Book Review: Mr. Donplaypuks’ book Tiger Isle


December 4, 2012

Book Review: Auditor to Author, from Fact to Fiction

By Natalie Heng@thestar.com.my

Scratching an itch: E.S. Shankar felt compelled to write Tiger Isle, a novel that takes a satirical look at human greed and its consequences. Scratching an itch: E.S. Shankar felt compelled to write Tiger Isle, a novel that takes a satirical look at human greed and its consequences.

Auditors and authors don’t seem to have much in common, do they? Ah, but there is always an exception to every stereotype.

THEY SAY our experiences shape us – for Hemingway it was war, and for One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest author Ken Kesey, it was his experience acting as an unwitting LSD guinea pig for the CIA in America.

But if the themes that emerged from these conditions were, respectively, love, war, wilderness and loss; and madness, manipulation, freedom and confinement, then what comes of two decades working as an auditor in Malaysia?

Meet E.S. Shankar.

CorruptionRetired in 2010, his career of embroilment-in-numbers spans 22 years as a senior manager, executive director and consultant, in both private and publicly listed companies in Malaysia.

And as is evident in the debut release of his thriller-science fiction-satire, Tiger Isle, Shankar is drawn to themes of greed, control, corruption and the inevitable rise of the underdog.

His personal aspirations for society seem to be reflected in the central theme of his new book, where, whether through individual self-empowerment or a man’s subjection to external forces, when systems go out-of-whack, nature will correct itself.

His interest in literature began at an early age. The 59-year-old Shankar hails from an era when literature was taken as a compulsory subject in the post-colonial remnants of an English school system – Shakespeare, Camara Laye, Gerald Durrell are names he mentions. “With that kind of education system, something had to rub off on you about reading,” he laughs.

Over coffee recently, we talk about his itch to write and where it has taken him. “It started Shanker's Tiger Isle2in the 1990s, I would go back to the Asian financial crisis of 1997/98, when (then Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr) Mahathir (Mohamad) sacked his Deputy Prime Minister (Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim), that got me to thinking that I need to take a closer look at what was happening in the country and the region.”

Shankar was never active in politics, never the member of any party, but was by nature politically minded.

“My thoughts and feelings about events around us began festering, but at the time, the only outlets for such things were (online news portal) Malaysiakini. You couldn’t write about your political opinions to any of the newspapers, it would never get published.”

Not long afterwards, Shankar felt himself pulled by the heady tide of unsolicited discourse when the Internet began unleashing a generation of influential bloggers; a pioneering source of inspiration for Shankar was the no-holds-barred exposes of people like Raja Petra Kamarudin, aka “RPK”.

In 2006, Shankar started off by writing articles, commentaries on society and politics, and satirical pieces reflective of the times, albeit not for publication. However, “I always knew I was writing them for someone, and that one day I would want them to be read, or published,” Shankar says. Finally, in 2007, when he got the hang of the Internet, he started posting his work on his blog, donplaypuks.blogspot.com.

But the postings were not enough to satisfy the writing bug, and so he dove head first into his first novel despite the fact that his only prior writing experience was as editor of his school paper when he was at the Victoria Instituton, and what he calls “fancy auditing reports”.

He finished it, a 500-page historico-fictional epic, but was unsuccessful in finding himself a literary agent (this was a time before publishing moved in any significant way online – when every manuscript had to be posted via snail-mail).

An interim publication of memoirs gave Shankar his first taste of seeing his words in print. Let Us Now With Thankfulness tells of his formative years at the Victoria Institute, a time of his life which he holds in great esteem.

TigerThen, after his retirement, the characters of Tiger Isle began to call out to him irresistibly. The itch occupied his brain at all hours, plot-lines would intrude into his life at odd moments, and he would find himself typing out entire chapters at two or three o’clock in the morning.

“I’d go to bed, and then think, argh, I need to change that, and then get out of bed again, sit at the computer and change it.”

Shankar’s world is coloured deeply by politics; because of his work, he sees life through a political lens – which is why he chose to frame his novel with his personal passion, politics. But when it came to Tiger Isle’s main character, a woman named Rekha, he smartly stuck with what he knows thoroughly professionally: auditing. So Rekha is an accountant.

“I wanted to write something I was familiar with – so making the heroine an auditor meant that I didn’t have to struggle to figure her out. If she were a nuclear physicist, for example, you know, I wouldn’t know where to start!”

Another reason he decided on an auditor as a protagonist is because, that way, she – and the reader – gets to understand what’s going on in the financial circles of the government. “I knew I was going to be making up the story in terms of accounts and types of financial fraud.”

His plot involves devices that you couldn’t really talk about without being familiar with high finance or having a financial background or were involved in some aspect of government auditing.

