Literacy as Self-Reflexive Practice

Nilufer Gole states that self-reflexivity is one of the elements that transforms Muslims in a modernisation process.[1] Self-reflexivity is a key element of modernization process within the framework of Alternative Modernities. As his seminal work, Gaonkar argues that self-questioning is required in the path of modernity.[2] In Islamic teachings, self-questioning is fundamental for human beings to make changes in their lives. The Qur’an mentions: “Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.”[3] This verse is very frequently cited, in modern and contemporary periods, to justify that Islam urges human beings to improve themselves; here, the traditional teaching takes on a decidedly modern resonance.

With that in mind, we can consider Indonesian Domestic Workers-cum-writers (IDW writers) in Forum Lingkar Pena-Hong Kong (FLP-HK) as engaging in the process of modernizing themselves, in that they use their writing process and artefacts to reflect on themselves as Muslim women who need self-advancement. In this section, I explore how IDW writers in the FLP-HK community reflect on their creative writing process in their writing. A number of IDW writers in FLP-HK write about various challenges in sustaining their interest in writing. The reason may have a lot to do with the spatial constraints they face in maintaining their creative writing process (spatial in the broadest sense: indicating social as well as geographic space). To illustrate this, the textual analyses below will also be strengthened by interview data, looking in particular at what writers say about their writing process.

Writing for Self-Healing

Heavy life burdens that sometimes lead to frustration certainly need an outlet. In her short story. “Mukjizat Keikhlasan” (the Miracle of Acceptance), Pandan Arum tells of Nia, an IDW in Hong Kong, who gets depressed after getting involved in a same-sex relationship, which was at the time a trend among IDWs in Hong Kong. Left heartbroken due a separation from her partner, Nia feels a strong call to join a writing competition.

I was so hurt. It hurt more than when I was parted from my boyfriend. In mid-2006, when these feet had nowhere to go, when my head kept thinking about betrayal…this hand that really wanted to give a slap grabbed a newspaper in a store at Causeway Bay. There I found information about a short story contest with the themes of social concerns, love, and struggle. I got really interested…What is Times New Roman? But I felt the urge to enter the contest.[4]

In the story, Nia then becomes deeply involved in writing and has many of her articles published in the media. “No longer did I think of her, the one who has made me lose so much weight and caused me to suffer from chronic upset stomach.” In this self-reflexive story, Nia sends her message that “writing turned out to be a real therapy.”[5]

Pandan Arum is the pen name of Ita, an FLP-HK member, also the coordinator of Pandu Pustaka suitcase library. In a personal interview, Ita admitted that the story was largely drawn out of her own experience. Just like Nia, the character in the story, who had no knowledge about writing prior to joining the writing competition and eventually joining FLP-HK, Ita also experienced the very same thing. Ita perceived writing as a way to get out of depression. On another occasion during a group interview with members of FLP-HK, Ita recalled that a turning point, in the form of an invitation to participate in a writing contest, came when she was psychologically fragile. Ita had no interest or background in writing at the beginning, but perceived writing as a gift nevertheless:

At that time I saw writing as a gift, it was a coincidence, I was down then. And there was an announcement about a story writing contest. I had no basic knowledge in writing or the like. I was not even a smart student in primary school. But the writing competition…I was like being drowned in a heavy flow of ideas, because I wrote a true story. Even though I did not win, getting into the 15 best really made me happy (interview, 14 January 2013).

Ita had reason to be surprised by her accomplishment since it was the first story she ever wrote and the first competition she ever entered. “The writing was still messy but got into the 15 best anyway. It was because I grasped the theme. The language style was messy too. [But] the theme was there.”

Ita’s confession through the voice of Nia about her motivation to write confirms Fiona Sampson’s argument about ‘writing as therapy.’ Taking some writers such as Orhan Pamuk and Wole Soyinka as authors who wrote within confined conditions, Sampson suggests that “writing itself is not therapy,” but is a process that empowers the writer to become an active agent who is able “to make choices including the choice to write despite their context.[6] Furthermore, Ffion Murphy and Philip Neilson’s study on the healing power of writing therapy suggests that some people can create a distance within themselves by imagining and reflecting on their trauma in various forms of writing they produce.[7]

[1] (Gole, 2000)

[2] (Gaonkar, 2001)

[3] QS 13:11.

[4] (Arum, 2013, p. 11)

[5] (Arum, 2013)

[6] (Sampson, 2007, pp. 317-318)

[7] Murphy, Ffion, and Philip Neilson. ” Recuperating Writers-and Writing: the Potential of Writing Therapy. ” TEXT 12.1. www. textjournal.com.au. 5 January 2012 page 16

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