The late great SP Balasubramaniam’s last recorded vocal graces Superstar Rajinikanth upcoming film release Annatthee. The song is which is titled Annatthee Annatthee after the the film, seems to usher in a rousing return to the rustic rural styling that the Superstar brand is founded on.
In this clip from the second single from Annatthee titled Saara Kaatrae, Rajinikanth gambols along like a happy teenager … joyous and free, unburdened, perhaps, of political his ambitions and responsibilities!
Rajinikanth Superstar’s 168th film Annaatthe will be released by Sun Pictures on 4th of November 2021. This will be his first release in recent years for which there is no underlying political connotation.
6. I ended the last post by noting the semantics (etymology and idiomatic usage), syntax (parenthetical punctuation marks) and the pragmatics of its context (the explanation in the apology) of the utterance leaves open the possibility that no racial slur was intended in the use of the word ‘keling.’ There is however more to this utterance that needs to be analyzed. While the focus of attention has been on the K word, there is another word that in my view is more insidiously troublesome, the E word – ‘estate’.
7. Malaysian Indians are of diverse backgrounds, in terms of regions of the subcontinent from which they hail, economic conditions and social status with which they arrived. Many Indians were brought from Tamil Nadu to a then British Malaya as indentured laborers within the colonial economy. As Dr. I Lourdeasamy writes, “The Indian migrants in estates lived under slave-like conditions. The European planters and their staff exploited them economically and socially. Wages were low, working hours long (10-12 hours a day), housing was crowded, sanitation and health facilities were almost non-existent, and their women were molested”. He quotes historian, S Arasaratnam, who writes that the newly recruited ‘estate’ workers were “cleansed with pesticides and docked around their necks with the name of their estates and shipped under the most deplorable conditions”. These Indian Malaysians who contributed their sweat and blood to the very infrastructure that became this nation were then abandoned as the nation achieved independence. Ocer half a century after independence, a sizable number of their descendants remain in the abject condition of stateless in Malaysia.
8. Using the word ‘estate’ as adjective for the noun ‘Indian’ is a denotation of all of this and within the Malaysian milieu, it has connotations of abjection and depravation. Estate Indian can certainly be used in a neutral manner, for instance, in a census, but there is no doubt that it also connotes a lowly status. While I object to this meaning, I have the word used in this both within the Indian community and within the Malaysian community at large. I remember a classmate in primary school who was teased and shunned the non-Indian students for his smell (he used coconut oil in his hair). He was picked on and even physically abused regularly by one of out teachers. Of note is that this teacher happened to also be an Indian. So even without any racial connotation, which it obviously carries as well, the word ‘estate’ carries all the pejorative connotations of a socio-economic slur.
9. To return to the offending statement, “BAM kutip india (keling) dlm estate mana lah jd pemain utama Malaysia,” it is the use of ‘estate’ as an adjective, rather than the ‘Keling’ noun that in pragmatic analysis reveals the strong likelihood of racist intent and meaning. Indeed, ‘Keling’ might be the obvious racial slur but I take more offence from the use of the word ‘estate’ in a derisory manner in the context of this statement about a Malaysian Indian.
10. I would like to suggest that Malaysian Indians take on all of this name calling in their stride (sticks and stones …), as I am sure our champion Kisona will have to do if she wants to keep her eye on the prize, so to speak! Other peoples stupidity and careless racism really is no skin off our black noses! What is more pertinent here, than a shock horror reaction – that the K word is racist, is that all Malaysians, especially Indians, take note of the implications of use of the E word. I am not saying we should not use ‘estate’ because it is derogatory. That would be too brittle or ‘woke’ in the North American sense, to be useful to Malaysians. What I would like to come out from this nasty little BAM episode is a reflection on the contributions of estate Indians to Malaysia, and on the plight of their descendants today. On an intra-communal note, whether or not one is an estate Indian, Malaysian Indians as a whole can be proud to be associated with the word ‘estate’ and even the word ‘keling.’ We should orient the understanding of these words towards the more noble and affirmative connotations that are latent within them.
11. In concluding this post, I would like to qualify my earlier acknowledgement of the rich metaphoric and respectable etymological aspects of the word ‘keling’ by noting that what is most significant about a word when sent as a message (when it is uttered) is its contemporary meaning for the contemporary receiver. The sender should temper their use of problematic words with the reception of their message in mind.
