Writers Unlimited — Winternachten 2012 The Hague

Keep on Dreaming!

A wink at the dreamers, the believers in utopias, the pursuers of ideals, that is the theme of the Writers Unlimited Winternachten Festival 2012. Writers and thinkers from the Netherlands and from afar speak out on their dreams, they dream with us about freedom and how it can be realised. Writers Unlimited Winternachten Festival 2012 offers a mixture of current affairs and literature, music and film in a varied programme in Theater aan het Spui and Filmhuis Den Haag. Most of the programmes are in English.

The festival begins on Thursday afternoon 19 January with the presentation of the Oxfam Novib PEN Awards. In the evening followed by the Winternachten lecture by the Nigerian writer Helon Habila (Oil on Water), who gave his speech the title Literature as a Way of Seeing.

On the evenings of Friday 20 and Saturday 21 January the Winternachten take place with varied programmes in five halls. With a ticket you can freely walk in and out of dozens of programmes with writers, films and musical performances. In addition to literature there are films and there is music, and at the end of the evening everyone dances into the night. This year for the first time there is an opportunity to have dinner in the theatre at 6.30 pm before the programmes.

On Saturday afternoon the NRC Readers’ Club discusses The Great Gatsby and on Sunday morning the live broadcast of VPRO’s OVT Live can be attended.

On Sunday morning VPRO’s OVT broadcasts live from the festival.
The festival ends on Sunday afternoon 22 January in the Koninklijke Schouwburg with a Tribute to Hella, a festive occasion, celebrating the life and work of Hella Haasse, with performances of among others Loes Luca and Willem Nijholt. Following it the Jan Campert Awards of the Municipality of The Hague will be presented, including the Constantijn Huygens Prize.

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night the Filmhuis presents a series of films with introductions and post-screening discussions round the theme of ‘Keep on Dreaming’. On Wednesday night Theater aan het Spui presents the screening of Mahabharata, by Marjolijn van Heemstra and Satchit Puranik.

Meet the foreign authors in our Meet & Greets, in Theater Dakota and Theater Concordia among other venues.

Post taken from: Writers Unlimited Winternachten Festival 2012

Bernice Chauly

(Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia, 1968) is a Malaysian writer, poet, actor, photographer and filmmaker. She graduated with a B.Ed in English Literature and TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) from the University of Winnipeg, Canada, and has worked extensively in the arts for over 20 years. Of Chinese and Punjabi parentage, her work stems from the desire to tell stories, and she has worked with marginalised communities from sex workers and refugees to indigenous peoples, in mediums that incorporate film, photography and prose. She has published two collections of poetry, going there and coming back (1997), The Book of Sins (2008), a collection of short stories, Lost in KL (2008) and a critically-acclaimed memoir Growing Up With Ghosts (2011), an exploration of grief, personal and political history, and bloodlines. She works in both Bahasa Malaysia and English, and her work has been exhibited, screened, published locally and internationally. She is also the founder of Readings and CeritAku, two live literary platforms in Kuala Lumpur, now in its eighth year. She lives in Kuala Lumpur with her two daughters and she keeps a blog of her work at bernicechauly.wordpress.com.

participant in

Winternacht 1
Family Ties
Wet Dreams on a Winter’s Night

At some point in everyone’s lives, we need to know where we came from.

WHAT stands out for me when I think of Bernice Chauly’s book, Growing Up With Ghosts – A Memoir, is the story of her father’s death. It is where the book begins and Chauly’s dreamlike and poetic description of how her three-year-old self deals with the sudden loss of a beloved parent is, for me, the most heartbreaking and compelling thing in this book.

Later, when introduced to the young Bernard – the curious, adventurous trainee teacher, the passionate young lover, the idealistic newly wed – it is my initial vision of him as a loving, devoted father that fixes my attention and makes me want to learn more about him.

Exorcism: Bernice Chauly wrote her family memoir in part as a means of dealing with the many deaths the family has endured.

His death affected Chauly powerfully, but it was just one of many losses her extended family had to endure. Deep in the heart of the book is the family curse that Chauly seeks to understand. Its almost gothic details, including a pilgrimage to India to visit an ancient snake temple, imbue the book with a sense of mystery and deep, devastating horror.

In our interview (conducted via e-mail recently), Chauly, 43, said the real reason for writing the book was to find “the root of the curse”, and understand why all the men in her family died. “I grew up haunted by grief, and my grief became a ghost, I had to confront it and finally let it go,” she says.

She goes on to say that she used “ghosts” as a metaphor “for many things – for untold histories, for the voices who lived through difficult times, who were never heard; for things that scare you, and things that come back to haunt you, for the dead whom I mourned, for the dead that my ancestors mourned, the dead who became ghosts, who were forgotten, who never told their stories and who were never heard, and who never got a chance to exorcise their grief.”

Writing the book, Chauly says, was “cathartic in every way”, an exorcism of sorts that allowed her to make peace with the “ghosts” and with herself. The author uses the voices of her grandparents and her parents to tell a story of struggle and of hardship, of hope and of love. Chauly’s own narrative binds the different voices together and represents the link between the past and the present.

How did you decide on the way the book is presented? What was your aim?

I did not want to write it in a straightforward narrative style – meaning one singular narrative throughout, mine – as I felt that this would be too conventional and did not best serve the stories I wanted to tell. I wanted to redefine memoir writing. History needs to be told from many perspectives and I didn’t want to be the sole voice. I needed to be honest to my ancestors, to use their own words, and to re-tell their stories.

My Punjabi grandmother was illiterate and my Chinese grandmother could read and write basic Mandarin; the men on the other hand, were literate and educated. I wanted to include their voices, their stories. The aim was to have a tapestry of voices, to use existing words that were left behind and to piece together something that was indicative of real people, to celebrate oral history in ways that may challenge the notion of the conventional memoir.

Why did you decide to use original documents – letters from your father to your mother, your mother’s journal, your letters to your mother, etc – in the book?

My parents kept everything – photos, letters, cards, clothes, books. A lot of these things I still have, but their letters, journals and scrapbooks are the most precious. My grandfather’s letter is one of my most treasured possessions. As a writer, I appreciate these documents very much. It just seemed to make sense to use them all. This is a work of non-fiction. If I had chosen to write a work of fiction, it would have been a completely different book.

