Categories
Interview

Nature & Kenny Peavy

Keith Lyons introduces us to Kenny Peavy, an author, adventurer, educator and wilderness first-aider who has travelled far and wide and wishes everyone could connect with the natural world right outside their door. 

American Kenny Peavy has spent three decades getting people outdoors. He believes that by playing in and exploring the natural world, we can discover or re-kindle a deep connection with Nature and learn to respect and take care of the planet we all share. 

For the last twenty one years, he’s been based in Asia, working in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. He’s currently at possibly the coolest school in the world, made of bamboo and nestled in lush jungle, the Green School Bali. Kenny is an advocate for education and learning outside the classroom. 

In this conversation, we are going to learn about growing up in the South of the US, how his environmental awareness was instilled, what brought him to Asia, and some of the biggest cultural differences (including breakfast). In addition to his questioning memoir ‘Young Homeless Professional’, in 2007 Kenny co-authored the pioneering environmental education handbook, As if the Earth Matters, and recently, an illustrated book, The Box People , was re-released digitally to enable children, young people and their parents and educators anywhere in the world to use the book. He also created Waffle House Prophets: Poems Inspired by Sacred People and Places

In efforts to raise awareness about conservation and sustainability in Southeast Asia, he’s paddled around the island of Phuket in Thailand, and ridden a bamboo-frame bike from Thailand through Malaysia to Singapore and Bali. As well as being a nature guide, project fundraiser and science teacher, Kenny is also a qualified wilderness first responder and first aid trainer. In Bali, he had to flee with his family when an erupting volcano threatened their village. 

Kenny has some advice for city-dwellers afraid of the ‘sometimes scary’ world away from concrete and mobile phones.

Tell me about growing up in Georgia, as I only know it being famous for peanuts, and being the birthplace of Julia Roberts, Kanye West, Martin Luther King Jr, Ray Charles, and Hulk Hogan? 

I was born in 1969 so, essentially, I was a kid in the ’70s and ’80s. Since the ’80s were my high school years, I consider myself a child of the ’80s in all its hair metal, boom box, Pac Man and Donkey Kong glory!

It was very rural. A lot different then. We weren’t as aware of the outside world and didn’t have access to a lot of things like we do now. 

I distinctly remember going to my first ‘real mall’ in about 1984 or maybe 1985. It was Gwinnett Place Mall. A huge commercial shopping centre. Up until then, we only really had local mom-n-pop shops. So, it was astounding. One of my friends could drive and he had a car. 

None of us had much money so we all pitched in a couple of dollars for gas. The parking lot was dizzying and the mall was an amazing place to watch people. We tried this new thing none of us had ever heard of called a Gyro wrap and it was absolutely delicious and strange. Then afterwards I had an Oreo ice cream. Something I had never experienced before since we only had vanilla, strawberry and chocolate ice cream at the local shop. It was all brand new. 

Growing up in the countryside we didn’t have that sort of food or flavours so even those simple things we take for granted today were fascinating novelties back then!

Aside from that, as I said, it was very rural. Most folks had land and cows or chickens. A lot of pine trees which means pulp mills to make paper. Plenty of dirt roads. Atlanta was the BIG CITY and most of us were kind of afraid to go there because we never heard anything but bad news about city folks.

What was the environment you grew up in like

Most folks were into fishing, hunting and other similar recreations. I went to a public school and took the free bus to school. We definitely had jocks, hicks, geeks and other ‘distinctive’ social groups. Me and all my friends were into hard rock and heavy metal and we saved our money so we could see all the shows from AC/DC, Bon Jovi, Ozzy Osbourne and White Snake when they came to Atlanta (even though we were scared of the Big City and fast talking city folks).

Our big entertainment was cruising the strip mall where they had a McDonalds and a hardware store. We’d all just drive in circles wasting time and gas while blasting The Scorpions so we could wave at people we’d seen at school the very same day.

I think most families were basically Blue Collar with jobs in construction, factories or some kind of farming. We all grew up working and my first job at age fifteen was washing dishes at a steak house in town. Other jobs we had as teens were cutting grass, painting curbs, running cashier in a gas station and other similar tasks.

How did you get into writing, was it something you developed a talent for early on, or did you have some inspiration and guidance from others? 

I always wanted to be a poet and swoon the girls with poems and fancy quotes from far-flung novels. It never worked.

I also wanted to be that professor with the patches on the elbows of his tweed jacket and a pipe dangling from my mouth as I pontificated wise philosophical diatribes to impress the masses. I’m still working on that one!

Your interest in Nature, the environment and science, where did that come from? 

Essentially, from growing up and playing outdoors. We were always outside and not allowed in the house during the day. So, we’d get bored and flip over logs, explore the creeks, go fishing and ride our bikes all over the trails in the woods.

This lead me to get curious about the critters we found under the logs and hiding out in the rocks in the stream. Combine that with a love for hunting and fishing and I eventually studied biology at university.

I basically wanted to know how Nature worked. What made it tick? How did all the pieces fit together? That also lead to jobs at the Institute of Ecology at the University of Georgia where I learned a heap about aquatic macro-invertebrates, ichthyology (fish) and ecology — and had a private lunch with the Father of Modern Ecology and author of the very first ecology textbook, Professor Emiritus Eugene Odum.

That’s why I firmly believe that a childhood spent outdoors playing and exploring will later lead to an insatiable curiosity for Nature and an ethic for conservation and stewardship.

You document in your book Young Homeless Professional  about a time in your life when you immersed yourself in the natural world, and were searching for answers. What did you learn from that time about the world and yourself? 

I essentially have many of the same questions today. I think I understand the inner workings of Nature and life’s mysteries a bit better now. With a modicum more insight and quite a few more experiences under my belt than 20+ years ago, I think what’s most important is the process of questioning. The ability to stay open to life’s possibilities is key. We most likely will never fully comprehend or understand life, our roles in the cosmos and Nature’s mysteries, but if we stay curious, keep exploring, stay open to the possibilities and keep questioning then I think that’s the key to finding a place in this world we all share.

How did you end up moving from the US to teaching in Asia? 

On a whim. I wanted adventure. I wanted to see and experience new cultures, try weird foods, learn about different religions and philosophies. Speak strange languages. So with US$ 8,000 in the bank, a teaching degree and a hankering to see the world I set out for Kuala Lumpur in the year 2000: I’ve never looked back!

What are the biggest differences between life in the US and your current life and environment in Bali? 

The biggest difference has to be that it’s a majority Muslim country. My wife is Muslim and I’ve grown quite comfortable being married into a different culture and religion. And here in Bali, it’s mostly Hindu which is vastly different from Islam. Growing up in the Southern US, I was only ever exposed to Methodist and Baptist forms of Christianity. All of this was new to me 20 years ago when I moved here.

