Meraikan tradisi di alaf digital

Published in Sinar Harian (August 7, 2013).

Salam lebaran.

Lumrah Ramadhan dan Syawal saya sekarang, walaupun membosankan, sudah jadi mapan. Tidak semestinya berada dalam sususan yang tegar, lazimnya ia begini: mula berpuasa, menghadiri majlis berbuka puasa yang tidak boleh dielak-elak lagi, membeli kelengkapan hari raya untuk si kecil dan ayahnya, memesan biskut-biskut raya, menandatangan kad hari raya di pejabat (tahun ini saya hantar kad digital sahaja, langsung jimat masa), menukar duit raya dan duit sedekah, dan akhirnya sampai pada kemuncak segala acara: balik kampung.

Ditindas mimpi-mimpi getir dalam mengejar duniawi, hari raya saya kebelakangan ini, kurang terasa kesannya di jiwa. Mungkin juga faktor usia dan penambahan tanggungjawab mempengaruhi suasana lebaran. Kini hari raya saya lebih klinikal pendekatannya, tiada sinambungan dengan elemen-elemen kemeriahan yang saya kecapi semasa kecil dahulu.

Hari lebaran saya ketika itu tidak banyak beza dari anda semua yang membesar di luar kota – di sekitar tahun 70-an dan 80-an terutamanya. Walau hidup dalam kasta sederhana, hari raya tetap meriah.

Bunyi-bunyi yang sinonim semasa saya membesar dahulu setiap kali Ramadhan tiba dan menjelang Syawal adalah: bunyi geduk tanda sudah masuk waktu makan (kalau tak tahu apa itu ‘geduk,’ sila rujuk Lebai Google atau Kamus Dewan Online. Jangan malas), mercun (yang ini  tak usah dicontohi), dan gegak gempita segala aktiviti memasak dari dapur nenek. Dapur yang paling banyak membentuk tunas rasa juadah hari raya saya. Dari ketupat dakap hingga ke ayam kerutuk, kalau tiada juadah kegemaran, hari raya tidak pernah sempurna.  

Dan sebenarnya hari raya itu tiada makna tanpa dihambat notalgia, bukan begitu pembaca budiman? Nostalgia itu pula merupakan suatu bentuk eskapisme untuk insani. Kenapa saya katakan di sini bahawa lebaran hambar makna tanpa nostalgia? Tunggu sahaja menjelang syawal, hampir seluruh negara akan tertunggu-tunggu untuk menjadi tukang komen tak bergaji tentang iklan-iklan komersial hari raya di kaca TV – atau sekarang mereka juga berleluasa di laman YouTube.

Nostalgia juga sebenarnya sahabat karib kepada emosi. Lantaran itu iklan-iklan hari raya bertemakan nostalgia jadi kegemaran ramai. Bermula daripada garapan arwah Yasmin Ahmad di era 90-an, apabila beliau mula-mula mengajak kita menyambut ‘Kongsi Raya’ bersama. Yasmin bijak menggabungkan komponen-komponen nostalgia, emosi dan silaturrahim dalam suatu perjalanan yang maha kreatif. Kesannya pula terus bermastautin di hati. Klik di sini untuk menyegarkan kembali memori anda: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHVsb-nSII8

Siapapun tidak akan lupa kesan yang ditinggalkan juga oleh Yasmin, melalui iklan raya Ombak Jahat yang melemaskan emosi, lakonan dua kanak-kanak yang menunggu kepulangan bapa mereka yang bekerja sebagai nelayan di laut. Gerabak adegan daripada susur ombak besar hingga ke dalam kedai kopi, kesemuanya meruntun hati. Klik di sini: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bemZQucc9Y

Terdapat juga iklan hari raya yang menggabungkan elemen nostalgia, emosi dan satira humor. Ingat lagi iklan kisah janda anak tujuh yang bertanya kepada anak-anaknya: “Daging mana? Hati? Limpa?” Maka Menggelupurlah ketujuh-tujuh anak yang terlupa pesan ibu di hari memasak. Akhir jalan cerita amat menggelikan hati. Klik di sini:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WIEsT__kn0

Untuk tahun 2013, iklan hari raya yang paling sesuai untuk anda – sekiranya anda ketagih internet seperti saya – ialah siaran syarikat telekomunikasi gergasi Maxis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKh586vnSpc. Walaupun tidak berjela dengan dialog airmata atau penuh dengan adegan merintihi kepayahan hidup, mesej yang cuba disampaikan tetap jelas. Jangan dipertaruh silaturrahim untuk memberi laluan kepada gajet dan aplikasi internet.

