Malaysian Indian Artists 2

In his article on Malaysian Indian artists published in the Penang Monthly, Ooi Kok Chuen writes of J. Anu and myself both being of Sri Lankan Tamil descent. This observation, in the context of the question of Malaysian Indianness, raises two concerns pertaining to blood ties, one intimate and familial and the other, public and communal.

The first is a fact – I am proud to note that Anu and I are not only members of the same community, we are of the same family. Anu’s mother Gana, whom I call Acca, is my cousin, and this relationship is celebrated in an image of the Koboi Balik Lagi series of the Koboi Project.

4 Ikatan Pertiwi
4 Ikatan Pertiwi, Koboi Balik Lagi, https://koboibalikkampung.wixsite.com/baliklagi

The second is a question that underpins Ooi’s own pertinent question – ” WHY ARE THERE so few artists of Indian (including Singhalese) descent in Malaysia?.” It is this – Who is Indian in the Malaysian context? As I have noted in a previous post, Ceylonese Tamils in Malaysia have historically tried to preserve a distinct identity from Malaysian Indians. We have our own organization, the Malaysian Ceylonese Congress (MCC), that has been traditionally aligned to Barisan National. Although the MCC is not a registered political party, it had, until 1981, a senator in the Malaysian parliament’s upper house, the Dewan Negara. However, as Suhaini Aznan notes, Malaysians do not recognize the difference between Indians and Ceylonese and in the 2000 census many Ceylonese were counted as Indians. In this light, MIC seems to have invited the Ceylonese to join up with the Indians but, as Aznan notes the Ceylonese declined. He explains, after Datuk Dr N.K.S. Tharmaseelan, president of the MCC, “every race wanted its own identity to survive.”

It is my own opinion that Malaysian Tamils of Ceylonese origin should, to the extent that the Malaysian Indians will accept us, be absorbed into the category and identity of ‘Indian’. It is not a question of renouncing ones Ceylon Tamil background but, rather, of integrating it into the wider Malaysian Indian mosaic. Regardless of my own identification, however, the question remains, “are Ceylonese Tamils included in the category ‘Malaysian Indian’?” The question of Indianness does not stop here. It is clear from Ooi’s placing ‘including Singhalese’ within parenthesis in his question, that even he feels his placement of this other Ceylonese community within the Indian category is questionable. And then there is the question of the Mamak or Indian Muslims – it is unclear if they would all be equally happy with the highlighting of their belonging to the Indian category, as some might be in the process of transferring their identity into the ‘Malay’ category’.

Returning to the first concern, that of family, artist T. Selvaratnam is related to both Anu and myself, but that is a story for another blog post.

https://penangmonthly.com/article/20432/spotlight-on-indian-malaysian-artists?fbclid=IwAR3CB_s6jMPFH2A8P-4UcFwKXz6oUzjwBn7aRXijHkPNp35Aob8d9iE5Gto

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malaysian_Ceylonese_Congress

https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2005/03/27/standing-up-for-the-ceylonese

A Keling Lexicon K – P

Telinga Keling, Silver Halide Print, Niranjan Rajah, 1999. Permanent Collection of the National Visual Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur

A Keling Lexicon A – J
A Keling Lexicon Q – Z

K
Kacang Keling
Kain Keling
Kampung Keling
Kapal Keling
Kapitan Keling
Keling Karam
Kecamatan Keling
Keling Kelate
Kemudi Keling
(Jika Perak) Kerani Keling
(Ikan) Kerapu Keling
Keris (Sempana) Keling
Kesumba Keling
Ketuk Keling (Dulu)
(Darah) Keturunan Keling
Koboi Keling
Kote Keling
Kuli Keling
L
Lidah Keling
Lorong (Samat) Keling
M
Keling Mabuk (Todi)
Mamu Keling
Keling Maya
Keling Mabuk (Todi)
Melayu Keling
Mengkuang Keling
N
Negeri Keling
O

P
Pacar Keling (Surabaya)
Pahlawan Keling
Pandai Keling
(Corak) Parang Keling
Peguam Keling
Pendekar Keling
Penulis Keling
Keling Pariah
Keling Pelikat
Penulis Keling
Pisang (Abu) Keling
Pisang (Kelat) Keling
Pukul Keling (Dulu)
Pusing Keling
Putar Keling

Towards A Keling Lexicon

Telinga Keling, Silver Halide Print, Niranjan Rajah, 1999. Permanent Collection of the National Visual Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur

KELING dan MELAYU tak dapat dipisahkan,
Sejarah dan keturunanpun ada kesinambungan.
Persuratan mulia Makkal tak rasa,
Kerana memaki namanya sudahpun berleluasa.