Tiger Isle is set on a fictional island where one strong woman and her friends are all that stand between its despotic leader and a slide over the precipice towards third world status and bankruptcy.

His story touches on patriotism, too: “What is true patriotism?” he asks. “Beware of patriotism, the last refuge of the scoundrel! People wrap themselves in a flag and hide behind the problems of the country.”

And then there are the science fiction aspects in this multifarious novel.

“I am a fan of science fiction, and in a scene from (the 1993 movie) Jurassic Park, someone asks the character played by Richard Attenborough, what would happen if any of the dinosaurs escaped from their enclosures? And he smugly replies that they have engineered the dinosaurs’ DNA so that they cannot reproduce. I like Jeff Goldblum’s line after that; he says ‘life will not be contained’,” says Shankar.

That line stuck because, to him, it describes that precarious place humanity puts itself in, when we let greed and ambition infect our rules and systems of governance.

“We can do all these experiments – cloning, Dolly the sheep – but, mostly, we don’t really understand what we are doing, and nature has its own way of looking at things.It has its own plan, we don’t realise we are just visitors here.”

*E.S.Shanker is Mr Donplaypuks who frequently comments on my blog, http://www.dinmerican, wordpress.com. I was at his book at the Royal Selangor Club. He is an interesting personality, full of life, fun and gusto. Having read his book, I recommend it to you. I only hope Tiger Isle will not be his only novel.–Din Merican

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Mr. Donplaypuks’ book Tiger Isle

  1. Who says auditors who are only good at numbers cannot write. Of course, they can, if they are as widely read and well educated as my intellectually inclined new friend, E.S.Shanker.

    Shanker is of the old school like me, although I am much older at 73. At school,he and I (in Victoria Institution and in Penang Free School respectively) were encouraged to do English Literature to read Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, the Bronte Sisters et.al. so that we may understand the human character. But I never knew that he was the Mr.Donplaypuks who frequently comments on this blog.

    At the book launch at The Royal Selangor Club, Shanker was a gracious host who made it a point to autograph every book sold that night. We were also served with a forum on corruption featuring Rafizi Ramli, Bernard Khoo and a prominent lawyer from Shearn Delamore (pardon me, the lawyer’s name escapes me) with Shanker as the moderator. It was a worthwhile outing for my wife, Dr. Kamsiah and I.

    Rafizi was very serious about his subject, while Bernard Khoo of my generation tried (he succeeded) to lull his audience into a state of bliss with anecdotes from his rich and varied life. If there is a true Malaysian, the former school teacher Bernard fits the bill. Thanks, Bernard, for your recollections of those years when we were boys and your friendship.Having taken the road less travelled, you and I have miles to go before we sleep (Robert Frost).We must soldier on in our quest as there is no option since we will not quit.

    The scourge of corruption is in our midst. It won’t go away any time soon since it is deeply embedded in our culture. Those in, or closely linked to, power act with impunity. The MACC which brought so much hope when it was launched has failed us, and Malaysians like Teoh Beng Hock and Ahmad Sarbani lost their lives. It has become like our Police Force and the Judiciary a tool of politicians in power.

    A grave injustice has been inflicted on their families by the MACC, and a deep scar has been left on our national psyche. In the meantime, corrupt leaders like Pehin Sri Taib Mahmud (Sarawak), Musa Aman (Sabah) and Ali Rastam (Malacca) and others are left to their own devices to do as they please. Life is unfair (JFK).

    Can we be hopeful that there will be change in the years to come? Yes but with a big IF. And that is we vote leaders who are prepared to govern with integrity
    and take the corruption bull by the horns and punish the corrupt for their ill gotten gains.

    Thanks, Mr. Donplaypuks for your hospitality and for Tiger Isle. — Din Merican

  2. “What is true patriotism?” he asks. “Beware of patriotism, the last refuge of the scoundrel! People wrap themselves in a flag and hide behind the problems of the country.”

    UMNO dirtbags like ‘veteran’ on this blog may want to take note.

  3. Many thanks Din & Kamsiah, for attending the book launch and for the exposure here at your famous and widely followed blog.

    Reading maketh a man; writing enables him to realise a dream!

    Es Shankar
    _________________
    Shanker, thanks for paraphrasing polymath Sir Francis Bacon. Allow me in reciprocation to quote this brilliant man since you are too modest to acknowledge the importance of writing for the human soul: “Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man”. Cheers and keeping writing.–Din Merican

  4. sounds interesting looking forward to reading it next week if the home minister hasn’t banned it by then. who knows, the presence of opposition politicians at the launch might be perceived as an anti-government activity. don’t be surprised!
    under every stone lurks a politician – Aristophanes

    to all those who want to write:
    writing and travel broadens the ass if not your mind,
    I like to write standing up – Ernest Hemingway

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