Lloyd Fernando’s Circle: An Interview with Marie Fernando, Wife of Lloyd Fernando 1

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Lloyd Fernando’s Circle: An Interview with

Marie Fernando, Wife of Lloyd Fernando1

Pauline T. Newton2

Southern Methodist University

Dallas, Texas, USA

I was departing Kuala Lumpur to return to the United States that night, but I had

finally landed a coveted interview with none other than Lloyd and Marie T.

Fernando. Marie graciously brought me into her home, and, later, graciously worked

with me to fact-check names and dates we discussed in the interview. Armed with a

stack of books from Marie, which I hand-carried from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore to

Japan to San Francisco to Dallas, I found myself immersed in Lloyd’s anthologies,

and, perhaps, most notably, his Cultures in Conflict. Toward the end of this work,

Lloyd powerfully captures the struggle of the artist to open his mind to another

language, another culture:

Imagine that the writer is in an aeroplane which we can call his world, and he

has jumped out, or been pushed or forced out. He leaves behind a onedimensional

world of language, religion and culture, and he falls free. Then he

remembers to… pull the cord, and his parachute flutters open. The parachute is

the English language…. He tugs at the language as best he can. He will

probably tug according to the terrain over which he is and according to the

winds that blow. 3

Lloyd illustrates this method of parachuting over a new terrain with his discussion of

what the Department of English at the University of Malaya (at that time) taught –

1 This interview was conducted at Lloyd Fernando’s residence in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 9 August 2005.

2 Dr. Pauline T. Newton was a Fulbright-Hays scholar during the summer of 2005 in Malaysia and Singapore.

During this time she met Marie and Lloyd Fernando. She has a great interest in Southeast Asian literature and its

authors. Kunapipi is publishing her article on Tash Aw’s Harmony Silk Factory, and her extended biography on

Shirley Geok-lin Lim will appear in volume one of Modern Singaporean and Malaysian Literature in English

(Ed. Mohammad A. Quayum and Wong Phui Nam).

3 Lloyd Fernando, Cultures in Conflict: Essays on Literature and the English Language in South East Asia.

Singapore: Graham Brash, 1986: 85.

Lloyd Fernando’s Circle

Asiatic, Vol. 2, No. 102 2, December 2008

works by Chinua Achebe, V.S. Naipaul, and William Faulkner, all writers in

English; such studies, Lloyd explains, “enable students to perceive something of the

tremendous interflow of ideas and cultures taking place everywhere in the modern

world to-day” (Cultures in Conflict 85). After hearing of Lloyd’s passing, I thumbed

through his books, remembering my own exposure during my travels to Malaysia

and Singapore, where languages and cultures swirled around me on street corners

and in authors’ quiet living rooms.

PN: Marie, I’m sorry Lloyd is not feeling well, but thank you for agreeing to meet

with me in your home. Can you first tell me about Lloyd Fernando’s education?

MF: Yes. Lloyd joined the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur in 1960 as an

assistant lecturer. Then he got a scholarship for an M.A. at Leeds University, UK

which turned into a Ph.D. He came back with a Ph.D., and in 1967 he was appointed

professor at the English Department of the University of Malaya, because the

contract was up for a new English professor. He remained professor and head of the

English Department of the University of Malaya, from 1967 to 1978. People retire

here at 55, and so when it was time for him to retire, Lloyd didn’t want to have to

continue on a yearly contract, and not be certain of anything. He decided to take up

law. He went to England and studied law at City University and then at Middle

Temple, coming back with his law degrees. He joined a firm, and eventually started

his own practice here, which he continued right up to the time he had a stroke, which

was in December 1997.

PN: How old was he at that time?

MF: In 1997?

PN: I know it was a few years back, so I guess I shouldn’t ask (LAUGHS).

Fernando: (LAUGHS) He was 71. Previous to all this, he had had his education in

Singapore. He comes from Sri Lanka. The family emigrated to Singapore, just

before the Second World War. His education was interrupted by the Japanese

occupation. Due to his educational situation and the occupation, he did all kinds of

jobs at that time to support himself. He continued his education at the University of

Malaya in Singapore, and upon graduation, he taught at the Polytechnic in Singapore

for some time – not very long. He then applied for a vacancy for assistant lecturer at

the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. I told you the rest from that time

forward. Well, that was his education.

