On Reading And Literature

I was asked, “Why do you love reading?”

I don’t know. I can’t explain it.

I just do.

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If I am not allowed to read, I think I can get major depressive disorder. Because not being able to read is equaled to suffering a loss. And we all know that depression is associated with experiencing loss.

A friend of mine has a sister who is on treatment for depression. Her sister did not have the time to read after having a child. Not being able to read became one of her stressors, among many others.

I believe it. I believe it could happen to me. So, please…don’t deprive me of my reading time.

***

I started reading at the age of five. At that time, it was considered quite early. It was because my sister was 4 years older than me. Quite far apart in age. Whatever she did, I wanted to do them as well. That explained why I could read earlier than most kids my age. They didn’t have the benefit of having a much older sister. And my father always encouraged me to read when I was a child….well, until I became too absorbed with reading. Then, he became discouraging.

I knew the stories of Adam (a.s), Nuh (a.s), Musa (a.s) even before the ustazah in school had started teaching them. I read them from my sister’s books. Whenever I received my Rampaian Pendidikan Islam books during my Tahap 1, I would go straight to the last part of the book – where the sirah syllabus was usually placed.

When I was 9 years old, I had run out of kids books to read at home. So, I read Hikayat Inderaputera which was my father’s Form 6 literature text book. It was 400 pages or so. It was a ‘sastera saduran hindu’, I found out when I was more mature.  It was my favourite childhood book despite the fact that Inderaputera (a prince from Negeri Samanta Puri) had 4 wives and they were all princesses. Hahaha. (Later, when I was already grown up and studying in IB, I chose Hikayat Inderaputera for literature analysis as part of my IB’s extended essay and I got an A for it together with my TOK essay!)

I devoured all the Nancy Drew books, Hardy Boys books, Enid Blyton books, Fear Street series by R.L Stine, Spooksville series by Christopher Pike, Sweet Valley Series by Francine Pascals. I was crazy about them. It was like I was high on drug and needed my constant fix. I couldn’t get enough.

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There were  times when I had lied to my parents that I had Kelas Tambahan. What happened was, I stayed back in school just so I could read in the library. I would have no time to read at home. My schedule was tight. I had Kelas Al-Quran from 2.30 to 5.00. After 5.00, I had to do my daily English article translation (my father’s extra homework for me). And at night, I had to do my school work and academic studying. I went to sleep at 11.00 p.m every day since I was in primary school.

My parents were worried of my excessive obsession with reading story books. They preferred that I put more focus on my academic books. So, my parents would only buy me story books as a reward for good grades. Otherwise, I would have to save my own school money to buy myself books.

I used to complain very bitterly to my mother, “Mak orang lain semua suka beli buku kat anak depa. Tapi anak-anak depa tak minat nak baca pun. Mak patut bersyukur ada anak-anak yang suka membaca.”

“Pi baca buku Matematik. Tu mak bersyukur.”

I hate Maths!

***

Until I went to MRSM Langkawi, I really did think that I was really well-read. I was famous as an avid reader among my school friends. I wore that fame like a badge of honour.  Afiza the great reader! I liked the reputation.

But then I got to know Miss A.

Miss A was my classmate cum roommate in Langkawi. She is from Penang. Nibong Tebal, to be precise. She taught me that the books that I read with so much pride were junks! Trashy books! Nothing to feel accomplished about! Really!

Well, she didn’t say it exactly like that. But she asked me whether I have read Jane Eyre?  Do I know Charlotte Bronte? She asked if I was familiar with Arthur Conan Doyle, with Oscar Wilde, with Robert Louis Stevenson? How about Jane Austen? Do I love Pride and Prejudice? Have I heard of Gone With The Wind? Have I come across Wuthering Heights?  She asked me whether I could compose English poems? Have I read Lord Tennyson’s?  Did I love Shakespeare’s this and that?

Oh My God!

I was clueless. And I felt ashamed that I knew so little. Me…who thought that I was so well-read! Me….who thought that I was so culturally-literate! When in fact, I was nothing! I knew nothing!

Miss A could compose poems like a dream. In BOTH English and Malay, to boot!

She could come up with Malay Pantuns spontaneously without breaking a sweat. She was one of her school representative for Pantun Competition in her old school. Her command in BOTH the Malay and the English languages was really envy-worthy.

And I was, of course, slightly envious.

 I started to feel competitive (in a friendly way) of her command in language. I started to feel like I have to be as good as her.  Read as much as her. I should read something more serious…more literary. I started to feel like I should abandon commercial books and go for  the serious literature types. Those that were written by authors who have been dead and decomposed in their graves a long time ago….like Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Jules Verne, Doyle, Steinebeck, Somerset Maugham, Thomas Hardy, C.S Lewis. I felt like I should start reading something more sophisticated….

…so that I could tell her in a blase, nonchalant manner “What do you think of Robert Frost’s The Silken Tent? Why do you think Frost compared a woman to a tent? Is it a simile or a metaphor?” 

