The passing of award-winning Malaysian author and academic K. S. Maniam left a
gaping hole in the Malaysian literary scene. His last book, Two Heartbeats Away, is
a collection of poems published by Maya Press in 2019, where the poem featured
here also appears. Among Maniam's most well-regarded works was The Return, a
novel about an Indian boy's journey of self-discovery while growing up in Malaya.
Cyril Wong recounts a memory of the author: 'I studied his novel at the National
University of Singapore and was lucky enough to visit him at his home in Subang
Jaya in Malaysia with a few classmates. His wife made us all a home-cooked meal
while the novelist offered us stern but thoughtful advice on the necessary discipline
needed to become a serious writer. It was an intriguing and memorable luncheon.'
Maniam was the inaugural recipient of the Raja Rao Award for Literature and died on
19 February 2020 of cancer at the Universiti Malaya Medical Centre, Kuala Lumpur.

Living Silence

I heard silence first on a family-emptied
house, one innocent morning when five.
I heard it crackle in the wood furniture,
sigh in the window curtain folds.
I felt it grip me as fear, felt it as quickened
heartbeats, then when I'd calmed myself,
heard it as my breath, heard it first fill me,
then fill the whole room, the whole house.
I heard it in the absent breaths, heard it in
all the breaths beyond. I heard the beyond
breathe. I feared my father, mother, brother
and sister were lost in that beyond, but when
they returned, they only came towards me
with the boundless embrace of love itself.

Sometimes seeing a cowherd urge his frisky cows
out of a blue silence, I wondered if that stillness
lay out there or deep within my inquisitive self.
I listened intently but couldn't distinguish between
the two, the inner and outer, such was the balance.
So it was always there this balanced silence
in everything I saw: in a road accident, behind
the struck-down, mangled man, in a child's
desperate, hungry cry or in the sunlight climbing
up the glass front of a tall building. Sometimes
I sensed a movement within both the silences,
as if I'd unknowingly opened a door on a foreign,
fallow field. The ploughs and cows were long gone,
the soil long unturned but something stirred
within both the silences I sensed could only be
the eternal, precarious, self-renewing balance.

When I'm packed, my bags on the doorstep,
ready to go, silence freezes the scene, time.
The absence of noise, movement, fetches
my consciousness back from some distraction.
When I return from a flight to some country,
wait at the baggage carousel, again silence
freezes the movement, the people from talking
as if I hadn't returned, only distracted myself
with a journal, while I'd stayed put in the self.
I'd only sunned it, revelling, on some sandy beach,
or buried it deep under white turned slushy snow.
So the self remained unpacked, unmoved, unloved.
I'd only distracted myself thinking I'd gone away
from the sands, deep into an unreachable self-depth.

I sit in this darkness where there are no
arrive and departure tarmacs, only the self.
I wonder why my recovered consciousness
remains shrouded in darkness, until I recall
that morning I heard my breath pervade
the room, the house, the beyond and become
the beyond itself. I suddenly know why
my consciousness stays enclosed in darkness.
I focus on it until it turns into a pinpoint light.
I concentrate still more until it pervades the room,
the house, the beyond and, suddenly, the light
is just an all-pervasiveness. I see my family
return, now not just with that all-embracing
love but with the light of the beyond itself.

Consciousness has become breath itself,
filling me, the room, house and the beyond.
I breathe as everything, a leaf, slender sapling,
a century-old tree trunk. The breath reaches
the heights of the Himalayas, the dark depths
of Challengers silken, silt bed. I'm not a search
for definition, I'm itself, therefore in all things,
all time, all peoples, all events, all mishaps,
all sadness, all joy, all disasters, all miracles.
I'm in all moments, all time, in history which
is nothing but a spent moment, in the future
which is nothing but a breath to be inhaled.
We all are when we're fully breathing nothing
but consciousness fully alive here and beyond.

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