Thursday, 10 September 2009

My First Attempt


By Latiff Mohidin

At dawn they returned home
their soaky clothes torn
and approached the stove
their limbs marked by scratches
their legs full of wounds
but on their brows
there was not a sign of despair

The whole day and night just passed
they had to brave the horrendous flood
in the water all the time
between bloated carcasses
and tiny chips of tree barks
desperately looking for their son’s
albino buffalo that was never found

There were born amidst hardship
and grew up without a sigh or a complaint
now they are in the kitchen, making
jokes while rolling their cigarette leaves

Translated by
Salleh Ben Joned

Okay... where do I begin... Hmmm... first of all this is just my humble take on this poem and bear in mind that I don’t have a clue of neither the poem nor the poet. The main thing to notice here is the fact that it is translated thus, telling us that the poem was originally written in Malay. I like the idea behind it that could make the students realise that literature is universal and that a good piece of art can be appreciated in any language without losing its strength, beauty and aestheticism. I’ve tried googling “Sajak Latiff Mohidin”, in hope of finding the original version... which could be manipulated into lesson to make it more interesting... but I could not find it (please send it to me if you found it). I guess I might be visiting bookstores as soon as I reach civilisation soon.

I personally felt that the new collection of poems hold more values and in-depth lesson that students nowadays really seem to need insurmountably. As the title suggest, this poem is obviously trying to convey the hardship that a family in a village is facing after a big flood. “Smart-a**” students might be asking; “How do you know that they live in a village, sir?” The answer lies within the albino buffalo (kerbau balau), a complete giveaway of the setting of the poem, as city people are not known to be rearing buffalos (IMHO). However, the big theme or message in the poem as I see it is not the hardship itself but how the family handle it. In other words, it can be said that the theme might be “the optimism of the unfortunates”. I can’t help but to state again here that this is 100% my own words so, feel free to share yours (the upside to the fact that no ‘baby-step’ is written yet). Back to the theme of my choice, I said so based on the lines 6-7 and also the last 2 lines:

but on their brows
there was not a sign of despair

It was stated before lines 6-7 that the returned home at dawn in a soaking-wet clothes that is all torn-up and with bruises and cuts all over... but, their face did not show any sign of hopelessness and despair that would normally be expected.

now they are in the kitchen, making
jokes while rolling their cigarette leaves

These last two lines further accentuate my points on the optimism of this family. Imagine yourself hours after a terrible tragedies or disaster. It takes a lot of courage and strength to see the silver lining and to move on after that. Yet, that is exactly what this family is doing. They’re spending time together, enjoying each other’s company and may be gratifying on the fact what they still have instead of what was lost. This is exactly the authentic and profound values that our students need to be taught about. In my students’ case, most of them would be able to relate very well with the family; the fact that they face the same kind of struggles and the fact that they are almost always grateful with what they have (disturbingly, some of them seems to be to optimist that they don’t bother to want to change their fate... but this is out of topic... haha). Back to the point that this is a good value and most students nowadays should realise that they really are becoming ungrateful brats. I’m sorry to go here and there at such a random pace, but this is no assignment rite? So, humour me and please read till the end. The tragedies in the poem actually allow us with a lot of option for pre-reading activities. The suffering of this family can easily be contextualised with a depiction of real occurrence around the world. Floods and tsunamis are obvious choices; you can have it in form of pictures, videos, audios or even articles. But we can go a step further by showing pictures of malnourished families having great times under extremely unfortunate circumstances. I remembered Mdm Z saying something about how her children could not really sympathised with what they saw on their trip to Africa (if i’m not mistaken) because the children there are so happy. Even when they don’t really have a lot to be happy about. There are actually a value that could be learnt here. It’s just a matter of making it obvious to the students and this is where we should facilitate.
Let’s try to look into the other literary elements here. Settings have been discussed though I can’t be sure of the time frame as I could not trace the original poem. Hmm... let’s see... metaphore; nope, simile; nope, personification; nope, onomatopoeia; hehe... is ‘sigh’ counted as one?, assonance; nope, and alliteration; nope. This is my observation, again... feel free to correct me. And another one is rhyming scheme; I think this is a free verse right? With no apparent scheme. So... I think that’s all for now... as I’m typing this my battery is almost dead... I wonder what’s wrong with the generator this time... we’re having power disruption again... at 9 a.m. just like yesterday... Hmm, such a challenging day to keep smiling... But I guess after reviewing this poem, I could brave it through; come the heat, the sun, the hunger and the thirst... I should be grateful that I’m alive and I should “make hay while the sun shines” right? Hahaha, such a very strange idiom to be contextualised here.

p/s: I love the 2nd poem even more... let’s hope that I can write the review soon
      -there was no electricity till later at the evening


Here are some thoughtful comments that surely worth highlighting:

“Latif used to write with lots of colours. he still does. In The Midst of Hardship he uses colours of ‘dawn’, ‘home’, ’stove’, ’scratches’, ‘wounds’, ‘brows’, etc. I would tell my kids that life is full of colours – like those on a pallate of an artist. How’s that?” – Anonymous

“…there are abundant (words referring to hardship) in this poem (in my opinion) … i’m no expert but words such as: “scratches”, “wounds”, and “horrendous”… are really identifiable with “hardship”. Hope this help…” – Cikgu Faisal

“…probably can add here another theme; ‘love’. Mostly of course, about the love within a family. Love is what binds them together. I’m not sure but the line ‘desperately looking for their son’s albino buffalo that was never found‘ really jumps out to me. During the time of hardship, who would care about what their son or daughter lost. But in this poem, they show concern and are desperate. I guess coz they care. parents nowadays kan are too bz and ‘forget’ about the needs of their children. I feel this line really ‘menyindir’ town parents who r senang lenang and dont find time for their children. dorang nih yg in the midst of hardship pun, still show concern for their child. any of get what i mean here?
 ‘albino’. also jumps out to me. i mean, Salleh  could have jz said ‘buffalo’ right? (correct me if im wrong) so why ‘albino’?” – Marinette

In response to Marinette’s question on why does Salleh uses the word albino, that’s because we have that type of buffalo here in Malaysia… if I’m not mistaken, it’s called “kerbau balau” or “kerbau balar”… am not really sure (Cudnt find the original poem but I’m sure that’s what Latif uses in his poem). I can’t read Latiff’s mind but I think by using albino buffalo here, he managed to insert another value here. Nette, brought up the theme of love and I agree with her bout that. Consequently, as we can read in the poem that they returned home without finding the buffalo but they didnt seem to be “really bothered” by it. They accept fate as it is but more importantly, it portrays how “immaterialistic” they are. Albino buffalo is rare and very difficult to get but here we can see that eventhough they are concern with the fact that the precious buffalo is missing, they refuse to let it ruins their day… and their spirit. That is my opinion… thanks for reading!


Rosalynn said...

Wow darls! I haven't read everything yet - but wow.

Princess HaniRose said...

this is great-very insightful.

Nor Fadzleen said...

Salam and hello there,
Stumbled upon your lovely blog (nice template ;). Don't mind if I link this to my entry?

Cikgu Muhammad Faisal Abdullah said...

Thanks friend, Cikgu Nor Fadzleen, sure... I'll be honoured to have you link me into your entry... btw, great blog that you have (nice template too... hehe).

Arasz said...


this is cool, nice blog
do u mind if i link this to my site?
i'm a teacher too ;)

Anonymous said...

Latif used to write with lots of colours. he still does. In The Midst of Hardship he uses colours of 'dawn', 'home', 'stove', 'scratches', 'wounds', 'brows', etc. I would tell my kids that life is full of colours - like those on a pallate of an artist. How's that?

Cikgu Ila said...

hard knocks in life ,yah,cikgu?what we go thru our younger years cud always make us more gullible or we can look at them as colors of rainbows? ;-)

Suhana Yusoff said...

I stumbled by ur blog as i'm looking out 4 any info on d new literature components.Just like u said, there's nothing much for us,teachers, on them. However, i like ur blog and i hope u don't mind having me link them.

Anonymous said...

hi... may i know the title of this poem in Malay (the original title in Malay by Latiff Mohidin)? tq :)

hannah said...

is there a malay version?where can i find it?

Anonymous said...

salam!i think i ever read this poem before somewhere in really looks da same.... i wonder whether this poem is the original malaysian master peace and not just trying to poserrr~

tuty obaid said...

Salam..Just like others, i googled something on Latiff Mohidin and found your blog.

I believe you did a great job with the analysis. Thank you very much.

I enjoyed reading it. Would you mind if I link your blog to mine?

FYI, I am not a school teacher but a freelance tutor. Nonetheless, I need to know the syllabus.

Thanks again for the very insightful piece. =D

aisyahhani said...

I am about to teach this poem tomorrow morning. I was searching for the original poem too, but instead I found your blog. Thanks a lot for the information you shared in your post. btw, I am a practicum teacher. Just started my teaching last Monday. =)

Anonymous said...

Wow! U r great, i haven't read & understand this poem... Thanks a lot 2 u...

Anonymous said...

Can i know which words that refer to hardship?

Cikgu M. Faisal Abdullah said...

hmmm, there are abundant in this poem (in my opinion) ... i'm no expert but words such as: "scratches", "wounds", and "horrendous"... are really identifiable with "hardship". Hope this help...

Anonymous said...

Hi, nice blog you got there. like the rest, i was wondering around the internet and stumbled upon you blog. I'll sure to check this one out from time to time.

p/s: Madam Z? does Z stands for Zamrudah?

Anonymous said...

Hello there..Can i know why are they looking for their son's albino buffalo desperately? I dont really understand it..