I think the tropical climate and easy-going beach lifestyle are also very different from growing up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. 

Another HUGE difference is having rice for breakfast! I was always a hash browns and eggs or better yet, grits, kind of guy. We don’t really have either one of those here. But instead, they eat rice with a spicy sauce and crispy chicken or fish for a typical Indonesian Breakfast!

As well as being a teacher, you’ve done a lot of activities, organising events, initiating projects and raising funds. What’s your motivation for doing these? 

I feel like we should give back. Whatever we have to share, to teach, to give to others is valuable. Being part of something bigger than ourselves, whether it is a project, a group, a movement or an ideology is fundamental to achieving a sense of fulfilment and belonging. When we give, we receive back way more joy and happiness than we originally gave. It gets multiplied! Through giving of ourselves and sharing what we have, we receive a sense of being part of a larger cause and a sense of contentment which is multiplied many times over. 

One of your most notable achievements, in addition to your writing and educational work, is riding a bamboo bicycle across Southeast Asia from Thailand to Bali to raise awareness on sustainability. What was the hardest part of that adventure? 

It was all fun with plenty of excitement and adventure. There were actually very few hiccups and hardships. But I would have to say that cycling some of the monotonous palm oil plantations through peninsular Malaysia from the Thai border to Singapore was hot, boring and so sad. It was heartbreaking to see what was once a beautiful rainforest converted into endless palm oil plantations and a never-ending paved highway.

You also kayaked around the island of Phuket to raise awareness about marine conservation. How important is tangible action to bringing about change? 

Taking action is paramount. We can say anything we want. We can project an image of being eco-friendly and sustainable. We can GreenWash anything. But if you want to see what someone truly believes, watch what they do. Pay attention to their actions. Tangible action, hands-on, in the field, is where it’s at! Especially, if we truly want to bring about change and make a difference we have TO DO, not just SAY or BELIEVE.

Environmental education seems to be at the heart of your mission, how do you encourage students, teachers and adults to re-connect with Nature? 

Ironically, I spent 2 years researching this question as part of my MS degree and what I discovered and concluded after hundreds of peer-reviewed papers, conferences, surveys and questionnaires is that the best way to connect to Nature is simple… get outside and play!

Free time, exploring and playing in Nature are way more effective than any curriculum or lesson plan. When we take time to just wander and wonder we connect in ways that can’t be facilitated through constructed lessons or planning. It happens naturally and spontaneously when we get lost in play, discovery and exploration.

What are people’s (particularly city-dwellers) biggest fears about the natural world? 

I think the main thing people are afraid of is boredom. They don’t know how to wallow in boredom until the sense of wonder kicks in. We’re so used to instantaneous entertainment that we’ve become afraid to just sit, observe and take things as they come.

Another big one is mosquitos! And leeches. People are terrified of leeches!

Tell us about the environmental education book you co-wrote with Thom Henley As if the Earth matters?

It’s basically a teacher training manual and activity guide. We wrote it back before there were any resources to train teachers in Southeast Asia. So, the activities are meant to get kids connected to nature through exploration and engaging the senses. We put an emphasis on showing Southeast Asian flora and fauna as well as locals in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia as instructors and participants to make sure it would have a multi-cultural approach to environmental education.

I am hoping to take some of the activities in the book and update them and create a much smaller activity packet. I think it’s now more important and relevant than ever that we try to connect kids and adults to Nature. 

As well as working as a nature guide, trek leader, science teacher, you are also a wilderness first aid instructor. What inspires you to be so active? 

I think the main driver and inspiration comes from a sense of curiosity. I always wanted to be a National Geographic explorer, or some kind of adventurer!

When I was young, I was inspired by the Indiana Jones movies, David Attenborough and TV shows that featured people exploring exotic places, getting lost in mysterious jungles, landing in the middle of some kind of misadventure or a quest.

Those images stuck with me and keep me excited and curious to this day! There is always something new to learn, a new place to see, a new style of music to hear, and new flavours to be tasted.

You’ve also done some personal service projects, such as in Bali helping those affected by the volcano eruption. How challenging is it to initiate projects, particularly in a foreign country? 

It’s easy to do a project but it’s incredibly difficult to do it right.

The key seems to be relationships. If you have a relationship with someone in the village or even someone that knows someone in the village then things tend to go well.

The main issue I see is that many foreigners want to help in some way but they simply don’t know how. During the Mount Agung crisis, we were at a refugee camp and saw a car pull up and start tossing food into the crowd. The local villagers were then forced to run around and grab the donations up off the ground. It was very demeaning. I vowed to never approach any type of service project that way.

Essentially, you just need to ask the village what they truly need. This is the crucial step and it’s often overlooked. What I mostly see are people with good intentions making assumptions about what a village needs and then donating completely irrelevant or unwanted and unneeded stuff. Whether this is inappropriate food items that won’t be used, hot thick blankets in the tropics or painting a wall at a school when the funds and volunteer time could be used much wiser the missing ingredient is always communication with the locals to find out their true needs.

In the case of Mount Agung, what we discovered after meeting the heads of the villages is that they wanted fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, spices, electric fans and N95 masks. They said everyone had donated rice and instant noodles and that they needed something they could cook to go with it! In the end, we delivered those items based on their needs and wants not on assumptions.

So, if and when folks want to help out and do service projects it’s most helpful to find a trustworthy local that can help facilitate communications to ensure that the project is effective and truly wanted and needed.

How much do you feel you are an American in Asia, or a global citizen of the planet? 

I don’t feel very American anymore. Aside from my mom, dad and sister, I don’t have many connections to my country of birth these days.

I’ve been overseas for more than 20 years now. I’ve changed quite a bit personally and the USA has also changed a great deal in that time. 

I would say nowadays I definitely feel more like a global citizen and can be comfortable in almost any situation. These days I’m used to being surrounded by, working with and keeping company with locals of whatever country I am working in.

Being surrounded by people of diverse cultures, exploring and learning about different peoples, traditions, foods and ecosystems are what keep me happy!

When it comes to communicating and writing, what’s your process? 

Ideas always come to me at the strangest times. The best ideas seem to come when I am not thinking about writing but instead, when I am on the motorbike, bicycle, drifting off to sleep or distracted or focused on something entirely different. To catch those ideas, I always keep a pad of paper and pen next to the bed, my phone has a note-taking app and I have a zillion sticky notes. I even e-mail ideas to myself sometimes! So that’s step one. Catch the idea and record it. 

Then I tend to forget about it until I come across a similar thought or idea through reading, listening to a podcast or hearing something or someone that triggers more thought. That’s when I tend to gather up those ideas from the emails, sticky notes and note-taking app and start to map them out and write an outline. Then I forget about it again for a while.

