The unique power of poetry

A poet and his influence: Literary enthusiasts checking out the books, paintings and posters inspired by Cecil at the World Poetry Day celebration.

IF YOU study the English language at university, you might eventually come across the poem ‘Nite of de Iguana’.

This guffaw-inducing poem mercilessly flays both Manglish (Malaysian version of mangled English) and humanity’s pre- occupation with aphrodisiacs.

It is by Penang’s inimitable poet Cecil Rajendra, 74, and it was inspired by a piece of news in The Star on Jan 8, 1992, by journalist Devid Rajah (now chief news editor).

Back then, labourer S. Adinarayanan was handcuffed to his hospital bed for five days because surgeons who removed three oval objects from his stomach thought they were condoms filled with heroin.

They were actually whole iguana eggs – soft shells and all – and the poor sod had been convinced by the seller that swallowing them whole would be ‘good for his health’.

Xxxxxxxxx: Datuk Anwar Fazal (right) holding the book “Personal & Profane” with Cecil Rajendra. (CHARLES MARIASOOSAY/ The Star/22/Mac/2015)
Anwar showing the book ‘Personal & Profane — Selected Poems 1965-2015’ by Cecil (in black).

He was freed only after the Chemistry Department verified the eggs, but not before Devid interviewed him.

When Cecil read the story, he crafted a poem that today is a case study at university level on Manglish.


“Bess cure in town is egg
of iguana se-biji, se-biji
swallowed whole wit honey.
I gip him pipty dolla
and makan tiga telor iguana.
I go home ready for ackshun
but all I get is plenny
stummach-ake and constipayshun
Adoi, pain terror, brudder.”

The poem goes on to describe the hospital scene:

“So dey put me to sleep
my han hancuff to de bed
and everywhere de mata-mata.
‘What’s going on, man?’
I ask de fierce sarjan.
Deffler say, ‘Adinarayan,
You a bad, bad man
To try an smuggle de
dadah in your stummach
bungkus in der condom.’”

This hilarious yet linguistically insightful poem can be enjoyed in Cecil’s latest book called ‘Personal & Profane – Selected Poems 1965-2015’.

Humanitarian Datuk Anwar Fazal launched the book recently on World Poetry Day at the E&O Hotel.

About 300 literary enthusiasts gathered for a recital of treasured works from poets such as Adrian Mitchell, Usman Awang and Mohd Salleh.

The Rozells and Gypsy Eyes performed songs satirically rewritten by Cecil such as ‘Young Once’ (Young One by Cliff Richard), ‘Penang Hill’ (Blueberry Hill by Louis Amstrong) and ‘Amazing Haze’ (Amazing Grace).

There was also an exhibition of books, paintings and posters inspired by Cecil’s works.

Gerakbudaya Bookshop founding director Gareth Richards paid tribute to Cecil.

“Poetry is considered the Cinderella of literature and seldom appreciated. But Cecil’s works have helped preserve the Malaysian culture by capturing its essence in ways that other forms of literature cannot depict.”

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Family & Community , Northern Region , cecil , poet


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