Malaysia denies passport to 'anti-logging' poet: Cecil Rajendra puts verse to work in his radical criticism of environmental destruction, writes Raymond Whitaker

Raymond Whitaker
Friday 06 August 1993 23:02
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THE Malaysian government, which announced this week that it would set up an office in London to fight boycotts of tropical timber, has seized the passport of one of the country's best- known poets and social critics for his 'anti-logging activities'.

Cecil Rajendra, 51, has focused increasingly on the environment and the effects of tourism in his recent work (an example appears below). His radical and direct style has made him well-known on the Third World arts circuit, but at home he is equally prominent as an establishment irritant, a British-trained barrister who mystifies his more money-conscious countrymen by choosing to do legal aid work for very little pay rather than take more lucrative cases.

Mr Rajendra was due to visit Britain next month on one of his regular poetry-reading tours, but had his passport taken from him in July. He confirmed the seizure when telephoned at his legal office in Penang, but referred further queries to his British publisher, Jessica Huntley.

After checking with Kuala Lumpur, a Malaysian High Commission spokesman said: 'Mr Rajendra's passport was retained for his anti-logging activities, which it was felt could damage the country's image overseas.' Asked if the government action might not be equally damaging, he said: 'The issue of a passport is a privilege, not a right. I am sure the matter will be subject to review.'

Mr Rajendra, whose work often denounces politicians, has always refused to join any political party or organisation, according to Ms Huntley. He has suffered official harassment before, undergoing police interrogation when he returned to Malaysia in 1976 after several years in Britain.

Malaysia's vocal Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamed, frequently attacks Western critics of the country's forestry policies as neo-colonialists. Groups such as Friends of the Earth have urged boycotts of tropical timber, alleging that indiscriminate logging by south-east Asian nations is destroying the rain forests. Malaysia denies this, saying it plants as much timber as it cuts.

'Requiem for a rainforest'

i wrestle with a rhinoceros

but no words will come

i hear tall trees crashing

wild birds screeching

the buffalo stampeding

but no words will come

i hear sawmills buzzing

cash registers clicking

entrepreneurs chuckling

but no words will come

i hear of press conferences

of petitions, of signatures

of campaigns and lobbying

but no words will come

i hear the rain pounding

into desolate spaces

the widowed wind howling

but no words will come

the rhino is boxed and crated

merbok and meranti are gone

above, no monkeys swing

from no overhead branches

below, a pangolin stumbles

around amputated trunks

an orphaned butterfly

surveys the wounded jungle

yes, no words can fill

this gash of malevolence

but a terrible anger squats

hugging its knees in silence

Bogle L'Ouverture Press

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