Finally, when I revisit those ideas, I try to develop them into an essay, poem or even a book!

For the writing, I try to use my Southern American voice and interject colloquialisms. I normally write it. Edit it. Re-write. Edit again.

I find the editing is ongoing and every time you ‘rest’ in between versions and then look at your writing with fresh eyes you catch phrases that could be written better, sentences that can be shortened and different ways to say and express things that make them more interesting. Lastly, the thesaurus is my best friend!

What advice do you have some someone reading this, who wants to find their purpose, and also make a difference in the world?

Stay curious. Stay open. Seek out adventure. Don’t be afraid to fail. Keep learning new skills and spend long periods of time reflecting on who you are and what you have to contribute to the world.

Enjoy the adventure of being alive!

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You can follow Kenny Peavy on Twitter @kenny_peavy or Instagram @kenny_peavy, and he will reply if you email him at kennywpeavy@gmail.com. Kenny also has a FB group about the Box People project (https://www.facebook.com/groups/boxpeopleunboxed ), and there is more information about the book on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Box-People-Out/dp/B09M4R6PRB/), or direct from Kenny via email kennywpeavy@gmail.com

Keith Lyons (keithlyons.net) is an award-winning writer who gave up learning to play bagpipes in a Scottish pipe band to focus on early morning slow-lane swimming, the perfect cup of masala chai tea, and after-dark tabs of dark chocolate. Find him@KeithLyonsNZ or blogging at Wandering in the World (http://wanderingintheworld.com).
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Categories
Poetry

Birds

By Vernon Daim

BIRDS

Tangled black ribbons knotting, 
Unknotting, in the fiery sunset sky.
Crossing seasons, the route in their blood.

Musical notation in mid-flight silhouettes,
Melancholic songs of lamentation,
Wind-teased susurration

Among mountains and along rivers
In countries broken and scarred.
See them return once again,

Wintering somewhere warm as blood,
Oblivious to unfolding bloodshed,
Altering borders on the map.

Vernon Daim is a Malaysian writer. His poems have appeared in local and international publications. As an English teacher, he has also presented papers at various ELT conferences.

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Categories
Nostalgia Slices from Life

A Tale of Two Houses

By P Ravi Shankar

I was extremely upset and howling my head off. My mother struggled to keep me quiet. My parents had just got down at the bus stop and it was raining. It was a short walk to Laksmi Nivas. My mother was dragging me along and I was trying my best to turn around and run back to my paternal grandmother. The bus journey to the village had been miserable. The bus had ploughed through heavy rains and waterlogged roads. There were occasional claps of thunder and the tarpaulin sheets covering the bus windows offered scant protection against the rain. The bus was crowded and leaking. Puddles were forming on the floor.

My maternal grandfather’s house was a two-story mansion located in Thiruvazhiad (turn-away-goat could be a literal English translation) village, Palakkad district, Kerala. He had built it in the 1960s and had named it after my grandmother. The house was a combination of living space and granary. There were long passages which were used to store the rice harvest. Wood was prominently used in the construction. The house sat in a huge plot of land. There was a front yard and a huge backyard. The house was large, but the number of rooms were limited. There were only three bedrooms on the ground floor, and they were all dark and scary. There was a traditional dining room and a wood burning kitchen. A well and a huge bathroom completed the amenities.

There were three bedrooms on the top floor and a small attic above that. The rooms on the top floor were small with wooden windows and had excellent views across the backyard to the hills beyond. The rooms opened on to a common corridor in front. This offered excellent views of the road to Nemmara, the main town in that part. Traffic was sparse and our attention was captured by the buses to Palakkad town which ran at hourly intervals during the hot, lazy afternoons and at half-hourly intervals during the morning and evening. The village was situated in a cul de sac, away from the main hustle and bustle.

During the seventies, my grandmother had three to four helpers working in the house. Traditional stones were used to grind dough for idlis and dosas and we had a smaller stone to grind masalas or spices. There was a huge mortar and pestle used to pound grain. Physical labour and strength were important. I do not remember my grandfather (mother’s father) much as he had passed away when I was very young. My grandmother was a religious lady who used to read the Hindu religious epics daily. Later (late seventies and eighties) she was mostly confined to bed and suffered from Parkinson’s disease.

I enjoyed climbing the wooden staircase to the first floor with its curved wooden banister. I believed the darkness of the house and the rooms scared me and contributed to my aversion. As I grew older I grew more adapted to this house. The house was dark but stayed cool during the hot summers. The red tiles on the roof were charming. The windows had no glass panes and once closed they let in very little light. The long corridors encircled the rooms on the ground floor letting in very little light into the inner rooms. The furniture was mostly wooden, locally made, solid and heavy. My grandma’s room had a massive valve radio. Evenings were spent listening to the news and other programs on the radio. Old houses had dark storerooms which both fascinated and scared me.

My father’s house was located inside East Yakkara near to Palakkad town and the holy Manapullikavu temple was nearby. It is believed Brahmins performed yagnas (prayers) on the holy riverbed and the place was named yaga-kara (do yagnas) and eventually came to be known as Yakkara. In the seventies, this was a peaceful place with traditional houses. The narrow winding lanes and the paddy fields lend a rustic charm to the place. My father’s mother had purchased a house after they moved back to India from Malaysia where my grandfather had worked as an estate manager. My grandfather had died when my father was young. The house was renovated and, to my childish eyes, was charming. There were windows with coloured glass panes in the drawing room. The floor was coated with a red oxide powder which had to be reapplied regularly. Pink bougainvillea grew over the welcome arch and the bright yellow front door welcomed visitors.   

The best part of the house were the two rooms in the wing adjoining the kitchen. The house had doors and windows which could be opened only half. This I felt was an ingenious arrangement. Both my mother’s and father’s houses had doorsteps which were massive, and I used to trip on these often. I was not used to them. There was a dark room that did not open to the outside. My cousin would study there. Wood was still the cooking material, took time to catch fire and burn. It was like an astringent to the eyes. I still remember the hot summer afternoons. We had lunch in the hot dining room and by the time we finished I would be soaked in sweat. The rice was hot, the fish curry spicy, the fish fry crispy, and the pickles incendiary. The roof had a few glass tiles to let in the light and I watched fascinated the path of the light beams being made visible by the kitchen smoke.

The rains were my favourite time of the year. In those days it used to pour in Kerala. The rains continued throughout the day, and I enjoyed creating and sending out flotillas of paper boats in the rapidly flowing streams of rainwater. The weather was cool, and the smell of the Earth (petrichor) was mesmerising. I also remember the smell of fresh paint as the windows and doors often would have a fresh coat of paint just before our visits. Now with the national highway (NH47) passing behind the house, the area has changed totally. So many new houses have sprouted. And there are two large apartment complexes.