RIP Jeganathan Ramachandran 3

Although we have communicated over the Internet quite recently, the last time I saw Jega in person was about 20 years ago! I remember visiting his place with my wife, Jane. We had a great conversation about art, religion and culture. Jega told us about his time in India, inspiring stories about learning from masters of traditional arts and sciences as well as demoralizing tales about Indian attitudes and customs around caste. We spoke on the metaphysical understanding of the world from an Indian perspective and also of the social conditions and the position of Indians in Malaysia.

We spoke of the extrinsic oppressions experienced by Indians in the Malaysian political equation and of the detriments that are inherent within the community. It is in this light that I want to highlight the work pictured above titled ‘The House Slave’ (2001) that was included in Bara Hati Bahang Jiwa. This image was painted in response to the suffering experienced by an Indian woman, a friend of Jega’s, who was caught in an abusive domestic situation. It serves as a symbolic reflection on the plight of women caught in the patriarchal failings of Malaysian Indian society. Many Malaysian Indian women suffer a threefold oppression – those of race, class (or caste) and gender. It is as revealing of Jega’s broad and polyvalent practice, as it is of the sacred ontology that, while he operated within the sacred Shiva/ Shakti tradition, his art was most progressive in its representations of gender in secular society.

On a more mystical or uncanny note, I recall how he quietly did reading of Jane’s face (Samudrigham) during our visit, and then, suddenly came out with a statement that she was a very healing person. There was some literal truth in this observation as, while it had been a long time before, Jane had worked as a nurse but we did not take this to be what he meant. As I had felt before, when I received the portrait of me he had made using the same interpretive technique, I felt uncomfortable. While I live within deeply metaphysical sense of reality, and while I am critical of the narrow-minded scientism that dominates the contemporary scientific world-view, I look at all sacred, magical and mystical knowledge as interpretations of signs and symbols patent or latent in creation. I rarely take such propositions as “Jane is a healer” to be intrinsically or literally true. Still, as the years have gone by since our last meeting, and as I have continued to live my life with Jane, I can not deny that there was truth in Jega’s vision. Indeed, I no longer question the reality of what he saw and read at that moment!.

Rest in Peace Jega. Long may your spirit resonate!

Image: https://www.afkcollection.com/gallery/artist/jeganathan-ramachandram

On Being Malaysian Tamil 1

I am a Malaysian of Jaffna Tamil extraction. My late father was a Seremban born Malaysian but my Mother, also now deceased, was a Jaffna girl. Just as the Malays of the peninsular index the notion of a homeland with the term Tanah Melayu, the Tamils of Jaffna use the term Elam. Unlike the Indians and Chinese populations of Malaysia, the majority of whom came under the auspices of the British, the Tamils of Sri Lanka are the descendants of the subjects of ancient Tamil Kingdoms. As such, they have a sense of attachment and entitlement to the land commonly found in those who have occupied and ruled for centuries. Neither the majority Sinhalese nor the minority Tamils are beholden to any compromise or ‘social contract’ the one that binds Malays and non-Malays in Malaysia. This sense of entitlement lead to irresolvable conflict and I have observed this violent Elam struggle from afar. I have experienced it vicariously through news of grandparents and aunties caught in the crossfire between the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam)and the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force), cousins in being sent away to India and Canada as they reached their teenage years for fear of being killed by the SLA (Sri Lankan Army) or Forcibly recruited by the Tigers …. and there are many other such family situations that I have experienced vicariously, scenarios whose trauma I have felt through my own mother’s emotional responses.

My father was a pragmatist and a dove, “Minority Tamils need to compromise with the Sinhala majority! Given the demographics of post-colonial Sri Lanka, armed struggle is futile ,” I can imagine him encapsulating his position. My mother however, was a Tigress at heart! Metaphorically speaking,that is! “They have taken away our language and now they will push us into to the sea!” She could not stand the injustices, indignities and the cruelties experienced by the Tamils and once the war had begun she was emotionally behind “our boys and girls” fighting with the LTTE! You have to recall that the LTTE was not designated as a terrorist organization in Malaysia at the time of this war of independence. (It is much later in 2014 that the designation was given, long after the war had been lost and the LTTE decimated in 2009). And my mother’s openly emotional allegiance meant serious arguments with my father. Although, I was more interested in questions of race, nationality and justice in my own Malaysian milieu, I absorbed all the contrasting positions and sentiments … more in On Being a Malaysian Tamil 2