Why didn’t you write about your marriage or the birth of your children (Chauly has two daughters)?

I saw that as a part of my life that was separate from my personal history, my Self. That those were issues of a different nature, that related to me more as a woman, a mother, a creative person, my personal politics, someone struggling to find her voice, her art, make sense of the world. I think my poems reflect this more and that is what my poetry is for. This (book) was about me coming to terms with my personal history, of being the product of two distinct cultures, of coming to terms with who I am, first and foremost.

What appeal do you feel the book will have for those who are not part of your family or close friends of the family?

I think it’s a universal story, a search for bloodlines. So many of us come from different places, it’s the search to find roots, one’s place in the larger scheme of things, to acknowledge that we share similar histories, to study the Punjabi and Chinese diasporas and how we came to be where we are. It’s acceptance of who we are, and to not forget where we came from.

What are your plans now that this book has been published? What are you working on at the moment?

I had plans of wanting to adapt it to a one-woman play, to have it staged. The Australian writer/photographer/performer William Yang has done something similar with his own family stories, Silence, which was a multi-media performance with slides and film. It was very inspiring when I was grappling with this work. But I think the weight of the book has now been lifted. I want to let it go and move on. I am currently working on curating a writers festival in George Town (see story above) and doing research for a novel. I have also started work on a new collection of short stories and a collection of poems.

Growing Up With Ghosts by Bernice Chauly (ISBN: 978-9834484583) is published by Matahari Books and is available in most Malaysian bookstores and from Amazon online.

Post taken from The Star

Growing Up With Ghosts by Bernice Chauly.

MEMOIRS are, by definition, works in progress. They should, for all intents and purposes, take a lifetime to write. They should communicate change. They should symbolise growth. They should be reflective. In an age where everyone is looking for their 15 seconds of fame, we have come to expect so much more from these sorts of things. We want revelation. We want honesty and candour. We want to be surprised. For what is the point indulging in such reading if we didn’t actually learn from it, something new, something that would, God forbid, further enrich our reality.

Suffice to say that Bernice Chauly does not disappoint. It has taken her over two decades to put this book together and it is an absolute masterpiece. A magnum opus about family, love, death, the plight of star-crossed lovers, the diaspora of all those displaced by time and by space. It will tear your heart out. It will make you bleed. It will likely be the most Malaysian thing you read this year. Why? Simply because this story, of Chauly’s parents, of their forbidden love, steeped in passion and punctuated by tragedy, is as much hers as it is ours. Also because we have all had startlingly similar experiences, be it in our own lives or in those lives close to ours and this quest — of self-discovery, coming to terms with one’s sense of self, dealing with those complex questions of identity — is something we’ve all undertaken, or likely will, at some point in our lives. Why is that? Well, very simply because it comes with the territory. It is our tendency — the inescapable consequence of our curious living arrangements.

This book is nothing short of a labour of love. It is a work suffused with so much blood, sweat and tears. Every sentence is steeped in sentiment, in emotion so raw, so natural and instinctive, that its appeal is nothing short of universal.

There is a wonderful quality to Chauly’s prose. It is a style that stems from her well-established poetic roots. It is lyrical. There are moments when it borders on verse. Arranged with an almost metrical rhythm. Like when she writes of her origins. “I am Punjabi, a sardarni of the Khalsa. Of the pure, from the tenets sprung from the loins of Guru Nanak. From the plains of the Punjab, and the wheat fields of Amritsar. I am Chinese, from the port city of Canton, from Fatshan, from Lam Soy Chea, from the village of fishermen and of joss stick makers.” It possesses a choral character that demands to be read and read out loud. This is because Chauly has written more than just a memoir, she has compiled more than just a poignant catalogue of letters and diary entries and personal observations and scrapbook excerpts. Growing Up With Ghosts is an inadvertent play for voices.

Growing Up With Ghosts is many things. It is a biography, a diary and a history. It’s also a love story, a searching journey into the heart of the Punjab and into the Guangdong province and the story of an ancient curse. But most of all, it is the story of a little girl just looking for her father.

‘… leave my mother alone! Take me!’ This space is dedicated to publishing new writing from local and foreign writers. This month, we’re highlighting Growing Up With Ghosts by Bernice Chauly. Here, an excerpt of the memoir Loh Siew Yoke. Jelapang, Ipoh. 1944 They were older than me actually and I must have been about four when they died. I don’t even remember their names. They were always sick so they had to be sent away. My mother never talked about them at all. My dead sisters.

When the war broke out, I was sent to live in Jelapang, I lived with my eldest sister, Third Aunt and my grandmother, Ah Ma. My mother lived in the shophouse called Ying Woh on Leech Street with my father and Ah Yeh, my grandfather. Third Aunt was quite sickly as well. I think she suffered from heart disease. My grandparents favoured boys so my father and uncle were treated differently. Third Aunt was very good to me, took care of me and she used to sew me clothes. She was a good tailor. I remember she had to eat raw liver all the time. We believed that you had to treat blood with blood, you see. So Ah Ma would chop raw liver very fine, pour boiling water on it, swirl it around with chopsticks and Third Aunt would have to drink the liver water. She died when she was 28 or 29. She was so young, her body was so swollen when she died. I remember touching it. She was cold. Swollen and cold.

We lived on sweet potatoes for almost two years. There was nothing else to eat during the war. The shophouse sold pork but there wasn’t much meat then. I remember my stomach got so big once and Ah Ma said I had worms. It was from the sweet potatoes. Maybe because it wasn’t cooked long enough, maybe the water wasn’t clean enough. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I was barefoot all the time. I had sores on my feet and had to soak my feet in hot water every day for hours. Just sitting there for hours with my feet in a tub of hot water.