These two houses had character and solidity. I regret not having the opportunity to interact with my grandfathers (the patriarchs). The houses reflected in many ways the matriarchs living in them. With their illness, being bed ridden and their eventual passing, an era came to an end. These houses no longer hold the same level of fascination they once exerted on my young mind!

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Dr. P Ravi Shankar is a faculty member at the IMU Centre for Education (ICE), International Medical University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He enjoys traveling and is a creative writer and photographer.

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Categories
Poetry

Christmas Cheer

By Malachi Edwin Vethamani

Christmas Cheer

The familiar sounds of carols 
and hymns are distant 
as are the smells of 
curries and freshly baked cookies. 

Boyhood memories warm the spirit
but the passing of the years
missing loved ones
brings a chill to the heart. 

The present so varied
and so unfamiliar 
of the once held dear
Christmas joy. 

A chef is roasting the turkey.
A waiter is pouring my wine.
Text messages are streaming in 
but give little Christmas cheer.

Malachi Edwin Vethamani is a poet and writer. His poetry publications include: Life Happens (Maya Press, 2017) and Complicated Lives (Maya Press, 2016). His edited volume of poems entitled Malchin Testament: Malaysian Poems (Maya Press, 2017) won the Best Book prize in the English Language category for the Malaysian Best Book Award 2020 organised by the Malaysian Publishers Association. His latest publication is an edited volume of poems entitled Malaysian Millennial Voices (Maya Press, 2021). His poems have appeared in various literary journals. He is Founding Editor of Men Matters Online Journal.

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Categories
Poetry

Wake

By A Jessie Michael

I awake to a wake,
(my very own it seems)
Of people familiar and not,
Unaware that I am awake at my wake.

What have I left 
in the wake of my awake life-
A speed boat existence
Swirling a lengthy, frothy wake?

How many were drenched by
The spray of my life’s wake?
I never turned to see
Too busy awake to the things before me

Now they reminisce, drink, smoke and snack
To keep awake at my wake.
“Go home. Sleep!” I say
But to them I’m not awake.

They keep awake at my wake
To celebrate me dead.
Where were they
When I was truly awake?

“O we were there,” they chatter.
“We were drenched by the wake
Of your speedboat existence.
Were you truly ever awake?”

A. Jessie Michael is a retired Associate Professor of English from Malaysia. She has written short stories for online journals, local magazines and newspapers. She has published an anthology of short stories Snapshots, with two other writers and most recently her own anthology The Madman and Other Stories (2016).

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Categories
Stories

Captain Andi is in love

By Dr. P Ravi Shankar

The bubbly lyrics of Bobby McFerrin’s song ‘Don’t worry be happy’ filled the room. Andi was awakened from his slumber and slowly opened his eyes. He glanced at the clock by the bedside. Five a.m. Still dark outside. He had a virtual clinical exam later that morning. Early to bed and early to rise in the good old armed forces tradition was always mentioned by his mentor. Though with the heavy course workload and multiple assignments on most days he did not hit the bed before 11 pm.

His artificial intelligence (AI) mentor carefully monitored his academic progress. He was a straight A student and had done very well through the duration of the course, which was partially done. He was doing an accelerated curriculum and was expected to graduate in about two years. After his morning ablutions, his home robot came with a steaming hot cup of coffee. Dark and strong just the way he liked it. The robot checked his physical parameters. There were several sensors implanted in his body monitoring in real-time his physical parameters. Everything seemed normal and there was no cause for alarm.

He was one of the twenty students who had joined the undergraduate medical program at the Armed Forces medical school a year ago. He was inducted at the rank of Captain. Now the army and other organisations did not require many doctors. AI systems did most of the work of diagnosing and treating patients. AI was ubiquitous and omnipresent. Systems drove trucks, public transportation, private transportation, flew planes, did all menial jobs, carried out all secretarial and clerical jobs and took care of and educated human children. He had a special interest in human history and recalled the history lessons he had taken at school. During the mid-twenty-first century AI began to dominate life and most humans had slowly but steadily lost their jobs. Some were able to retrain and readapt and started helping in building and educating AI systems. The wars and the heating of the planet had reduced the liveable land. Human population steadily decreased for the first time in several centuries.

Frequent pandemics had become a regular part of life. Or rather was it the same pandemic which never really went away? A certain degree of control and protection was afforded by vaccines, but the virus had become endemic. Humans were resilient and had adapted to the new normal. New strains were isolated regularly, and these required a new set of vaccines to be developed and another round of vaccination. Luckily vaccines were edible these days and incorporated in tasty fruits like bananas.

Maya was his classmate. A perky and slender dark-haired girl, she never failed to cheer him up. He would be meeting her in about an hour. He read through his notes and prepared for the day ahead. He had a special interest in cyborgs and in enhancement of human function. Medicine had developed so much since the Middle Ages. He would be having a class on the ethics of incorporating AI systems in medicine in the morning by Prof Kim. He enjoyed Prof Kim’s sessions. All sessions these days were virtual except the ones on clinical skills. Most patients interacted with their doctors virtually. The sensors implanted on each human meant changes could be identified early and diseases addressed at the incipient stage. He and his fellow students and the teacher interacted virtually using a mix of extended reality and holographic images. The world had shifted online.

The world was a huge web. The internet of things. Devices and persons communicated constantly. Life was good, was it not? Why did he get the creepy feeling that he was being monitored all the time? Was he ever really alone? His father had made a fortune building sea walls and protecting coastal cities from the rising seas. The sea level had risen by over two feet and sea walls were a necessity. The Dutch were the masters and had made a huge fortune keeping the world from drowning. Human germ cell DNA editing was routine — both to eliminate deadly genetic diseases and to enhance human capabilities.  

Nearly everyone had some sort of enhancements done to their body to improve their hearing, vision, physical endurance, and immunity among other things. Surviving in the hostile world without an enhanced immune system was impossible. Occasionally he got together physically with his batchmates in the informal learning spaces the college provided. They were an even split. Ten humans with enhancements and ten living AI machines. Life had taken on a whole new meaning with the advent of machine life.

Machine life had several advantages. They were stronger, had almost superhuman powers and were immune to the viruses and other microbes in the air. Occasionally some parts needed to be replaced or some enhancements carried out. They did not need to sleep, and neither were they ever bored and unfocused. In medicine the machines had anthropomorphic features. They looked like humans and from their external appearance only it had become difficult to know if someone was a machine or a human.

