Suraidi Sipan (b. 1950)
Written by Nur Diyanah Razali
Dated 20 Apr 2018
Suraidi Sipan is a sensitive and sensible writer. He is aware of his environment and strives to document these events through his writing. However, he does not merely document these incidents. He writes to fight for humanity. He believes in documenting, critiquing, raising awareness and posing questions about the things around him that he is concerned about.
Suraidi expresses the message of empathy, harmony, justice and freedom through his poems, whilst documenting tragic events that happened in the period he was writing in. He first articulated his purpose for writing in “Nyanyi Puisi [The Song of Poesy],” published in Berita Harian in 1978. The refrain, “aku mahu berpuisi [I will write poesy]” at the beginning of each stanza illustrates where his desire and purpose for writing stems from. Suraidi vividly illustrates the search and fight for freedom in the midst of violence in the poem. In the first stanza, he writes
Aku mahu berpuisi
kerana di Afrika ada kebuluran
seorang ibu menggendong anak dalam buruan
di samping berdiri perajurit tua tersenyum perit
menghidu asap senapang dari satu peperangan
dan dari longgokan pesawatpesawat usang
ada bayangbayang berserakan
menyusuri kepulan debudebu bahang
menyanyi lagu kebebasan.
[I will write poetry
because in Africa they are starving
a mother cradles her child in her arms as a fugitive
nearby stands an old soldier grimacing
the rifle smoke bites his nostrils from another war
and from the loads of obsolete bombers
are scattered shadows
adjoining the mounds of scorched earth
singing the song of freedom.]
Suraidi vividly describes the agony, pain and violence that has robbed the victims of their freedom, and the distress of the people who died to gain their freedom.
In the second stanza, Suraidi highlights the repercussions of violence by illustrating the atrocity of the incidents in Sinai, the West Bank and Tel Aviv, and how such unprecedented violence strips away happiness and peace in a blink of an eye. Suraidi’s empathy for the victims of this violence is illustrated in this stanza:
Aku mahu berpuisi
kerana baru semalam
dari kamar kecil Camp David
ada masih sempat menguntum senyum
mengunyah buah tamar
dari Iskandariah dan Baitulmakdis
bila esok tugunya
akan tersemat pada dada
Gurun Sinai Tebing Barat
di utara Tel Aviv ada pesta berdarah
buminya masih sendiri
badai api membakar hangus
meragut rakus tubuhtubuh kerdil
dan di antara runtuhan temboktembok mati
ada anak kecil bersama mesiu
bersiul lagu kedamaian penuh rindu.
[I will write poesy
because only yesterday
from the privy of Camp David
there was time for a bouquet of smiles
while chewing on a date
from Alexandra and Jerusalem
when tomorrow its monument
is nailed to the breast of
the desert of Sinai, the West Bank,
to the north of Tel Aviv is a bloodbath
the land will still be alone
the storm of fire burning everything to a cinder
voraciously consuming the dwarfed bodies
and in between the rubble of razed walls
is a little child among the spent ammunition
humming the tune of peace he pines.]
Suraidi does not turn a blind eye to the events that are being ignored by the community and the world. He passionate articulates these silences, and raises issues that are important and pertinent through his poems. In the final stanza, he writes
Aku mahu berpuisi
kerana hari ini bukan penentu
yang membuat aku sendiri
dari pengertian hidup ini
bila bakal esok semuanya tidak lagi peduli
pada segala peristiwa ini
aku mahu terus berpuisi dan berpuisi
biarpun bumi mati sepi.
[I will write poesy
because today will not be the day
that makes me oblivious
to understanding the world out there
if tomorrow comes and no one longer cares
about all these happenings
I will write and continue to write poesy
Even until the world stops turning.]
In “Ballada Lewat Senja [An Evening Ballad],” published in 1979, he documents the journey of individuals who fought for the intellectual development of their respective societies. He shows the physical and emotional pain of being discriminated by the very societies these individuals were trying to help. In the poem, Suraidi uses the dusk as a setting to evoke these distressed emotions. Suraidi uses a lot of symbolism in this poem, such as “bungabunga lalang yang gugur berserakan [lalang flowers than wilted messily]” to illustrate a dream-like aspiration that disappears; and “bulan merah di puncak pohon kelapa [red moon at the peak of a coconut tree]” to illustrate the eclipse of great future and life:
Ballada Lewat Senja
Ketibaannya pada lewat senja
dengan mulut terkucur darah
dan di dadanya terbenam sebilah belati tua
dari sejuta kedustaan umatnya.
Sambil merentasi desah angin keras yang sisa
dia terus menghela nafas usia kelahirannya
dari degup-degup kemanusiaan.
Dia yang terkucur darah dari mulutnya
rebah dalam kepucatan wajah
di atas hamparan rumputan kering lata
dan bungabunga lalang yang gugur berserakan
oleh keresahan nafas bicara
menampari lembut pada wajahnya
senja yang terutus dari celahan keharuman cempaka
telah ditimpa celaka
rebut dendam dari utara
membawa bersama ratusan burungburung gagak menggila
yang lapar dengan mata bernyala bagai bara api
menjilat rakut akan tubuhnya
dalam timbunan kepahitan warna senja
bulan merah di puncak pohon kelapa
mula membahangi tubuh yang luka dari belati tua berbisa
bila malam melewatinya
dengan membawa bersama satu perkabungan
[An Evening Ballad
He arrived in the late evening
with a bleeding mouth
and an old dagger in his chest
from the lies of a million people.
While crossing the strong wind
he then sighed his age
of the beats of humanity.
He who’s mouth bleeds
collapsed with a pale face
on a bed of dry grass cascades
and lalang flowers scattered
by the breath of anxiety
gentle slap on the face
nightfall between the cempaka’s fragrance
revenge towards the north
brought together hundreds of crazy crows
hungry with eyes like burning coals of fire
licking its body
in the bitter evening
the red moon is at the top of the coconut tree
starting to heat the injured body from
the old venomous dagger
when the night passes
In, “Debudebu Jalanan,” Suraidi focuses on the relationship between man and his environment. He is sensitive to how socio-environmental, historical and political circumstances affect the society and the individual. At the same time, he foregrounds the theme of humanism. One example is in “Di Sini Di Benua Sendiri [Here In Its Own Land]”. Here, Suraidi criticises the lack of integrity of authoritarian leaders who control a country, and cause their citizens to suffer. He is cynical of authoritarian leaders mismanage their countrie and abuse their power. So he challenges the heirs of these regimes with a new form of challenge—critical citizens, who are not blindly loyal and who emphasise social agency. Hence Suraidi’s critiques reflects his humanist stance.
Suraidi also uses his poems to portray his thoughts on Singapore’s landscape. Albeit indirectly, in “Kehidupan [Life]” (1979), Suraidi laments on the minority position of the Malays at the moment Singapore separated from Malaysia. His pessimism then resonated with the views of other contemporary writers such as Suratman Markasan and Mohamed Latiff Mohamed. They believed that the separation had larger implications on the Malay community, such as the importance and development of the Malay language, the viability of Malay-language schools, and the stark decline of opportunities for those who were Malay-educated.
In all, Suraidi is a poet who observes his surroundings with a critical and sensible eye. His works demonstrate his nature and aspiration to write on issues that concern humanity.
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Suraidi Sipan. Debudebu jalanan. Indonesia: The International Cultural Study & Development Centre for Asia, 1984.
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“Hayati kerencaman dunia sastera Singapura”. Berita Harian. 25 April 2016. Singapore.