Meanwhile, Dawn has been listening to some the recently-posted 'smart phone' recordings of SBJ, and has penned these few words in honour of her 'Cikgu' - 'yang sangat dihormati.'
It says something about Salleh’s gifts as a teacher, that despite being a fairly conventional Catholic student who took few risks, if any, I found lessons for a lifetime in the things he said and did – some of which have become the stuff of urban legend. Except the legends are (mostly) true! To this day, I cannot read the poetry and prose that came out of his self-confessed “stinking big mouth” without both laughing and agreeing.
Nearly four decades after I first entered his classroom as an undergraduate, and worked behind the scenes with him as he directed our student production of Brecht’s “A Man’s a Man,” I remain deeply grateful that Malaysia has been blessed with a voice - a Malay voice - that speaks for who we can be as Malaysians. It is an earthy, devil-may-care voice that no amount of censorship can ever silence because too many Malaysians have heard it, and responded to it, and own it as theirs to treasure and share.
Yes, we were a “kebudayaan rojak’ - with all its tangy complications. Salleh Ben Joned’s work is a key that helps unlock the cells of ethnic isolation that politicians keep trying to trap us in. He is the antidote to the tedium of what passes for making a living. He challenges us to get beyond “menjilat jari” (finger licking) as we eat “Ayam Kentucky” and drown in the mindlessness of TV. He points to the spice we could all put back into our lives if we stop accepting what is handed to us; if we allow ourselves to think, and breathe and walk into each other’s homes without fear of tainting ourselves with the touch of our neighbors and the aroma of their kitchens, and what’s cooking in their pots. It smells good, and tastes even better. We would be a better country and a better people if we would only, once again, allow ourselves to sit down and eat with our neighbors as we once did. Salleh writes to make us remember. Because forgetting is fatal.
~ DAWN MORAIS