Ghulam Sarwar Yousof is one of Malaysia's most distinguished scholars and one of the world's leading specialists in traditional Southeast Asian theatre.
He is author of the book The Heritage of ASEAN Puppetry, which was published some time ago but was only made available at the recent 6th Meeting of the ASEAN Puppetry Association (APA) at the Viet Nam Puppetry Theatre.
Ghulam spoke to Culture Vulture about writing the book.
How did you come up with the idea for the book?
After the establishment of the APA, I felt that the delegates from the various countries should not just meet every year to provide brief country reports and watch a small number of performances. We should do more to make the APA meaningful. So I suggested two things: an ASEAN puppetry book and a resource collection, which will be established at SENA WANGI in Jakarta.
Could you talk about the process of compiling the book?
It took several years, as many of the delegates were not able to contribute in any way. Some of them were from government departments and NGOs and had no academic interest or background in theatre or puppetry. There were others who did not have the ability to write in English. Some countries had no members on the APA Board.
I prepared the concept and outline and sent them to all member countries so that writers could be appointed. But that did not seem to work and a lot of time was wasted.
Meanwhile I went on my own to collect whatever material I could to get the book ready. This was a slow and tedious process.
What obstacles did you encounter during the process?
Funding was a big problem, although Indonesian members of the APA were prepared to look for funding for research and printing.
But a bigger problem was that we could only get materials from Indonesia and Malaysia (since I am from Malaysia).
As so much time was wasted, eventually I decided that I would have to work alone on the book, without the involvement of the representatives from Singapore and the Philippines.
I already had a lot of material from my own previous research on the subject. But gaps had to be filled, so I went personally to collect materials where possible.
The main problem was getting enough high-quality pictures. I went to Laos, where the Lao delegates arranged for me to watch several performances, interview the artists and take photographs.
I went to Ha Noi to collect photographs from the APA delegates there, as well as from the theatre where we had our recent meetings and performances. The director of the theatre (Ngo Thanh Thuy) and the Vietnamese delegates were extremely helpful. I was thus able to get many photographs from previous festivals and other events from their collection.
Following those visits and my own research, the book finally began to take shape. Indonesia was able to provide a great deal of material through SENA WANGI. I had to visit Jakarta several times to meet them as well as the book designers they appointed. But I did almost all the writing, in some instances having to rewrite badly presented articles. So in the end I became the author of the book rather than the editor.
Are you satisfied with the book?
On the whole, the book is quite satisfactory. It could have been better. Several countries do not appear in the book, as they did not send any information despite numerous reminders. Singapore is a good example. It does not appear in the book at all. The Philippines almost never got included.
Their article came when the deadlines were all over and the book was ready to go into print. Some of the work was done in a rush, so I am satisfied only to some extent. I feel that the book could have been better and more complete. There was a great deal of pressure on me personally. But I am relieved that it is finished after all those years. Once the book sells out, we can make some improvements and print a second edition.
What's your plan for distribution?
Distribution is a major problem, as almost 900 out of the 1,000 copies are still sitting in Jakarta. At the meeting in Ha Noi we discussed a plan for distribution. This will be handled by the APA delegates from Singapore, who will try to get a distributor in Singapore for international distribution. — VNS