When I walked into the Drama Centre on Saturday evening, my aunt came up to me with a look of utmost sombreness upon her face and said in a conspiratorial whisper, “Aunty Janki’s son is here.”
“Who is Aunty Janki’s son??” I asked.
“The… Kamal,” she said.
Turns out ‘Kamal’ was none other than Kishore Mahbubani, who had come to watch OTOT with his missus, because both their sons were in NS and Mrs M felt that the Ms had to watch OTOT to better understand NS and what their sons were going through.
That’s what I gathered from the Sindhi side of my family who were huddled around me, as they’d also come to watch OTOT as well. Just then, ‘Kamal’ walked by and we talked for a minute or so – I told him that there was going to be “some strong language” in the play; he joked that he was going to leave then.
During the intermission, I joined my family where they were seated, in the middle of the theatre. Coincidentally, Kishore was sitting one row behind us.
He jokingly said that he thought the language wasn’t strong enough. He also added that the French ambassador was around, and was asking what one word in particular meant. No one dared to tell him what it meant in English, but a clever soul told him that the word translated to ‘la chatte’ in French. Nice work, diplomats.
To date, my Bookends contribution hasn’t been published yet and I’ve got a feeling in my gut that it won’t ever be published.
It’s highly unlikely that it’ll be published next Sunday, because it was meant to be used as publicity for Own Time Own Target, and the run for Own Time Own Target ends this coming Saturday.
Anyway, since Mr Wang has very kindly reviewed Own Time Own Target and helped to plug it as well, I think I’ll just put what I have to say about his book up here.
In essence, I think Two Baby Hands is very good. Go read it, especially if you don’t read poetry normally. IMHO, it provides a very good primer/introduction to Singapore society and literature in general too.
But before you read on, I think I must say a few things here about why I am not very happy that my contribution wasn’t published.
- The non-publication of the piece is a let-down for me because I had to take time off to write the piece. I put quite a bit of thought and effort into it, and I think the editor of Sunday Lifestyle could’ve been courteous enough to at least say, “Thank you for your contributions but we’re sorry we cannot publish your piece.” That is only fair.
- It is also a let-down for me and other people because the publishers of Two Baby Hands very kindly agreed to let me purchase a copy of the book in advance of the launch because I really wanted to write about it in the Bookends piece. I think we all expected the piece to appear because we never thought the contrary would happen.
- That the contrary did happen i.e. the piece wasn’t published might be saying something too, because I believe that silences, or the things that aren’t talked about, are equally, if not, more important than the things that are discussed in public. I can only speculate, but I think it might’ve been that the other two books I wrote about didn’t exactly make for very ‘acceptable’ conversation – but ‘acceptable’ by whose standards, I’m not too sure. Nevertheless, I leave the reader to make her/his own conclusions.
- What books are you reading now?
I’m reading three books.The first: Two Baby Hands by Gilbert Koh. I’m quite fond of the poems so far because Koh discusses subjects – like education and National Service – that are close to my heart. Moreover, he deals with these subjects in a straightforward manner without using obscure language.
Another book: Our Thoughts are Free: Poems and Prose on Imprisonment and Exile, edited by Tan Jing Quee, Teo Soh Lung and Koh Kay Yew. I like how it uses creative writing as a means to discuss a difficult portion of Singapore’s history. This makes the issues more accessible to readers like me, since most of us have lived in relative freedom all our lives.
The third book is That We May Dream Again, edited by Fong Hoe Fang. This has accounts of some of the people involved in the so-called ‘Marxist conspiracy’ of 1987. What has struck me most thus far: the detainees’ passion for wanting to help the less fortunate in Singapore, along with how their lives and perspectives have changed after their detention.
- If your house was burning down which book would you save and why?
It’s a toss-up between Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Both books speculate on issues like ethics, technology and human communication in ways that are appealing and endearing – the former has dinosaurs running amok, while the latter uses a militaristic backdrop to tell its tale.
We were discussing our annoyance at how people relentlessly compare OTOT to Army Daze, which is, in our humble opinion, missing the forest for the trees.
Julian: …I guess people use the Army Daze thing because they have nothing to compare it to. If someone else wrote a play about transsexuals, the audience might compare it to Private Parts too.
Laremy: That’s true. People are always looking for familiarity and something to relate to so they can make sense of the world. Hence the use of stereotypes, which we are both also guilty of using in our plays… Hehe 🙂
Julian: But as a friend of mine said, there is space in the hearts of most people here to accept another play about the NS experience. If people can’t open their hearts and minds enough to accept that OTOT is different, then they’re missing out on a lot.
NS is experienced by every person here (for every guy that enlists, his whole family and circle of friends go through it with him in their own way) – surely it deserves to be shared and celebrated in more ways and more plays than Army Daze!
P. S. If we’re getting this comparison now, think how terrible it must be for the next person who comes along and writes something about NS!