This year, in the Singapore Writer’s festival, one of the books launched is a translation of Isa Kamari’s Kiswah, a novel which was created with two more in 2002 — Intercession and The Tower. While these novels focus on spiritual evolution by evolving religious lore, in two of them at least the protagonist is an architect.
So, what does architecture have in common with literature?
Russian author Ayn Rand found some answers in The Fountainhead (1943), where the protagonist, architect Howard Roarke moves towards her theory of Objectivism, a theory which the author herself defined as “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”
Do Kamari’s books, though studied in a religious light by Henry Aveling of Monash University, also subscribe to Objectivism?
His books transport one to a past — a time where under the green creepers on a softly moving river, a boat sails and take one into a unique world of what has been. You discover how much the world has changed and how Singapore has evolved, you meet people who intrigue and bring to the fore the roots that created the little red dot. And yet some of his books look forward to a future – a world of harmony where technology and spiritual peace co-exist… Meet the author, winner of numerous awards and a voice to be reckoned with — Isa Kamari.
Isa Kamari was born in 1960 and lives in Singapore with his wife and two children. He is currently Deputy Director in the Architecture Division with the Land Transport Authority of Singapore, leading a team that manages the design and construction of transport infrastructures. While his profession is an architect, his passion lies in writing, though his architectural background has also found a way into some of his novels.
In all, he has written 9 novels, 3 collections of poetry, a collection of short stories, a book of essays on Singapore Malay poetry, a collection of theatre scripts and lyrics of 2 song albums — all in Malay. His novels have been translated into English, Turkish, Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, Indonesian and Mandarin. His collections of essays and selected poems have been translated into English. His first novel in English, Tweet was published in 2016. Isa was conferred the Southeast Asia Write Award from Thailand in 2006, the Singapore Cultural Medallion in 2007, the Anugerah Tun Seri Lanang from the Singapore Malay Language Council in 2009, and the Mastera Literary Award from Brunei Darussalam in 2018.
In this exclusive, he talks about his book Kiswah, whose translated version is being launched on 8thNovember in the Singapore Writer’s Festival; the dramatisation of his novel, 1819 and much more…
You will soon be launching Kiswah. It shuttles between various locales. Can you tell us the intent of this book? What led you to write it?
Isa: In the late 1990s, I was disturbed by the rampant spread of pornographic materials in in Singapore. Vendors openly sold X-rated VCDs near MRT stations, bus interchanges and bazaars illegally. There were also reports in the newspapers about the addiction to pornography amongst professionals and the young. At the same time, I knew from my wife, who was doing voluntary service at a welfare home, that there were many family breakups arising from sexual abuses. All these compelled me to ponder on the topic of manifestation of sexual life in relation to spirituality or the lack of it. The various locales — like Delhi, Agra, Kashmir, Kathmandu and finally Mecca — becomes the background for me to explore, confront, interrogate and somewhat find a resolution on the topic.
This November hosts a number of literary festivals in the first week.The Singapore Writers’ Festival, the Hong Kong International Literary festival and now Macau has announced another literary festival from November 5 th to 7 th.
The Macau festival even has an event in conjunction with Cha, An Asian Journal, the first literary English online magazine with its base in Hongkong.
The 12th annual gathering of APWT the Asia Pacific’s largest and longest-running network of writers, translators, editors and publishers will feature authors from a host of nations across the Asia Pacific will be joining us including Behrooz Boochani, Omid Tofighian, Tim Baker, Melanie Mununggurr Williams, Linh Dinh, Aaron Chapman, Alan Vaarwek, Ashwani Kumar and Elizabeth Woods, as well as Macau authors such as Jenny Lao-Phillips, and Portuguese author Valério Romão.