Then one day, they came. The Japanese came. The house was old, wooden, and in the back there were jambu trees and then there was the jungle. I loved to climb the jambu trees. So one evening, they came. There was a commotion outside. I thought it was from the neighbour’s house. There was a lot of noise outside the door. They barged in, two or three of them, they had guns. They were talking very loudly and one of them went into the bedroom and started ransacking the drawers. I shouted at him in Cantonese, “What are you doing?” He turned around and slapped me. I ran to hide. They found nothing. They must have thought we were rich because we had a horse cart. We went from Jelapang to Ipoh in a horse cart in those days.

Then they dragged Ah Ma by her hair out the door and Third Aunt said, “She’s old, leave my mother alone! Take me!” But they were already out the door. We were crying, hugging each other, not knowing what to do. Somehow the news got to Ying Woh and then the rest of the family came. My father had to make a police report and the policeman came to ask us questions. Ah Ma had been kidnapped by the Japanese. I cried and I cried. We could not sleep that night.

The next morning, I got up very early, I went to the window to look out. And I will never forget this for the rest of my life.

I saw her running. Ah Ma looked as if she was flying, she was running through the air through the back of the house, through the jungle and the jambu trees. Her hair was wild. She ran into the house and collapsed onto the floor. Her feet were swollen and torn. She told us that she had escaped in the middle of the night when one of the Japanese soldiers went off to urinate. She had started running and ran and ran until it was dawn.

She said she was guided out of the jungle by a white butterfly.

post taken from New Straits Times

Exorcising her past

August 22, 2011

IT HAS taken 23 years for author, poet, actress and filmmaker Bernice Chauly (right) to complete her memoir, Growing Up with Ghosts.

It’s the story of her parents and her ancestors. Her mother, a Chinese, and her father, a Punjabi, fell in love and got married despite fierce family objections. Their first child brought peace to the family but then tragedy struck.

The 43-year-old author shares some intimate details of how the memoir came about here.

What motivated you to base this memoir on your parents?

This book is not just about my parents. It’s about the Chinese and Punjabi diasporas and about how my ancestors (from China and India) came to this country. It is 100 years of my family history set against the history of this region.

I managed to trace five generations of my family from both sides and I have taken some creative liberties in telling their story. I call it ‘fictive’ autobiography.

The book is told in six different voices, so it has many narrators. I wanted to give voices to my ancestors. I have also used existing documents to tell this story.

My parents left everything behind, almost as if they were saying: ‘Bernice, here are our letters, our journals, our scrapbooks, our photos, so tell our story.’ And that is what I did.

What is the appealing factor of this book?

I think many Malaysians will be able to relate to this memoir because so many of us come from mixed marriages. It’s a very Malaysian story.

It is about the history (of Malaysia) told by ordinary people. It is about knowing that your ancestors lived through great difficulties – how they had struggled and survived.

It is about coming to terms with who you are and about bloodlines. It is also about love, death, grief and acceptance.

Tell us the process of writing this book.

I knew I would have to write this book since I was young. I started collecting my family stories and writing them down when I was a teenager in university.

But the actual writing and structuring of the book began about fours years ago. It was my mother’s death in 2007 (she died at the age of 66 from cancer) which propelled me to finish it.

After her death, I went to Verka in Punjab, India, where my father came from, to get answers that I needed for the book. I spent two weeks in India, and I came back a different person.

What motivated you to be a writer?

I lost my father when I was four. We were swimming in the sea at Miami Beach in Batu Ferringhi, Penang. He drowned in four feet of water. He was a good swimmer and he was only 33.

Death does many things to you. It takes away the people you love and mortality hits you in the face and you really don’t take time for granted.

My dad’s death made me a writer. His death evicted me from the world. I had to find myself in the world again and words were all I had. I had to make sense of what’s happened. I had to confront myself in many ways. It was not easy but I had to do it.

All my writings – my poems, my short stories and even this memoir – were a part of this process.

Since you are a filmmaker too, do you plan to turn this book into a movie?

We shall see (she smiles).

Growing Up with Ghosts, priced at RM40, will be launched on Aug 23, after which it will be available at all major bookstores and Amazon.com.


Post taken from theSundaily

A recent gathering of authors elicits descriptions like ‘inspiring’ and ‘entertaining’.

IT’S been several years since Kuala Lumpur played host to a literary festival, so the city’s book lovers were understandably excited when Malaysian writer and poet Bernice Chauly announced the Writers Unlimited Tour KL/Makassar 2011 a couple of months ago.

At the time, there was some doubt whether the festival would happen as the organisers were having problems raising the necessary funds (a common problem faced by arts and literature groups all over the world). Fortunately, Chauly’s appeal for RM22,000 was met in the nick of time by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Institut Terjemahan Negara Malaysia.

The event was jointly organised by Writers Unlimited and Readings@CeritAku. Writers Unlimited, formerly known as Winternachten, is an initiative that organises an annual international literature festival in The Hague, as well as literary events abroad, in cooperation with local partner organisations. Readings@CeritAku is Chauly’s creation, a showcase (held at KL café-bar No Black Tie) for Malaysian writers, and a continuation of Readings, the platform for published and unpublished writers that was started by book blogger Sharon Bakar and that is now a monthly event in the Klang Valley.

Going great guns: The afternoon session at the Writers Unlimited event featured moderator Umapagan Ampikaipakan (with mic) and writers (from left) Dain Said, Abeer Soliman, Rodaan Al Galidi, and Chua Guat Eng.


Chauly met Writers Unlimited director Ton van de Langkruis at the UtanKayu Literary Biennale in Jakarta back in 2009 and through him became part of the touring festival. She is the first Malaysian to have toured with them and this is the first time the festival has come to Malaysia.

The festival in KL lasted for three days and comprised readings at Taylor’s University, readings and panel discussions at the Annexe Gallery, and more readings at No Black Tie.

I attended the readings and panel discussions on the second day of the festival and was inspired as well as thoroughly entertained by what I heard. The Annexe Gallery at Central Market was an ideal venue for these sessions, being small enough to create a sense of intimacy between the writers and the audience.

Two sessions split the nine featured writers into two groups. Gündüz Vassaf (Turkey), Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia/US), Dipika Mukherjee, Uthaya Sankar S.B., and Kee Thuan Chye appeared in the morning, while Rodaan Al Galidi (Iraq/Netherlands), Abeer Soliman (Egypt), Chua Guat Eng and Dain Said appeared after lunch.