Hahhaha. Yeah….shallow teenage me! Reading… just so you can show off to your friend that you were just as much of a sophisticated reader as she was! Lol! I was soooo superficial!

It was all in good fun, though.

I have lost contact with her. But until now, no one could replace her as my most enthusiastic friend when it comes to book discussion. No one could compare to her. She is in a class of her own. Never again have I come across another person who is as well-read as she is.

Reading thrillers, romance or paranormal sci-fi is not a big deal! I have many friends who read those.

Try reading  literatures like Miss A.

NOT  just modern literatures. But classic ones!

For introducing me to classic literatures, Miss A gets all the credit. I wouldn’t have bothered to read literatures, (modern, classic or otherwise) if it wasn’t for Miss A, my ex-roomie. Without her interrogating me on my readings,  I would never have discovered the treasure of classic literatures. I admit that I started reading classic literatures because I wanted to show off. But I ended up enjoying them and reading them for their own sake.

But before I could get to the point of enjoying them…I had to suffer, first.

And I suffered a great deal.

God only knows how many times I had to open the dictionary! I wanted to weep in frustration. I had to create a vocab book which I still have with me until today. I copied beautiful phrases and sentences into that vocab book. (because I wanted to be able to quote them to Miss A. Hahhah). To be honest, during the course of my reading endeavour, I felt like giving up multiple times.

But I persevered anyway because I wanted to compete with Miss A.

I couldn’t remember at what point did I begin to really earnestly enjoy literatures. The only thing that I remember is, by the time I finished reading The Professor by Charlotte Bronte, I was in love…hook, line and sinker.

Lesson learned: When something is good for you, it doesn’t matter what your real intention was when you began. You will realize the benefits later. And then your intention will correct itself. 

You may compare my journey in liking classics literatures as similar to those of new converts who become Muslims for the sake of marriage rather than real faith. The intention does correct itself, eventually.(Well, hopefully)

***

Why literature is better than commercial books?

Well….

They have better figure of speech, for one thing.

Superior diction, for another.

Distinctive sentence structure! You learn that depending on the context, one can make short, clipped sentences sound just as beautiful as long, elaborate syntax. And you will be awed by both.

They have more messages. More lessons. Hidden treasures.

They pack a punch. And it hit you somewhere in your chest. Really, in your heart. And certainly, in your mind. You will be irrevocably changed. Your worldview shift. And something in you will never be quite the same.

Literatures taught you to have principles. To struggle and persevere. To be heroic during hard times. And to be charitable and benevolent in good times. Literatures taught you to prize substance over form, to place more value on character over persona.

It makes you think. Deeply.

It’s hard to describe. But I never regret going through the hardship of familiarizing myself with reading classic literatures. It was hard! But like everything else in life, it gets easier. And then it becomes enjoyable.

***

But I still read junks! Hahhaa. Lots of them!

Reading sci-fi, thrillers, mysteries….they are like eating ice-creams and desserts. Easy and comfortable. A form of escapism. A reward, really!

But literatures….they are like the green veggies. So good for you… but ugh…so difficult to swallow. So much effort needed. So much time must be invested.

So, I had to push myself.

For every 5 commercial books that I read, I told myself that I must read 1 literature.

My golden 1:5 ratio.

Well, occasionally I slack off. Occasionally my performance drops to the 1:10 ratio.

I call that my silver ratio.

My bronze ratio is 1:15. Hahhah.

But hey…. give me a credit for trying to FORCEFULLY educate my taste.

I used to think that those who look down on thrillers, mysteries and sci-fi are pretentious snobs! Just reading on how they criticize commercial books in the reading forums made me feel annoyed. I was convinced that they were only pretending to love literatures just because those are intellectual books and thus reading them make these people feel like they were extra wise than the rest of us. I just could not compute that anyone can dislike mysteries, thrillers, and  simple enjoyable fiction. How can you NOT like commercial books? It’s like not liking ice-creams and chocolates and cakes! Why don’t you just admit that you secretly enjoy commercial books too, at least occasionally? What? You think literatures are the only superior reading material?

But actually, I was wrong.

Literatures ARE superior reading material. No doubt about it. No use denying it.

Just because you enjoy eating ice-cream, doesn’t mean you should eat ice-cream all the time. Ice-cream can never be a form of superior daily staple. Sometimes, you have to force yourself to eat green veggies. And after a few times of forcing yourself to eat veggies, you will start feeling guilty when you don’t.

Lesson learned: It is good to read what you enjoy. But then it is also important to learn to enjoy the right thing.  

And this lesson can be extended into many other aspects of your life. Just because you enjoy doing something, doesn’t mean it is good for you. So force yourself to enjoy the right thing by doing it often enough. To the point that you will feel guilty when you don’t do it.

See?

See how much literature has taught me?

I have become quite philosophical about life.

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The Misogynist Relative

This is something only female doctors and female staff would ever understand. If you talk to your male colleagues, they wouldn’t have any idea why you are so upset. They would say you are the one who is emotional. Putting the blame on you for losing your temper. 

