The nostalgia that I write about, that I study, that I feel, is the ache that arises from the consciousness of lost connection.
Michael Chabon, ‘The True Meaning of Nostalgia’, The New Yorker
If Chabon’s characterisation is accurate, the “consciousness of lost connections” could not be more keenly felt during the circuit breaker period (a nation-wide lockdown in all but name) at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
It is out of this context that Putu Piring is conceived.
The lost connection is manifested in “the ghost of a wild boar” as a man decides to buy putu piring (steamed rice cakes) and cycles to a park―his favourite childhood haunt―to feed the wild boar. En route, he contemplates the various changes in his life.
Like a well-prepared dish, Tay’s text is sparse yet impactful, as he manages to encapsulate the changes in the protagonist’s life with a few food items that serve as striking metaphors.
In an interview, writer Myle Yan Tay explained that he chose putu piring for his story because it is sentimental yet current; it evokes a sense of the past, yet it is still around today. In a similar vein, the contemplations of the protagonist straddles being elegiac and coming to terms with the changes. Such a choice strikes the right chord as it leaves space for the reader to contemplate about one’s own life in tandem with the protagonist.
Illustration by Shuxian Lee
Shuxian Lee’s illustrations may appear simple, but they have some delightful subtleties. She uses shades of brown for scenes in the past to give it a sepia complexion. This is in contrast to the monochromatic colour scheme for the present. However, the contrast is not too stark and there are portions where past and present seem to meld together. This is in harmony with the aims of the plot that straddles both past and present.
There is a striking use of small panels in various sections of the comic, which only shows an element of the whole picture such as the snout of the wild boar or the fingers of the protagonist’s grandfather. This resembles the nature of our memories as we tend to recall in vignettes. Additionally, it complements the literary elements such as placing emphasis on the culinary metaphors.
With it being only 20 pages long, Putu Piring might be bite-sized as compared to other comics. However, it offers a flavourful bite that tempts one to crave for more.