Tuesday, 28 February 2017

This Town Is His Oyster

Apparently, Rehman Rashid started writing about his adoptive hometown but he couldn't stop and ended up wth a whole book, Peninsula: A Story of Malaysia.

The chapters in that book, "Small Town" and "Lost Tribes", were later revisited and turned into a slimmer volume, Small Town, which I consider a beautifully written encomium to Kuala Kubu Baru.

The former newsman's brief yet compelling and grandiloquent yarn of KKB manages to take us from its storied past to how life is like there today, with some musings about and concerns for its future. The town, he suggests, represents the postcard-perfect image of Malaysia we should all work towards becoming.

Though parts of Small Town are already in his other book, the contents feel fresh, helped in no small part by the contributions of other KKB-ians - and my being away from the pages of Peninsula for months.

Here, have a taste:

"History accretes upon human endeavour like a pearl oyster dealing with a speck of grit: wrapping itself layer by layer over the jagged little irritation, one layer at a time, until this lustrous little jewel appears. The time it takes, the painstaking minuteness of the layering, are hardly in keeping with the pell-mell construction of a national economy through massive infrastructural development.

"...By fate and fortune, this pearl of a small town survived it all to offer me sanctuary in my own retirement and senior citizenship."

Now isn't that a whiff of cool, crisp countryside air.

But this is a bit more than just "how the story of just one town in a secluded corner of the Malaysia peninsula encapsulates the entire history of the State of Selangor and its nation". Through the book, we are also acquainted with some of the locals, including Rehman's surprisingly young landlord. Through their stories and the author's lyrical prose, the town springs to life.

Self-published with the help of the Kuala Kubu Historical Society (PESKUBU), the book also features photographs by the author and artwork by local KKB-ians, making it more of a community project. Proceeds from sales of the book during its launch went to PESKUBU.

It is also the story of how the author ended up residing in this place, where he wrapped up A Malaysian Journey. KKB doesn't sound like a place one would choose to live in, but one supposes that a life of relative silence and seclusion holds a huge draw for certain people.

"Some people don't care much for silence," he muses in the prologue. "It can be associated with death, I suppose. Silence is an absence; what's left when things cease. Sound is life: energy, motion, interaction ... communication ... Silence, on its part, is insulation. Cessation. Stasis, really."

Yet, he remains anything but quiet on social media, commenting on world affairs; writing a couple more books, including this one; and sharing the sights and sounds of his neighbourhood that he has explored since taking up recreational cycling. So the news of his hospitalisation came as a shock.

Rehman may have a reputation, but when it comes to KKB and its denizens, he's incredibly effusive, grateful to be embraced by the locals as one of their own despite not being born there. Like an oyster, the town seems to have smoothed out the rough edges of this gnarly irritant of a man (to his detractors) - though his inimitable abrasiveness will surface should anyone mess with him or his neighbourhood.

"I could ask for no better place to live out the remains of my days as a Malaysian; no better environment or circumstances than here among my fellow small-town Malaysians, most of whom may have actively tried to forget more than I could possibly know about what they'd been through to be here now."

And by golly, has this tiny corner of Peninsular Malaysia been through a lot.

Small Town
A Personal Tribute to Kuala Kubu Baru, Hulu Selangor, Malaysia

Rehman Rashid
PESKUBU (and Rehman Rashid)
64 pages
ISBN: 9789671439517


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