MARCH 17 — Last Monday, I met somebody I have long admired. The day before, on my Facebook newsfeed, I caught the news that one of Malaysia’s most celebrated writers, Tunku Halim, was in London!
I honestly cannot tell you what possessed me to such audaciousness, but I messaged him asking him for an interview. To my utter surprise, he agreed and even offered to take me to lunch!
For an expatriate Malaysian like myself, reading Tunku Halim’s writing (in particular his early three anthologies) represents a means to get back to a forgotten, simpler Malaysia.
I was gratified that he and I felt the same way about a homeland which is no longer there. When you return to the river, the water has long since flowed on.
I have been in love with the local horror genre since the early 90s thanks to the True Singapore Ghost Stories series.
My brothers and I still talk about Night Rider, the final story in the very first volume where three cousins have a supernatural experience driving from Singapore to KL one terrifying night.
There were individual writers like Nicky Moey with his mastery of the macabre and Damien Sin with his twisted imagination.
These two took things to the next level but Tunku Halim’s affinity for darkness was another thing altogether.
His stories have a visceral feel to them unlike Damien Sin’s stories which were far too contrived.
Tunku Halim had, much to my embarrassment, found a little Indian restaurant just off Oxford Street (UK’s answer to Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman).
I have been walking down this road for two decades and never spotted the place before. But Tunku Halim had been to boarding school in the UK and spent much of his holidays in London, I came to know.
He told me that London had not changed much since the 80s. That comforted me somewhat since London is considered to be the grand dame of UK culture.
I had planned to start the interview by asking him about the inspiration behind his writings. However, the interview did not feel formal at all so I just went with the flow.
It was like meeting an old friend, for all our similar interests. As we were about to order lunch, the conversation naturally turned to food.
Tunku Halim also wrote So Fat Lah! — 30 Ways To A Slimmer You which was a book about eating well.
He was keen to point out that medicine and nutrition are not the same and I nodded in agreement.
He eats mostly vegetarian food although he also consumes fish. The key, he told me, is to be flexible in application. It is better to adopt a few good eating habits rather than none at all.
I then found myself listening to Tunku Halim talk about writing. His ideas are quite similar to Stephen King’s, much to my delight as I love King’s work.
He told me about the process of writing using the word “craft” and it made me realise, as an aspiring writer myself, how much writing is like any other craft like sculpture or carpentry.
I had not realised how much thought had gone into his work but that was because I was too busy being scared... but indeed, it is the quality of his writing which made it happen!
One topic I really wanted explore with Tunku Halim was Malay horror fil When Japanese horror films (think Ringu) and Thai ones (think Nang Nak) were terrifying Western audiences, Malaysian horror was nowhere to be seen!
Tunku Halim agreed that we have a rich heritage of horror to fall back on. In fact, he rather creeped me out when he mentioned that the ubiquitous Penanggalan (a flying demon consisting of a head flying around with its spine attached to it) can be found in other South-east Asian countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos! This is truly untapped horror potential.
The greatest news of the day was Tunku Halim revealing that he is writing a screenplay; a natural progression for him, I should think.
Its working title is Kyoto Kitchen and it will be similar to the Twilight Zone anthology except the stories will be interwoven.
With his style of writing, I can almost feel an existential dread similar to Japan’s Dark Water from 2002.
This is not the kind of horror movie where the hantu jumps out at you or where the hantu is on the movie poster itself! Rather, I can tell this movie would fill you with dread and when the scare finally comes, you would explode in a catharsis of fear. With Tunku Halim behind it, I can even guarantee it.
They say you should not meet your boyhood heroes, they will become ordinary. I can tell you, on good authority, that saying is a load of utter rubbish. Tunku Halim is not just a craftsman of fear, he is an intellectual and I am happy he is Malaysia’s own scion.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.