Funding for the arts has always been minuscule or, even as the wheels slowly turn in Malaysia Baru, racially divided. Thankfully, Angela and Hijjas Kasturi’s Rimbun Dahan jungle gallery remains a haven of inspiration and convergence of artistic energy, as writer-in-residence Dipika Mukherjee discovers.
"Are you sure you are not a serial killer?” The Grab driver is joking, of course. He is driving me back to my cottage — Rumah Balai — set within the dense foliage of Rimbun Dahan in Kuang, Selangor, where I am the writer-in-residence for five weeks. The moon is hiding behind the clouds and the solar lights along the way are completely dark; there is no illumination at all. Our cottages are not air-conditioned, water is re-circulated, and everyone is encouraged to create compost for the herb gardens from the food we consume, but even the eco-warrior in me understands how driving on a non-tarred road by the light of car headlamps can make grown men a little nervous.
During the ride from Taman Tun Dr Ismail in Kuala Lumpur, we have discovered that the Grab driver has the same last name as a deceased journalist married to my distant uncle in the Bengali community. It now ceases to astonish me that no matter where in the world I am, the enormous Klang Valley operates as a village, and a link to community can always — always! — be found. We feel like family, and have spent the journey discussing the Grab driver’s 16-year-old daughter who wants to study creative writing at Nottingham University. He worries she will never make money from writing. He is actively dissuading her from her dreams. I have been mentoring Malaysian writers for over two decades and I know the sad realities of the profession; I have said nothing in her defence.
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