Chua Guat Eng: Fiction allows her to explore things, and leave them in a state that allows further exploration.

The writers read published and unpublished works, and then answered questions posed by sessions’ moderators Amir Muhammad and Umapagan Ampikaipakan as well as the audience.

Central to the discussions was the idea of how the truth may be presented in various ways. This was in keeping with the festival’s theme, Writing The Truth – Fact Or Fiction?, which was decided jointly by van de Langkruis and Chauly.

Said Chauly at a later interview, “I wanted to work with a theme that would resonate with readers, writers and audiences here. Issues like religion, identity, nationality, conflict, corruption are issues that we deal with along with people in many parts of the world. And so we began working on the theme which would deal with writing and truth.”

The blurred lines between fact and fiction are what Chauly is more than familiar with. Her most recent collection of poetry, The Book Of Sins, is a deeply personal and painfully truthful exploration of life, love, death and disappointment, while her latest work, Growing Up With Ghosts (to be published by Matahari Books in August), is a fictive memoir based on her Chinese-Punjabi family’s history.

Gündüz Vassaf: Writers should avoid dealing with only their own truth and view themselves and their beliefs with a critical eye, questioning them constantly.

Unfortunately, she did not read from her work at the sessions I attended. However, the featured writers I did hear presented richly diverse material in a variety of voices and styles, all reflecting their lives, their experiences and the places they’re from. Based on truth, the work was written and presented as fiction.

Maaza Mengiste said, “Fiction gives us breathing room – gives our imagination room to play and helps us fill the gaps left by memory.”

Her novel, Beneath The Lion’s Gaze, is set in the 1970s and describes life in Ethiopia under the repressive and cruel Derg regime.

“Writers confront the facts,” she said, “but fiction allows us to get into people’s hearts – it’s a more visceral connection. If writers remain silent we have lost everything.”

Mengiste and the other visiting writers showed how fiction is used to explore reality. Abeer Soliman, whose blog and book (Diary Of An Old Spinster) deal with the problems single women face in Egypt, spoke about how literature is used by writers in the Arab world to “run from restrictions”. She described how a certain writer got around the impossibility of writing about religion by depicting god as a mysterious and powerful man. “Reality is more surprising than fiction but we can use fiction to manoeuvre around the truth.”

I was incredibly moved by the work read by Soliman, Mengiste and Al Galidi. Al Galidi’s poems I found especially affecting. They are based on his experiences as an Iraqi refugee in The Netherlands, and, in translation (Al Galidi performed, with panache, the pieces in their original Dutch, but English versions were projected on to the wall behind him), the nonchalance, whimsy and wry humour of the pieces underline all the more the bitter irony of the situations they describe.

I had a less favourable reaction to Dipika Mukherjee’s reading of the prologue of her soon-to-be published novel Thunder Demons. The piece describes the murder of a beautiful young Tibetan woman at the behest of a corrupt Malaysian politician and sounded to me more like gossipy reportage than creative fiction.

While I don’t deny the importance of writing about controversial events and “outing” leaders guilty of committing atrocities, I feel that there is no merit in simply presenting the same “facts” as discussed in coffee shops and taxis up and down the country. Sorry, but a bunch of adjectives and fictitious names doesn’t make it good fiction.

I would much prefer our country’s troubles and foibles be explored through the depiction of how they have impacted ordinary Malaysians. Perhaps Mukherjee’s book goes on to do this and if so, the prologue is misleading.

Chua Guat Eng, in answer to a question on why writers choose to write fiction, said that this was a form that allowed her to explore things and leave them in a state that allows for further exploration. It seems to me that this approach helps a writer avoid the pitfalls of preaching just one view point, thus coming across as didactic.

To avoid didacticism, Gündüz Vassaf advised writers to avoid dealing with only one truth – their own. He stressed the need to view oneself and one’s beliefs with a critical eye, questioning them constantly.

Kee Thuan Chye read an amusing story that left no one in doubt about his politics. He has always worn his heart on his sleeve in any case, and is admirably forthright in his articles for online news sites MalaysiaKini and Malaysian Digest. I think he has the potential to create powerful and affecting fiction. But first, he needs to stop writing stories as though they are op-ed pieces. (Kee was an associate editor at The Star and also editor of the paper’s Mind Our English column.)

One of my favourite stories from the sessions was Uthaya Sankar S.B.’s Cat, an absurdist tale of a multi-lingual feline who learns that the most successful civil servants are seen, not heard.

The story ends with Uthaya stating his point rather too plainly, but at least the rest of the story manages not to suggest that Malaysians are unable to draw conclusions without the aid of an instruction manual. And I have to say, the writer’s deadpan expression leads me to believe he would do well as a stand-up comedian.

I left the sessions wishing there were more such events to look forward to. When I e-mailed Chauly to ask if Writers Unlimited would be back, she replied, “Writers Unlimited has had its share of budget cuts in the arts and there is a real possibility that they will lose their funding for these tours in two years.” However, we should not rule out the possibility of Chauly organising an event of her own.

“I think its important to have a regular literary festival in KL,” said Chauly in her e-mail. “I think the model that I have learnt from this festival and from the tours is that it’s important to keep it small enough to engage the writers and the audiences. I also have a sense of how the literary scene works here, having organised readings for so many years now. So, as an organiser, a writer and a reader, I have a better idea, more so now than ever, how to make a literary festival in KL work.

“Rodaan Al Galidi took me aside after the final reading on Sunday and said, ‘For 11 years I have been to literary festivals, and this is the first time I have been to a festival like this. It is so great, thank you.’ ”

My sentiments exactly.


(Post taken from: The Star: Truth in Fiction)

‘A sense of belonging’, was the theme of a combined writers’ tour by Winternachten to the Dutch Carribean and Suriname. For two weeks, from 13 to 24 April 2010, writers Bas Heijne (Netherlands), Yasmine Allas (Netherlands/Somalia), Bernice Chauly (Malaysia) and Iman Humaydan (Lebanon) travelled through the Caribbean. They performed before a general audience, and for students and school pupils in Sint Maarten, Curaçao, Aruba en Suriname.