Tapi saya tahu, kita insan selalu lupa dan kerap lalai. Jadi molek kita ambil pendekatan seperti yang disyorkan oleh si Oscar Wilde: Pengalaman adalah nama yang beri setiap orang terhadap kesilapan-kesilapan mereka.

Selamat hari raya. Maaf zahir batin.

  • Elviza sudah tiba di Tanah Rendah Sekebun Bunga tatkala ruangan ini disiarkan. 

Tatkala puisi tak lagi dibaca

Published in Sinar Harian & The Malaysian Insider

Ralat: Lebih setahun pena saya bercuti tanpa notis, kini sudah kembali. Selamat bertemu semula, pembaca budiman. Kita berjumpa  di ruangan ini, insyaAllah, setiap dua minggu sekali. 

Sejak kecil saya kagum dengan kemampuan Saleh Ben Joned menulis. Saleh cekap menggabungkan unsur puisi dalam konteks sosial dan politik semasa. Susur galur pemikiran atas kertas beliau jadi desiderata aktiviti pembacaan saya. Kesan yang ditinggalkan masih segar hingga ke hari ini.

Dinobat bagai raja penulisan sinikal, Saleh tidak pernah mengekang kebebasan pena beliau demi menjaga hati sesiapa. Elemen takut tak pernah wujud dalam karya-karya milik Saleh. Kalau dia tak suka, Pak Menteri pun kena.

Benar, di alaf digital sekarang Pak Menteri memang selalu kena, tetapi Saleh menulis di kala penerbitan konvensional era 80-an dan 90-an. Semuanya bahan bacaan masih bercetak ketika itu – tiada variasi internet. Kalau tak diluluskan si ketua editor, alamatnya simpan sahaja deraf itu buat kenang-kenangan.

Jadi begitulah, penulisan sosio-politik yang berunsurkan puisi dan sastera nilainya tidak terperi. Mampu membentuk minda dan pada masa yang sama ia turut menyuntik elemen tenteram ke dalam jiwa. Sekiranya saya diizinkan jadi pedantic sebentar, kosakata ‘sastera’ berasal daripada bahasa sanskrit ‘castra’ yang membawa maksud sebagai sesuatu yang indah-indah, baik dan lebih berfaedah.

Malangnya kini, bahan bacaan – terutama yang berlandaskan sastera dan puisi –berada di ambang hilang relevansi. Kombinasi kurang minat dan dominasi internet dalam hidup kita, telah mewujudkan regangan yang ketara kepada minat membaca cara lama, sementelah lagi bahan bacaan yang berasaskan puisi dan sastera. Pembaca budiman tak percaya? Cuba muatturun aplikasi internet ‘berhantu’ seperti Candy Crush dan Minion Rush. Satu kerja pun tak jadi, apatah lagi untuk membaca atau berpuisi.

Bila internet sudah bersultan di mata, beraja di hati, kita alpa dengan nikmat membelek buku bercetak dalam suasana yang sunyi. Dan makanan kepada jiwa itu lumrahnya menjurus kepada sesuatu yang halus seperti sastera, puisi, seni visual, seni pentas dan musik. Puisi misalnya — jika kena cara tulisan dan penyampaian — bisa jadi wadah untuk mengasah imaginasi yang kuat dan memberi inspirasi kepada cakrawala pemikiran kita.

Sekiranya kita mencatu peranan puisi dan sastera dalam kehidupan untuk memberi laluan kepada pembangunan ekonomi dan sosial semata, kita bakal mengeluarkan manusia robotik dalam masyarakat kita. Mendidik minda yang tertumpu kepada skil profesional masing-masing sahaja, akan membawa kesan negatif kepada fabrik kemasyarakatan dan menjuramkan lagi cerun polarisasi sedia ada antara kaum di Malaysia.

