“Saga of memories: A young man invokes the memories of nation’s first Proton Saga” – A critique

By Athirah Mohammad

An article narrated by Elena Koshy for New Straits Times has caught my attention as it tells a story about a young Proton enthusiast, Hafiz who owned the 1989 red Proton Saga Magma which he called ‘Sagapekak’.

When I catch a glimpse of the headline itself, it manages to convey to me a gist of what the story is all about; a young man, saga, memories, invokes. Surely, it revolves around a young man that has a deep passion for cars, particularly our nation’s first Proton Saga. 

The writer narrates the story in the form of blocks where topics are written continuously throughout the article so readers are able to read it naturally and simply, thereby they should never have to work hard to follow the story until the end.

Overall, the piece written by Elena is compelling, appropriate for a wide range of audiences and follows feature writing concepts and techniques. 

First of all, the author opens with a quirky lead, by implementing an anecdote. It lures the reader in with a descriptive narrative that focuses on a specific minor aspect of the story that leads to the overall topic.

The lead excerpt reads:

I REMEMBER the first day my father drove our brand new Proton Saga into our driveway. It was 1986 (the year after the national car was unveiled), I was 15, and the gleaming red first-generation model was a symbol of middle-class success and national pride. It was also the first brand new car my father had ever bought.

The way “I REMEMBER” being in capital letters really portrayed that among the author’s best childhood memories are surely tied to the Proton Saga car. 

This hook is able to grab reader’s attention as the lead reminisces back to the good old days where one must have been once on a ride with the legendary Proton Saga.

The author uses her personal experience on the subject as a base of the story, employing the first-hand narrative with the use of ‘I’. This not only gives it an informal tone for a more enjoyable read but also creates a connection with the readers who are confronting a similar situation. 

Elena then provides a flashback to set the focus of the article. These methods have allowed readers to anticipate the flow of the article thus enticed readers to read more on the content of the story. For example:

…We’d feed cassettes into the Blaupunkt radio set (one of the car’s finest features, to my teenage perspective). My sisters and I would sing along loudly to familiar tunes wafting through the car. Those were the best years of my life — and my father’s red Proton featured largely in those sepia-toned memories.

The author also implements comedic elements, saying; 

It was a car that was inspiring in its ordinariness. As a child, I used to think it had human qualities. I felt it was a bit like Charlie Brown — naive, simplistic, built lean and blocky like my favourite uncle and yet game enough to go anywhere, tolerate anyone.

Moreover, the spiralling writing technique allows readers to link between two different paragraphs, creating a sense of flow from one block to another block.

After the author mentioned that the advancement of technology makes the original Saga almost part of nostalgia, she went further with another block with the sole interest on a person’s profile to fulfil the promised headline. 

The news read:

When I catch a glimpse of Hafiz Mohtar’s red Proton Saga parked conspicuously by the side of café where we’re sitting, memories of my father’s car flood back. Hafiz’s car attracts admiring glances from passers-by and the 30-year-old beams with pride as I compliment him on his car.

Elena then added more details about Hafiz in the next paragraphs to expand the idea development in which it can pilot the readers in the direction set by the article.

Elena also tells anecdotes like jokes. Here is an excerpt that portrays how she connects Hafiz Mokhtar’s sayings with a joke about Timberlake stock.

“Since my vision is to showcase the car as ‘stock’ as possible or close to its original settings, I called my car ‘Sagapekak’,’ he surmises blithely. “I call my Perodua Axia, Justin — of the Timberlake stock,” I say drily and we both break into laughter.

Furthermore, the author divided the topics into different sections to give it more focus. Each content is labeled with subheadings that focus on a single idea that serves as an outline.

This approach used by Elena in her published feature story helps readers to stay focused and have some time for themselves to digest and comprehend the kind of information that the author wanted to convey; that is the twists and turns of Hafiz Mokhtar’s life as a young Proton enthusiast who owns passion for cars and how he comes up about the idea of it just not restoring a mere car but it preserving the history. 

Since the article is mostly based on the interview conducted between the journalist and Hafiz Mokhtar, it has shown great interviewing skills.

Elena marshalled the story with excerpts from interviews and narratives of her own. These skills indirectly avoid the readers from being lazy and boring when they come across information gathered from the interviews. The writer wrote:

Why restore a rusty hulk instead of buying a shiny new car? Maybe to create a touchable memory, or achieve art in motion. Or maybe it’s as simple as the reason given by the owner of the perfectly preserved Proton Saga. “I’ve never had so much fun in my life,” he says, grinning.

Not only that, when one reads the article, one can feel that the article seems like a conversation between two old friends, casually talking with regards to what is going on around the corner. This helps to create a sense of closeness between the writer and the reader.

I did recall personally a distinctive sweet scent in the Saga, I confide. “Yes! Did you know that the early models used coconut husks as the seat fillers?” he asks, before adding: “That’s the distinctive smell you get when you enter the car!”

The ability to tell a story and deliver information are two crucial qualities of news feature. It can clearly be seen throughout the article that the author successfully embraced both the story-telling and conveying information while also examining the story behind a young man who had his own reason in restoring a Proton Saga car. 

Lastly, for the ending part, it connects and reflects the lead sentence where it ends with Hafiz’s opinion on how Proton Saga served as a machine that came closest to being treated as a family friend. The first-generation model was a symbol of national pride as it represented the Malaysia idea (of the glorious ’80s) of modernity, subject to infinite variations and loved by all.

All in all, the article is a light yet informative piece that employs humour to entice readers while offering a possible curiosity to a subject most of us can connect with. Without a doubt, it got me through the title! ***

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

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