An evening with the tigers without the beer – Remembering Anthony Burgess 14th Jan 2008

The MALAY College Old Boys Association organised an evening cocktail talk “time for a tiger” to honour and reminisce on Anthony Burgess. For those who do not know who AB was, Anthony Burgess Wilson was that novelist extraordinaire, a.k.a Mr Wilson who was once a teacher at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar.

Who would blame the bingers for thinking that Time for a Tiger was not about Anthony Burgess but that beer. Even then, one would expect to see crates of that brown bottles with the tiger underneath the palm tree label.

The organizer, his die hard fans and ex-students would have made Burgess proud if they could do things Burgess could not manage to get from that brewery. Crates of that beer for using their tagline. .. Instead the banner of that evening function showed the logos of Maybank and CIMB. The story goes that in his next novel, AB wrote about Carlsberg instead of Tiger Beer. He was rewarded with a crate of Carlsberg.

I forget it is a kosher country, at least in public.

The guest speaker was Rob Spence, who did a PhD on Anthony Burgess. He is the expert on Burgess but as acknowledged by Dr Spence, the real experts were those who were his students, many of whom were in attendance that evening, and were featured in that famous Kuala Hantu School. While Rob Spence talk was fairly academic in nature, the maturing students were the real highlights of the evening.

Oooh, that Sharon Bakar, the lady responsible to bring Rob Spence, was a gem of a find. Her introduction was refreshing. She was drawn to Kuala Kangsar, because of the Malayan TRILOGY. She did what AB did, taught English at the Malay College. She is an old girl of that lovable school, she claimed. Why not? She found her love in the Malay College. I find it intriguing that she is married to a Malay collegian, who was a student of Burgess and featured in the book.

It was a class act by all of Burgess students who are now in their 60s. They were the best testimonials to Burgess, distinguished, overflowing with intellect, sharing their “secrets” in impeccable Queens English complete with the twangs, the way Mr Wilson must have taught them.

For Datuk Hamidin It was make up time. It was time to forgive. Dr Spence changed his perspective of Mr Wilson. He is going to finish reading the book, he promised. AB plagiarised his story on page 43, the page he stopped reading when the book first appeared . On page 43, it was the character Hamidin that was expelled for being in the company of a woman in the house-boy quarters. For that AB was not forgiven.

The story about the relationship between Mr Howell the headmaster and AB was narrated by Headboy Datuk Malik. AB was a non conformist. A beer loving housemaster and his continuous squabbles with the wife, and a group of young preppies under his charge would not get along with any headmaster for that matter. When the book was published the Headmaster refused to have the books in the library. “Over my dead body” said the headmaster. Perhaps that explains Sharons regret for AB not being revered and remembered in the Malay College.

Then there were anecdotes by Datuk Rahim Aki and Datuk Sulaiman . There were also a few confessions. The boy who peed from the balcony was none other than Sharon’s husband. Datuk Rahim Ismail love for music started, listening to Wilson at the piano while clad in his towel. Rahim, the preppie in the towel I mean.

As always the presence of Datuk Meg, the President and the life President Pak Ungku, added class to the occasion.

To brother Mus SeTIM thank you. To Sharon, thank you. It would not be possible without your persistence. One day Camus will be organising a function to honour his teacher extraordinaire just like we just did. They would reminisce, about the lady, or can I call the tigress and the evening ‘Time for a tiger” .

8 Responses to An evening with the tigers without the beer – Remembering Anthony Burgess 14th Jan 2008

  1. NoktahHitam says:

    Where can I get the book?

  2. Camus says:

    Great review! Really glad to finally put a face to the name. :)

  3. bibliobibuli says:

    brilliant write-up, very many thanks

    i’m blogging this too in the next day or two

    i just spoke to the lady from the distributors re the book. she has copies on order but they haven’t arrived in the country yet. will do my best to see that some end up in the MCOBA cooperative and at a discount. some copies should be coming in to kinokuniya too. the other bookshops apparently are not brave enough to order it fearing that it is still “banned”. these kdn folks have done a lot of harm.

  4. idlan says:

    I picked up a copy of the Malayan Trilogy after your daughter mentioned it – and read it in one go while holidaying in Perhentian last summer. I love the way he makes no qualms about the habits of the locals, instead of having them hidden behind a veneer of piety.(My copy is now with your niece, of all people). It is one of AB’s lesser known works in Britain – here is is more lauded for the freakishly morbid A Clockwork Orange. I wish I was back home for this event; would have found a way to sneak in even though I’m not MCOBA!

  5. Inspigoblog says:

    idlan,
    niece?
    the habits of a majority of the majority of locals now are kenduri, tahlil, pengantin, mall crawl,. Anthropologically, Any change in habit over the years?

  6. idlan says:

    Not your niece directly, your wife’s niece I think – Yasmin?

    Am not much of an anthropologist, but what fascinates me about the habits of the Malay is this recent resurgence of various parties trying to outdo one another in terms of Muslimness; I often hear or read people citing the influences of the Internet, MTV and mass media as the reason behind a “decadent and hedonistic lifestyle of the young”; and that in days of old such behaviour was unheard of, and moral virtues and religious values were the order of the day for the Malay.

    My personal sentiment is that the Malay is separate from the Muslim if you move away from constitutional definitions; although a Muslim may be Malay, a Malay is not required to be a Muslim or behave devoutly if he wishes not to (divine retribution notwithstanding). This is well documented in Burgess’ book as well as the biographies of past Malay greats; and yet I observe a tendency to skim past issues such as the extra or pre-marital sexual habits, or the tendency to consume alcohol, to name but two, of the Malays and we continue to obsess with making others observe a moral code we ourselves aren’t quite good at observing ourselves.

    Of course you may have a different view as you meet more people and deal with different social classes compared to me – the viewpoints I cite here are those of younger people in my age bracket and are therefore can be said as less refined, as my viewpoints are, too.

    Just to add an observation on the legal definition of a Malay: I know of a very white professor of physics who is married to an ex-TKCian and lives in Britain. He is Muslim, habitually speaks Malay, wears the pelikat, eats belacan like the best of us and in other words, is very much a Malay in his way of life. If he, after retirement, moves to Malaysia and is domiciled there, would he be eligible for an UMNO membership?

  7. inspigoblog says:

    yes she is my niece, just that i have many nieces. My response on the rest of your observations would have to wait.

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