I was in Borders this noon, to attend a brief public session with Dr Ooi Kee Beng.
An established writer, his books cover a wide range of topics, but he focuses more on local politics. His biography of the late Tun Dr Ismail abdul Rahman, also our former deputy prime minister, caught my attention in 2007.
"The Reluctant Politian : Tun Dr Ismail and his time" was published serially in a segment in Malaysia-Today. It chronicles the life of Dr Ismail, dubbed "the man who saved Malaysia" for his actions as the home minister in the period succeeding the tragic May 13 racial riot of 1969.
Dr Ooi is a fluent speaker of English...his spoken English is as good as his writing. He speaks out his mind naturally, and delivers his idea in such subtlety...it was a privilege to hear him in person. He talked about being a good writer...the do and dont's, deriving points from his own experiences.
But frankly, the crowd was very poor in number. There were empty seats everywhere...I seated at the far back. I was the only Malay present...sandwiched between a row of two young Chinese and a family of an Indian.
"My books" said Dr Ooi "were published mainly in Singapore".
"We have to master the language, not to let the language to master us. Sometimes we think we already mastered the language, but it's not the case. We've become the slave of the language"
"Sometimes, we have to rewrite the whole chapter. There were times when the idea seems to stray from the intial argument"
"We need to concentrate on one page at a time. That's how could we come up with over 300 pages book. Imagine if Nicol David was trailing 8-1 in squash...how could she win the match? By focussing on one point after another"
"The title is important as well. It keeps our focus on the main discussion. And I created all the cover of my books myself"
As Dr Ooi drove his points, I wondered how did he manage to be the man he is today. He must have been an avid reader...no way could he write a succession of good books without himself being a keen reader. He admitted he doesn't write fiction...I bet fiction doesn't interest him much.
The session ended half an hour later, and he received a couple of questions from the public. An Indian man in front of me asked about freedom of expression...whether Dr Ooi faced any scrutiny for his outright views expressed in his books.
"No...never. It is important not to criticise without substance. The way way we projected our view is also important..."
I smelled something fishy about that Indian guy. His two sons were seated next to him. From his way of talking, I know he is not from the establishment school of thought. But I let my suspicion to remain with myself.
A young Chinese man inquired about Dr Ooi's inspiration. After that, the crowd went silent...no more questions being asked. Dr Ooi looked into my eyes, and asked whether "us", the young generations, have any other questions.
I threw a smile and responded indirectly that I have nothing to ask.
Then, the said Indian guy began talking about his son, who is supposedly learning history. Of course everyone learned history in school...his action puzzled me. What was his motive? But then his motive became clearer. He began talking about distorted view in history....about heroes that shouldn't be called heroes.
That confirmed my earlier prediction that he is from the anti-establishment side. But luckily Dr Ooi handled him perfectly.
"We don't have much time in school to teach everything" said Dr Ooi.
"So it boils down to tertiary education" added Dr Ooi. I can't remember much of what was being said by Dr Ooi, because I focused my whole attention on that arrogant Indian. Lucky my spoken English is not that good...I could have shot his points down at ease if it was otherwise.
And the session ended peacefully afterwards...leaving me wondering, where are all the self-glorifying, 'liberated' Malay bloggers in the blogosphere? none were there. Are they not interested in learning some tricks to write better from the master himself?
Maybe they are already good enough. I wonder.