With the literary festivals season blossoming around Asia, Singapore will host its 22 nd writers’ festival from 1st to 10th November with big names dropping in, including Pico Iyer. Pico Iyer, who has spent the last three decades in Japan will be talking on ‘Beyond Borders, Beyond Words’. Iyer will reflect on human connection and belonging. After his talk, he will be in dialogue with acclaimed novelist who has spent a large part of her life in Japan too and now lives in Singapore, Meira Chand.
This year Pico Iyer has been the writer in residence for the newly renovated Raffles Hotel in Singapore. He penned down a book on the Hotel called This could be Home. the novel was launched on 5th august. Long ago in history, this heritage hotel had housed the likes of great writers like Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham.
Pico Iyer was born Siddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer in 1957. His great-great-great-grand father was a Gujarati writer-reformer in the late nineteenth century, Mahipatram Nilkanth . His parents were Indian academics who moved to England to study. Iyer’s unusual name is a combination of the Buddha’s name, Siddhartha, with that of the fifteenth century Florentine neo-Platonist Pico della Mirandola and the last name is that of his father. Schooled in Oxford and Harvard, Pico Iyer is known for his brilliant essays and travel writing. He has written a few novels too.
The Asian Festival of Children’s content organised by Singapore Book Council from 5 th to 8 th September, 2019, celebrated its tenth year with the country of focus being Myanmar. There were talks and discussions on the need for book reviews, the need for diversity in children’s literature, translations and how to proliferate books from different cultures all over the globe.
Panel discussions and lectures dotted the event with delegates from USA, England, different parts of Asia and more. Some of the discussions were thought provoking. For instance, at the end of discussion on diversity with panellists from North American background ( academic Philip Nel, writer editor Emily Pan and Lisa Charlieboy) with moderator Avery Fischer Udagawa, the relevance of their experience to the Asian experience was put under scrutiny by a member of the audience as even Emily Pan grew up in USA identifying as an American.
During a discussion on ‘Portrayal of Special Needs in YA (Young Adult Fiction)’, while award winning writer Suzanne Kamata focussed on the need to assimilate children with disabilities into the mainstream, Hannah Alkaff from Malaysia totted off statistics that proved more children would suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder( OCD ) over the years and therefore the need to create fiction like hers where children could identify with such issues. One wonders though why schools and caregivers would allow this rise in OCD to occur. Sarinajit Kaur from National Institute of Education, talked of how teachers could create not just better readers but generate hope in children by giving them books that are empathetic.
At the start of September, the Bras Basah National Library in Singapore will be a hive of activities with writers, books, illustrators and publishers exhibiting their wares and holding workshops to celebrate the upcoming Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC). The festival adopts “diversity” as its theme.
Organised by the Singapore Book Council, the tenth AFCC will feature 150 speakers, of who 104 are local and 47 are international.
“AFCC has been championing diversity and Asian children’s books since its inception,” said the Executive Director of the Singapore Book Council, William Phuan, in a press release . “As we mark our 10th anniversary milestone, it is even more important that we continue to push to enrich the literary landscape with multicultural stories and diverse themes.”
I was thankful for the presence of my mother, husband, son and friends (Jessica Yeo, Kisato, He Shu Xin, Teresa, Katherine Seow, Rusyinni Rusanto, Thomas Tee, Rachel Tee, Jonathan Tee, Evangeline Neo, Winston Chan Boon Hock, and Sherrley Seah) who witnessed the publication of this book. I am also grateful to those who came for the launch to give their kind blessings and support and to Perine Seah who was my moderator as well.
The idea of this book was born in 2013 when my son was three years old. Around this time, he began to lose interest in brushing his teeth. It was a great challenge to engage his interest in doing so and many questions flashed in my mind. What if people don’t brush their teeth? What if the teeth are gone? With these, the characters of cavity monsters began to appear in my head. Visual events and story situations flooded my imagination and I shared the story with my son. The story convinced him to take action, to resume the good habit of brushing his teeth. Now he expects more such stories from me. It is a challenge to create series of bedtime stories for him and I have to come up with new ones every day.