When Covid-19 lockdowns began last year, Singapore-based Malaysian author Shamini Flint found herself struggling. Despite being a writer for many years, she found it difficult to express her feelings in thoughts or words.
After speaking to her other established writer friends, she found that many of them were feeling the same.
“I suppose, if one has been writing about the world as it is for a long time, a paradigm shift of such magnitude is difficult to manage.
“Around the same time, I noticed that many non-writers, for lack of a better word, were sharing thoughtful pieces on social media and using the unexpected time to find new ways of expressing their viewpoint on the new normal. I decided that, if I could not write, it was an opportunity to help project these other voices so we could all draw on our collective experiences or at the very least, share the burden of these trouble times, ” says Shamini, 51, who is the author of the Inspector Singh Investigates crime novel series.
She published her last book The Beijing Conspiracy in 2019.
During Singapore’s circuit breaker period last April, Shamini wrote a post on social media, asking if anyone was interested in writing on the subject (the pandemic). The response she got was tremendous.
“I had various themes in my head but those mostly fell away as I received the submissions. It became apparent that there was a huge mix of attitudes and styles and genres out there dealing with Covid-19, each in a unique way – wistfulness, tragedy, humour, anger.
“It was such a privilege to receive input from so many diverse voices and in a way, the collection built itself and reflects the myriad ways we have experienced Covid-19, ” says Shamini.
The result is the Unmasked: Reflections On Virus Time anthology, which is a collection of poems, stories, drawings and photographs about the pandemic and its effects.
The book features Singaporean poets such as Alvin Pang and Ng Yi-Sheng to renowned Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o.
Malaysian contributors include Preeta Samarasan, Malachi Vethamani, Jo Kukathas, Fahmi Reza and Jahabar Sadiq. The book is published by Heliconia Press, and profits from it will be donated to Covid-related charities.
“Some of the stories behind the writing were very personal and tragic... writing was a way of coping and helping others cope. A lot of time was spent editing and discussing each work with the writers. So I was fortunate to make some new friends along the way. And possibly some enemies!” shares a candid Shamini, who thoughtfully curated the book.
“There were highlights as well – receiving a piece from Ngugi wa Thiongo whom both my children studied as an O-Levels text and showing it off to them, as well as a few hours that Jo Kukathas and I spent exchanging pet pictures as we tried to select a portrait to accompany her piece. Fahmi Reza had to keep updating his piece on the double standards on Covid-19 enforcement because the facts on the ground kept changing.”
To Shamini, Unmasked is a unique pandemic anthology as it contained works from both very experienced writers and new voices, some of whom had been published for the first time.
“The geographic reach, from the United States to Australia and from Britain to Malaysia, reminds us that we are all in the same boat and just this once, a similar human experience is shared globally. And finally, the mixed media – some of the photography and art is outstanding and really worth a thousand words. For instance, prize-winning South African photographer Lance van de Vyer’s portrait of a bat and a pangolin, the alleged culprits behind Covid-19, ” elaborates Shamini.
She is also planning another anthology this year, this time on the effects of climate change.
Unmasked: Reflections On Virus Time is available at selected bookstores in Malaysia. (Disclaimer: Terence Toh is also a contributor to this anthology).