“To be, or not to be,” that is the question

By Nafisa Mayukh

“Why do you want to be a journalist?”

When posed with the question, Nafisa Mayukh, now in her third-year of acquiring a degree in Integrated Media Journalism, admittedly states that the question has the same effect on her as other questions along the line of “What are your plans after graduation?” and “When are you getting married?”.

While that might be a little bit of added humour, the petite 22-year-old confessed that becoming a journalist was never something she dreamed of as a child, but slowly coming to terms with, as something she was meant to do all along. With her profound interest in writing and storytelling or just her overall outspoken and assertive personality, it seems almost like it’s after all – meant to be. 

The possibility of it came upon her when she got into IIUM, setting herself to follow in her mother’s footsteps, studying English Language and Literature after hopelessly realising she’s unable to follow her father’s, in the sciences. But fate took control of its wheel, and she failed to get into the programme and instead, was given a chance to do Communication.

Contemplating whether she was cut out for it, everything she did the past few years, came flooding in.

From the short article she wrote on her teacher’s life, as part of an assignment that hanged proudly on the board during her A-Level days to being active in the production of her high school magazine publication. Or that one essay that rescued her from the bottom pit of the class to the many public speaking competitions she championed with her original speeches. Or that one short-film she made during her school days, accompanied by the poetry she composed, still being played at her school, every teacher’s day.

“I thought to myself, maybe it’s not a far-fetched choice after all,” she concluded setting her mind towards this journey. 

Born in a family that had always put a heavy emphasis on academics, her family immigrated to Malaysia accompanying her father in acquiring his PhD at the National University of Malaysia. Born in the quaint city of Rajshahi, Bangladesh; 10-year-old Nafisa found herself in the bustling town of Kajang, where she would spend most of her formative years as a child, a strange journey carving her confusing identity as an adult.

In a financial pinch, given her father’s then student status, Nafisa had no choice but to attend local government schools, the curriculum taught in Bahasa Melayu posing her with a whole new world of unfamiliarity. Here’s where she would first come upon the label as the ‘foreigner’. The other.

She recalls desperately trying to explain to her 10-year-old classmates why she had to be absent to go to the immigration office and why she isn’t allowed to have the free textbooks that every other students were seemingly given. And also how she looked a bit like the Indian girl and a bit like the Malay girl, but spoke like neither. 

Conversations that would only contribute to her growing alienation in the new environment, finding solace in books, discovering her love for reading.

While many kids her age would take on a new language through socialisation, Nafisa sheepishly admits that the biggest contributor to her improvement in the language was her infatuation with Malay romance novels as a teenager. Luckily for her, it went on to improve not only her competence in the language but also her skills in writing and the realisation that she had a knack for the craft.

Long past her romance novel days, she has grown to prefer non-fiction over fiction, drawn to biographies and memoirs, depicting stories of culture and identity. Her recent reads include “Growing up with Ghosts”, a memoir by Malaysian writer Bernice Chawly and “The Underground Girls of Kabu” by Jenny Nordberg. She’s always awed by how people and societies live their lives through various adversities and how their stories can touch others despite having nothing in common, just through the play of words. 

Among her favourite fiction pieces include Arthur Golden’s “Memoirs of Geisha” and the heartfelt penmanship of “Khalid Hosseini”. Hosseini’s tales of war-torn Afghanistan has both intrigued her and overwhelmed her with pain. While she has very little political views, reading about the lives of common people forced to become victims of conflicts, never fails to make her consider her pacifist perspective on the world. 

While she professes her love for literature is still very much alive, she confesses finding it progressively difficult to immerse herself in books like before, reading lesser and lesser, unless it’s a required book for one of her English elective courses. She also admits to being one of those people who hoards books, only to completely forget reading them.

However, she has been reading various online publications she has discovered, like her recent finds – Soup Magazine; an independent online publication, exploring the lives of contemporary Indian women and Brown History a community-driven platform gathering inspiring accounts of immigrant experiences of various South Asian communities around the world.

Constantly struggling with her mismatched identity as a third-culture child and questioning her so-called ‘desi-ness’ while living within a South-East Asian community, Nafisa credits these publications for teaching her to embrace her identity and inspiring her to be curious about people’s experiences and educating others towards the understanding of identity struggles. She aspires to be like her favourite storytellers, not solely through written words but also with the means of audio-visual storytelling, capturing stories and experiences of people through her lens, that is her perspective.

Every now and then, Nafisa still doubts whether this road towards journalism she’s heading towards truly meant for her. Her fear of political conversation and debates always makes her question whether she’s really cut out for this field. She reckons her indecisiveness and insecurities as her biggest hurdles, holding her from taking risks in her life. 

But she is on her way towards overcoming those fears and insecurities, slowly pushing herself out of her comfort zone.

Her current answer to why she wants to be a journalist is how she interprets Hamlet’s infamous soliloquy “to be, or not to be”. Just like the Shakespearean protagonist’s struggle between the state of living and not living, not knowing what would either bring, Nafisa’s feeling towards her journey is still shrouded in doubt and uncertainty. 

But she’s aware that, on the other side of this tunnel of ambiguity she is at, there a possibility of light and the only way to confirm is by pushing through it, thus living. 

And Nafisa has set her mind on-living. ***

(This article is written as part of the individual assignment series for Feature Writing class)

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