Living the poem

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Malaysia’s best-known poet has been raising the hackles of the establishment for over four decades with his outspoken work. Politicians find Cecil Rajendra subversive, academics believe he is a “propagandist troublemaker”, and the legal fraternity scathingly refers to him as a “part-time” lawyer. Despite being pilloried by the authorities and suffering the indignity of having his passport impounded, Rajendra’s searing poetry is celebrated far beyond the nation’s shores by legions of global followers (Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former French Prime Minister Dominique Villepin, among them). When it comes to winning the battle for hearts and minds, Rajendra demonstrates that the pen is always mightier than the sword.

Sitting along a busy Penang street and talking to Cecil Rajendra is taking a serious toll on my self-restraint. It’s hot, noisy and the cold beer in his hand is making flirtatious overtures to me. I wish I had been better prepared and brought my own refreshments. I imagine that his legal training had prepared him for any sort of eventuality, hot weather included. In a funny sort of way the extreme pre-Chinese New Year heat is a reminder of global warming, a subject very close to Rajendra’s own heart.

Rajendra’s 19 books, the first published in 1965, features recurrent themes – human rights and the environment.


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