Saya sudah melihat cukup bukti – terutama di kalangan warga kota – yang hidup seharian semata-mata mengejar baki yang lebih banyak dalam akaun bank setiap bulan dan bertuhankan konsumerisme. Kita sering mengukur kejayaan melalui pencapaian fiskal dan fizikal yang boleh dilihat dengan mata kasar, apa yang terkebelakang lazimnya pembangunan jiwa dan rohani.

Sasterawan Shahnon Ahmad pernah berkata bahawa sastera itu adalah seismograf kehidupan. Dan saya tersenyum sumbing setiap kali frasa ini terlintas semula di kepala. Pertama kali saya membaca frasa tersebut, saya fikir, kenapa pula Pak Shahnon kata sastera itu persis alat pengukur gempa bumi. Apa firasat tersembunyi yang cuba disampaikan. Setelah ditilik, disiasat dan dikaji berkali-kali, maksud Pak Shahnon itu sebenarnya lebih menjurus kepada sastera itu sebagai kayu ukur atau penyukat kehidupan kita. Kehidupan paling baik itu lahir dari kombinasi fizikal, sahsiah dan rohani yang seimbang. Halus benar bahasa Pak Shahnon.

Saya terganggu (tapi tidak pernah meragukan elemen kebenaran) dalam rangkap kata-kata seorang penyair Indonesia, Ragil Suwarna Pragolapati: “Orang jadi penyair mustahil kaya, malahan kekal melarat.” Tetapi apa yang Ragil tidak kongsi dengan kita, jiwa seorang  penyair, penulis atau orang-orang seni itu jarang gundah-gulana.

  • Elviza lelah mengejar ruang kosong untuk membaca dan menulis.

Obor untuk Perwira

Saat jurnalisme 
Gagal mengekang resah 
Ketika pertiwi 
Dicabar, diterajah 

Sastra harus bicara 

Kerana kami insan tak punya
Untuk mu wira bangsa 
Kami hanya ada prosa
Dan do'a

Kerana dunia sudah gila 
Kelam dalam serakah manusia
Martabat bangsa jadi taruhan
Maruah negara disepak terajang 

Kini semboyan telah berbunyi
Darah satria mu jadi galang ganti
Keramat keberanian mu jadi kemudi
Agar masih ada esok untuk kami 

Dan sekiranya esok 
Jalang pengkhianat sudah kau hantar ke neraka
Suria keamanan kembali berfajar 
Jasa mu kami kenang, kami julang
Pengorbanan mu tiada sempadan 

Tapi jika esok 
Kau pulang dalam kafan 
Usah gusar wahai pahlawan 
Shahid mu seharum seroja
Semangat mu kami julang 
Amanat mu kami kenang 
Keluarga mu kami dahulukan
Kebajikan anak-anak mu kami perjuangkan 
Balu mu kami pertahankan

Kerana kita masih Tuan
Di tanah keramat, bumi bertuah ini.

EM
Petaling Jaya 
March 4, 2013 
#LahadDatu #Semporna #Kunak #PrayforSabah #BakDatang
 

Social Media: Clash of the Titans

Forget designer drugs. All hail the rise of social media as the latest global addiction – an addiction that looks all set to make face-to-face communication as obsolete as Nokia 3210 (if it hasn’t already).

Gone are the days of torment waiting for The New Yorker to arrive at my flat via post from the US. Also, there’s that small matter of the exorbitant postage charge tagged to the skinny magazine to cross the Atlantic.

Now just with a few slides on the iPad touchscreen, with the new suave apps of the magazine ever ready to receive my command, information I had used to wait days for are now instantly at my fingertips.

Whenever I got bored in meetings or courtroom (which is often), a few discreet scrolls on the android to meet the magazine’s tweethandle or its Facebook page, will send me straight to Shouts & Murmurs – my absolute favourite.

And what about the magazine’s strategic affiliation with iPad’s app called Flipboard to win the hearts of its subscribers? That’s a story for another day.