Winternachten collaborated with four partner organisations who organise the events on the spot, and who were responsible for the local element in the programme, by inviting writers and musicians from the region. On Sint Maarten, the programme was organised by Philipsburg Jubilee Library, on Aruba by the Bibliotéca Nacional, on Curaçao by the Fundashon pa Planifikashon di Idioma (FPI), and in Suriname by Stichting Literair Festival Suriname.

De public programmes in the evenings consisted of literary readings, music, sometimes also with debate and film. An important part of the tour are the performances of writers in schools and universities.

(post taken from: Winternachten Antilles/Suriname 2010: ‘A sense of belonging’. Please visit the website for more information)


August 11, 2010

Bernice Chauly (Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia, 1968) is a Malaysian writer, poet, photographer and teacher. She graduated with a B.Ed in English Literature and TESL in 1990 from the University of Winnipeg, Canada. She has published two acclaimed collections of poetry, going there and coming back (1997), The Book of Sins (2007) and a collection of short stories, lost in KL (2007). Her poetry and prose is largely personal and she works in both English and Bahasa Malaysia. She has worked as a journalist, publisher, editor, travel/food writer and has also written for the stage and screen. She is passionate about telling stories and is concerned with issues of marginalization, human rights and identity. Her work with refugees, AIDS, sex workers, indigenous peoples and masters of folk traditions has been documented in award-winning works that span photography, monologues, plays and film. Her work has also appeared in many international and regional anthologies. She is currently finishing a memoir, part of her MA in English Literature/Creative Writing, called Growing Up with Ghosts on her Chinese-Punjabi ancestry; a diasporic, historical and factional account of her family history in five voices. A seasoned performer for the stage and screen, she is also a key organiser and founder of literary events in Kuala Lumpur.
participant in

Antilles/Suriname 2010

Tori fu dya nanga abrawatra — Stories from here and overseas
Crusa Lama — Aruba
Krusa Laman — Kaminda rais a kue tera/A Sense of Belonging – Curaçao
Krusa Laman — Curaçao
Crossing the Seas — Sint Maarten

(post taken from: Winternachten: Bernice Chauly)


rhino-press-article-1 rhino-press-article-2 rhino-press-article-3 rhino-press-article-4 rhino-press-article-5

(click thumbnails to read articles)

Photo by Bernice Chauly

Click on image to view article

Read going there and coming back, poems and prose by Bernice Chauly

My first collection of poetry, published by Rhino Press in 1997


picking fruit                 


when i was a child        

my parents were angels

who fell to earth because

they wanted to love

i was their fruit

ripe for the picking

always in season



then my father died

his angel wings were

carried away

further and further

until they became white foam

and merged with

the ocean spray


i died with you

my young soul screaming

like unripe fruit

in the hands of

the fruit pickers



january first


i remember that afternoon

when we lay

the leaves dropped gently

and left a dappled light

dancing with no shadow


this is beautiful

I can see your soul

and the tune your

spirit dances to


come, my love

let me lick the earth

from your fingers



sweet and  love


when I am with you

I stir

and am reminded

of humid nights

heavy and sweet

as I inhale – deep

the scent of

sandalwood and ambrosia

on skin


I hear you smile

as you enter the

desert sand

and draw

me in





from the golden light

that you came

to which you must now



until you and i

seed of your seed

fruit of my womb

energy-egg into flesh

our love union


until then

child of light

you are free to roam

the realms of nameless souls

and child -spirits


until we meet again

and part no more



Feb 16 1995

8.20 pm



            an extended political fart that occurred in the early afternoon


Piss on practical committees, cohorts are inept, as sarcasm, expeditions to Egypt, King Tut was too optimistic, My

Fabulle, “who put that genital in my rum?” satisfied? “who me?” we’re such frigid rascals, two listless women and

homosexual monkeys who suck on their mother’s milk for the capitalists – “ ooh mommy, give me that, oh forsaken

godly supper, ooh, to taste the fresh trickle in my mouth makes my tongue, you, the master, said with nihilistic truths,

anarchism farts you in the face, pricks are noble friends, the voices of the socialist gods milk the cows to sleep, their

teeth aren’t as appropriate as Caesar’s remarks.







your body is racked by the pains,

the coarse, viscous streams of viruses

in their prime,

penetrating your resistance,

weakening you into deep slumber


i am your nurse, mother-like,

inducing you to a slow, steady health

and I think of what I am lacking –

your touch, your kiss upon my worried brow

and I think of what I want –

not expecting, not questioning,

because you are

once again



again, I remind myself,

perhaps my dominance,

my brash, fearless assumptions

are diminishing you


i cry into oblivion,

recalling a moment of union

when we embraced

lips locked, eye to third eye

heart and groin

searing a blinding infusion of blue orbs

tantrik thankas, minuscule buddhas, smiling

all culminating

breeding a fearless energy




I will give you myself

regardless of who I am

and who I am not

to heal and to love

to greet the woman only you have known


in return,

give me your pain,

your illness, your foul breath

(still thriving on the energy of

your semen-seed, of blood and water)

and I will heal you

as you lie in silence

and I

in my dominance. 






your handsome face

now worn and weary

lined with irreconcilable grief

your hands callused and thick

always smelling of sweet chappati

your breasts heavy and sobbing continuously

cradling the head of your son

trying to wrench one last breath

from his cold lips


your cries are lost

in the sea

of flowers sweet spiraling

heady incense

and the luminous veils

of grieving

punjabi women



a mere act


i am considering

why we seek to speak and write


eminently expecting to rise to

great heights

to be remembered


why so desire immortality?

why try?


when every second, every breath

every step forward

is profound

as most profundities are gone

as soon as they come

blinding revelations

each better than the last

each a crisp snowflake

that melts

on your eager tongue.





it was in the fall

in the prime of our essence

you were the sun

I was the moon


the night was magic  intense

we whirled like dervishes


spinning webs

silvery and wet


we hungered in the silence

of the river

our dancesong of love

the branches swayed  swooned

between breaths

exchanging souls


it was the night

we walked

on the edge of the four worlds

it was the night

I died in your arms

and emerged anew


in the exquisite

phantom light



 playing  with one’s mind




prism of flowing emotion

inducing vision, perpetual motion

unrefining distances

reflecting over dualistic natures

condemning life to structure and conformity


In pleasing oneself, must one please another?


