IT is with great sadness that I read about the passing of KS Maniam (file pic 2010). To me, his passing seems to be like the drawing of the curtain on all that is great on the stage of post-colonial literature written by Malaysians in English.
I am no Amir Muhammad, hence I would not dare try to write a fitting tribute to such a great Malaysian writer as Maniam. All I can do is paint with a few brush strokes how the man and his work have left an indelible imprint on my life.
I first heard of him when I was a teenager. He had just won a short story writing competition organised by a leading local newspaper at the time. The title, Haunting The Tiger, a play on the words “hunting” and “haunting”, intrigued me. The tiger represents Malaysia. In hunting for a national identity and real sense of belonging, the tiger begins to haunt the hunter because the hunter could not be at one with the tiger.
As a teenager who had no background in literature, being able to read and understand that short story gave me a great sense of achievement.
Thus, when my good friend Michelle Ong and I were chosen by lot to interview Maniam for our Literature 1 coursework project, I was elated.
We interviewed him at his office at Universiti Malaya. He was dressed in a simple fuss-free fashion and could be mistaken for an average elderly Indian uncle.
He was ill at ease at being interviewed, a bit crotchety even. But knowing how important coursework marks were for UKM (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) undergrads like us, he was generous with his time, consented to taking many photos with us and answering our questions with as much patience as he could muster.
We scored top marks for the project and all the photos we took became one of the main draws at the Maniam booth in our Malaysian Writers Writing in English Exhibition.
One thing that has stuck in my mind is the simplicity by which he answered the question: “Why do you write?” Because he simply has to, he replied. It was his nature. It just came. In hindsight, I realised that this was the secret to his great writing. It was organic and perfectly natural.
This lack of a conscious agenda gives short stories like Haunting The Tiger smooth fluidity in storytelling and expression. It has a message but doesn’t sound artificial or contrived. It simply grows.
Now, Maniam is gathered with his fathers. His work is done. Who inherits his mantle?
Like many prophets of the Old Testament, he was never really given the recognition he deserved – no monetary rewards, no Anugerah Sasterawan Negara.
But he will live on – in the memory and hearts of his family, friends, peers, students and strangers like me.
How can I deny that my soul has been enriched, touched, bewildered and impacted by stories like The Return, In a Far Country and Haunting the Tiger?
And that is the power of a great story writer.
FLORENCE MAH SAU FONG ,Semenyih, Selangor