Anecdotes aside, the society – from business organisation to political parties alike – are leveraging on various social media platforms to promote their products or political messages. As the dawn of social media reaches Malaysian shores, the country has seen an estimated 17.5 million internet users, out of which, 12.4 million are Facebook users. Meanwhile, another 2 million Malaysians are hooked on Twitter.

According to the latest research by Oxford Internet Institute 2012 on Twitter users, Malaysia came in 2nd position (next to Brazil) in terms or ratio of tweets per internet user. In view of the current growth of users in Facebook and Twitter as the primary platform, perhaps it is timely to analyse the impact of social media on our political landscape vis-à-vis the forthcoming 13th general election.

FACEBOOK

Facebook remains the main social media channel in terms of number of users in Malaysia. For this exercise, a total of 345 Facebook pages have been analysed. The analysis includes, but not limited to, Facebook pages that belong to political parties, political supporters’ clubs, politically motivated movements, individual political leaders, and the self-styled political analysts roaming the social media world.

The ruling coalition and its components parties’ Facebook presence receive a total of 3.71 million ‘likes’ from a combination of 164 Facebook pages. Highest contributors come from Najib Razak (1.04 million likes) and Tun Dr. Mahathir (1.70 million likes).

Meanwhile the opposition yields 2.71 million likes from a total combination of 181 Facebook pages. Main contributors are PAS leader, Tok Guru Nik Aziz (691,950 Likes), followed by Pakatan leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (376,089 Likes).

With the high number of Facebook pages created over the last 2 years, the opposition has been relentless in their effort to win supporters through various Facebook campaigns such as 100,000 People Request Anwar Ibrahim to be the Prime Minister. From this page they managed to secure 6,123 Likes.  And there’s a similar campaign titled 500,000 Request For Datuk Anwar Ibrahim For The Next PM! For A CHANGE, which registered 699 ‘likes’ to date.

Other campaign against the current ruling coalition includes, 1,000,000 People Request Najib Tun Razak Resignation, which only yielded 7,382 ‘likes’. However, BERSIH 2.0. Official Facebook Page on electoral reform has gathered a whopping 216,872 ‘likes’.

For Chinese leaders from both MCA and DAP, Lim Guan Eng and Chua Soi Lek have more or less the same amount of Facebook ‘likes’  of 143,178 and 156,523 respectively.  On the other hand, Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) has registered 38,624 ‘likes’.

Cybertrooping initiatives are heating up on both sides of the political divide. The UMNO Cybertrooper Club page has attracted 4,555 ‘likes’ as opposed to Pakatan Rakyat Cyber Trooper Club, which has only garnered 842 ‘likes’.

UMNO has come a long way post GE12. They have secured a significant footing online with a total of 109,483 ‘likes’ for their Pemuda UMNO Malaysia, UMNO Update, Media UMNO Malaysia and UMNO Facebook pages.

Comparatively, Pakatan has collected a total of 50,797 ‘likes’ from their key Facebook pages such as Pakatan Official Fanpage, Pakatan Pulau Pinang, Pakatan Selangor, Pakatan Youth, Friends of Pakatan, Pakatan Rakyat Perlis, Buletin Pakatan, Pakatan Rakyat Supporters and Pakatan Rakyat Club Facebook pages.

TWITTER

Now Twitter.

While the number of users pale in comparison to that of Facebook, Malaysia remains the 2nd highest tweet ratio per internet user next to Brazil. It means Twitter is more dynamic than Facebook in terms of expressing one’s view.

Looking at the number of tweets posted and the viral effect it can create on current issues like BERSIH and current crime index, I dare not underestimate its power in marshalling support for both political factions.

In a fiercely intense fight – combining the tweets from politicians and their influential comrades alike – Barisan has gained 1,463,638 followers while Pakatan follows closely with 1,279,452 followers.

Given that both Najib and Anwar prefer to use the one-way communication on Twitter, other politicians have since adopted a more pragmatic approach by engaging their followers on Twitter timeline.

Take @Khairykj for instance. Despite his penchant for being blunt and cynical in answering tweets, he has gained 131,764 followers in his 3 and a half years of tweeting. Khairy’s counterpart in Pakatan, Shamsul Iskandar, trails far behind with only 9,890 followers over the same period.

