Singapore—Playwright Alfian Sa’at is no stranger to criticism, as many have taken issue with what they perceive as a bias toward Malaysia.
He also has many defenders, however, including Workers’ Party head and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, who called him a “loving critic” in Parliament.
Recently, however, Mr Sa’at was called a “kuching kurab” by a disgruntled netizen. According to filmmaker Martyn See, the netizen dropped the comment on a Facebook post the playwright had written about pro-administration blogger Michael Petraeus aka the Critical Spectator.
Read Alfian's response to a _________.https://www.facebook.com/alfiansaat/posts/10157722914812371
The netizen had written, “You’re a ‘kuching kurab’. As a senior, I respect other artist but not you. Why don’t you balik ke negri Malaysia (go back to Malaysia). You show no respect to my country.”
Mr Sa’at, who wrote about the exchange with the netizen as a separate post on his wall, ended up graciously giving the netizen a Malay lesson.
Random visitor on my wall: You're a "kuching kurab". As a senior, I respect other artist but not you. Why don't you…
He wrote, “Hi ____, thanks for your comments. ‘Kurab’ is spelt ‘kurap’, and ‘kuching’ has been spelt ‘kucing’ ever since the spelling reforms of 1972. But I appreciate your effort to try insulting a Malay person in his mother tongue!”
The playwright then delved into the meanings of the insult. ‘Kurap’ means ‘ringworm,’ “so a kucing kurap is a mangy cat, and is a figure of speech for someone who is looked down upon.”
Wordsmith that he is, he then went on a rabbit trail of the word usage for ‘kurap.’
“Wilkinson records a ‘kurap bukit’ (hill ringworm), which he describes as a ‘skin-disease attacking aborigines’. There is also ‘kurap kain’ (cloth ringworm), a fungal infection of the groin, also known as ‘dhoby itch’. It was believed then that one could get infected after wearing clothes laundered by the dhobies,” he added.
‘Kurap’ is also used as a descriptor for plants and animals with a mottled look.
And then Mr Sa’at goes one step further and brings up a proverb that uses ‘kurap,’
“There is also the proverb ‘yang kurap memikul buluh’, which means that ‘those with ringworm can also be bamboo-carriers’, as bamboo can cause dermatitis and it is thought that those with a pre-existing skin disease would not be much affected.”
Pointedly, he adds, “This proverb means that even the most lowly has a part to play in society. Isn’t language beautiful?”
As for the matter of going back to Malaysia, the playwright tells the netizen that this is impossible, because he was “born in Singapore, like you. Meaning that your country is also my country! But now that you’ve raised the matter, how do you define ‘respect’ to the country?”
As the playwright wrote, “When life gives you kurap, scratch the Malay dictionary until shiok.” /TISG