The Interlok novel problem still remains unresolved officially as the National Writers Association are unhappy with the Education ministry's decision to go ahead with the novel, albeit with a few modifications to the original content. However, what many people do not get it is that by modifying the content of the novel, even though by a few pages, the structure of the story can be altered drastically. This will definitely be very much against Abdullah Hussain's intentions of the story when he wrote that novel and thus damaging the integrity of the novel.
Being Politicize and Provoked
It is a shame that the novel is being politicized by the Indians over a small matter. The word alone "Pariah" is somewhat considered a bane, but however, don't forget that it was written at that period, hence, Interlok is somewhat considered as a periodical piece set in that particular period. We will elaborate on that shortly.
I simply do not understand whether the Education ministry has done a thorough read through over the story, and considered whether if the story is to be used particularly for a specific group / cluster of schools or not. But the Education ministry and the government should take the share of the blame because of committing to the decision of using this material in school. By going ahead in using this as one of the three possible literature books for Bahasa Malaysia, the Education ministry is either unintentionally provoking the other races into whacking one another, thus more racial tension problems or otherwise deliberately intending of doing so. Who really made the final decision on which novels to be used? One of the department heads of the Ministry? Muhyiddin or Wee themselves?
Read the Content and Other Material
I must concur with the National Writers Association's stance that the novel should be remain intact as it is. First of all, because of it's story setting period that comprises of 6 decades from the early 20th century to prior Merdeka, there have been social and racial prejudices against the Malayan society. Pariah, is a common prejudice as what the English would do to discriminate the Indians in the point of time. This means that Abdullah Hussain's book is correct, in historical terms, of painting the point of Indians at that time, before World War II and prior to Merdeka.
Actually, there is nothing to gain for taking the issue out of proportion, politicize it and to turn it into mass rallies and so forth just because we didn't understand the content nor going back to the early times to verify the history and the portrayal of the Indian community. If we didn't understand those things above, then what is the point of having a National Archive or a National library for? Turn books and historical documents to dust? Isn't this problem similar to as what Gandhi and the India faced back in India before the 1947 independence?
Case Example in Burgess
Hussain's novel isn't the only one that suffers the brunt of anger over discrimination. If anyone of you have read the Malayan stories by the late Anthony Burgess (author of A Clockwork Orange), you would find that the content is pretty similar in here.
As in related to the context above, in The Enemy of The Blanket, (part 2 of the trilogy), Mr. Jaganathan is a supporting character who is determined to sabotage the anti-hero at all costs. The motive of his actions is primarily because of how the Indians were treated by the English. Example:
"Jaganathan, you're a bloody fool! I'd be doing a great disservice to the Malay if I get out and let you take over!"
"You will kindly not call me a bloody fool in my own house, Mr. Crabbe." Jaganathan shook. "Who are you to say that I cannot run this school? I was running this school when you were still writing your wicked articles about the necessity of having Communist bandits in the east. While you were only a foolish soldier, I was running this school."
This piece above is a retaliation of and a hint of discrimination - note of "disservice to the Malay" phrase that Crabbe spoke of above. Remember that because this novel is set in 1956, one year before Merdeka, the racial prejudice is still there, so therefore it is society structure and state at that point of time is historically accurate and clearly reflected in Interlok.
The below excerpt is from Beds of The East, the final part of the trilogy:
Have we actually asked our surviving elders whether they themselves or other friends of theirs do the same thing or encountering such situations at that point of time? If it's a yes, then it is socially accurate using that period of time. Therefore, to emphasize it: there is nothing to be politicized and provoked off.
The Simplest Solution
If this problem keeps going on and on with neither side wants to compromise and resulting with a neither side winning the argument, the solution is very simple - either replace the book with another title that will not offend everyone, or since each school gets to choose one of the three Malay novels to be used for the Bahasa subject, they can opt not to take Interlok and choose another one. When the literature component was introduced back in 2000, I remembered that students or schools get to choose one of the books. Because anyhow, in the examination paper, I recalled that literature question and answer will only be based on which book you're reading. So, if I read book A, I will only need to answer questions related to book A only.
It's one of the two options they can choose, and it's a win-win case. Everyone can walk away and save the mess from happening. Why want to make an issue out of it?