Living the poem


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.

To read the rest of the article and to access our e-Archive, subscribe to us for RM150 a year.

Related Articles

Feb 2014

Up close with Lat

Malaysia's icon talks about kampung living and the importance of intermingling.

Nov 2017

Sketching those Little Moments

Cartoonist Azmi Hussin captures nostalgia with his pen.

Dec 2015

In defence of the spirit of the Law

It's Azmi Sharom vs the Federal Court when it comes to freedom of speech.

Mar 2015

Resisting the closing of the Malaysian mind

Prof Latif Kamaluddin, poet and intellectual, has quite a few things to say about the state of Malaysian literature and its authenticity.