Finding Arina

I was honoured to launch her first book, Paracosm, on Saturday, 6 May 2017, at the University of Malaya. I have nothing but praises for the 17-year-old Puteri Fateh Arina Merican Megat Suffian Merican, or Arina.

She is indeed an extraordinary girl, extremely talented and ferociously opinionated. She is one of the most creative young minds in literature I have come across in recent memory.

In my speech, I said that she has “a sophisticated, hugely creative, monstrously fertile mind that tags her childhood dreams and imagination, developing them into lengthy structured phrases, using moments and experiences as her psychological references, weaving words into a tapestry of expressions. What we are reading is the manifestation of an immensely imaginative intellect.”

I also said, “Her words trickle down effortlessly, woven with style and finesse, emptying into our consciousness, at times burrowing into our guilt and self-pity, at other times with thudding awareness of the dark reality around her and us. At her age, she is a shining example of what a young mind can do creatively.”

I also mentioned that Arina represents a new generation of today’s youngsters who are reshaping society, lifestyle, consumption, and even politics.

They are changing the feel and look of nations. They are getting their voices heard, loud and clear. They are sounding their positions without fear and favour. They are the children of the globalised world in the true sense.

In her Preface of Paracosm, Arina writes, “We have evolved, we are separated from the previous generations and it is time for a new age.” That aptly posits her view of the world around her.

Her poems and prose in Paracosm and in this collection manifest that world of the young as well. A world that parents like us might even find hard to understand. We are not talking about generational gaps anymore; we are talking about major shifts in the dynamics of the relationship between ‘Them’ and ‘Us’.

But, unlike many others, Arina has chosen her own path with certainty. She has made up her mind to be a lawyer, like her parents, but not just an ordinary lawyer, a human rights lawyer. A good choice indeed. But I reminded Arina that to be a lawyer, she needs clarity of thought and work on polishing her argumentative style. But we need more in the literary word – aesthetics, beauty and finesse. Above all, we need a purpose to exalt, soothe, educate, to make the world a better place. Let me quote from my speech:

“There is something special about this book, her words and expressions. They are uniquely Arina. While educationalists and editors are concerned about the new forms emerging in social media, Arina is perfecting her language.

Out there, thanks to SMS, WhatsApp and other applications, there is an emergence of an ‘aberrant world of abbreviations, numerals and pictorial icons.’  It has become the Wild West of communication.

Language is being rewritten, restructured and rearranged in a way that no sane linguist would approve. The written word is undergoing ‘major shifts in forms and functions.’ What we are witnessing is the evolution in cyberspace and social media of some kind of linguistic centaur  – part speech, part writing; half human, half beast – that is seriously undermining ‘formal language’ and, in fact, affecting all major languages.

Thank God, we have Arina. Words are still words. Words excite. Words are alive. Written words can be verbose. Yes, they are structured, formal and expository. They can be abstract and lofty too. But that is the beauty of words. The beauty of literature.”

I am glad to hear that Paracosm is well-received, both commercially and critically. She must be pleased with her achievement. We all have reasons to rejoice the success of a young writer like Arina.

A year later, she has come out with [another] collection, Selcouth. Like “paracosm”, “selcouth” is not the kind of word you will find in everyday usage. “Paracosm” to “selcouth”, in a year, from childhood fertile imagination to something that is strange and unique. Arina is certainly meandering through a maze of imaginary landscapes, wild and fertile, fresh and refreshing, re-inventing herself in the process, even redefining her creativity. We are discovering another layer of Arina here. “Finding” the real Arina is not a game of guessing or conjecturing but a study in the improbability of neatness of identification.

I am an admirer of her poems, written with such ease and poise, effortless it seems, culminating into a series of expressions manifesting her likes and travails, her love and despair.  “I have had unrequited loves, loneliness, despair, discrimination, isolation, and unfaulty situations,” she wrote in Paracosm.

She writes about people who have affected her in one way or another. As well as of events that had an impact upon her.

Life is not simple for her. She is seeing the world from a prism of a creative young mind – ebullient at times, disturbing at others and torturous in some cases.

Just read this bait in “Many Times” in this collection;

Many times have I endured
The beat of insufferable pain
Many times have I lost
Myself in a phantasm games.”

Arina is a wordsmith extraordinaire. For someone so tender in age, to write with such care and beauty of words and expression, she is certainly gifted. But despite the lure of words, she can be brutal and uncompromising on herself. Or with wit and deprecating humour, she looks at herself half-mockingly perhaps as a young lady on the verge of self-discovery:

I am not beautiful,
Neither do I possess grace,
Or elegance.
But I am an art,
A masterpiece,
Nonetheless.”
(The Woman)

Arina shows another talent in this collection – her prose, which she has included in the third part. Like her poems, she presents an enchanting narrative that is worth attention. The first section of her book is made up of her sketches, which is another feature of her first book. The last segment, “Postscript”, contains her impressions by means of quotations.  In one, she writes,

I was a liar when I refused the blame. Now I am a heretic because I am fluent in Truth”.
(Self)

As I have said in my speech, Arina is not only talented and creative but she has a point to prove, a mission to pursue and a commitment to undertake. Her writing is the totem pole of her aspirations.

I also mentioned that a student of literature would try to ‘appropriate’ her works in the context of a larger universe of the written word. Probably placing her work within a construct, a genre, or even a new microcosm of literary realm.

In the Foreword for the first book, Datin Sharifah Mariam Syed Mansor Al-Idrus likens Arina to the Cambodian writer, Lang Leav. With best-selling titles such as Love and Misadventure and Lullabies, Lang Leav has been hailed as a voice of the young, her works being described as “between the whimsical and the woeful, expressing a complexity beneath its childish façade.” I believe we are seeing our very own Lang Leav.

In my speech, I mentioned that perhaps Love and Misadventure is Lang Leav’s ‘paracosm’. But Lang Leav, born in a refugee camp in Thailand, went through a different path in life; her travails and challenges were different. Arina was born into a reasonably well-to-do family, an established and well-known one at that.

The way I see it, both Paracosm and Selcouth are  works in progress, an experiment on the part of Arina, testing the water if you like, for she is still young although full of vigour.

We are expecting more from her. — Tan Sri Johan Jaaffar

  • Tan Sri Johan Jaaffar is a journalist, editor and writer. His love for the arts has never wavered despite his years in the media and corporate world. He has recently published a book, Jejak Seni: Dari Pentas Bangsawan Ke Media Prima Berhad, chronicling his 50-year incredible journey as actor, playwright, director and chairman of the country’s largest media company.