In this post I will begin to unpack the meaning, possible meanings rather, ofBersatu Pasir Puteh division vice chairman Borhanuddin Che Rahim statement on social media, made with reference to Kisona Selvaduray, in the context of her recent defeat in the Sudirman Cup semi-final match in Finland. “BAM kutip india (keling) dlm mana lah jd pemain utama Malaysia” or “Which estate did BAM (The Badminton Association of Malaysia) fund this indian (keling) and make her Malaysia’s main player”.
As I noted in the previous post, my instinctive response is the same as that of most Malaysians. Surely, this statement is a racial slur. Still, given the immediate apology and resignation of the perpetrator, I now have some doubts as to the meaning of his text and as to his intention as well. To satisfy myself and to do justice to the accused, I will attempt interrogate the statement in terms of its semiotics in order to determine if indeed the statement is racist and if so, what exactly constitutes its racism. If it is not racist, I will ask if it is, nevertheless, a slur of some sort, and again how it achieves its harm. In doing this, I will unpack the syntax, semantics, and pragmatics of this utterance –
“BAM kutip india (keling) dlm estate mana lah jd pemain utama Malaysia”
I will begin with some definitions. ‘Syntax’, is way in which the words are put together to form the offending phrase, ‘Semantics’ involves the meaning of words used independent of the context and ‘pragmatics’ is the meaning of the statement in relation to the context of its utterance. Pragmatics helps us approach the meaning as intended or implied by the speaker.
The obvious trigger word here is ‘keling’ and while it is clearly used in a derogatory manner as exemplified and evidenced by the infamous ‘Keling Babi” video, the word is deeply complex both in its etymology and in its current usage. It is in fact a mainstay of Malay idiomatic expression (Please see my exhaustive Keling Lexicon). In semantic terms, to define ‘keling’ as having a racist denotation, or even a necessary connotation of racism, would mean denying the benign etymology of the word. At the very least it would mean that the contemporary negative connotations (which one can in fact see even in the older idiomatic expressions of the lexicon), have displaced other more neutral denotations of Indian origins and Indianness.
Further, in this question of usage, there is a clear geographical diversity in the understanding the word. I have come to understand anecdotally, that the word is used freely by Malays in Kelantan, under the impression that it is not a slur and that Indians do not take it as one. I am yet to gain any insight about the Kelate Indian communities position in this matter but I consider my Malay informers astute, sensitive and reliable. If indeed this is the position in Kelantan, the explanation given by Borhanuddin Che Rahim stands corroborated. He states in his apology,“Saya tidak berniat menghina kaum India dengan panggilan tersebut, ia sebaliknya bahasa percakapan di Kelantan yang merujuk kepada orang India”.
There is also syntactical indication that the use of the term might not be as a slur. It is used, not instead of ‘India’ but, as an ancillary to ‘india,’ and it is set within brackets, as if to indicate that it is an adjective modifying the noun. If the word ‘india’ is being explained by the more Kelate appellation of ‘keling’, or if ‘india’ is being qualified – indicating which type of ‘india,’ ‘keling’ or perhaps ‘mamak’, then there arises the possibility that no racial slur arises in the use of the word, at least not from the perspective of intention.
The young Malaysian Indian badminton player Kisona Selvaduray, became the victim of an alleged racial slur after her recent defeat in the Sudirman Cup semi-final match in Finland. According to Says Bersatu Pasir Puteh division vice chairman Borhanuddin Che Rahim has apologized and resigned for having made this slur. It is even suggested in Free Malaysia Today that the police will investigate this matter under Section 504 of the Penal Code for the intentional insult with intent to provoke a breach of peace and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1988.
As presented in the screen garb on Free Malaysia Today, the Bersatu politician wrote, “BAM kutip india (keling) dlm estate mana lah jd pemain utama Malaysia” or “Which estate did BAM (The Badminton Association of Malaysia) found this indian (keling) and made her Malaysia’s main player”. While I am angered by this statement and its careless, privileged, racial attitude (ketuanan), I nevertheless introduce this post with the equivocation “alleged.” I do so in spite of the apology, out of a genuine concern about casting aspersions of racist intent in a statement without a careful investigation of its syntax, semantics and, particularly, the pragmatics of the utterance. Indeed, as explored in my previous images and writings, the connotation of the term ‘Keling’ varies across history, geography and context. in the following blog posts, I will attempt to unpack and asses Borhanuddin Che Rahim statement which is more complex in semiotic terms than it initially appears to be. For now, please see the following –
‘Traces, Legacies, and Futures’ was a conversation on electronic art between Hasnul Jamal Saidon and myself, presented under the auspices o the Muzium dan Galeri Tuanku Fauziah, mediated by Ropesh Sitharan. It took place at 9pm (MYT) on 30 September 2020.