for those who wish only to please

superior minds, pillars of perpetual wisdom

for those lovers of the myth and of the past

imprisoning arrows of poisoned wisdom

defying systematic traditions

altruistic memoirs of time and places


I choose to surround myself

in a fluid orb of colourful scents

flavours for each mind

O, Lady of the Roses

your oracle for unlearning

mitigating forces of a solitary mission

for one who has chosen

each learning to fit in

adapting to demands

exposing potholes of a dual nature

unrecognizable self-portions

perhaps a third mind

omniscient, invisible

enclosed in sublime nothingness

perfect, within

a cryptic light 








voices drawl like stone on paper

permeating this arid room

letters formed in the mind

rising in each esophagus

spilling forth

speech, we call it



grunting and nasal

sweet and sublime

gushing, glutinous like

damp moonbeams, sinewy

fluid, curt like pistol shots

releasing word molecules


word collisions in the air

converging, air containing

this is language spoken by millions

over thousands of years

living world created by words


human beings leaving invisible tokens

deviations, levitations

rising into the air, higher and higher

word layers, molecules thick

word rainbows, fraudulent

immersing yet containing


Do words die?



La Luna

Moon hovers behind you, draws life

ocean, hair, smile, sweet longing

scent of dew on skin

breaking waves

Neptune’s deafness grinds to a halt

backwash, you can feel it clearly

it’s right here

sea, unburdened sorrow lifts, drifts

deciphers the wind

talking is a sign, unreadable

she drags a hiss between teeth

tides noisy gritty breath






hovers between the neck of the sand

it forms a sound of joy, scrubby sand

leaves the leaves with salt

the season is late, the flowers in the garden rot

a newt slides under

it speaks , it is not

the eye or ear? clear as the laughter of a fairy

spouting rhyme and rune

comely impenetrable wall of death

she sees how it works

brine and gall to blind you

growl of mortar and bricks

surge of multiple ringing





hovers , flashes against the edge of the red wind

arc of the sea, eyes dance in empty sockets

ears repeat the monotony of speech

oar of the sea





hovers, gathers a bounty

tosses her arms, arc of fluid motion

her hair strings of moonbeams

mouth that speaks no wrong

rise to leave, feet sink in sand

dead man meets man and woman

in the early hours of ecstasy

there is no place for the luxury of sin

change, struggle

moon is also the sea, seen world of dreams

mortals wishing, struggling to define

between the sea

and I

am at the edge of

the garden






brews a storm of voices

behind you

draws life.



 Montreal Massacred

Yes   you

Monsieur Lepine

cold-blooded murderer

decided to play god

armed with your deadly toy

ruthless coward  you

aimed at the objects of your

hatred  you

severed the life

of not one

but fourteen

in their prime


shattered their dreams

shattered our dreams

of a vision supreme




Yes   you

Monsieur Lepine

took your life   you

let your blood flow

mingle with theirs


contaminating the innocence

of those delicate petals

fresh   unbroken  unplucked

now crushed

by the wrath

of your


(in memory of 14 women who were shot dead in Montreal December 6 1989) 



regurgitation  on a day when I was out walking

i am clinging to the effervescent

desire of loneliness, the blue incandescence

swirl of emotions, tenderly slaving across my skin


undaunting, unrelinquishing

this monumental figure of a silent yearning

this colossus befits my becoming nature


the will compels

I am to be my own master of fears

to be this is human

to succumb to the lowly plight of death

the voices of the children are lost in the breeze

in placating a woman moaning in grief

for all the lost souls who were deceived



I grasp this congested fluid

I move away from the frenzied collision

of souls





For both our weaknesses, the distinct human truth that lies in you and I

Does my love, love me?



I saw you smiling, eye between shining center, colliding emotion

building a slow ascension into your heaven

I saw you crush your meagre disabilities for a slow liberation

I saw you turn the other way, in shame and dissolution

I saw you hide your demonic light, radiating in it’s twin shadow

I saw you descend into the cursed hell of fire and tallow

            As I write what dreams refuse to let me see

            who we really are – a myth shrouded in a cloud of conspiracy



I saw your lips descend and claim the uncoiling essence

A thousand loving thrusts of truth poised an ready to strike

I saw you seek abandonment in the flesh of the divine tree

I saw the golden orb surround us, laughing in glee

I saw you bask in the love of our making, confiding, reminiscing

I saw you shatter the barriers of cunning, absorbing

            Claiming your unwanton reality, hovering in ambiguity

            Touch uncovering, unflinching, layer after layer



I saw the phantoms rise, unrelenting thoughts writhe

I saw you depart into oblivion, love unforgotten

Unreality depicting personality

I saw the other clasp you like a broken feather

Advancement toward power and mockery

I saw the other touch me like a rose on a sword

Subtle precision, deadly in matter and force

Essential sorrow dwells and thrives

I saw the dying surge until the angel came to greet you

Embracing a raging penury, pleasures of a bitter grace

I saw the wonder of words breathing distinctly, silently

I saw the gaiety of ecstasy stealth upon a weeping tree


I saw you beckon the one who lives, yet alone

I saw your wise frown, weary keeper  leading thy grave to thee

I saw you teach majesty, touching radiance and anger

I saw you hold conversation with the mind

I saw your intuition flow into logic, a cry for humanity

            The one that lies in each other –

            Divine ability to kill and bring to life

            Thus we are three, living within a laughter of reality


I saw you embrace the other and merge together

recoiling in the smell

of Alchemy.



