed and know what I am
        Much more than all my fame,"
           Demands joy;
     "Then take me and let me
        So that all that I am will be!"
           Pleads joy


Manmohan Singh, L6B3

The sounds of the Blue Danube filtered into the cool freshness of the garden. The green garden was enveloped in the black of night. The music crept through the creepy mysterious hedges, lingered on the tall Acacia trees and drifted along the green soft lawn, into the eerie darkness beyond. The stars shone on in soft innocence. Everywhere was peaceful, calm, fresh and cool. The silent harmony of Nature was broken by moving shapes - shapes in every tone of black and grey and of every dimension. Humans gallivanted in gay social hypocrisy. The sounds like the soft murmur of the waves rose and fell with the wind. This was the soprano rising above the deep bass of Nature and the baritone of the Dance Hall. A gay laugh crept along the languid tones and gave a deep impression of vibrancy to the scene.

Everything was harmonious and calm. Yet, the deep, intense, inexhaustible fires of Life was burning in every heart, in every shape that moved across the garden or sought refuge in the dance-hall. There were narrow glinting eyes snuggled in jealous refrain. There were chests full of controlled explosive emotions. Life's interplay had not left a leaf untouched. Life was here and there and everywhere. The pliable veneers of hypocrisy and etiquette gave Life a languid harmonious tone. Yet Life was a volcano waiting to erupt from the inner depths of each heart that beat. The eruption would spew hatred, evil and every kind of vice, like lava. Like larva it would destroy the harmony and contour of Nature. Hence two opposing forces moved with stately refrain, the harmony of Nature and the evil disharmony of Life.

They walked together. They were not conscious of the happening. They were not awed. They did not pay tribute. They just walked, employing their Life force and part of Nature in secluding a minor part of the Universe to themselves. His world was her world. Their human emotions in delightful concourse, their human frailties became tough and brazen and solid. Yet seclusion from the floods of Time and Life is impossible, unnatural. No buffer can withstand the tempo of Life or the decay of Time. It must submit and become a part of Nature again. Yet they walked. Together. The tide was out and their seclusion grew into beauty and bloomed. Scenes changed, Time passed. The moment grew nearer and nearer and nearer. The tide came in, all enveloping. Virtues crumbled, traditions fell like a once green apple now peeling. With it went youth and hope and feeling and love. Life was completing its cycle. Now it is left to Time. Time may linger, may tarry or may rush, swift and soundless like a waterfall. But Time would accomplish its mission. So Life would end and Nature reigns supreme.

The sounds of the Blue Danube filtered into the cool freshness of the garden. The green garden was enveloped in the black of night. The music is still present, the Acacia trees still standing and the stars still there. There is no dent, no impression. It has vanished into Life, Time and is now Nature. Nature is the epithet.


Albert Lim L 6 Bl

They are the immaterial people 
in different shades of unimportance
they come
imposing and obtrusive 
mouthing their clichés
with desultory, half-formed words

They are the immaterial people 
They come by the thousands 
          by the thousands 
teeming all around 
they plague my consciousness 
with high-pitched voices 
calling out empty words 
with hollow meanings

Immaterial people
with immaterial opinions 
and immaterial existences

They are the immaterial people 
And yet,
         I can never be rid
         of this perpetual malaise 
         they infect me with

They are the immaterial people 
like test-tubes 
with broken bottoms 
and their lives like water
running through with glassy indifference

Immaterial people
pursuing mundane activities 
pulsating with endless excitement

They are the immaterial people 
They obey
with fervent enthusiasm 
the commands of immaterial leaders 
and follow the whims 
of fanatic peddlers 
of an old-fashioned morality 
yellow and brittle with age

Immaterial people
who believe they are right 
and who cannot conceive their own morality

Immaterial people
with imaginary values
of honesty, chastity, altruism and love

They are the immaterial people
intoxicated by an apparent reality
adorned with plastic truths
of an unreal worldly nature

Immaterial people
who pursue their elusive goals
punctuated with synthetic meanings

They are the immaterial people
never striving to materialise
never trying to be within a frame
never trying to fix
their ever-distracted senses

Immaterial people
existing within imaginary frontiers
suspended in a void
        within a void
in an unknown time


Albert Lim, L6B1

In the second epistle of the Essay on Man, Alexander Pope wrote (about man)

"He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a god, or beast;"

Man is Confused. Is he a god or a beast? His instincts tell him he is a beast. Much as he wishes to take the easy path by occupying himself only in mundane activities, his intellect acts as a retarding force. His intellect is a third eye looking upwards ambitiously to seek out and isolate the gods. Should man be satisfied with his beastliness and forget the ethereal? How should he resolve the animal and the god in him? How should he deal with these two forces that are tearing him asunder? From Adam on, man has speculated about himself and god. And yet after the thousands of years of rationalising and philosphising, he finds he has not moved an inch.

Today this feeling of insecurity and uncertainty is being felt ever more. Today man's problems may be masked by a number of external manifestations like nuclear warfare and over-population but his feelings of insecurity have not been diminished.

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loose upon the world"
(W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming)

The falcon cannot hear the falconer but neither can it hear anything else.

"The endless cycle of idea and action
Endless invention, endless experiment
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, but ignorance of the word!"

If we equate 'endless experiment' with 'science' and 'stillness' with 'security', we find that T.S. Eliot was very enmeshed in today's problem of insecurity. Science has brought material comfort but once this comfort is enjoyed to the fullest, the mind yearns for 'the word', for 'spiritual enlightenment'. Failing to obtain this, insecurity sets in.