However, Pakatan draws strength from the ever-popular Hannah Yeoh (47,513 followers), Elizabeth Wong (34,012 followers), Nurul Izzah (60,660 followers) and an experienced politician, Lim Guan Eng (37,564).

The cat-and-mouse game intensifies with Barisan’s strong fort being dominated by Hishammuddin  Hussein (120,853 followers), Mukhriz Mahathir (74,348 followers), Tan Keng Liang (24,534 followers) and Rahman Dahlan (9,965 followers). Total followers favoring politicians from the current coalition stands at 1,170,434, while Pakatan trails closely with 774,308.

Lieutenants on both sides of the political divide are drawn to the psych-war on Twitter, like moths to a flame. I am talking about the likes of Lokman Adam, Hishamuddin Rais, Rocky’s Bru, Nathaniel Tan, Firdy Fire and Tricia Yeoh.

Of course, let’s not forget the recent spat between two local celebrities calling each other to a debate about issues plaguing the PDRM. No, I have no comment on that.

THE FORECAST

After all is told, statistics is but a collection of numbers. The true evaluation on the effectiveness (or otherwise) of political campaign via social media can only be ascertained post GE13. Political leaders must not forsake the on-ground campaign which covers the remaining 11 million people who have no access to the internet.

It is undeniable that Facebook and Twitter were instrumental to the Arab Spring Uprising and other social movements. However, the demographics and psychometrics of Malaysia is vastly different, and the impact may centralize only to urbanites and those who have internet access.

Because the dynamics of the social movement via Facebook or Twitter can be viral, I am of the view that the idea of having a social media council – to control something that is inherently uncontrollable – is but a folly.

Last but not least, we must remember that social media does not exist in a vacuum. For further clarification, please consult the lawyers in Twitterjaya – you know who am I talking about.

Note: The analysis on Facebook & Twitter was done a fortnight ago. The number has increased tremendously at the time of drafting. 

Angkara Taksub & Diperkudakan

(Published in Sinar Harian, 2 May 2012)

Ralat: Bukan untuk para demonstran atau pihak polis yang cintakan kedamaian.

Sudah lewat empat tahun sejak saya menulis untuk pembaca budiman – suatu keistimewaan maha agung buat saya. Dan selagi soal hak untuk berkumpul dan berhimpun secara aman masih diperkata, pembaca budiman sudah sedia maklum di mana paksi pendirian saya.

Ruangan minggu ini akan menyatakan satu persatu pengamatan peribadi saya tentang perangai dan ketaksuban sesetengah pihak semasa perhimpunan Bersih 3.0. Sabtu lepas, di Kuala Lumpur.

Saya menghormati hak setiap warganegara untuk berkumpul dan membantah secara aman. Sudah naik mua di muka menulis berkali-kali tentang hak di bawah Perkara 10(1)(a)dan(b) Perlembagaan Persekutuan.

Tetapi bila hak bersangkal misi peribadi, celaka Sabtu lepas terjadi.

Perhimpunan yang bermula dengan aman dan senyuman jadi gegak gempita songsang budaya, angkara segelintir demonstran yang taksub dengan ka’aabah politik masing-masing dan pihak berkuasa yang diperkuda tuan sendiri.

Saya kata ‘segelintir,’ bukan semua – tolong jangan putar belit kenyataan saya.

Apa yang tolol adalah bila orang-orang seperti saya yang kuat bertanya – memang dari kecil begitu, sehingga guru-guru dan ibu sendiri naik muak – dilabel sebagai “apa masalah?, moron, propagandist polis, anjing, manipulated,” dan macam-macam lagi bahasa kesat dalam nahu bahasa Inggeris dan Melayu yang sangat daif di laman Twitter.

Ini lah jadinya bila berguru kepalang ajar.

Bila ada yang berkicau di laman Twitter tentang tiga orang maut dirempuh kereta polis, saya cepat-cepat bertanya memohon kepastian. Nyata, kebenaran itu mahal, sementara menyebar berita panas tak berlapik bukti itu murahan.