Cikgu M. Faisal Abdullah said...

yup... mdm Z stands for Mdm Zamrudah...
As for why they're desperately looking for their son's albino buffalo is really pretty easy to understand... first, it brought up the issue of parental love here. Their son's buffalo in this case would be the precious pet that their son care for so much... thus, they need to find it... okay, just try to imagine and substitute the buffalo with a hamster and I think you'll get the idea. Secondly, it's due to the flood... in the poem, they mentioned bout "bloated carcasses" and all and this signify the level of severity of the flood... tho I'm pretty sure that buffalo loves water... I imagined that they are 'desperate' to find it because if they cudnt find it in time, the buffalo might die (of hunger maybe), got stolen... or lost as it being swept away by flood... hope this help...

p/s: why do I get the feeling that recent questions come from form 4 students.... come on! if you're a student, quit asking simple qs, the answers are there in the text... u just have to spend more time thinkin... trust me, it a lot more rewarding to deduct the answer from ur own point of view... bcoz there's no right or wrong in poetry (with the suitable justification)... try it and you'll love it! hope that this'll help!

Anonymous said...

But why they use 'albino' to describe the buffalo? as i know 'albino' means pale or becoming white..

Cikgu M. Faisal Abdullah said...

hehe... read my update on the review.. btw, albino is a condition where there's no pigmentation on the skin... it existed within humans and animals alike..

nabirakashogi said...

Hello. I'm actually your junior in Cohort 3. Today is my first day in school and tomorrow I am required by the previous teacher to teach the students about this poem as they have a test next week. So I am really glad to see this on your blog! I am so going to use some of the info for tomorrow's class. Thanks so much :D


Pn. drag_on said...

Assalam F4/5 teachers.

cikguanim said...


i'm also in the so called 'midst of hardship' when i have to google in the net to find any clue on what to teach..and thank God i found your blog! tq for sharing your view..


siva said...

pergi mampuslah !

Sharmila Appa Rao said...

hi, i'm sharmila and teaching in johor..i stumbled across your blog and it's a good reading..but i see that you have analysed the poem quite literally...but there are many things in the poem that have made me ponder...words like tiny and albino...why did the poet use the word 'tiny'? What was he trying to imply with the word 'tiny'? in my humble opinion, the poet was trying to tell us that he wasnt referring to the bark of an average tree, but really really small this case, it's probably old paddy plants...and the word 'albino' stands out like a neon light and can be considered as the clue to finding the real meaning of the poem...the one community which rears buffaloes, which i can think of is the farming community...and not just any farming community but paddy often do we see albino buffaloes? is there one in the first place? the poet probably meant the albino buffalo as an elusive hope or change or help...therefore it can be said that the poet was critical of the government for not helping the poor farmers as well as the attitude of the farmers in accepting life without two cents...

nura haifa said...


wut a nice piece from u..i've been looking for the translated version too for my lesson tomorrow!..hehe..

z a w a n i b a d r i said...

the malay version of in the midst of hardship

Dalam Bencana
Mereka pulang ke rumah
waktu subuh hari
dengan pakaian robek basah
menghampiri api tungku
lengan mereka penuh calar
kaki mereka penuh luka
tapi di kening mereka
tidak kelihatan rasa kecewa

Sehari semalaman
mereka mengharungi banjir
berendam antara bangkai ternakan
dan serpihan kulit tumbuhan
kerbau balar si buyung
masih belum ditemui.

Mereka dilahirkan dalam bencana
tidak ada keluhan dan kutukan
kini mereka berjenaka di dapur
sambil menggulung rokok daun.

Arasz said...

My students had fun when I asked them to translate the poem back to Malay.
the best thing is they really need to know the meaning of each word, and I don't really have to do much talking and they were really into it - when it comes to read their version, some were hilarious as they translated the poem word by word - so you can expect to hear phrases like " bangkai kembung/bengkak" and "membuat lawak sambil terguling-guling" (well, they misunderstood the last line - here's the part where the teacher can help them to put things correctly)
Try it - ;)

Anonymous said...

is it the malay version that zawanibadri gave is the true translation? i need it for my literature next week. my teacher want the truest translation.

Vinqctvienne said...

wat a coincidence..anonymous,i m also rushing for my literature folio which must be passed up on next monday. me too,need the true translation of "In the midst of hardship"..

Alphonso Giamatti said...

Oh yay. You just secured me an A for my English exam. Thank you. (:

Darsh said...

Faisal, albino here could probably mean something that is rare and thus, the need for the villagers to definitely find it? (besides the fact that it's their son's buffalo). Albino buffaloes are not common and sounds like it symbolises a uniqueness that the simple villagers once had but is now lost. SHarmila's comments are pretty insightful as well.

Overall Faisal a BIG BIG CONGRATS FOR YOUR ASTOUNDING JOB. I know how hard it is to maintain and update a blog and this is something that sets you apart from the rest. Don't lose the spirit. Just a suggestion, you could probably upload the Lit modules here? Then, teachers could download them happily.. =)