I've met him before - only once. That was years ago. A small group of Singapore writers were having an informal, impromptu supper at a kopitiam after a literary event at the former National Library. Alfian and I were both in that group.
Alfian was still a medicine student at NUS then. At that time, he had published only one book - One Fierce Hour. But even then it was already pretty evident to me that he was extraordinarily talented.
In subsequent years, he went on to write more and more - poetry, short stories and plays - winning just about every award there was to win in Singapore. After graduating from NUS, he never did pursue a medical career. I hear that he's currently a full-time playwright.
The very unusual thing about Alfian was that his writing was heavily political and anti-establishment - and he was apparently able to get away with it. The establishment (meaning the National Arts Council and other government bodies) not only permitted his works to be published and performed, but gave him grants, awards and so on.
Occasionally, I wondered where the government would draw the line. But Alfian is Alfian, and I know that he will constantly be pushing boundaries and exploring his political interests. For example, check out this very recent photograph of Alfian with, gasp, none other than political exile Francis Seow:
Recently, it seems that someone somewhere in the Singapore government has decided that maybe enough is enough. Alfian was working as a relief teacher in a secondary school, and the principal was very happy with his performance. However, the Ministry of Education insisted that Alfian's contract be abruptly terminated.
The principal was mystified. Alfian was puzzled. When pressed for an explanation, the Ministry itself simply gave meaningless answers obviously designed to hide the truth (whatever the truth was). See for yourself.
Since the Ministry gave such meaningless answers, we can only guess what the real reason behind Alfian's termination was. My guess is as good as yours. And your guess is ....?