Sebenarnya saya tidak ada masalah secara peribadi dengan orang-orang macam ini. Anggap sahaja bila saya bertanya dengan telus dan lantang, itu kerana saya memperjuangkan tekad untuk menulis apa yang benar. Bukan sewenang-wenang menulis mengikut nafsu baik di Twitter, Facebook mahupun ruangan ini.

Maaf kepada sesiapa yang terasa, I am calling your bluff. Kalau ada bukti nyata, sila tulis rebuttal kepada pihak editorial Sinar Harian dengan segera.

Juga saya tuliskan di sini, rasa hormat menggebu-gebu untuk aktivis seperti Padma. Selesai berdemo dengan aman, beliau mengajak rakan-rakan membersihkan Kuala Lumpur. Peguam seperti Syahredzan yang bersengkang mata, menggadai masa dalam memperjuangkan hak anak guam yang dinafikan khidmat guaman.

Mereka ini payah berkalih arah walau dituba pelbagai propaganda politik. Di mata saya, mereka berdua anak merdeka yang hakiki.

Kalau tidak tegar berdebat cara ilmuwan, maruah diri jadi taruhan. Bukan begitu, pembaca budiman?

Sasterawan dan aktivis sosial Indonesia, Wiji Thukul, dalam puisinya bertajuk Merontokkan Pidato, telah menyimpul pendapat saya tentang Kuala Lumpur yang berantakan Sabtu lepas. Begini bunyinya:

Bermingu-minggu ratusan jam


aku dipaksa


akrab dengan sudut-sudut kamar


lobang-lobang udara


lalat semut dan kecoa

tapi catatlah


mereka gagal memaksaku

aku tak akan mengakui kesalahanku


karena berpikir merdeka bukanlah kesalahan


bukan dosa bukan aib bukan cacat


yang harus disembunyikan

kubaca koran


kucari apa yang tidak tertulis


kutonton televisi


kulihat apa yang tidak diperlihatkan

kukibas-kibaskan pidatomu itu


dalam kepalaku hingga rontok
maka terang benderanglah:

ucapan penguasa selalu dibenarkan
laras senapan!

 tapi dengarlah


aku tak akan minta ampun


pada kemerdekaan ini

Mengimbau cara-cara Saleh Ben Joned yang selalu menyindir dalam puisi, mengata secara tersirat, saya pohon masa pembaca budiman untuk mencari mesej subliminal dalam frasa puisi Wiji Thukul itu.

Jangan sesekali kita minta ampun pada kemerdekaan ini. Lihatlah apa yang tidak perlihatkan, merintis bangsa cara orang budiman.

Melihat secara menyuluruh pasca Bersih 3.0. selepas Kuala Lumpur kembali bernafas seperti biasa, kotoran dan debu bantahan menipis, demonstran pulang ke rumah masing-masing, iluminasi kebangkitan rakyat masih kekal tidak tersangkal. Nyata, ada kekhilafan besar bila seramai itu bersuara. Sekarang para memanda menteri boleh tepuk dada tanya minda. Jangan tanya selera.

Dan untuk pihak pengajur, seperti yang selalu saya kata, sila nyahkan anasir politik dalam perjuangan anda. Mereka itu bukan si Jebat pejuang kebenaran, mereka itu menangguk di air yang keruh untuk jadi perdana menteri semata.

Membantah itu seribu cara, diam tidak bermakna takut, bersuara kecil tidak bererti kecut, enggan berarak di jalanan bukan bodoh. Ini tanah tumpah darah saya dan anda, saya lebih rela mati beragan, tak tentu batu nisan dari menjadi hamba ikutan tanpa pendirian. Alur pendidikan saya mengajar saya bertanya dan mengeluarkan pendapat seperti orang berakal – bukan untuk jadi wahana politik sesiapa.

Sila hormat kemerdekaan saya.

Dan jangan lupa pembaca budiman, luka angkara dipukul bisa sembuh, kereta yang rosak boleh diganti, tapi luka yang diguris mata pena, kekal sepanjang zaman.