There is no doubt then that man is insecure. In many ways he is insecure - 'in doubt to act, or rest.' Insecure because 'things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.'

Man has survived so long because the instinct of survival helped along by the instinct to reproduce has pushed him on. But all his existence has been one insecure bridge or like a tightrope between animal and god! Man is in this precarious position not daring to push too far forward or with too great a speed lest he should lose his balance.

We will now examine three possessions of man which are supposed to give man a sense of security, a stable footing where he can rest and dry the sweat of the rat race from his brow - knowledge, material comfort, religion.

Is the knowledge accumulated by man over the thousands of years helpful in stabilising man's position? Has all the opening of new vistas of knowledge given man 'the word'? Is he able to resolve all the confusion in him? Can he obtain an answer to all this meaninglessness and purposelessness which tends to make him feel insecure?

"All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance bring us nearer to death,
But nearness to death, no nearer to God,
Where is the life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.
(T.S. Eliot, From the Rock)

Galileo, Copernicus and other modern physical scientists have established two frightening and startling facts - one, the earth has been shown to be an infinitely small mass when compared to the heavens. The Solar System, in which the earth occupies an almost negligible volume, is one of the thousands of systems which make up the Milky Way. How infinitely small and unimportant we are! How our earthy problems fade to pale nothingness when compared to this vast outer space!

The second fact brought out by physical science is that all existence is matter and energy and the interconversion of these two. Where then can we find the meaning of life? Man feels insecure because he finds how unimportant and meaningless his existence is. He is swallowed up in an infinity of space and time. He then tries to assert himself. He fails and he feels insecure. Darwin has shown that man can be listed on top of the evolutionary scale at the bottom of which are listed tiny microrganisms. Freud has shown that man is motivated by very base instincts like sex in most of his actions. Are we then to conclude that man is no better than animals? That he is motivated to action by the same two instincts that motivate animals - sex and survival?

Knowledge has not brought man security. It has not given man the answer. Knowledge has only created more intellectual problems for man. It has only given man more conflicts to wrestle with. All our knowledge has brought us 'farther from God and nearer to the Dust!'

If knowledge is not the answer, is material comfort the solution to man's problem of insecurity? The materialist maintains that, given the necessary comforts in life, the average layman has no time to speculate about God and the metaphysical. I disagree. Even the most unintellectual of man, whose brain is not physiologically damaged, faces the problem of existence. It is only in degree that the man with a 'plastic bag' mentality differs from the philosopher. One speculates about existence, finds no answer, gives up and plunges himself into worldly activities. The other speculates, rationalises and never gives up (not in the conventional sense).

If material comfort is the answer, why then do the teeming masses fall behind the many organised religions of the world? Why then do the rich, who are materially accomplished, even bother with religion? Yet the synagogues and churches around the world are filled every week with people from both ends on the material scale. Because such people need a feeling of security. Is it then so easily obtained? No. The religion embraced by the man-on-the-street gives him a sense of security that numbs his brain, just like an opiate which provides a temporary state of euphoria. His sense of security is false and fortified by taboos and misconceptions. His happiness is not bought through sweat - it is bought by a simple answer of 'Yes' with no deep profound thought. "But isn't this sense of security, even if false, the answer?" persists the materialist. I would answer this question with another question. Isn't the answer provided by an opiate the Answer?

"Religion is the opium of the masses," Marx once wrote and how right he was. It would have been clearer if he had added the words "organised and traditional" to the word religion in his statement.

Are we then to conclude that insecurity and uncertainty are two aspects of man which will plague him to his doom? I believe that answer can be found. The need for security is there because the need for a spiritual answer that transcends man is necessary. A close and deep study of comparative religion may provide the answer. It must not be studied from an intellectual viewpoint. The conscientious worker must immerse himself totally in his work both emotionally and spiritually.

"It is the natural state of the soul
to remain at rest (security) not to be
restless and everseeking (insecurity)."
- Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

a malaysian fantasy

Wong Swee Min, L6A2.

       o my god!
       he fell down the stairs, 
       lying there.
       Neck! where are you? 
       his body asks.

                In half a dozen singular pieces 
                All broken up.

       a broken frame of a man 
       sprawls on the ground, 
       scattered in groups of 4. 
       hands and neck together 
       bound, has run away 
       with the sea.

                Finding it rather hard to breathe 
                With no support to help him by.

       his mother laughs,
       his father too
       at this neck-less, limb-less queer 
       and the world laughs aloud 
       as he tries to make 
       a stand, on his own.

       neck and hand
       on a honeymoon 
       together. live
       a rugged life.
       coming back home
       quite close to him
       that he can almost smell
       their odour.

                He gets indigestion too easily 
                God! Why did he have to fall?

       and even though the ugly people 
       are prettier than he is pretty, 
       he survives 
       with all operation scars intact, 
       but, abdominal parts in the night, 
       still cry and bloods itself 
       into a wound 
       yet to heal and form. 
       he knows he is unwell.

       what is to come, he wonders 
       to himself when he's alone 
       and thinks him mad -
       who dares? though neck and hand 
       remains away.
       shuns the pleasant company that they seek, 
       join his father,
       a sickly sort of impotent man 
       to hold the castle keep. 
       and night falls. 
       again the pain comes on 
       in every sole remaining limb 
       which aches. 
       and goes on to his bed 
       to forget.
       and morning comes
       tomorrow, who can really tell, 
       but presently it comes to this, 
       he cannot say he is very well.

                 In Hell.

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