Humankind was pursuing immortality. Most lived nearly three hundred years. Rich individuals could download their memories into AI systems and become immortal. The memories could be slowly downloaded at intervals into a developing human and a person could live life both in the virtual and the real worlds. Dr Cerson was a famous surgeon of the twentieth century, and his memories were being slowly downloaded into Captain Andi. Cerson’s ‘soul’ had passed through several human bodies during the ensuing centuries learning and adapting to the brave new world in the process. Surgery today was fully robotic and used an army of micro and nano-bots to carry out the procedure precisely and with nearly no tissue damage.

Maya was a humanoid — machine life. He recalled the day she had told him about herself in the college cafeteria. She knew he was developing tender feelings for her. Machines were built to detect and respond to human emotions. Human-machine intimate relationships were not expressly forbidden but neither were they encouraged by the government. There were a host of problems though the machines were built to be empathetic and kind to humans. The machines did not require sleep, no babies resulted from the relationship and one of the partners was immortal. He had given a lot of thought to these issues but eventually decided to go ahead with his relationship with Maya. He would be moving into her house in a week so that they could sync forces and optimise performance. He started humming the opening lyrics of the classic love song sung by George Benson ‘Nothing’s gonna change my love for you’ as he got dressed for his trip to the college cafeteria and coffee with Maya.

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Dr. P Ravi Shankar is a faculty member at the IMU Centre for Education (ICE), International Medical University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He enjoys traveling and is a creative writer and photographer.

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Categories
Independence Day

Malaysia

Malaysia is said to have been inhabited 40,000 years ago by the same tribes who populated the Andamans. Situated on the trade route between China and India, they assimilated varied cultures into their lore, including that of the Arabs. Phases of colonial occupation by the Portuguese, Dutch and British wracked their history from 1511. They suffered from Japanese occupation during the Second World War. The Federation of Malaya achieved independence after a struggle on 31st August 1957. In 1963, the British colonies of Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo were combined with Malaya and the country was rechristened Malaysia.

In 1965, Singapore was voted out due to ideological reasons, some of it being racial and political. This Partition was free of political bloodshed or violence between the two countries, unlike the earlier Partitions within Asia which led to much violence and bigotry — India, Pakistan and North Korea and South Korea (where the split along the 38th parallel was initiated by the West post-Second World War to settle matters between the ideological blocks of communism and capitalism).

Malaysia continues a federal constitutional monarchy with a Sultan and an elected Prime Minister at the helm and has a mixed population of Malays (Bumiputera), Chinese, Indians, Portuguese and other ethnicities. We present a selection of writing from this country, put together on the occasion of their 64th independence day, also known as Hari Merdeka or National day.

Poetry

Benderaku (My Flag) by Julian Matthews. Click here to read.

A False Dawn by  Malachi Edwin Vethamani. Click here to read.

Colours of Words, three poems by A Jessie Michael. Click here to read.

Prose

Brother Felix’s Ward

Malachi Edwin Vethamani takes us to an exploration of faiths and borders. Click here to read.

The Night of Sirens

A Jessie Michael tells us of riots that set in during elections in Malaysia. Click here to read.

Categories
Poetry

Colours of Words

By A Jessie Michael

DIVERSITY   

Diversity is our last name.
Born speaking three languages (or four),
We, unconscious code switchers,
created creole 
before linguists caught up with us.
Colourless and colour blind.
Playing in each other’s homes,
Their food, became ours 
 Ours, theirs.
Their foul words ours,
And our curses theirs.

We walk into temples,
Mosques, churches,
attending christenings, weddings
and funerals.
No discomfort we feel 
participating in diverse festivals
of each religion and race.
Come to think of it, 
Diversity must be our middle name.

We don each other’s costumes 
as a matter of daily wear;
no one claims ownership,
it’s all national fare.
Then of course we marry each other
Creating a lovelier mess
of bi-racial and tri-racial children
of no definite ethnicity.
Growing up bi-religious and tri-lingual,
Colourless and colour blind,

We live everywhere in this world,
Never feeling we are different
until we have to fill a form.
Asian, Indian, European, East European
Middle Eastern, African, African American,
 American and other.
How the heck do we know?
Dang those forms that ask us so,
to tick boxes to put us into boxes.
Dang the politicians of single colour 
because they cannot see the rainbow.

Actually, diversity is our first name. 


HAVE WE?  HAVE WE?        

Have we learnt another language
to challenge our little brains?
Have we walked in others’ shoes 
and learnt of their pain?
Have we shared with them a cup of joy
and freely drunk of theirs too?
Have we sat at their table and
broken bread with them?
Have we stood beside the others 
and thought them just the same?
Have we risen above ancient anger,
forgiven our fellow men,
thought them worthy of our compassion
and stretched out our hands?
Have we emptied the bitter cup
that diminishes all men?


Our colours are but geography,
our religions but pathways 
to the same universal One.
So, who is to say who is better?
It is always our own buried fear,
that we pray at the altar,
then curse the man on the street
just because he looks different 
and is from another land;
just because we will not say
he is really a God-made-Man.

A. Jessie Michael is a retired Associate Professor of English from Malaysia. She has written short stories for local magazines and newspapers. She has published an anthology of short stories Snapshots, with two other writers and most recently her own anthology The Madman and Other Stories (2016).

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Editorial

Triumph of the Human Spirit

On August 8th 2021, the chief of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, pointed out during the closing ceremony that these games were “unprecedented” and brought messages of “hope, solidarity and peace” into a world torn with the desolation generated by the pandemic. It was a victory of the human spirit again, a precursor of what is to come. That the Japanese could get over their pandemic wrought hurdles, just as they did post the nuclear disasters wrought by the Second World War and by the 2011 earthquake-tsunami at Fukushimaya, to host something as spectacular and inspiring as these international games reflects, as the commentators contended, a spirit of ‘harmony and humility’. The last song performed by many youngsters seemed to dwell on stars in the sky — not only were the athletes and organisers the stars but this also reminded of unexplored frontiers that beckon mankind, the space.What a wonderful thing it was to see people give their best and unite under the banner of sports to bring messages of survival and glimpses of a future we can all share as human beings! Our way of doing things might have to evolve but we will always move forward as a species to thrive and expand beyond the known frontiers.

One such explorer of yet unknown frontiers who mingles the historic with the contemporary, Goutam Ghose, an award-winning filmmaker and writer, has honoured our pages with an extensive interview showing us how art and harmony can weave lores that can help mankind survive. This is reinforced by the other interview with Singaporean academic, Dr Kirpal Singh, whose poetry reflects his convictions of a better world. With our intelligence, we can redefine processes that hold us back and grind our spirits to dust — be it the conventional ‘isms’ or norms that restrict our movement forward – just as Tagore says in the poem, we have translated this time, ‘Deliverance’.