In Dreams I See Beauty

In stark light

I see the beauty of a creator

within me


Curious scenes glistening

imposing dilemmas of many minds

fluid incongruity


Striking a contrast

similarities of nature

light bodies merge and separate


The avenger comes, initiator

stepping into a dream

frightful demon within

inducing madness likened to a lunar scorn

distorting reality


Clutching each fibre

extroverted yet secluded

bringing me closer, at a distance still

(orbit spiraling , reaching into nothing

deceptive maneuver, risky flight)

opposing winds

opposing minds

opposing tides


Ignoring persuasion, recognizing manipulation

storing pain, exhibiting happiness

numb to everything


Consider me – my alter ego – doppelganger

contrasting my will, the sword that severs

illusion from reality

offering the comforts of a mother’s womb


Take me to another universe

connected by a singular silver thread

to earth my solitary bed


In dreams I am bathed in orbs of glowing colour

creatures of the id surround me

they speak in waves of matter


In celebration of my womanhood

recalling a process of living and dying


In celebration of a dream

goddess and woman embrace lovingly.




 The Hanged Man

I shuddered , asking

“Does the future exist here?”

brazen eyes flashing, slithering smile

throwing me into the pit

where everything is of sin –

the world engulfed in it’s own flames

seeing the chronic disease that

racks the human mind –

mother of all inventions

touching the death and decay of it all,



I shuddered,

the room changed

and we were entwined in a lair

of spinning, luminous threads

of grey, silver and green




serpentine, serpentine

you were saying that I am going through

what others never do

that perhaps I will die knowing

who I was

because of this 



the mirror cracked

I watched

my face splintered into pieces

and yes,

I held my still heart in my hand

and sliced it this way and that

three times

it emerged fresh and whole as before

envisioning the visage of intelligence

bringing no more fear

but realization of the price

the price

for loving you




The problem of persuasion that lies in the human heart is only foretold…

tumultuous ocean lies bereft

of all thought and emotion

stay clear of impending doubt

beam your way

past the fog

that keeps you tied down

light hearted frown

smooth the waves

silken and shine

beach your fears

tie the anchor down




suppress the dreamer

you will overcome

ease the fliers that

cool the breeze

seek the diamonds

thru the leaves

to answer the problem

of persuasion that lies

in one’s liberation





An Answer to Matter

I felt a surge arising

after passion rekindling

piercing gaze , engulfing matter and spirit

invincible war unwilling to abate




       a rose choking on its own thorns

       a wrenching grip that’s too tight to relinquish

       staying afloat and watching the sun rise

       setting sail for an impossible voyage

       a pressure that builds to a distant height


This is the answer to Matter

God is a pressure                     



I think about my vulnerability

an open wound, a scarlet thorn

drawing this life to answer this call

denying the scent of a benign nature

cowering beneath a shroud of rapture



      a nation with an invisible army

      a knight still radiant without a sword

      thunder of crushing rock and sulphur

      watching a fortress crumble with age

     observing a sage diminish with haste


This is the answer to Matter

God is a pressure



I dreamed a serpent fell from the sky

and separated into the twelve beasts of creation

standing in one line, each touched my eye

striving to uncover a secret configuration

unrelenting  in the greeting of another nation



      another who usurps a present leader

      an arrow that strikes against a burning sky

      bridges crossing, sttempting to unite

      a raven watching an eagle in flight


This is the answer to Matter

God is a pressure




I saw eight pedestals converging

and each revealing the petals of each path

motioning a steady momentum till time for merging

marring a hasty retreat before the aftermath


However light, however heavy

However weak, however strong

However it is, however it chooses to be



This is the answer to Matter

God is a pressure                                                        




An Uncursed Cry

Models of negation

We rise to this occasion

to seek an uncover this

unyielding opposition

Hail! Fury! Fly! Death and Resignation

to complete deliberation


Ignore this perforated sheet of time

freely speak this mind

the centuries of oppression

relied on divine conception –

the dichotomy of Eve and Mary?


Picture in your mind’s eye

the notion of this archaic equation

Dance! Alive!

see Her shine

see yourself shine in glorification

rise up and shine to this

redundant disfiguration


Sweet, oh sweeter still

the enduring chase of timeless oblivion

if Eve did err, “twas for knowledge and discretion”

who? being framed by God’s deliberation

religion was only an example of this manifestation

Hail! Fury! Fly! Death and Resignation


Oh! let me be cruel

love still and be so kind

thrust this sword into the fire of time

consume this heart’s inhibition

motion still, heart’s a plunder

wield this sword of power

to unchain this “error of nature”


Seek not and deny this endless procrastination

slither and shine in the serpent’s eye

airy phantoms rise

unbind the corsets that shield our precision

rise up and confront this blatant manipulation


Oh Rise!

this beauteous nature

define this sublime causation

light on shadow, verse in mind’s meadow

sing forth the essence, the illumination

pursue the winds of the east

where eagles fly and follow

renew this age-old illusion

forget the temptation

create another time and endless adoration

seek the light, vision the shadow

deny not

today or tomorrow

sisters unite!

dwell not in sorrow

it’s time to envision

divine love, divine nature


to ease in a new tide –

a notion of our own creation



14 Leech Street

I dreamt

of finding beads, ancient and worn

in the suitcases

belonging to my grandmother


I dreamt

of climbing the old staircase

coated with multiple layers

of emulsion paint

of climbing the stairs

no longer there


I  dream

of dusty memory boxes

vials and tubes of

coloured secrets

old clothes and books

among the days and nights

of cobwebs strung in

silent endlessness



I watch

my smile decay

wither into the dust

filtered by the longing

of those unfulfilled memories

of a Chinese childhood 



2 malay poems

                        kesepian suasana

                        impian malam



                        kehidupan melampau

                        menjadi kebiasaan

                        berdosalah engkau

                        orang tidak bermoral tinggi

                        sudikah engkau  hidup begini?

                        tidak menghiraukan


                        bangsa dan negara?