This is the fact. Some males cannot tolerate females having the upper hand. They are the misogynists of the society. If a male doctor (even just a male Medical Assistant or a male PPK) admonishes them for defaulting treatment, they can accept it. Even submissive to the scolding. If a female doctor (or a female nurse) says the same thing, they fly into a rage.

And they expect females to cower under the heavy cloud of their male displeasure. The damn misogynist! Even if the female is a doctor and is advising him in the capacity of her intellect and her knowledge as a doctor, he would be loathe to agree to what she said. Because it wasn’t a male doctor/staff who says it.

They couldn’t accept it.

They would tolerate the heaviest scolding done by a male member of the health fraternity, but would not accept the slightest hint of disapproval by the female member of the same society.

They have this concept, this mind-set in their under-developed brain that females should simply agree with everything they say. When they are wrong, females should not point it out to them. They treat the male doctors and  male staff with more respect than they would ever even THINK to give to female doctors and female staff.

Fine. I dealt with these sort of male bigots my own way. 

But how do you deal with male colleagues who then implies that you are wrong for losing your temper?

“Mungkin nada suara hang waktu tu kot….” Suggested a male colleague.

Was he joking? It wasn’t funny.

Right….. so it’s my tone of voice. Nada suara aku pula menjadi mangsa kecaman.

But this same rude male can be submissive to another male’s scolding. A scolding consists of even higher tone of voice than my questioning. But it’s ok because it is a male who is using such a tone. The way he talked to my MA in the clinic and the way he submitted to my HOD during grand ward rounds were a far cry to how he behaved towards me. In the first place, he treated them with respect and therefore my male boss and my male MA did not have any reason to have a different tone of voice with him. To THEM, he is conciliatory.

My tone of voice doesn’t come about unprovoked. If that were the case, if my tone of voice is always accusatory in nature to everyone without any good reason, if my annoying tone of voice is just part of my nature with everyone….I wouldn’t have any loyal patients who insist to see only Dr. Afiza and no other doctors.

So don’t talk about my tone voice. I admit I lose my temper. But if a male doctor or a male boss lose their temper against this sort of rudeness, it was accepted as deserving. They wouldn’t question the male doctor’s tone of voice to be the cause of the patient’s rudeness.But if the patient or the relative was rude to me….suddenly it was my tone of voice that provoked such rudeness. (Apparently, males losing their tempers => it’s  justified anger. Females losing their tempers no matter how terribly provoked….well, they are just emotional faggots!)

A male doctor can be tough on a male patient or his relatives, and they would just say, “Memang ada salah kami juga doktor. Tapi nak buat macam mana dia tak mau makan ubat. Kami cuba dah, doktor.” His tone would be perfectly conciliatory and benign. (So the male doctors and the male staffs would have no reason to be upset or to lose their tempers towards him)

But if I were the one questioning the relative for letting the patient to default medication…. “La ni doktor, tak payah nak buka cerita lama. Kami mai sini nak ambil ubat. Dia dah sakit pun…. kita tak payah nak cerita panjang. Memang kami salah juga tak bawa dia mai setahun setengah. Tapi yang pihak hospital boleh tak alert dia tak mai follow up ni kenapa? Awat doktor tak mai melawat kat rumah?”

This is the same relative who had showed up after one year and a half of allowing the patient to default treatment and then had the audacity to threaten the staff nurse at the counter that he would make a report against us to the hospital director if we don’t comply to his demand to do a home visit. As though after almost two years of not caring that the patient under his care had defaulted follow up, he had every rights in the world to just materialize in front of the clinic counter threatening my FEMALE staff nurse. (Gentleman habis, kan?)

I can accept the general society’s biased views. Most of the time, I don’t interact with the society at large. But if my niche society consisting of my own colleagues and my own male staffs are the ones supporting such biased behaviour among patients and their relatives, I would not tolerate it.

I wouldn’t.

I have to interact with them on a daily basis. If they are the sort who would always blame their female counterparts for whatever altercation that transpires in the consultation room, interaction with them would be an occupational hazard for me. I have to curb that tendency once and for all. 

The male staffs have no idea what the female staffs have to go through.

“Doktor perempuan pun depa buat macam tu. Doktor bayangkanlah kami yang nurses ni macam mana. Lagi depa tak respect. Sebab kami perempuan.” Said two of my community nurses. I soooooo get it!

Imagine how we feel when we tell our male colleagues about the rudeness of our patients’ male relatives and the reply that we got, “Nada suara hang tu kot…”

It’s just not enough that we did not get the same amount of respect that you guys  take for granted simply for being born with a penis… but you had to rub salt in our wounds by agreeing with them and putting the blame on us. And you did not even realize what you did.

Just don’t provoke me! I don’t mind losing my temper. I can lose my temper a thousand times over and then I can do it all over again.

I just don’t like losing my respect towards you. For not understanding what your female colleagues and your female staffs have to go through to defend the department against unfair blames by rude relatives. 

Empathy goes a long way, guys. 

Before I leave, here’s a quote for everyone to reflect upon. Smile and have a good day.

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