Sharyn Shufiyan’s columns in The Star – and other writings and articles – have been compiled into a book called Tapestry (available now from MPH Publishing).
It’s perhaps apt this writer and conservationist chose Tapestry as the title of her fortnightly column, which ran in The Star from 2010 to 2015. Sharyn’s articles featured stories on culture/folk superstition, opinions on social issues, insights on free expression, women’s rights and education reform.
“In 2013, I had written on the need to exercise our voting rights and expressed my concerns on Malaysia’s dire political landscape. How momentous it is now to have a Bill to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 passed in Parliament in July!” says Sharyn, 34, who is the great granddaughter of Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s first Prime Minister.
Sharyn’s book, featuring 41 articles, is divided into two parts. The first: “Reclaiming Cultural Identity (ies)” speaks about Malaysian diversity, local practices, customs and identities. The second: “Questioning Social (ab)normalities” feature her observations on Malaysia’s social and cultural landscape.
“A lot of my articles were based on interviews with people … I started with a topic that I found interesting or hot that week/month, then I would find someone, a friend, a family member or someone I knew within the civil society circle and pick their brains, and then intertwined it with my own opinion,” she adds.
Indeed, dip into Tapestry, and you are bound to find something of interest.
Readers can feel the writer’s awe when witnessing her first kuda kepang performance in the heart of Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, and her utter despair at the National Art Gallery censoring art during the Bakat Muda Sezaman exhibition in 2014.
Equally diverse are Sharyn’s articles on the celebrations of the dead (“Honouring The Dead Equals Saluting The Living”), Malaysian electoral campaigning (“Branding Politics”) and the plight of foreign workers (“In Aid Of Migrants”).
A piece on child marriage, 2010’s “Robbed Childhood?”, remains a hot button issue today.
Sharyn’s most memorable column, as she reveals, is the first one in the book. In “The Virtuous Buffalo”, she interviewed her paternal grandparents about their Minangkabau culture, roots, family and experiences during WWII.
“I was very lucky that I was able to document their experiences even if just a little bit. I should have spent more time talking to them and to document their oral history.
“My grandmother passed away the year after the article was published, and my grandfather the year after that. It was so sudden! So I was very lucky I took that initiative. I now have something from them in written form,” says Sharyn.
She sees the importance of recording oral history especially among families and communities.
“We often do not know much about the people closest to us. So for those out there who still have your grandparents, please do have a conversation with them and document their lives.
“Get to know them, get to know their history, their life – it will bring meaning to who we are today and who we will be in the future.”