Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Tale of the A Bao A Qu

On my last night in Kuala Lumpur, I was supposed to go looking for the book, “Indigenous Politics, Development and Identity in Peninsular Malaysia,” by Colin Nicholas for my article on the Orang Asli when I found myself straying inside Borders bookstore at the Berjaya Time Square. There, I found a collection of writings in translation by Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges. I texted this mystical friend whom everybody called Antares, who was not impressed by Borges at all--—and why would he be? His interests were not earthbound, I found out later. “What crazy idea gets into your head?” he texted back. So, I horded all those Borgesian books in my arms, all in a swoop, found some cushioned chairs, picked up “The Book of Imaginary Beings” and began reading the tale of the A Bao A Qu: "To see the most lovely landscape in the world, a traveler must climb the Tower of Victory in Chitor. A winding staircase gives access to the circular terrace on top, but only those who do not believe in the legend dare climb the tower. On the stairway there has lived since the beginning of time a being sensitive to the many shades of the human soul known as A Bao A Qu. It sleeps until the approach of a traveler and some secret life within it begins to glow and its translucent body begins to stir. As the traveler climbs the stairs, the being regains consciousness and follows at the traveler's heels, becoming more intense in bluish color and coming closer to perfection. But it achieves its ultimate form only at the topmost step, and only when the traveler is one who has already attained Nirvana, whose acts cast no shadows. Otherwise, the being hesitates at the final step and suffers at its inability to achieve perfection. It tumbles to the first step as the traveler climbs down and collapses weary and shapeless, awaiting the approach of the next traveler. In the course of the centuries, A Bao A Qu has reached the terrace only once."
On my way home, I regretted not buying the book, which I thought was much too expensive for my pocket!
It was not until more than a week later, when I was already back in Davao that I opened the magickriver website inside Clickerz Café along Ponciano and began reading Antares’ account of the A Bau A Qu.
I was amazed. Is this Antares, who scoffed at the mention of Borges, who actually traced the Malayan origin of the Borges’ tale by an American scholar based in Alexandria, Egypt?
How could I not be awed by the serendipitous designs of these encounters? First, it was my last night in KL, when it finally dawned on me that I could no longer talk to Colin Nicholas, an anthropologist deeply involved in the issues of indigenous peoples in Peninsular Malaysia. He just left for Penang that morning. His book was the last chance for me to get to know anything substantial about the Orang Asli but it was only available in a certain bookstore, not in the commercial ones like Borders. Knowing that I did not know how to get to that bookstore, I gave up hope, decided to call off my search and strayed inside a bookstore.
How come that the first story I came across was a tale that actually came from an Orang Asli?? And how come I never knew I was actually bringing it back with me on my way back to Davao?

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