When Sant Kabir, the 15th Century mystic and poet walked out of Benares (now Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh or UP), he must have known he was leaving for the last time. Devout Hindus, in the twilight of their lives, have long sought to head towards Varanasi, spending their remaining days in the holiest of cities alongside the holiest of rivers, the Ganges. In contrast, Sant Kabir, a wizened iconoclast chose to walk away, despite having been born there – rejecting ancient Hindu practice and orthodoxy.
The euphoria over the surprise victory of the Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad-led Pakatan Harapan coalition last year has been swiftly replaced by a surprisingly bitter disappointment. For the past two months, Team Ceritalah has been criss-crossing the country: everywhere from Kuala Kangsar to Penampang. It’s been a Herculean effort for the young team: listening and recording stories from the ground. We tried to revisit all the people we interviewed before last year’s polls. Team Ceritalah aren’t pollsters. We weren’t trying to do a scientific survey. Rather, we sought to take a snapshot of a country coming to terms with both immense change and the more mundane challenges of making a living.
Sweating under the scorching sun in Kuala Kangsar, chased by hordes of mosquitoes (one clap of the hands can kill up to five!), 57-year-old Ah Seng teaches Team Ceritalah how to tap rubber. "It has to be one steady motion, if the cut is jagged, the milk will not flow."
"There's a new disease. It's spreading fast. It's called BBM". Abang Zaki (not his real name) lights a kretek (clove) cigarette and inhales deeply. "Nobody knows how it got its name or what causes it. It dries out the stalks of the padi. After that, you can't use it." Abang Zaki is a burly 43 years old. His skin is tanned and leathery. He's been a rice farmer all his life, cultivating a three-acre plot in Selangor's Sekinchan region.