…On this auspicious dawn,
Let us hold our heads high in the infinite sky 
Amidst the light of bounteousness and the heady breeze of freedom.

As the Kobiguru mentioned earlier in the poem, the factors that oppress could be societal, political, or economic. Could they perhaps even be the fetters put on us by the prescribed preconceived definition of manmade concepts like ‘freedom’ itself? Freedom can be interpreted differently by multiple voices.

This month, on our pages, ‘freedom’ has found multiple interpretations in myriad of ways — each voice visualising a different dream; each dream adding value to the idea of human progress. We have discussions and stories on freedom from Nigeria, Argentina, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Malaysia and more. Strangely enough, August holds multiple independence/ national days that are always for some reason seen as days of being ‘freed’ by many — at least from oppression. But is that true?

From Malaysia, Julian Matthews and Malachi Edwin Vethamani cry out against societal, religious and political bindings – quite a powerful outcry at that with a story and poems. Akbar Barakzai continues his quest with three poems around ideas of freedom translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch. Jaydeep Sarangi and Joan Mcnerny pick up these reverberations of freedom, each defining it in different ways through poetry.

Jared Carter takes us back to his childhood with nostalgic verses. Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Michael Lee Johnson, Vandana Sharma and many more sing to us with their lines. Rhys Hughes has of course humour in verse that makes us smile as does Jay Nicholls who continues with her story-poems on Pirate Blacktarn – fabulous pieces all of them. The sport of hummingbirds and cats among jacaranda trees is caught in words and photographs by Penny Wilkes in her Nature’s Musings. A poetic tribute to Danish Siddiqui by young Sutputra Radheye rings with admiration for the Pulitzer prize-winning photographer who met his untimely end last month on 16th while at work in Afghanistan, covering a skirmish between Taliban and Afghanistan security forces. John Linwood Grant takes up interesting issues in his poetry which brings me back to ‘freedom’ from colonial regimes, perhaps one of the most popular themes for writers.

Indo-Pak independence, celebrated now on 14th (Pakistan) and 15th August (India), reflects not only the violence of the Partition which dislocated and killed millions historically but also the trauma caused by the event. Capturing this trauma is a short story based on memories of Partition by Nadir Ali, translated from Punjabi by his daughter, Amna Ali. Ratnottama Sengupta translates from the diary of Sandhya Sinha (1928-2016), a woman’s voice from the past that empathises with the subjugated who were subdued yet again after an upsurge of violence during the Quit India Movement (1942) against the colonials. Sinha contends that though the movement frittered away, the colonials were left with an after-taste of people hankering for self-rule. A thought-provoking short story by Sunil Sharma explores the results of self-rule in independent India.

Alluding to Jinnah’s vision for women, Aysha Baqir muses emotionally about the goals that remain yet to be fulfilled 74 years after independence. Moazzam Sheikh’s story of immigrants explores dementia, giving us a glimpse of the lives of Asian immigrants in America, immigrants who had to find a new home despite independence. Was this the freedom they dreamt of — all those who fought against various oppressive regimes or colonialism?

Tagore’s lyrics might procure a few ideas on freedom, especially in the song that India calls its National Anthem. Anasuya Bhar assays around the history that surrounds the National Anthem of India, composed by Tagore in Bengali and translated to English by the poet himself and more recently, only by Aruna Chakravarti. We also carry Dr Chakravarti’s translation of the National Anthem in the essay. Reflecting on the politics of Partition and romance is a lighter piece by Devraj Singh Kalsi which says much. ‘Dinos in France’ by Rhys Hughes and Neil Reddick’s ‘The Coupon’ have tongue-in-cheek humour from two sides of the Atlantic.

A coming-of-age story has been translated from Nepali by Mahesh Paudyal – a story by a popular author, Dev Kumari Thapa – our first Nepali prose piece.  We start a four-part travelogue by John Herlihy, a travel writer, on Myanmar, a country which has recently been much in the news with its fight for surviving with democracy taking ascendency over the pandemic and leaving the people bereft of what we take for granted.

Candice Louisa Daquin discusses a life well-lived in a thought provoking essay, in which she draws lessons from her mother as do Korean poet, Ihlwha Choi, and Argentinian writer, Marcelo Medone. Maybe, mothers and freedom draw similar emotions, of blind love and adulation. They seem to be connected in some strange way with terms like motherland and mother tongue used in common parlance.

We have two book excerpts this time: one from Beyond the Himalayas by the multi-faceted, feted and awarded filmmaker we have interviewed, Goutam Ghose, reflecting on how much effort went in to make a trip beyond boundaries drawn by what Tagore called “narrow domestic walls”. We carry a second book excerpt this time, from Jessica Muddit’s Our Home in Myanmar – Four years in Yangon. Keith Lyons has reviewed this book too. If you are interested in freedom and democracy, this sounds like a must read.

Maithreyi Karnoor’s Sylvia: Distant Avuncular Ends, is a fiction that seems to redefine norms by what Rakhi Dalal suggests in her review. Bhaskar Parichha has picked a book that many of us have been curious about, Arundhathi Subramaniam’s Women Who Wear Only Themselves. Parichha is of the opinion,Elevated or chastised, exonerated or condemned, the perturbation unworldly women in India face is that they have never been treated as equal to men as spiritual leaders. This lack of equality finds its roots not only in sociological and cultural systems, but more particularly at the levels of consciousness upon which spirituality and attitudes are finally based.”One wonders if this is conclusive for all ‘unworldly women’ in India only or is it a worldwide phenomenon or is it true only for those who are tied to a particular ethos within the geographical concept of India? The book reviewed by Meenakshi Malhotra,  Somdatta Mandal’s The Last Days of Rabindranath Tagore in Memoirs, dwells on the fierce independence of the early twentieth century women caregivers of the maestro from Bengal. These women did not look for approval or acceptance but made their own rules as did Jnadanandini, Tagore’s sister-in-law. Bhaskar Parichha has also added to our Tagore lore with his essay on Tagore in Odisha.

As usual, we have given you a peek into some of our content. There is more, which we leave for our wonderful readers to uncover. We thank all the readers, our fantastic contributors and the outstanding Borderless team that helps the journal thrive drawing in the best of writers.

I wish you all a happy August as many of the countries try to move towards a new normal.

Mitali Chakravarty

Borderless Journal, August 2021

Categories
Independence Day Stories

Brother Felix’s Ward

By Malachi Edwin Vethamani 

Johan sat very still. His head was bowed low. His fingers were clasped together tightly. As he heard Brother Felix say, ‘Amen’, his fingers relaxed and slowly disengaged. He slowly raised his head. He saw Brother Felix’s radiant, happy, glowing face.  Brother Felix’s gaze fell on him and he seemed to smile a little broader. The other boys were already leaving their seats. Johan wanted to linger a little longer. He felt a calmness within him. Johan knew where he ought to be and slowly made his way out of the chapel and headed to the mosque. Today, he had lingered a little longer than he should have.