Pauline T. Newton

Asiatic, Vol. 2, No. 2, December 2008 103

PN: One of the things that I’m curious to know is who are some of the people who

are familiar with his work who might be interested in contributing to a festschrift?

MF: A number of people at universities in Malaysia have written about Lloyd – most

prolifically, Professor M.A. Quayum of International Islamic University in Kuala

Lumpur. Prior to teaching there, Quayum had a year off in New York, where he

taught at the State University of New York at Binghamton for one year on

Malaysian-Singaporean literature in English and Indian literature in English. Here is

his website: http://www.quayum.net .

I have for you one important article that he wrote on Lloyd. This article,

“Imagining ‘Bangsa Malaysia:’ Race, Religion and Gender in Lloyd Fernando’s

Green is the Colour,” appeared in World Literature Written in English. He also

teaches Lloyd’s novel, Green is the Colour. You don’t have a copy of that, do you?

PN: I have a copy of Scorpion Orchid, but no, not that one.

MF: Scorpion Orchid was Lloyd’s first novel. So you don’t have Green is the

Colour? This is the edition that came out in 2004. The first edition was published in

1993. And then Landmark Books stepped down. I’m afraid there are some errors in

the second edition, particularly in the glossary, so if you want to have a copy, you

can. In fact, I will give you all these books and articles. Some of these were

published at an earlier time, while others came out more recently. These two articles

include some literary analysis of Green is the Colour. And here are the books which

I intended to give you, because we got complimentary copies.

PN: Oh, how nice of you.

MF: This one – Cultures in Conflict – is out of print. It is a collection of most of his

literary writings up to 1986, prepared for the many conferences he had attended

abroad and at home. He had collected many of the papers in Cultures in Conflict,

which came out in 1986. It’s out of print, unfortunately. I happen to have some

copies, so I really can give you one if you’re really interested (LAUGH). It’s a very

good source for anyone who wants to do a festschrift. Readers ought to know about

Lloyd’s literary output, and a lot of it is in here.

PN: Well I don’t want to take your copy. I can go to the library and try to get...

MF: No, because it is absolutely out of print, and it’s hard to print academic work

here. So, scholars on Lloyd – Professor Quayum, certainly. Then there’s Wong Soak

Koon. She was an associate professor at University Sains Malaysia in Penang, and

has written on Lloyd. See, this is one of the articles I’m giving you: “Unveiling

Lloyd Fernando’s Circle

Asiatic, Vol. 2, No. 104 2, December 2008

Malaysian Modernity and Ethnicity: Lloyd Fernando’s Green is the Colour.” She

has also taught his book, and often referred to it.

PN: I’ve heard this name.

MF: She went on a Fulbright Fellowship to the University of California, Santa

Barbara some years ago.

PN: With Shirley Lim. She knows Shirley.

MF: Oh yes. And Sumit K. Mandal, of the Institute of Malaysian and International

Studies, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, makes prominent note of Lloyd in an

article he wrote for the journal, Third World Quarterly, entitled “Reconsidering

Cultural Globalization: The English Language in Malaysia.” Mandal’s article – and

those by Wong Soak Koon and Professor Quayum – are more like social/political

analyses of Lloyd’s novels and work, rather than literary criticism. As for literary

criticism, there have been a number of articles. I can point you to this one by Bernard

Wilson, from Kunapipi, the Journal of Post-Colonial Writing. Do you know this

journal? It’s printed in Australia. The article is, “‘Do You Wish to Join This Society

or Not?’: The Paradox of Nationhood in Lloyd Fernando’s Scorpion Orchid.”

There’s Koh Tai Ann, who teaches at the Nanyang Technological University in

Singapore. Her article, “The Empires’ Orphans: Stayers and Quitters in A Bend in

the River and Scorpion Orchid,” appeared again in the collection of critical works,

Malaysian Literature in English: A Critical Reader, edited by Quayum and Peter

Wicks. These are a few of the literary and political criticisms, and literary reviews.

PN: What about K.S. Maniam?

MF: Oh yes, he is a writer in his own right. He writes very eloquently about the

Indian immigrant community. His works include novels, short story collections and

plays, some of which have been staged by the well-known theatre director, Krishen


PN: We had a lecture, and the speaker mentioned him, and the speaker lectured a lot

about writing in English, and its relation to Indian culture here, and I thought it was

interesting, as I’d never read any of Maniam’s work.

