- The Speculative Fiction Writer
for Manish Melwani (Rasa Malaysian Restaurant, West Village, NYC, March 25, 2019)
Would Partition had not birthed two bloody babies,one named what was, the other what could be,because the family had then found itselftorn in two, torn between staying and going,and followed finally the Sindhi way,teleporting all to Morocco, Burma,and, in his Dada's case, to Singapore.Would he, Manish Melwani, at his Mathshad scored and had not been turfed (luckily!)from Anglo-Chinese to American,where Mr. Silverman showed him the artof penning science fiction, of building worlds,man-eating flowers, fantastic egg-shaped mounds,nor taken on the rap of gangsta chic,under the influence of Wu Tang Clan,and drunk on weekends with the sonabitcheswho never gave him time of day but nowhung out with him, guardian of the gatewayto girls, the jagar of their Shangri-La,because out of despair's hairy armpithe rode the winged creature, confidence,to summer school at the Jack Kerouacand worked with Chip, who tore apart his novelbut recommended him to Clarion.There the unreal encounter with real friendsand the embodiment of love. The call,there, to drop advertising for authorship,copywriting for writing. There. Would Wells,Clarke, Asimov, and the other grandmastershad breathed diversity into their aliens,would Herbert had not his Arakkis on [End Page 85] Iraq modeled, because the alien tropea stranglehold exerted on our world.Speculations are based, no shit, on facts.They become facts. Back home in Singapore,the Aljunieds, the great trading Yemenis,who lived in Malaya even before Raffles,are quizzed about where they come from, as ifonly the Chinese are Singaporeans.Tharman, the best person to lead the country,is declared unelectable becauseSingapore is not ready for an IndianPrime Minister, for such an oxymoron.It is enough to turn anyone's headegg-white with grief or to a raging pyre.The casual slurs—man, can't you take a joke—downed at house parties with a whiskey neat,the house plants baring their titanium teeth.Entering NS with the Poly batch,he left the champagne Bubble when he metPunjabi boys whose fathers drove the taxishe liked to imagine as time machines,whose mothers cleaned the hospitals, the boysalready men in trials of wit and strength.His gray Enciks, who happened to be Sikhs,warned him against joining the army—hewould hentak kaki as a captain foreverwhile junior officers, some whom he trained,who happened to be Chinese, got promoted.Two worlds. Three. Four. He was in Singaporewhen Sakthivel Kumaravelu diedunder the wheels of a bus on Race Course Roadand fellow workers, most from Tamil Nadu,smashed the offensive vehicle that whiskedthem out of sight to tight and spartan dorms,overturned police cars, set them on fire,threw bottles, rocks, eggplants, at Special Ops.He was the men who struck the ambulanceand also was the men in yellow vestswho stumbled out of it, hands shielding heads,making a desperate run for safety. Would [End Page 86] Sinnathamby Rajaratnam, sometimeshe had thought while composing in New Yorkhis paper on the Third World for the panelat the third SLF, would the DeputyPrime Minister had stayed a fiction writerin London, a writer noticed by George Orwell,a writer with a deep love for the poor,a writer who would have imagined him,instead of turning his pen hand to power,bringing a nation, not a novel, toBeing. Reality. Would he. Would he. [End Page 87]
Jee Leong Koh is originally from Singapore and now lives in New York. He is the author of four books of poetry, including The Pillow Book, shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize. His new book of poems is Steep Tea. The organizer of the inaugural Singapore Literature Festival in New York, he curates the arts website Singapore Poetry and the Second Saturdays Reading Series.