Monday, 31 January 2011

Readings' Sixth Anniversary

Every January, Readings @ Seksan's celebrates its birthday. This year marks the event's sixth year - "kindergarten age", according to its co-founder Sharon Bakar. "Next year we'll be sending it to school," she joked.

Poet Jamal Raslan working the crowd
Both she and Bernice Chauly started the as-monthly-as-possible Readings to get people reading and writing. In recent years it has also become a platform for local and (sometimes) international authors to mingle and sell some books. The inclusion of poets and musical acts of late have further enlivened things.

This month I played chaperone, chauffeur and stenographer to Yvonne Foong, author, spokesperson for Neurofibromatosis Type II patients, and future psychologist. Her request and wish to attend the event was unexpected.

Readings' sixth birthday was greeted with a cloudy sky and showers. The traffic which can be paralysed by a mere drizzle, like our only satellite TV service, was worsened by road closures due to the Lé Tour de Langkawi bike racing event. I know, what the heck, right?

Despite the traffic we arrived early. I had brought along a small whiteboard and several marker pens. Anticipating the setting up of a book sale corner, I figured they needed a price list more than I needed a to-do list. It filled up very quickly, with books from Amir Muhammad, Haslina Usman (daughter of Usman Awang), and Jeremy Chin. What was on sale included:

  • I'm Not Sick, Just a Bit Unwell, Yvonne Foong (RM20)
  • Teohlogy, Patrick Teoh (RM38)
  • Orang Macam Kita, pelbagai (RM20)
  • Love and Lust in Singapore, various (RM22, after a 45% discount)
  • Jiwa Hamba, Usman Awang (RM30)
  • Scattered Bones (novel), Usman Awang
  • Sahabatku (collection of poems), Usman Awang
  • Turunnya Sebuah Bendera, Usman Awang
  • Fuel, Jeremy Chin (RM30)

No, I couldn't remember all the prices. Never occurred to me that I'd want to go into that much detail. Though Yvonne managed to catch up with some old friends, she didn't manage to sell a single copy of her book.

Damyanti Ghosh was unable to vocalise loudly because of a medical procedure to her mouth or throat, so it would seem insensitive to ask her to elaborate. Despite not being ale to read, she showed up anyway with Saras Manickam to sell a book, a short story collection Damyanti contributed to, to help keep a charity home afloat. All proceeds for Love and Lust in Singapore that day would go to the Bangsa Ria Centre for the Mentally and Physically Disabled in PJ.

Because I didn't want the book right now, I put some cash into the donation box they brought along. "They need every ringgit," Damyanti said, because it seems the Centre will fold due to lack of funds.

Patrick Teoh, broadcasting live from Seksan's
Sharon kicked things off by reading the story Damyanti would have read if she were not, in Sharon's words, "pleasurably silent". In "The Peeping Toe", a middle-aged woman in a Singapore subway distracts herself from an ah beng/ah lian couple's amorous in-train antics by looking at someone's peeping toe. "If you want to know whose toe it is, buy the book," Sharon announced when she was done.

Poet and slam champion Jamal Raslan Abdul Jalil rocked the venue with recitals of youth, social issues and the future - things his generation are concerned with. Yvonne's condition rendered her deaf, among other things, so she had to "read" the gist of what was being read being typed out on her laptop. But my mental buffer runneth over too quickly, and most of it evaporated before I could key them in. Jamal was so good, he was invited to do an encore to end the event.

There was a small misunderstanding during Patrick Teoh's introduction. Neither Sharon nor I prompted Teoh to start compiling (not writing) his "Teohlogy" essays in the now-defunct Off The Edge magazine. After I'd heard about Hishamuddin Rais and Julian CH Lee's respective releases of their own compilations, I tweeted Sharon:

@sharonbakar First Hisham Rais, now Julian Lee. Will @patrickteoh follow suit?

10 August 2010 20:58:03 via Echofon in reply to sharonbakar

I can't remember what I was replying to, and Teoh had no idea what I was talking about. I responded:

Former Off The Edge contributors Hisham Rais and Julian Lee compiled their previous articles into books @patrickteoh. Waiting for yours.

11 August 2010 23:41:40 via Echofon in reply to patrickteoh

A brief summary of the Teohlogy saga: Teoh was invited to pontificate on issues that concerned the average Malaysian in a column, in the voice of a grumpy old man - hence the slightly anagrammatic term. It was Ezra Zaid of ZI Publications who approached Teoh with an offer to compile his essays into a book. Teohlogy was recently launched at Popular @ Ikano to a more or less star-studded audience that included, according to Teoh's description, a Special Branch operative. Wished you were there, hmm?

Naturally, Teoh read from his book. His August 2009 essay for Off The Edge, "All aso donch hep" is a commentary on our short memories and the establishment's spin machinery: "We have ways of making you forget. And that's an order!" And ah, that voice. If he returned to radio tomorrow, no one would even remember his long absence from the airwaves.

After the break, two contributors to the Malay-language gay anthology Orang Macam Kita (People Like Us) read their contributions.

Fadli Al-Akiti (left) and Nizam Zakaria, lanun darat

Sci-fi author Fadli-al-Akiti not only wrote several novels (Jian, Saga Horizon), but contributed to other short story collections such as Elarti (2008) as well. I think his piece was about a robbery victim who, strangely, develops a same-sex crush on the guy who nearly spilled his guts. Writer, author and film director Nizam Zakaria's contribution was a more scholarly commentary on (I think) gay culture in film. Or was it the other way around? At that point I wasn't really focusing; the damp weather and shady surroundings at Seksan's does that to me all the time. Nizam was sporting an eyepatch; it seems Damyanti's wasn't the only medical complaint that afternoon.

No Readings anniversary would be complete without an appearance by its co-founder Bernice Chauly. She read something from what she once dubbed a work of "faction": Growing Up with Ghosts, a (sort of) fictionalised biography based on her own life. "The Third Man" was inspired by a relative's fear from using the old-fashioned toilet at her grandpa's old house.

The backdrop was quite appropriate for what Bernice Chauly read;
the grandpa in the story sold pigs

Bernice and Sharon also announced the upcoming launch of Readings from Readings, a compilation of some of what was read in previous Readings, on 25 February at MapKL, Solaris Dutamas, "if all goes well".

Don't wish. Just go. You might not know what you'd miss if you don't.


  1. You got Fadli's and Nizam's stories mixed up, but other than that, kudos!

    By the way the "Najib's Answers" book by MPH has inspired me to launch a new series next week!

  2. Ah, I knew I got something wrong. Thanks so much for confirming it.

    A new series? Cool. Keep us all posted!


Got something to say? Great! Rant away!