MF: He is one of the best known writers of Malaysian literature in English. In fact,

he helped to prepare the two anthologies and to arrange the launch for the reprint of

these two landmark books – the anthologies of Malaysian writing in English that

Lloyd edited. This one, Twenty-Two Malaysian Stories, was first published in 1968

with an introduction by Lloyd. And the other one, Malaysian Short Stories, came out

Pauline T. Newton

Asiatic, Vol. 2, No. 2, December 2008 105

in 1981. They are both collections of short stories, short fiction, written by

Malaysian writers in English.

The first one is very interesting because when Lloyd became Head of the

English Department, the department offered a very traditional syllabus and Lloyd

introduced some very important courses, which really expanded the curriculum. He

included American literature for the first time. Yes. And at that time, the English

Department was very lucky to have professors coming in from – what’s that

scholarship that you have?

PN: The Fulbright.

MF: Ah, yes, Fulbright lecturers and professors came to teach. He also introduced a

course on commonwealth literature. At the time, there was great interest in

commonwealth writing. The former colonies of Britain were producing their own

writers. He also introduced one on creative writing. In fact, many of the best short

stories from the creative writing course were collected into these anthologies that I

just mentioned. Some of the writers represented here were really the students. They

were young people in their twenties, but some were already established writers like

Lee Kok Liang. Have you heard of him? He’s a well-known writer of short stories.

PN: No.

MF: He was based in Penang but is now deceased. He published collections of his

short stories, which also have been anthologised in Lloyd’s two anthologies. Another

person who knows Lloyd who may be of interest to you is Edwin Thumboo. Do you

know Edwin Thumboo?

PN: I’ve heard of him. He’s a poet.

MF: Edwin Thumboo and Lloyd were contemporaries at the University in Singapore

in the 1950s. He is a poet and has published collections of his own poetry. He also

has edited collections of other poets’ work, and has organised books of conference

papers. He no longer heads the National University of Singapore Centre for the Arts.

The other poets I mentioned who were Lloyd’s contemporaries, too, are Wong Phui

Nam, considered one of the best poets in Malaysia. Lloyd also wrote critiques of his

poetry. Ee Tiang Hong who is now deceased, is another. Lloyd had written a

critique of the first volume of his poems entitled I of the Many Faces. He later

emigrated to Australia. Among contemporary writers is Kee Thuan Chye whom you

met, didn’t you? He’s a dramatist and has had many of his plays produced over the


Lloyd Fernando’s Circle

Asiatic, Vol. 2, No. 106 2, December 2008

PN: I didn’t meet him, but I know who he is. He writes for The Star, an English

language newspaper.

MF: There are of course many new writers and poets, and the ones I’ve mentioned

are the vanguard and pioneers so to speak. I also should mention Lim Chee Seng,

who was formerly a student of Lloyd’s. He later became Head of the English

Department. He still lectures there and, I believe, is preparing a book of essays in

honour of Lloyd. Siti Rohaini, also a former student of Lloyd’s, who is now Deputy

Dean of the Arts Faculty, gave the citation at the ceremony awarding Lloyd the title

of Professor Emeritus. I should also mention here two others who were sometime

lecturers in the department: Edward Dorall, playwright, and Salleh Ben Joned, poet

and sharp commentator of the literary and social scene. In 1972, Lloyd published

two volumes of plays, including those of Dorall entitled New Drama One and New

Drama Two.

PN: Does the book on Lloyd consist of essays about his writing or is it a collection of

his work?

MF: I have no idea what it’s going to be.

PN: This looks like a great list to start with.

MF: Also, you should know that Lloyd converted his novel, Scorpion Orchid, into a

play, which was first produced in Singapore in 1994. In the next year, 1995, the play

had its premiere in Kuala Lumpur. It was first anthologised by the Singapore

Institute of Management for the Open University in a collection of poems, short

stories and plays by Singaporean and Malaysian writers, meant only for student

consumption, and, therefore, was not for sale. Later, it was included in an anthology

edited by Quayum, Petals of Hibiscus: A Representative Anthology of Malaysian

Literature in English. And this is the little book I prepared. It was meant to coincide

with the launch of the republication of Green is the Colour. I just compiled some old

articles which people had written on Lloyd, not to mention a few new ones and two

of his own articles. It is a kind of tribute, or, as the title says, “A Celebration of His

Life.” It is just being given to people, to friends. I sent one to Shirley. This other

article is something I put together, which is partly from the celebration piece and

partly from that online article by Professor Quayum. Quayum had also written, at the

same time, an article on Shirley Lim. Both were written for an American book that

was to be published in the U.S. So, this was really meant to go together with the CV,

which was very recently compiled by my daughter and myself, based on Lloyd’s

older versions. I also gave these to Siti Rohaini, who was preparing for the oration.