Book Snob

I swear I can metamorphose into a stark raving lunatic whenever I find myself in the wondrous confines of a bookstore. As a result of my slightly unconventional behavior, I suspect that a few sales assistants at MPH would secretly give their proverbial right arm for the privilege of duct-taping my lips shut – and for keeping them so sealed until the dawn of the apocalypse.

But it’s nothing personal, it’s just books.

Living in this quirky (but ever so real world) that exists in my head, I often help (read: on my own initiative) rearrange books in MPH, Borders, Kinokuniya and independent bookstores according to their respective genres and author’s names. I believe that this is the least I could do in return for them allowing me to read their precious books for free. However, I don’t think the storeowner is even aware (or approves) of this arrangement.

When occasion warrants it, I also would write disgruntled emails detailing a shop’s seeming lack of soul in selling books. At times, I would also call to ask them the most inane of questions about their new arrivals and bestsellers lists.

Sorry for being pedantic, but this world can’t move on its rightful axis when a giant bookstore labels its shelves like this:

I once asked a book assistant at – I should refrain from naming; let’s avoid litigation shall we? – regarding the whereabouts of Theroux’s latest title, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star. For my troubles, I was confronted with the assistant’s overconfident, “Oh, that’s in Astronomy’s section please”. And I suppose 84 Charing Cross Road would therefore be in the – let’s see – maps section?

Spare me the torture, dear friends. Please take a knife and deliver unto me an untimely death so I can fly to the Utopia of books where the ignorant and non-book-lovers are denied entry.

Through the years, I find myself raving on the same topic for years – what more with the advent of social media platform where over-sharing is considered the new black. Here’s an example, I once tweeted the Prime Minister about the ridiculously exorbitant book prices in this country. No, let me be honest – I tweeted him about 10 times. The busy man, however, has never replied.

Now, I will take matters into my own hands. My friend (read: the poor financier) and I will open our own bookstore. No, it is not my intention to give Amazon.com a run for its money. My aspirations are of a much humbler nature: I just want to share with you books that can challenge, move and maybe perhaps even steal a permanent place in your heart.

If I were a trust fund baby, I would have opened something like this yesterday:

Alas, since life has plans on its own (often quite independent from mine), I will instead start with something like this to appease this hunger for sharing books.

In the meantime, I will start reviewing books deemed fit for sharing in Book Snob on a weekly basis.  When the website is launched to all and sundry, I pray for your support. And if you were to ask what kind of bookshop it will be, I will answer, “It’s simply a place where good books meet”.

If patience is your forte, you could place your order via this blog or the following links: FacebookTwitter.

Let’s start with some gems from our neighboring country, shall we?

Vagabond’s Note: Street tango in Athens

(Published in The Malaysian Insider, 15 January 2012)

I realise with great consternation that travel is not about being a gawking tourist at historical destinations of the world.

I have since accepted that travel is less about ticking off the checkbox in my list of destinations than it is about collecting images of sun-kissed faces and pallid lips of locals at the foot of a mountain.

Travel, to me, is always about striking up odd conversations with equally odd strangers.

I have so far learned to accept certain acute situations: for instance, that half an inch is a perfectly comfortable margin between life and a horrific car accident in Istanbul’s traffic.

But reality, of course, is a slap in the face: you certainly are no Marco Polo when you insist on a decent toilet, a GPS device supported by cut-throat international roaming rates, and a hotel room equipped with a UNIFI-speed internet connection. Duh!

I awoke the sleeping traveller in me during one random train ride from Aberystwyth to Birmingham circa 1995. A boy had just broken my tender heart of 20. I couldn’t decide which was colder at the time: the menacing gales from the nearby Irish Sea, or my frozen heart.

The hüzün in my soul matched that of the grey, overcast Welsh sky — I was no longer the Skylar of his heart.

Disillusioned by the injustice of romance, I made a vow to never fall in love again (that has no bearing of truth whatsoever). I also swore off boys till the dawn of Apocalypse (this too is fiction), but I kept travelling whenever time and money were kind to me.

Fast forward to 16 years later: armed with a much healthier state of the heart and overrated guide books, here I was, half away to the top of the Acropolis, cursing the travel bug in me like a mad sailor.

