Award-winning scholar and poet Inrasara devotes his life to poetry and Cham literature.
I could not choose to be a child of the President of France
or a grandchild in direct line of the King of Brunei
I could not choose my birthplace in Thailand or America
I am a Cham since the first cry in life
(more than that: nine months and ten days before the first cry)
Either when I am rooted here
Or when I wander to the last horizon
I am still a Cham, even when I burn up with the pyre at the end of life.
(Translated by Nguyễn Tiến Văn)
Inrasara, the pen name of Phu Tram, was born in 1957 in the Cham village of Chakleng in the Central province of Ninh Thuan. He is an award-winning poet, critic, fiction writer and researcher of Cham and Vietnamese culture and literature.
Affecting language and solid scholarship has been a hallmark of his work, earning him many awards. These emotive lines of poetry above are found in The Purification Festival in April, the poetry collection for which the highly-acclaimed poet won the ASEAN Writers’ Award in 2005.
In addition, he also won the Indochina History and Civilisation Center Award (CHCPI) from the Sorbonne University in France in 1995 for Cham Literature 1, his first foray into documenting and collecting Cham culture and literature. He has won many other awards for his numerous collections of Cham literature.
Inrasara also serves as editor-in-chief of Tagalau, an annual periodical which presents a selection of Cham fiction and cutural research which has issued eight volumes to date, starting in 2000.
“Tagalau is the name of a purple flower growing in Binh Thuan and Ninh Thuan provinces. Tagalau was chosen as the title because it is a symbol of sacrifice, modesty and dedication. Tagalau flowers always come in bloom even in impoverished lands”, he said.
Tagalau aims to help Cham people understand their own language and culture, and to introduce Cham literary culture to the wider community.
His Cham Literature series, which began with Cham Literature 1, is planned for ten volumes. He plans to finish this magnum opus within the next ten years. The third volume, entitled Truong ca Cham (Cam Epics) was prepared and published with the financial support from the Toyota Foundation in 2006. In the series, all works are printed in the original Cham script, alongside a romanization and a translation into Vietnamese.
In addition to his main employment as a critic of contemporary Vietnamese literature, he is also opening the Inra Library and Showroom of Cham culture in his home province of Ninh Thuan.
Talking about his literary career, he said: “One must have a passion for something to be able to do it well. My research of Cham language and literature is very simple, but it is my passion, my love. It’s not different from writing poems”.
“To me, writing is not a job. I write just because I love life, especially love language”, added Inrasara.
I am sad hence I am living
I am still writing means I still love
When I stop loving I am dead.
Thanhnien daily, November 21, 2007.