Pauline T. Newton

Asiatic, Vol. 2, No. 2, December 2008 107

PN: Looking at the CV reminds me that I did not know about the law degree that you

mentioned earlier. I thought that was interesting. I thought that he was just a

professor. So did he do any writing for the law?

MF: Since 1997, he has not been able to continue either with his law practice or his

writing. The stroke was a pretty major one which happened in December of 1997,

but in 1998, he was able to write an answer to a questionnaire by Daizal Samad who

was a lecturer at the time at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. Lloyd wrote some very

interesting things about his work and his life for this particular piece, something he

had never done before. In 1998, just a year after the stroke, he was able to write

coherently, and he was, in fact, working on a third novel previous to that. But he just

couldn’t pick up the threads of the story again. He tried very hard, but he just

couldn’t do it. So, he has the first three chapters of it, but it’s hardly completed and

he had to stop.

PN: One of the things that I’m curious to know about is his whole discussion about

using English in the classroom. As you know, math and science are taught in English

now, whereas they had recently only been taught in Malay. I know he had nothing to

do with this more recent debate, but what are your reflections on the wish to write in

English as opposed to Malay or Indian?

MF: Oh, he had nothing to do with this (LAUGH). You have to get the background.

The 1960s and 1970s were a great period of nationalism. We had these racial riots in

1969. That was the kind of turning point for the country, because up to this point…

Oh dear….

PN: I’m familiar with the riots. I don’t know much about them, but I remember that

Shirley Lim came to the United States during that particular time. She just wanted to


MF: Before the riots, all the education was taking place in English. And people from

the rural areas – the Malays particularly – felt that Malay, the national language, was

being sidelined. And, in fact, the best educated people, at that time, spoke English.

This was a policy of the British colonial government, which wanted to raise a class

of civil servants proficient in English. So there were the English schools. Some were

run by the government. Some were run by missionaries who did a lot of work setting

up schools in those early days. But few people from the rural areas were included in

this plan for various reasons, including poverty. So those affected by the English

influence tended to be the middle class group. After the riots occurred, it was, as I

said, a turning point in the history of the country because you just felt that you could

no longer carry on this policy and you had to include people from the rural areas of

Malaysia into the mainstream education system. The government then brought about

Lloyd Fernando’s Circle

Asiatic, Vol. 2, No. 108 2, December 2008

this language policy in which the medium of teaching should be in Malay. It took

place in stages. But unfortunately for us, it happened just at the time our first

daughter entered primary school in 1971. By that time, all the teaching was being

done in Malay. Poor child – she was raised in an English-speaking home. She was

very lost. Also many of the teachers actually had not mastered the language well

enough to teach entirely in Malay. But everything – the textbooks, for one – were

converted to Malay. Of course, English was carried on, but only in a few class

periods. So they had to study, and, basically, to grasp the language at the same time.

So the education of both our daughters, Eva and Sunetra, was in bahasa right up to

form five. But because we spoke English at home, our daughters became proficient

in English as well. I think, at that time, English literature was still being offered, but

less and less. After that, we sent both of them away to do their tertiary education –

one to Australia, and the other to Britain.

Lloyd was very much engaged in the language issue at the time. An important

article of his, based on his inaugural lecture when he became professor in 1967,

influenced a particular researcher, Sumit K. Mandal. It appears in Cultures in

Conflict. In it he advocates a policy of bilingualism. There were many people who

were rather resentful of that policy, as they felt that everything should convert into

Malay. Lloyd felt that Malay should take its proper place, in the scheme of things in

Malaysia, but that English should not be neglected. So, he became very involved in

this language issue. The nationalists didn’t like the idea, as English was seen as a

colonial language.

PN: Yes, it is.

