Yassin Salleh, a man and friend of many talents

EVERY time I attended the Malaysian National Writers Association monthly poetry readings, I would run into poet and filmmaker Yassin Salleh.

And we always had something to talk about. After all, we have known each other since the early 1970s, when I was among the first group of Soviet students doing an internship in the Malay language at the then University of Malaya.

We met through a mutual friend, Datuk Dr Usman Awang. And I remember well that he was among a group of writer-friends who saw us off at Subang airport when we flew back home.

Usman Awang gave me the magazine 'Dewan Sastera', which featured my translation of the verses of the Soviet poet, Mikhail Matusovsky, into Malay. Yassin handed to me an autographed copy of his acclaimed poem, 'Ikan Ikan Di Kaca'.

The poem, which advocates the freedom to be creative, brought him fame in the country and region.

We met again in the early 2000s, when I came to teach the Russian language and culture at the same university. And it turned out that Yassin was not only a poet, but also an eminent film director.

In the early 1980s, after leaving his job at Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, he began making films, including for television. He directed four feature films and starred in two.

The greatest success came with the film 'Dia Ibuku' (1980), which received 10 awards at the 1981 Malaysian Film Festival (a record that has not been surpassed to this day).

He returned to acting in the 2000s, taking part in Dinsman's theatre productions ('Teater Atas Pokok', 2016; 'Uda dan Dara, 2017'), in which he paid tribute to the greatest poet and playwright of modern Malaysia, Usman Awang.

His achievements in literature are also well-known. He published three poetry collections ('Simfoni Sepi', 2012; 'Ikan Ikan Di Kaca', 2015; and 'Himpunan Sajak Cinta Rakyat', 2019) and contributed to anthologies.

He was a leader in many endeavours. These included poetry in the form of text messages, and the movement that produced literary festivals in the country.

I was amazed when I went to the Sawahlunto poetry festival high in the mountains of West Sumatra in 2017 and saw him among the participants. Though he was not as robust as before, he was full of spirit.

He gathered crowds around him, captivating everyone with entertaining stories and expressive reading of poetry.

In this regard, I cannot help but quote from Tan Sri Johan Jaaffar's book 'Jejak Seni':

"I became close to Yassin. It's impossible not to feel close to Yassin. Yassin captivates us with his poetry. With his friendliness. With his uniqueness..."

I'm proud to have such a friend in Malaysia.

And, with Ramadan going to end shortly, I want to wish all Muslims in Malaysia Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

Pogadaev, writing from Moscow, is a former lecturer of Universiti Malaya

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