Welcome to Tiger Isle, or Pulipore, population 30 million, found in South-East Asia (SEA) between north of Sumatra and west of peninsula Malaysia, tag-lined “Corruption capital of the world”.
In his debut novel “Tiger Isle: A Government of Thieves“, author ES Shankar has created an imaginary, fictitious country which “mysteriously emerged from the depth of the waters of South-East Asia in 200BC, spirals towards the tipping point of 2012”.
In it are 322 pages of gruelling plots and events which resemble a country we know. Shankar leaves many clues that may lead a reader to conclude “This is Malaysia!”, when depicting how Rekha and her seven best friends race against time to save the world, with her famous cry of “We are all of One Race, the Human Race”.
Rekha – a mother of two and a government auditor – was an ordinary woman who died without fanfare yet thousands came for her funeral.
She did not die “being blown up in a secluded forest, while she was still half alive with dynamite half strapped to her chest, for which the courts decided it was not necessary to determine the killer’s motive”.
One of those who came to pay his respects was blogger Bernard Khoo, who goes by the moniker Zorro Unmasked.
Shankar, who also blogs at Don’tPlayPuks, says it is Khoo – a former school teacher – who encouraged him to contact Gerak Budaya to get the book published – and that adding names of real people, several other bloggers included, adds to the “fun”, while giving life to the fiction.
Clues that lead to Malaysia
The character of Pulipore or Tiger Isle ex-president Bhairav has an uncanny similarity to one of our prime ministers while there is mention of current premier Kapalin that plays “every card, from race to religion, to hounding his political nemesis Maitreya with trumped-up rape and sodomy charges”.
Leading us further on familiar trails is the inclusion of Kapalin’s ambitious, self-promoting and spendthrift wife, and the RM250,000 Omega wrist watch from the Saudi prince worked into the plot.
There are sordid tales of how millions or billions are being derived to finance the election campaigns of the United National Tigerists Association (a religious political party), including paying for extravagant lifestyles of ministers, chief ministers, members of Parliament and well-connected party members.
One can hardly put down Shankar’s book for it is full of suspense, you might feel as if you are in a theatre watching a fast-paced thriller, turning the pages quickly.
It helps that the chapters are short and crisp, while dialogues are witty and humorous, allowing the reader no opportunity to feel bored or to wander off the plot.
Shankar thinks of all kinds of interesting though lengthy names for his colourful characters like: Tigerist Chandrika Morning Glory Chandran (the ex-president’s shapely secretary); Sri Mahamaya Lion’s Mane Jellyfish Chandran (government nominee for the Energy, Alternative resources and Green technology Minister); or Sri Sanatkumar Mutthiah Muralidharan-koh (a half Tamil, half Chinese ‘fraudtreprenuer’, in other words, a big time crony).
‘Corruption not exclusive to Malaysia’
When asked if he draws his inspiration from the current political events in the country, Shankar says he is a keen observer of Malaysian and international politics.
“A Malaysian writer cannot operate out of a vacuum, and must draw on, and interpret local issues for some of the background material for the fiction book. But not all,” said Shankar, in an interview with Malaysiakini.
“While readers may indulge in second guessing the characters and incidents in the novel, corruption is not exclusive to Malaysia,” he added.
He pointed to two “shocking and salacious” on-going corruption trial in Singapore involving ex-senior government officials; huge billion dollar financial scandals in Thailand, and similar incidences in other parts of Asia.
He added that such cases were also rampant in USA, South America and Europe, where it is referred to as lobbying and commissions, the new name for the old backhander “Baksheesh”!
Why does he use such lengthy names for his characters, the reader may wonder.
Shankar said the common cultural origins in SEA are principally linked to India, and when you combine this with aboriginal and Muslim names, you can get some pretty long names.
They were very specifically picked to reflect his characters and (denial of) their Indian origins, he added.
“The objective in coining these long names was to show the now virtually completely mixed DNA of the peoples of SEA, if not the whole world,” said Shankar, who hails from Kuala Lumpur.
“Whither a pure race? I want people to be aware of the 2009 amendment to the United Nations Charter which now reads:
‘6. Reaffirms that all peoples and individuals constitute one human family, rich in diversity, and that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights; and strongly rejects any doctorine of racial superiority along with theories which attempt to determine the existence of so-called distinct human races’ ”.
Malaysians must make a stand
Shankar, who formerly worked as general manager and director in private companies, started writing the novel in July 2010, completing it in December, a relatively short six months for a debut novel.
Yet, at his age – he turns 60 next March – he does not feel that this is flattering when the ideas have been floating in his mind for about 20 years.
“It took a lot of soul searching to write this novel; you can understand my worries, concerns and fears,” said the father-of-two.
“With all this talk of Official Secrets Act, Internal Security Act and defamation lawsuits flying all around, I really had to cross the Rubicon,” said Shankar who, before this, published a memoir of his school days at the Victoria Institution while working on another novel, which is still unpublished.
A former consultant at two public listed real estate companies, Shankar’s major hurdle in publishing Tiger Isle is finding a foreign literary agent or publisher.
However, to publish the novel, he said he was driven by the motivation that “Malaysians must make a stand if they perceive their government has now evolved into, and replaced, by the Mafia”.
Shankar’s book will be launched today at 7pm at the Royal Selangor Club, followed by a panel discussion on ‘Say No To Corruption’, led by PKR’s director of strategy Rafizi Ramli (above).