MF: But I mean it’s no longer colonial. You can’t call it colonial anymore. It’s been

taken over by all the different countries in which English was left as a legacy. You

have Indian English, and West Indian English, U.S. English and all the other

varieties of English. So, it no longer just belongs to England. Mandal handles this

issue. Lloyd’s ideas were seminal at the time. He was promoting this idea of

bilingualism; people in Malaysia should know at least two languages, i.e. Malay and

English, well. By the 1990s the government was beginning to see that its policies

were leading to a generation of people – of students – who were really ignorant of

English and who could not communicate. Thus, since the 1990s, there has been a

slow reversal process in the sense that the government is realising that you can’t do

without English. It’s important; it’s a global language, after all. It’s used in the

economy, in international meetings, in science, in everything. But according to

Mandal, the problem is that we want to promote it simply as a utilitarian language,

just for communication. Whereas, Lloyd, has all along been maintaining that you

have to know a language more deeply. A language does not just consist of words. It

has a whole history and culture behind it. A whole history of ideas. And you can’t

just clean that out. And the best way to master English and the globalisation that is

Pauline T. Newton

Asiatic, Vol. 2, No. 2, December 2008 109

taking place, is not to reject English or to use it merely as a utilitarian tool, but to

understand its cultural roots and its creativity best experienced in its literature. In the

same way, of course, Lloyd keeps on maintaining that people who live here ought to

know the national language as well. You see? This is the kind of issue that occurs not

just in Malaysia, but also in many post-colonial countries. As Mandal and Lloyd say,

some creative writers have even gone to the extent of giving up writing in English

and are just writing in Malay as did some writers in former colonial countries. But a

great debate is still going on about the cultural legacy left by the English on the

native peoples. How do you handle it? How is it justified? Do you just remain

resentful and reject it? Or do you try to make it your own just as much as your own

native language?

PN: It’s an issue on which Malaysia seems to go back and forth, as you say; the

debate continues today...

MF: Yes, and I think it’s complicated, because Malaysia is multiracial. We don’t

just have Malays and English-speaking people. Many Malays are English-speaking,

but here you have Malays, Chinese, Indians, and others as well. I come under

“others” unfortunately. I’m Eurasian.

PN: Oh you’re Eurasian?

MF: Lloyd comes from Sri Lanka; he’s Singhalese. In Sri Lanka, you have the

Singhalese and the Tamils, and the great fight going on between them. There are so

many different mixtures of races in Malaysia. As I said, Lloyd comes from Sri Lanka

(formerly Ceylon), but he was brought up in an English-speaking family and they

emigrated here to Singapore just before the war. Malaysia and Singapore, at that

time, were under British rule. And, in my case, I’m Eurasian, but the roots, again, are

very complicated. My father was half-Italian and half Vietnamese. On my mother’s

side, her family goes back to Portuguese Malacca.

PN: We visited the Portuguese settlement in Malacca.

MF: Yes, that’s right; her ancestors came from there, as did her husband, my

grandfather. And then I met Lloyd in Singapore. We got married when he was doing

his Ph.D. in Leeds, England. So you find people are just tremendous mixtures. It’s

quite amazing. And, in fact, Lloyd mentions this. You have to read those

introductions to the anthologies of short stories he edited because they are very good.

In fact, I think his literary criticism is really very much to the point. He also wrote

articles and reviews of plays and books for newspapers. He used to write continually,

actually. So his literary output includes novels, papers for conferences he attended

abroad and at home and articles and reviews of books and plays for the newspapers.

Lloyd Fernando’s Circle

Asiatic, Vol. 2, No. 110 2, December 2008

He helped to found the Malaysian chapter of the Association of Commonwealth

Literature and Language Studies. And, interestingly, he practiced what he preached.

He learned to speak Malay. He taught himself with the help of friends long before it

became the national policy to do so, because he really believed that people ought to

be bilingual in this country. He wrote a number of articles on Malay writers,

especially in the 1960s and 1970s – these were people like Shahnon Ahmad, Osman

Awang and Syed Alwi, the playwright. Lloyd’s Malay was so good that he even

became a judge for the Hadiah Sastera, an award for the Best Creative Writing in

Bahasa Melayu in the early 1970s. He had to read stories and poems in Malay. And

when he became a lawyer, he was able to conduct cases in court in Malay. So he

really practiced what he preached.

PN: You answered most of my questions. This was very helpful, because I really get

a better sense of Lloyd’s history and your history too, which I find interesting. But I

suppose that’s another story. Thank you.

© Copyright 2008 Asiatic, ISSN 1985-3106



International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM)

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