                        tetapi saya

                        manusia sendiri

                        dengan identiti

                        tidak menghiraukan

                        tidak mengurung diri

                        dengan yang begitu dan begini




                        dengan imej-imej

                        layu dan sepi

                        impian siang



                        menara kebiasaan


                        yang sungguh







                        merentas desa



                        makin diiringi

                        suara azan

                        sungguh mencabarkan

                        hati sanubari

                        yang belum




                        suara Allah

                        didengari dari

                        semua sudut instituisi

                        suara yang

                        mencurah zakat

                        manusia ini


                        gelombang pengalaman




                        membayar hutang




                        merentas desa





                        yang belum





At Impressions after the Van Gogh movie



I am thinking

of flinging

this almost empty coffee cup of

putrid coffee

onto a painting – yes

the trashy Northern Lights

comprised of

blue, yellow , white streaks

and watch the ceramic

splinter – white



In the midst of their chess game

once again

I am spectator to

the battle of egos



I will run berserk into the kitchen

grab a knife – the one that cuts the lettuce for the salads

crumbling green bits still sticking to it

whirl and twirl it around

screaming and

chopping air


I will roll my eyes

make a fool of myself

shattering the mindless states

of these transient fools

who sit

and drink and


but never drain the

endless coffee cup

while I sit and

scream and watch

the shattering of minds





when you were seven

your world erupted into the war

cursing your generation

you saw the crowds

the crazed, mesmerized glints of

Nazi boots echoing the alleys of Bonn

you saw Hitler and was bewitched

by his fatal attraction

you saw the persecution

in the flames that raged your homeland


when your parents died , you were alone

now, you are still alone


your life has been haunted by the ghosts

of the past, faces of children you once knew

of those wounded, of your husband you nursed back to life

who died . of the son who was struck dead by lighting

and the one who does not acknowledge you


you spend your days in the room that smells of dog-hair

dusty books and paintings, you read Rilke again and again

you have no friends, only the world that is out to get you

as I listen to you ramble in German, the lush, guttural music

that I love as I listen to your silence, your loneliness, your despair


you shared your life with me over a plate of broccoli and cauliflower

drenched in sour cream, crouched in your corner, you shake your head

over and over again as the memories, the pain drift through your eyes, misty

hands squeezed tight as if in prayer 



sweet and low


half haunted by the light of our love’s evening

I wait like the last customer of the night

standing in my shadow 

hungry again

as you emerge from the depths

of the street


come, my love

let me lick the earth

from your fingers  




with your swift hand

your lightning strokes

upon this canvas



with your swift

surgeon’s cut

scalpel scent of

grey hospital walls




you left

you left me

to retrace the paths

of your loneliness

to answer to despair

to consort with the ghostly

memories of your smile

to live, to die

to let the devil in you






discovering you’re imperfect

minds blended into one why not feel different

because I refuse to transcend this state of mind

blended into a huge cauldron of steaming emotions

sweat brow upon this present reality he is so far away from me

I want to draw him closer to touch soul on my soul


ushers in a new dawn

coming home from school

to find her within her tiger’s eyes so shine

and look in between the tides usurp the throne of wonder

why I ponder soft past intermingling like tiny moonbeams

of light on shadow what do you want from me

ability to claw at the sky? home for the blind? set me free


to mind ambivalence within his ego

turbulent dreamer of sanguine and sublime

overcome like leaves sweeping forth

to blend in with the endless coming forth

let’s make up our minds

why do you say what you don’t mean

your perniciousness baffles me

you are like a bug on a tree strong

wanting to be alone at night

love has left me behind


you are

so blind




turbulent winds breathe in the tide

you mock me with your devious smile

resounding earth pound and fly

your mastery blinds the eye

seek the dreamer in your mind’s smile

soothe away the pain

change the way the wind

blowing  cast  light  to guide

instinct right rule like a

chain of roses

lush and kind to me

he thrust his sword

turn away!

anger looms from behind  – no

refuse to end

swooping down from the cliffs of time

mask shield your disguise

you mock

ask for my endless throes

of majestic abundance

to light and shine

pave a rocky climb

mountain shine

shadow soar above this

seething pool of

mad anguish

gust to


this fool 






Thinnest of Strings.




Time passed. No one really sees him these days. He lives within the confines of his books and his emotions. He has chosen to overlook the tides and winds of change that have affected us all. The persistent realities of harsh, bitter fate.

Where did we go wrong?

“For the Divine Cause”, we said

“You’re just a fucking kid” he said

“You read too much shit

  You talk too much shit

  You’re full of shit”, I said

He tripped over his ego many times. It amazed me sometimes with his brilliance, his genius. We played a game of manipulating life through its many guises and forms.

You twisted me like a guitar string.

Your nude pictures baffled me. You invited prostitutes to your apartment to pose for you. You drew your erect penis.

You were my teacher. And yes, I was in love with you.





He liked sex.

“The light that shines from within,” he said.

Why are they all goddam musicians?
“You’re on a fucking ego trip,” he said

“I’m here for the experience”

“Then it’s not worth it is it?”

Your aquiline nose has grown. Your face is caked with lines of cynicism and bitterness.

Ha! Mockery is blissful.

I was ravished. You weren’t my teacher.





A year passed.

He still wears his spandex tights. He made me swear to secrecy once. We did a ritual in his room – everyone called it the economy suite.

“Never tell anyone”, he said.

Strength is in Silence.

He was reading a lot of Franz Bardon. It was a strange time in his life. He scrubbed his body till his pores gleamed.

He rolled his eyes eight times deosil in a basin of water.

He was too nice to be mean, too practical to be irresponsible, too smart to lay down his values for useless dreams. We were friends after all.

And so they were three.


I read what I did.

We were self- elected instruments of God. Consider the possibility that God is Dog spelt backwards?

Creativity can be really destructive. Sensitivity is essential. Compassion was lacking. Cowards.

It died.

We were words. Our meanings changed. 


And the leaves of the trees will bring the nations together…




Memories persist

in this quiet abode

oblique – metaphysique

we boldly speak

and sigh




I think


it is not yet


to die





Let us live suddenly!

Suck the green from life

Move away from muted shadows

Cast energy into light




petaling street


steal away

past the teeming crowds

faces, different smiles

wizened faces of souls

past the shophouses

that have withstood

wars ,facades

of warm finesse



past the grueling heat

haunted emotions

the tides

worn upon

these paths



I pass

insistent fruit sellers

clothes merchants

food vendors, gurkhas

on hot soggy nights

sliding past

strangers from afar


smelling the scent

of the street

musky and sweet

underneath it all


the city sleeps




You’re a Ham


let me wear

my silks and make up

paint my nails

Gothic red

make my entry

like a lady

let me lose my head

O Lady Lady