Malaysian writer Tashi Aw on his search for stability

Tashi Aw, a Malaysian writer and author of ‘We, The Survivors’, narrates how his search for stability made him travel from his homeland to another country

September 19, 2019 05:41 pm | Updated September 20, 2019 03:23 pm IST

Literature written by immigrants is catching the imagination of people these days. The works of many Asian writers have been continuously on the best-seller list. One among them is Tashi Aw, a Malaysian writer. His latest book is “We, The Survivors”.

He says that when he looks at someone, the one question that comes to his mind is, “Where is he or she from?” Aw says that it is only when you leave home, you find the answer to this question.

He says, “Asia was poor. Malaysia was a poor country and so at school everyone was obsessed about getting into a good university, getting good grades, and eventually getting a well paying job. No one was encouraged to play or learn the guitar for instance…It was a time when not just the mums were tiger mums but the dads were pretty scary too. The search was for a settled life. That is what my parents wanted for me…to be a doctor or a lawyer. It means security not just from a financial point of view but from a lifestyle point of view… For my parents and grandparents staying in one place brought stability. Today’s times is characterised by unsurpassed mobility and more people than ever before are moving borders. The challenge before us to harness this state of swirling cultural influences and see it for its benefits rather than its perils…daring to leave home so that one day you may return with a renewed renegotiated relationships.”

Aw left for England to attend University when he was 18. “I had absorbed that sense of being rootless and disconnected from my parents, I think. Malaysia was where I had grown up, and in a sense, that is all that I had known. So I thought I would return home as soon as I got my degree…”

Then Aw moved to London, “But, London,” says Aw,” like all big cities has a way of accelerating time and now after 20 years I am still here…still trying to work out a way of being Chinese, Malaysian and living in London. Leaving from one country to another changes one’s mentality so basically that even the most fundamental questions you take for granted like who you are and where you are from become altered beyond recognition. Some people find it difficult for no matter how compelling your reasons were for leaving home it is always hard to leave that place you call home because that place represents so much…it is what shapes you, your ideas, your beliefs, often your religion. It provides friends, a place in society. In the new place there is fear of immigrants…fear of stealing jobs and so on…”

So why would one migrate? At the heart of this lies a profoundly personal reason: the leaving home provides the freedom to think who you are and where you are from. “An immigrant gets to start from scratch… I am now learning to live in an in-betweenness…” says Aw.

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