A bold move

Lokman Hakim uses the overwhelming feeling one gets when moving to the big city as his inspiration for his short story, Pengap

09 May 2019 / 16:03 H.

LOKMAN HAKIM still keeps his day job as a construction engineer, but his main passion is writing fiction.

The 35-year-old has already written several novels and short stories, as well as poetry in the Malay language over the years, covering a wide variety of genres.

Tomorrow, Lokman will know if his short story, Pengap (translated by Adriana Nordin Manan), has won the region’s 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize competition.

Pengap is one of two shorts written by Malaysian authors (the other is My Mother Pattu by Saras Manickam) to join the competition’s shortlist of 21 stories picked from 5,081 entries from 50 Commonwealth countries.

The best entry from each region will be announced tomorrow, while the overall Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner will be announced on July 9.

This short story prize is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from the Commonwealth.

The shortlisted writers – 15 women and six men – come from 16 countries including, for the first time, Tanzania, Zambia, Malaysia, Cyprus, and Barbados.

Pengap means ‘to suffocate, having difficulty breathing’, and Lokman relates this feeling to moving to the big city.

During an interview over the phone, Lokman said: “The idea behind Pengap came to me as I noticed that most Malaysians tend to look for a job in Kuala Lumpur. Thus they create such a crowded city. It’s suffocating.”

He was moved to write the story when he saw the look on people’s faces whenever he ventured into the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

“The way people react to such an environment, and how empathy slowly dissipates, provided me such a bleak insight for the story.

“I gave Pengap a touch of the noir and tried to play with the form. The form itself is quite fresh even for me.”

He has yet to read the translated version of his work.

“What I’m concerned about is the poetic part, the beauty of the Malay language,” he said and wondered how Adriana managed it, though he believes that she would have nailed it.

Still Lokman was surprised when he found out that he was shortlisted for this year’s Commonwealth prize.

“Previously, I had never tried for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize competition due to the language barrier (I prefer writing in Malay most of the time).

“[I have also yet to win] any recognition from local literary bodies, so this is such an incredible moment for me. It still feels like a dream, though.”

Describing what might have made his story stand out among other entries, Lokman said: “It is probably the form of the story itself.

“Probably [it would have] become just a noir, a cliched story, or a simple tale of rebellion towards uncontrollable development by a greedy developer, if I hadn’t managed to tweak it to where the narrator himself participates within the world of the characters.

“It definitely [delivers] a fresh approach to how short stories should be written.”

When asked what advice he would give other budding writers, Lokman said that making a living as a fiction writer in Malaysia is really hard.

“But I believe, if you have persistence and are consistently writing and reading, some good things might come your way.

“Being a writer is not the best method to become rich or popular within the shortest period, but if you believe that you have tonnes of good stories to be shared and enjoy the writing process, then sure, writing is for you.

“Be passionate, be bold. That’s it.”

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