Time out with Ma­hen Bala

New Straits Times - - Pulse living - Kerry.ann@nst.com.my

TELL US ABOUT THE FIRST CAM­ERA YOU OWNED.

One of my early cam­eras was a re­ally sim­ple dig­i­tal cam­era that kept pro­duc­ing pur­ple images. It ob­vi­ously didn’t work very well but I learnt a great deal about the value of cap­tur­ing and ar­chiv­ing mem­o­ries.

DO YOU HAVE A NICKNAME AMONG YOUR CLOSE GROUP OF FRIENDS? Teas­ing by means of mod­i­fy­ing one’s name was a com­mon prac­tice in na­tional schools. “My hand” be­came quite pop­u­lar among friends and even teach­ers. I still use it to­day to help peo­ple who have trouble pro­nounc­ing my name.

WHAT SUR­PRISED YOU MOST ABOUT ANTARCTICA?

Peo­ple and their sto­ries are at the very core of the work I pro­duce as a doc­u­men­tar­ian. How odd it is to find my­self in a place where there are no peo­ple, and the only traces of them left be­hind were of the bru­tally ex­haus­tive whal­ing era. And Antarctica is the purest, most frag­ile place I’ve ever vis­ited.

AND

DOC­U­MENT MALAYSIAN CULTURES WHICH ARE FAST DISAPPEARING. WHY WAS IT IM­POR­TANT FOR YOU TO MAKE THESE FILMS?

It is a record of achieve­ments, strug­gles, fail­ures and flaws, a com­pen­dium of all the lit­tle things that make us hu­man. In the shoes of a Malaysian, it’s about re­la­tion­ship be­tween peo­ple, his­tory, en­vi­ron­ment and the con­struct of iden­tity. We spend hours watch­ing doc­u­men­taries and films on far flung ex­otic places and cultures, and yet we can’t be both­ered to un­der­stand the life un­fold­ing around us a lit­tle bit bet­ter.

The hard­est ques­tion one can ever ask is, “Where to eat ah?”

WHICH MALAYSIAN IDIOSYNCRASY TICKLES YOU THE MOST?

The hard­est ques­tion one can ever ask is “Where to eat ah?”, to which the most com­mon an­swer is one that is seem­ingly help­ful, but only makes mat­ters worse, “Any­thing la”.

TOKYO AL­WAYS AMAZED YOU. WHAT FASCINATES YOU MOST ABOUT JA­PAN’S CAP­I­TAL?

Tokyo is like a huge liv­ing his­tory book that keeps re­vis­ing and rein­vent­ing it­self, so you never read the same chap­ter twice. It is a palimpsest of cul­ture and ide­olo­gies, both conservative and ex­treme in equal mea­sure.

YOU WERE IN­VOLVED IN A NEARFATAL AC­CI­DENT WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER. HOW DID IT CHANGE YOU? Hon­estly I could fill up an en­tire book with this, but I’ll keep it short.The big­gest change was the power of be­ing pos­i­tive. Pos­i­tiv­ity isn’t about be­ing happy at all times, nor is it about dis­miss­ing all that is neg­a­tive. It is about ac­knowl­edg­ing both the good and the bad, and then mak­ing a con­scious, prag­matic de­ci­sion to move for­ward.

WHAT WOULD YOU CON­SIDER YOUR HOLY GRAIL OF TRAIN JOURNEYS?

The holy grail of train journeys is to truly im­merse your­self in the his­tory and cul­ture on which­ever line you choose, to spend time at each sta­tion and see these places as more than just words on a map, or a fleet­ing In­sta­gram post. With train rides, the jour­ney it­self is the des­ti­na­tion.

WHAT IS THE BEST PICK-UP LINE YOU’VE USED ON SOME­ONE? Never needed one.

WHAT IS THE MOST BIZARRE TAL­ENT YOU HAVE THAT ONLY A FEW OF YOUR CLOSE FRIENDS OR LOVED ONES KNOW ABOUT?

I can read back­wards fairly well, and I’ve dis­cov­ered, that on av­er­age, if you added up all the dig­its on any num­ber plate in Malaysia, the to­tal would fall be­tween 19 and 23. By bizarre I hope you meant point­less.

NAME THREE THINGS MA­HEN BALA CAN­NOT LIVE WITH­OUT (IN NO PAR­TIC­U­LAR OR­DER):

Fried an­chovies, my fam­ily and si­lence (as in peace and quiet).

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