Late autumn sun refuses to simmer the heat, the temperature lingers at 35 degree Celcius. And tackling the limestone steps of the Acropolis in hostile temperature is an affirmative way to premature cardiac arrest — especially to those who avoid exercising.

Still, no possibility of cardiac arrest could deter millions of visitors from ascending the Acropolis in search of, the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the virgin patron of Athens, the goddess Athena.

More than 2,400 years after its construction, the Parthenon still dominates the azure skyline of Athens above all other historical attractions.

This is Herod Atticus Odeon at the foot of the Acropolis. It was built by Herodes in memory of his wife, Regilla, who died in 160 AD.

The structure, originally painted in myriads of red, green and blue had survived until 1687, but it was reduced to ruins when the Venetians who were hiding from the Turkish invasion sparked an explosion.

Until today, the Parthenon is still undergoing massive restoration effort.

Next to the Parthenon, the Erechtheion stands proud with six draped female columns — Caryatid Porch (the porch of the maidens) — but there are only five left.

Lord Elgin of England had stolen the last column to decorate his Scottish mansion and later sold it the British Museum. Legend has it that at night, the five remaining caryatids could still be heard wailing for their lost sister.

And at this very same spot goddess Athena and Poseidon had fought for control of Athens. Poseidon struck his trident into the rock of Acropolis and salt water gushed out from the city of stone, whilst Athena offered olive tree. The Olympian gods had decided that Athena was the winner of the battle.

But no legendary anecdote could rival the view of the Parthenon from Lycabettus Hill at night or the electrifying ambience of Plaka Street.

Packed to the brim with tourists and locals selling all kinds of souvenirs imaginable — from brass Sparta helmets to hand woven fabrics — Plaka serves as the heartbeat of Athens where friendly Athenians can be seen smiling towards the boisterous tour groups. They don’t do the same at city center, Syntagma.

In a lifestyle that parallels to ancient democracy tradition, Athenians often gather at Syntagma Square to protest over austerity measures and the quality of life in Greece.

A quick chat with the book-cart owner down at Piraeus reveals that things are ‘generally hard’ around Athens: money is scarce, the number of tourists has dwindled in the wake of economic downturn and the euro currency crisis threatens to break Athenians asunder.

Apart from the five wailing sisters next to Parthenon and the gleaming edifice of the New Acropolis Museum (estimated to cost 130 million euro), my battered Moleskine has recorded plenty of hastily scribbled notes.

I get to squat at the spot where Socrates addressed his public and where democracy was subsequently born at the Agora. I could sense the palpable desperation of Plaka shop owners urging the visitors to buy something, anything at all.

I recall conversing in sign language with an elderly gypsy selling gorgeous white tablecloth — suffice to say the transaction did not go through due to a communication breakdown.

I remember sitting next to one Christian orthodox priest in Athens Metro only to snoop at what he was reading — he wasn’t very amused with me.

I laugh reading the scribble on page 45 of my notebook: “husband mad cos the sound of my shutter button awoken the sleeping homeless at National Garden.”

Until today, I still cannot comprehend the barrenness of The Temple of Olympian Zeus, too sterile and forgotten.

Not forgetting the hours I had wasted trying to decipher the graffiti on the walls of Syngtagma buildings.

The impossible fights I had had to endure with the husband trying to translate signboards written either in Greek or Latin to English.

That moment when I had to stifle my laugh looking at the pompom-decorated shoes of the guards in front of the Parliament, or to just stare lustfully at the gorgeous Greek god in an Armani suit, on a Vespa, along the cobblestone path of our hotel.

But above all, it was the street tango dance in Monastiraki Square that stole my heart in Athens. A few nights a week, in between the old mosque and the water fountain, Academia Del Tango held free tango lessons for all and sundry.

The sultry rhythm coupled with sexually inspired movements suffused the air throughout the night. Ah, tango is still the most vocal expression of chemistry between the bodies, espoused in language known only to the dancers.

The next day, I left Athina airport with that tango scene wildly playing in my mind. Till we meet again on my next note, hopefully from Istanbul.

* Elviza Michele Kamal loves the traditional maps but cannot resist the GPS.