Protesting the government's crackdown on peaceful protesters in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday, distinguished poet and novelist A Samad Said said he will from now on not attend government functions.
"I don't know how my friends in government will react, but I will not accept any invitation from the government. For the moment, I will not entertain them," he said.
“If the opposition wins, then I will entertain,” he quipped.
Samad made the comments in an exclusive interview with Malaysiakini at a restaurant in Bangsar yesterday.
The 76-year-old national laureate has written some 70 books and is a common figure at government functions.
His novel, Di Hadapan Pulau is also part of the Malay language literature module for secondary schools.
However, the usually low profile septuagenarian is now training his pen against the government in support of electoral reform group Bersih 2.0.
Popularly known as Pak Samad, he has composed three poems in support of the movement's push for electoral reforms, one of which, Unggun Bersih, raised alarms with the police who investigated him for sedition.
The poem, penned during a Bersih meeting, described the movement as a flare for democracy.
The other two poems, Peludah Warna and Semarak Menyala, were a response to the government's crackdown on Bersih.
The move caused an outrage among Malaysians, prompting more than 100 artistes to condemn the police action and express support for Samad''s work.
Four other national laureates had also called on the government to release all Bersih detainees prior to last week's rally.
However, many of the literary figures were not present on the ground during the July 19 demonstration, and about this Samad said that they had their families to consider.
"Maybe they have projects (with the government) or need to consider their finances, or maybe their children's scholarships.
"Some of my friends said there was no need for street demonstration, but for me, we should (go to the ground)," he said.
Asked if he would join the ranks of his friends if he had a government project, the national laureate said he would follow his conscience.
"I will ask my heart, my heart always does the speaking. Even now I only have only RM96 in my bag, from royalties... without it, I have nothing," he said.
Bersih's literary champion
The Bersih poems, which have become a symbol of defiance, were inspired by the political turbulence in the country, Samad said.
"I believe it was spontaneous. When I was at (the formal launch of Bersih 2.0) at the Kuala Lumpur-Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, I felt that there was a need for a strong voice (for the movement).
"What I could not say, I wrote as a poem," he added.
Despite being aware that his works on Bersih would hurt his literary space and earn the wrath of the government, Samad remains undeterred.
"In the end, I want to say, the fire is lit, and it will remain lit. It cannot be extinguished, the fire will fight back," he said.
The national laureate added that he will not be writing in other media including the alternative media so as not to be labelled as pro-government or pro-opposition.
“I write on Facebook every week. If I write for Malaysiakini, people may label me as opposition,” he said.
The national laureate's next project will be to compile his experiences in writing the Bersih poems.
This was Samad's second protest, the last one being in March 2009, protesting against the government's policy to teach Science and Mathematics in English.
A strong proponent of Malay literature, he has penned at least a dozen novels and countless poems, and has also worked as a journalist for several Malay-language newspapers, as well as editor at Berita Minggu.
He was honoured as a national laureate, or Sasterawan Negara, in 1985.