Johan knew he was not supposed to attend chapel. At the sound of the last bell on Fridays, his Muslim classmates would leave school and head for lunch or sometimes go directly to the mosque for Friday prayers. Johan was a loner and did not go with his classmates. They found him aloof and different. Soon, they found out that he went for chapel at school before going to the mosque for Friday prayers. They were amused and did not care what Johan did. They did not say anything to the adults. 

When his first year at his new school ended, Johan longed for the Friday chapel. Johan yearned for the music, the songs and the stories he heard each week. When Brother Felix mentioned certain prophets, he would recognize them as Adam, Ibrahim, Musa and most of all, Nabi Isa. He had been taught about all of them by his Al-Quran and Fardu Ain teachers. 

Brother Felix had often talked about Jesus or Nabi Isa, as Johan had first known of him. Johan did not tire hearing stories of Jesus’ miracles or the parables with their teachings. Soon Jesus was rarely Isa to Johan. He did not go beyond these stories. Johan did not want to hear about the Jesus who was crucified and was said to have risen. He did not want to hear about the Jesus who was resurrected from the dead and whom the Christians called god. The Jesus alive and preaching love was enough for him.

Johan was drawn to Jesus, the man. He was drawn to Brother Felix. Brother Felix told the stories Jesus had. Stories about love, kindness and forgiveness. Soon, Johan wanted to be like Brother Felix. His young mind could not have comprehended the ramifications of his desire. Johan did not see in his young, innocent mind the transgressions he would be making by just desiring to be like Brother Felix.

Brother Felix treated Johan as he did all the young boys under his care. He was aware of the complex and complicated racial and religious situation in the newly formed Malaysia. He was glad that a missionary school like his could continue to operate in a Muslim country.

Brother Felix enjoyed playing football as a young man and continued to play when he found time. He had broad shoulders and a well-built body, a soldier’s body. He was strong and had felt ready to go to a distant country in Asia. Brother Felix heard his calling to come to Malaysia in his thirties. He did not have to wait long. One of the other Brothers who had just returned from a short stint in Malaysia informed him of a teaching position in a secondary school in Malacca and he immediately applied for it. 

He arrived in Singapore and made his way to Malacca. He was welcomed by the other Brothers and Sisters who were already there in this small town. He was to teach English in the only school set up for boys by the Catholic church. His first day of teaching went by quite uneventfully. What struck him was the different colours of his students. They were certainly quite different from those in Dublin. However, the colours meant little to Brother Felix. They were all the same in his flock. 

It did not take long for Brother Felix to discover that they were certainly not the same and a few had to be treated slightly differently. In his induction to Malaysian life, Brother Felix discovered the religious mosaic in the country. The main concerns were to be with the Muslim students. They were to be set apart and given different religious instruction in the Catholic School. Brother Paul, the Headmaster, had been very clear about it when he met Brother Felix for the first time. Brother Paul, now in his late 50s, had arrived on Malayan shores just like Brother Felix. Over two decades he had learned the ways of the local authorities and adapted accordingly. ‘There will be no preaching or conversion of Muslim students to Christianity,’ Brother Paul had instructed Brother Felix. That would be at the peril of closing down this school and the Brothers’ Provincialate. The La Sallian Brothers certainly did not want that to befall them, he was explicitly cautioned. 

Brother Felix, however, wondered why Muslim parents would want their children to attend a missionary school. A local teacher gave him the answer. One day, a young twenty something Chinese English language teacher, Miss Esther Lim, informed him, ‘They want their children to learn English well and be able to go overseas for further studies.’ With that Brother Felix’s lessons on Malaysia and Malaysians, especially Muslim Malaysians, had slowly begun. It was made clear to him that Christianity was out of bounds for Malay boys in missionary schools. There was no compromise on this matter, none whatsoever ever. 

Brother Felix was in his eighth year of teaching when Johan joined the school in a Form Two class. He was a precocious young boy. Johan was in Brother Felix’s English language class. Johan was a keen reader and his language proficiency was the highest among his peers. Johan had breezed through Enid Blyton stories and gone on to the more adventurous Hardy Boys mysteries. Brother Felix could not help but take notice of this young boy. He wrote excellent compositions but spoke only when called to answer a question. Johan did not enjoy sports, and this kept him very much on his own. He chose to sit in the last row in the class and was often by himself. 

Johan was a fair-skinned lad. His facial features were not typically Malay. When he spoke, it was always in English. He looked like some of the Eurasian boys in the school. Johan did not join the Malay boys in his class, either. They spoke both English and Malay but seemed unwelcoming towards this new kid who spoke only in English.  Most people did not think him to be Malay. Brother Felix was one of those who did not think of Johan being Malay, either until he saw the young man’s full name in the class register. 

Brother Felix was given the task of conducting the weekly lessons from the Bible during Chapel. The students arrived for the sessions with mixed feelings. Most seemed reluctant to attend. It took a while for them to settle down. The other Brothers were present to help the boys settle down. Soon the chapel was almost full. Johan was among the last to enter the chapel and as usual, he sat alone and in the last pew. Brother Felix only noticed Johan after a few Fridays. Just as in the English Language class, Johan sat there quietly, listening with a faraway look. Lost in his own world. Brother Felix chose not to say anything.

Johan listened to Brother Felix’s Bible stories but rarely waited for the moral lessons that followed. His attention would wane as the stories drew to a close and as soon as the pedantic part began, his mind would switch off and he would quietly slip away before the others could notice him. 

Johan’s thoughts often lingered on the stories he heard during Chapel. Many of these stories he had heard before about prophet Ibrahim and Ishak, Musa and Adam. Just the names had been changed here. He was fascinated when he heard the stories that Jesus had told. Johan understood sibling rivalry and envy in the tale about the prodigal son. In his gentle heart, he glowed on the kindness of the good Samaritan. These were new stories to him. 

A desire slowly began to grow in Johan. He wanted to read and hear more about this gentle prophet who preached love and was later scorned by some of his own people and the Romans. Johan scoured a few history books in the school library and found the historical Jesus mentioned in passing. Then one day, by sheer chance he found a Bible stories series in the fiction section. And over the next few weeks, he managed to read the twenty-five titles in the whole series. 

Brother Felix prepared for his English language classes with the same enthusiasm as he did for Chapel. In both, Johan remained seated at the back and Brother Felix thought it best to leave the boy alone. He sensed Johan was different and he was not sure if there was something troubling the lad.

