Yesterday, October 1st, marked a year since I moved back to India.
This is a cause for celebration, but lately has been marred by something niggling. Let me take this opportunity to correct a rather annoying perception.
A few months ago, a Malaysian student wanted to interview me for his final year project, and I agreed. He was kind enough to send me a draft of his article before submitting it. The truth is I was a little horrified. For some reason, he had gotten the impression that I am lost and longing for Malaysia, that my career has failed without KL, and that I am awaiting the day that I can recoup my former glory.
It was neither the first nor the last time that I heard something similar.
Let me put this in perspective. At the time I left KL, I was flat broke. I weighed 7kg more than I do today, bloated up from the stress and oh, the fact that I had all of four periods that year and the year before it. My body was shot to hell. So were my nerves. I was severely depressed. I was effectively unemployed, all my attempts at freelance work having dwindled to nothing owing to the stress of having to border run every 30 days, in a country I had lived in for seventeen years.
I said seventeen. Count ’em.
I was not happy in KL. But you need to understand that as an artist, there is a certain adaptability that comes with the job. I managed to keep my work going there. I had a following. I had a certain amount of personal conflict in my life, not related to my issues with immigration, that fanned my creative flames. I was also very young. In case you don’t know it, I am 23 now. The only time I lived in KL out of my own choice, I was 19. Sometimes it takes awhile to climb out of the holes you dig yourself.
I could recount exactly how off the mark the Malaysian student I told you about earlier was, but since you’re here, I think the evidence speaks for itself. Suffice to say, leaving Malaysia was the best thing that happened to me in a very long time, if not ever (and yes, I would say that moving to Malaysia was hands-down the stupidest decision my family ever made. Do you hear that, anyone who dares call me “Malaysian”, in spite of mountains of contrary evidence?).
Leaving was a choice. My visa was technically valid till February 2008, although I had to renew it every month. I had the marriage option, which I wisely did not pursue. One terrible incident at the border and five hours of crying on the bus back from Singapore (they let me in for a week on the condition I plead my case at a KL branch) was all it took. I exited the country just once more, to go to Indonesia for a festival. And on the day that I would normally have taken another bus south, I got on a plane and came… home.
And you think I miss Malaysia? Although I had decided to never go back, the life I’d left behind did linger on my mind — for all of two months, before one of your politicians thought she could cast me as an extra in her movie. What a circus I so narrowly escaped! I am proud of the fact that I did not respond when I was dragged into it. I didn’t have to. All the hostility and the rumours and the cowards crawling out of the woodwork to make their statements about me told me that I did the right thing, because otherwise why get scared of this little girl with a big mouth and a blog? I handled one journalist ineptly, assuming that like all badly-written articles, it wouldn’t matter so long as I had the transcript. But I did the right thing. It was apartheid. And I did flee.
I miss the shoes I left behind — but I now make enough to splurge on imported ones. I miss my friends — but I chat with them daily. I miss nasi lemak — but I miss Singapore’s frogs’ legs more. So fucking what? I’m not nearly deluded enough to think that any of those little things can compare to the happiness I enjoy today, a happiness I know I could never have had in Malaysia (and god knows I tried). In my writing, I tend to deal explicitly with location and geography. But Malaysia does not come up in my work (and I started to write at seven). That’s how superficially it shaped me, internally speaking, in all the years I lived there. I could only write non-fiction.
At the first poetry slam in 2007, someone came up to me and said, “I heard you are the best writer in the country.”
I said, “I’m not from this country.”
I’m not bitter anymore. You see, Malaysia, I have let you go. But a year later, I have a sneaking suspicion that your torch may still be lit. Maybe, just maybe, you miss me more than I miss you. Much more. Don’t co-opt me as your own now. You had a very long time to be gracious. And you weren’t.
P.S. A few things. I understand that I am supposed to play nice now that my book is coming out. But really, Malaysia’s given me enough stress headaches, and I shouldn’t give myself another one repressing what I feel. Also, this is nothing personal, so don’t take it that way. I’m sure you won’t, if you’re a friend or a person with any reasoning — and once again, I am immensely grateful for the support of certain people in Malaysia through the years and especially through my last few months there. And lastly, before you get sanctimonious with your overflowing patriotic loyalty, here’s a simple statement: You love your country and would never blaspheme it like the ungrateful foreigner that I am? Excellent! You keep it then! I certainly don’t want it. ;)