Being forced to remain at home for long periods through this pandemic is an existential challenge for some, for me it’s ushered in a new dawn for my creative writing. There is no longer the excuse or distraction of browsing through Chinatown or Little India. People in my age group have been advised to avoid markets, so I can’t just take off walk into Tekka Market, and then settle into a Dosai across the road at Komala Vilas. Mind you, I think I will have to make a special trip to Komala Vilas soon if only because this restaurant offers the best South Indian food in Singapore. It’s cuisine is specifically from the Tanjore District, in Tamil Nadu.
Sure I still like to go walking in the relative isolation of a tourist free Fort Canning, or if time permits the beaches of Sentosa island. Recently I’ve made two short audio visual works set in these places. So now there are less distractions.
Stories with strong emotional content
When writing short stories that have a personal component, it’s can be hard to write about the deep emotions sometimes released. When writing my last book this was most evident. I found writing about the Bali Bombings of 2002 challenging, tearfully so, yet it was therapeutic. Recording the audio tracks of this writing was more challenging because I needed to voice the characters and this imposed a greater emotional challenge.
Writing about my mother’s death was the hardest and I left recording that story until last.
I’ve written two stories about Timor L’Este, but I’ve been struggling with this last tale, ‘A visit to Jakarta Dois’. It’s been a struggle, mainly because I’ve opted for the distractions available rather than face the emotional challenge of writing about this.
After working in Ainaro, Timor L’Este, during 2017, my eyes were opened to the still glaring examples of atrocity inflicted on the East Timorese people during the 25 years of Indonesian occupation. I’ve already posted an account on this blog, but the story moves deeper into the atrocity.
Thanks to the COVID19 pandemic I’m at home and simply forced to confront this task. The enforced isolation is helping me develop perspective. With due care, and assuming we have the means or the opportunity to take care, the threat of COVID19 does not necessarily have to be existential. It remains a mental challenge.
Placing matters in perspective I’m now able to write about another time when people had little opportunity to avoid a threatening situation, and were cruelly murdered.
Here is the location of Jakarta Dois. It’s easier to assess in satellite view.
The beginning of my story
Directly ahead wildfire leapt up steep gullies towards the towering prominence of Foho Madanaga. Strong winds from Australia’s dry heart drove raging flames now lost in billowing white smoke. Intense combustion, and mere days after the dry season’s onset. Foreshadowed in the blaze was an ominous warning for Australia’s coming bushfire season where the years of woodland clearing and tragic mismanagement of inland waterways, driven by relentless global warming, had deepened continental aridity. Such preoccupations dissolved in the immediate drama, as flames raced towards Madanaga’s summit here tilted bare rocky strata ensured certain extinction. They presented no threat to my journey only a sombre reflection on my own country.
Sombre was an apposite description for my mood as I set out for Jakarta Dois. Weeks earlier I visited this place with colleagues. We went to pay respects to the many people from Ainaro killed in this place during the Indonesian occupation.