During the double-period English language classes which were towards the end of a long school day, Brother Felix would play a game with the students. He would tell them a story and ask them to give an ending or ask the students to give a lesson they could learn from the story. These stories were short enough to hold their attention and the class would listen intently. The students would respond rather enthusiastically, knowing someone would get a small prize from Brother Felix. Johan listened intently like the others. He enjoyed the stories and knew the lessons they taught. He had read many of them in the books on the library shelves. His heart warmed when he heard Brother Felix now re-tell these stories. Yet, Johan felt no desire to raise his hand to answer Brother Felix’s questions. Hearing the stories was gift enough from Brother Felix. He also did not want to draw any attention to himself.

Soon there were only a few more weeks before public examinations. Johan and his classmates were busy with their preparations for the examinations. The school Chapel sessions continued as usual. One Friday, just as Johan was slipping away from the chapel and rushing off to the mosque for the prayers, his Bahasa Malaysia teacher saw him. The teacher called him aside and asked Johan what he was doing coming out from the chapel? 

“Listening to the Bible stories, sir,” he replied in Malay. 

The teacher gave him a stern warning, “Stop going to the chapel. It is not for you. If you go again, your parents will be informed.”  

Johan nodded, thanked his teacher and fled. He knew why the teacher forbade him to go to the Chapel. It broke his heart that he had been caught. He sobbed all the way to the mosque, knowing he could not return to the chapel anymore. His mind was troubled throughout the Friday prayers. He found it hard to pay attention to the sermon that was being preached. As the prayers drew to a close and the worshippers began to leave, Johan remained seated in his place. His eyes were closed, and he tried to clear his mind. But the troubling words from his Bahasa Malaysia teacher continued to ring loudly in his head. After a few minutes, finding no solace, he got up and left for home. 

Johan was back at his seat in his classroom on Monday. Classes went on as usual. Brother Felix was his usual self, completely unaware of what had transpired for Johan on Friday. The Bahasa Malaysia teacher came to class and taught his lesson. Just as the bell rang, and Johan was about to sigh a relief, the teacher called out Johan’s name and said, ‘Johan, jangan lupa apa yang saya kata pada kamu (Johan Don’t forget what I told you)’, reminding Johan of his warning. His classmates however, paid no heed to what the teacher told Johan.

As Friday drew close, Johan longed to go to chapel. He had grown accustomed to it. The whole of that Friday morning was a struggle within him. He could not see the problem of attending Friday Chapel, then rushing off for Friday prayers. Attending chapel had not turned him away from his religion. After the final class on Friday, Johan walked slowly to the mosque. He knew the chapel routine well and that by the time he reached the mosque, Brother Felix would be giving his weekly lesson to his schoolmates. Johan did his ablutions and joined the men in the mosque. 

The last week of class finally arrived. There were a few revision lessons and “spotting” of exam questions for the examination. Brother Felix walked into the classroom with his usual bright smile. Johan knew that this would be the final class with Brother Felix. They would have a few days of study leave before the examination began the following week. Like the other teachers, Brother Felix gave tips for the examinations. Unlike his regular way of ending his lessons, today, Brother Felix had no time for a story for his students. He ended his class in an unusual manner. He looked at all his students and bid them farewell, “You have my best wishes and God bless each one of you.” He beamed at the students, picked up his books, and waited for their practised reply. The students shouted out, “Thank you, Brother Felix.”

Johan felt a sadness descend upon him. He saw the end of something he had treasured. This second year in the new school had been trying. His parents had demanded excellent grades from him so that he could enter the Science stream the next year, in a new school overseas. Brother Felix had been a beacon in his lonely life. English language classes had not just been learning the English language but listening to Brother Felix’s Bible stories, listening to his calming voice. 

He remembered his English language teacher in the previous school. Puan Halimah taught English using so many Malay words, it frustrated Johan. He felt his Bahasa Malaysia was improving but not his English language. His classmates were generally weak in English and were quite happy with Puan Halimah’s style of teaching. Johan’s parents wanted more for him and got him transferred out of the school.

Johan knew this day would come. It had been scheduled and was expected. Not the way his attending chapel had suddenly been terminated. That had been unexpected and painful. He thought it cruel, even. He felt something he enjoyed and loved being snatched away from him. His young mind was completely oblivious of what could have happened if his Bahasa Malaysia teacher had made a complaint to the religious authorities.

Johan wanted to see Brother Felix. He wanted to say thank you for all that Brother Felix had done for him. Johan feared he might not see Brother Felix again, unsure when he would be leaving for England.

Johan knocked on Brother Felix’s office door. On the door, he saw Brother Felix’s name and job designation. It read, Brother Felix and beneath it, Senior Assistant. A familiar voice answered, “Come in.” Brother Felix was seated at his table. Johan had never been into this office. Brother Felix gave him his familiar warm smile. 

“Ah, Johan! Wasn’t expecting you to be coming to see me. Sit down.”

“Good afternoon, Brother Felix,” Johan replied. 

Johan sat on the chair in front of Brother Felix. 

“Sir, I wanted to come and thank you,” he said. 

Brother Felix was not accustomed to having students drop by his office to thank him. Most shied away from his office and some dreaded being called to see him. It often meant some disciplinary issue needed to be addressed. 

“Johan, it’s been a pleasure teaching you. You should speak up more in class,” Brother Felix said. 

“Brother Felix, I really liked your stories, too.”

“They are not my stories, they are stories from The Bible, Johan.”

“Sir, I know. I read a few in the library…. Brother Felix, could you give me a copy of The Bible?” Johan asked. Johan could not believe what he had just said. He had merely come to thank his English language teacher. And now, he had blurted a request for a copy of The Bible

Brother Felix sat in front of Johan with the most perplexed look. No student had ever asked him for a Bible. And there sat in front of him a Muslim boy asking for a Bible. Brother Felix remembered Brother Paul’s words, “There will be no preaching or conversion of Muslim students to Christianity.” 

Johan sensed a change coming upon his favourite teacher’s face. There was no anger welling up. Just some confusion and a sadness.

“Brother Felix, I’m not sure why I suddenly asked you for a Bible. I just came to say thank you for the English classes and for the stories during Chapel on Fridays. I will miss both.”

Johan quickly got up, gave Brother Felix a bow and fled from his office. Anyone seeing Johan leave Brother Felix’s office would have thought that he had just received a punishment from the school Senior Assistant. 

Brother Felix sat at his table for a long time thinking of Johan and all his wards. He began to weep silently. He did not know why he wept.

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Malachi Edwin Vethamani is a Malaysian Indian poet, writer, editor, critic, bibliographer and academic. He is Emeritus Professor with University of Nottingham. More details in: www.malachiedwinvethamani.com 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL