July 29, 2008

Saint Rosa of Indonesian Poetry

Dorothea Rosa Herliany: 'Saint Rosa' of Indonesian poetry

The Jakarta Post, Sunday, December 17, 2006

Harry Aveling, Contributor, Jakarta

Dorothea Rosa Herliany may not be a saint, but she is one of Indonesia's most praised poets, both at home and abroad.

Last month, she received the prestigious 2006 Khatulistiwa Literary Award for Poetry. The award acknowledges her latest book Santa Rosa/Saint Rosa, first published in 2005.

The bilingual volume contains Rosa's latest poetry in Bahasa Indonesia with English translations. There is a preface by senior Indonesian woman poet Toety Heraty, and an afterword by the late Dami Toda, both with English translations as well.

Canadian artist Ken Pattern, a long-time Jakarta resident, provided the stunning lithography that illustrated the first printing.

The poetry was written between 2002 and 2004 in places as diverse as Japan, Europe, America and Australia.

As Toda says: "Various languages and panoramas change shape in their itinerary through the ear and the eye. But poetry does not change its map or time when it sits enthroned in the mind."

Their subject matter includes universal religious themes, human relationships, gender equality, social norms and the nature of history; the writing reveals a struggle to understand human experience in all its reality -- not as an ideal but as a fact that reveals profound suffering and hurt, without, apparently, any hope of redemption.

Leading Australian poet Judith Rodriguez has described Saint Rosa as an "exceptional" volume. These are, she said, "texts of exceptional difficulty and exceptional interest". Rodriguez describes the poems as "highly colored, morbid, even shocking" and significant for their "metaphorical tours de force and paradoxical glories of unwilling illuminations".

In Rodriguez' opinion, Saint Rosa "confirms the importance of this notable poet" and is "a notable addition to world poetry".

Rosa's place in world poetry will become more obvious in 2007 with the publication of her previous book Kill the Radio: Sebuah Radio Kumatikan (2001) by Arc Publications in England.

In a new preface to Kill the Radio, British poet Linda France writes: "The energy and violence expressed in the title of the collection runs through the work like a ruptured vein, fragile and vulnerable but necessary for survival."

The destructiveness and chaos of the outside world broadcast on the radio summons a reaction of echoing violence, filtered through irony. Many of the poems use this mirroring effect, the consciousness of the individual poem reflecting back what it sees and experiences.

The "Self" contained in the poems is ill at ease, often "trapped", "always hurrying ... searching and never finding".

Underneath this troubled surface there is so much tenderness and openness, in shocking contrast to the "Other", represented by the world of politics and war, that the speaker of the poems is aware she is in danger of annihilation.

Saint Rosa and Kill the Radio are both currently being reprinted in new formats by the original publisher, IndonesiaTera, and is expected to be available in bookshops shortly.

They are essential reading for those who love Indonesian literature, and for all who want to understand this country better.

The writer is a scholar and translator of Indonesian literature, including the poetry of Dorothea Rosa Herliany. In 2006, he served as Visiting Professor of Translation Studies at the University of Indonesia.

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July 26, 2008

Theater makes children strong

'Theater makes children strong'

The Jakarta Post, Sunday, September 10, 2006

Tam Notosusanto, Contributor, Jakarta

You can't question Norbert Radermacher's dedication to children. He had taught theater at a school in a small German town called Lingen for years and still did not feel he had done enough. The former football player, who studied philosophy, arts and drama, felt there was much more to do beyond working within the curriculum and in the classroom.

So he founded Theater Pedagogical Center (TPZ) in 1980 with the support from the Emslandische Landschaft e.V., the governments of the Lower Saxony, Emsland and Bentheim districts, and the municipality of Lingen. Located in Lingen, a town of about 60,000 residents situated in the Northwest of Germany, near the Netherlands border, TPZ is now Germany's biggest academy for theater, play, dance and circus education. Besides offering drama courses for children and young people, it also has workshops, seminars, and training for teachers, social workers and individuals to promote theater as a means of cultural education.

In 1990, Radermacher introduced the World Festival of Children's Theater, where children's theater groups from all over the world perform in front of an international audience. The festival also holds symposiums attended by theater pedagogues from 24 member countries who discuss the latest trends in children's theater work. Established in cooperation with the International Amateur Theater Association (IATA/AITA), the festival has been held alternately in Turkey, Denmark, Japan and Cuba as well as in its home base, Lingen, Germany.

This September he made his first ever trip to Indonesia to give workshops to children's theater groups in Jakarta and Bandung. Here are excerpts from an interview with Radermacher and from his discussion with leaders of children's theater groups in Jakarta.

What was the idea behind the Theater Pedagogical Center?

Twenty-six years ago there were a lot of music schools and art schools in Germany. But there was no theater school. I realized teachers and social workers are looking for such an institution. They work using social methods but those methods don't work for very long because young people need much more. You have to take care of them, you need to push them. How do we do that?

Theater is good to push them. There's no better place for saying what you're thinking, what is on your mind, than onstage. Onstage you are an artist, you can say "we want a better society," or "we don't want war" or "we want freedom." The stage for me is not like painting. With painting, you can do it by yourself, then hang the picture on the wall. Theater needs an audience. So it's wonderful for young people. You can feel it. Children can be powerful when they are onstage, they are strong. The adults in the audience are always amazed, they will say "Oh my God, I didn't know they were strong." If children are strong, they can play an effective role in society.

What have been the challenges of establishing and maintaining it for the past 26 years?

When you start an institution like this, you need well-trained, educated, artistic people. We needed both artists and pedagogues. But not all artists can work with children, and not all pedagogues can teach art. So we did a lot of training and workshops for teachers and artists so that they acquired the balance.

We want to involve as many social workers and teachers, but the problem is, a lot of them have no experience in art. So I brought them to meet artists, for them to hold some forums of dialog to learn from each other.

After 26 years, TPZ now is an academy for theater, dance and circus. We also have theater programs for handicapped children and programs for senior citizens. But our main work is with children. The focus of our drama education is not primarily on the eventual performance or show, but rather, the process leading up to it: training of expression, working within a group and the joy in playing.

Now we have 25 full-time staff, others work on projects for two or three years before they go back to their schools or social work to implement what they learned from TPZ.

How did the World Festival of Children's Theater come about?

Every year, the children of TPZ's theater, dance and circus classes meet for a theater festival named "Children play and dance for children." There they have the opportunity to perform their work and learn from each other. Groups from all over Lingen participated. It became a regular event every January.

The event became the inspiration for a world-level festival. Especially when after I visited the World Theater Festival for adults of the International Amateur Theater Association in Monaco in 1985, I realized there was no children's theater festival in the world. There were already lots of professional theater festivals or puppet theater festivals, but no world children's theater festival.

And so we had the first World Festival of Children's Theater in 1990 in Lingen. It brought children theater groups from all over the world together. Before 1990, we had worked separately, in our respective countries, holding national-level festivals. We did not know one another. But since we did this festival, we've gotten to know one another. We all come to one place on a world level and have been able to compare work between Japan and South America, between Europe and Asia. The network was born and it quickly expanded before I even began to think about it. I've been invited to many countries. I went to India, and I met a person from Pakistan. Next, I got invited to Pakistan. It's like a snowball effect.

If you do a local festival for children, nobody will interview you, no TV will come because it's not that interesting. But an international festival, that's interesting. That will draw a lot of attention.

I do it for the children, because children don't have (an avenue to) lobby. You have to give children the (opportunity to) lobby (for their interests), the possibility to think about something. So we have to build the network. Secondly, we have to give children space in this world.

Theater Tan Air from Indonesia has won first prize two consecutive times at the 2004 and 2006 festivals. What was your impression upon visiting them here?

I'm surprised to hear Tanah Air doesn't have space, any room. (Teater Tanah Air regularly rehearses in the lobby of Graha Bhakti Budaya at Ismail Marzuki Arts Center --Ed.) It's a wonderful group. The children should have room. Jakarta is a big city, I don't understand why the government can't give Tanah Air space for rehearsals. I know a lot of theater groups in South America, in Africa, much poorer countries. They have theater houses. I want to talk about this, I want to make articles. We have to give children space to come together, to communicate with each other, to be creative. Don't just give them computers.

But many theater groups in Indonesia are used to rehearsing in lobbies, in their backyards, on the sidewalk. It's their cultural tradition, they can rehearse anywhere.

Well, it's maybe my European way of thinking. Children should have their own space. Children's theater groups should have their own theater houses. I really want to take the children of Tanah Air to stage a demonstration in front of the city government's building, demanding a room. This just reflects the government's indifference: that Indonesia has a rich culture, as shown by Tanah Air's performance, and that they need space to grow. We need to respect them, talk to them at the same level, not talk down to them. Because we want to make them strong, we want them to play an important role in the future of the country. ***

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July 24, 2008

Javanese novels

World of Javanese novels in the '50s

The Jakarta Post
, Sunday, January 14, 2001

Priyayi Abangan -- Dunia Novel Jawa Tahun 1950-an (The World of Javanese Novels in the 1950s)
By Sapardi Djoko Damono
Yayasan Bentang Budaya, Yogyakarta, 2000
xi + 434 pp

JAKARTA (JP): Originally a dissertation for a postgraduate degree in literature under the title of Javanese Novels in the 1950s - a Study of Function, Content and Structure which noted poet and literary translator Sapardi Djoko Damono successfully defended at the Jakarta-based University of Indonesia in 1989, the book is a must-read for those interested in popular literature.

In this book, Sapardi explores in great depth, popular literature in Javanese published during the first decade of the second half of the 20th century, encompassing six novels published by state-owned book publisher Balai Pustaka and 14 serials published in Penyebar Semangat (Disseminator of the Spirit) magazine in Javanese.

The period of study is confined to the 1950s because the decade was important in Indonesia's history in at least two respects. Following the proclamation of Indonesia's independence on Aug. 17, 1945, Indonesians could freely be exposed to classical and modern world literature after 350 years of Dutch colonial rule during which they were practically denied any literary development; and the 1950s witnessed a lot of important social changes marked, among other things, by the promotion of democracy and literacy. As a result, there was a noticeable increase in quantity of the publication of literary works in Javanese.

In this study, Sapardi treats Javanese novels as popular literature as these works gained popularity among Javanese readers in general. Previously, Javanese literary works were mostly circulated behind the walls of Javanese palaces: they were usually penned by court writers and intended only for the Javanese nobility.

Parts of these works, usually in verse form, are familiar to the general Javanese community but this is more the result of an oral tradition than a reading habit. To most Javanese these quotations are usually taken as pieces of advice for a better life, which explains why most readers of Javanese novels wish to gain an insight into life and get useful pieces of advice. In general, they do not care much about the quality of the works. What is of paramount importance to them is that reading the novels can give them advice, a condition clearly indicating that the younger Javanese readers have simply continued the reading tradition that their predecessors had, in connection with the Javanese literature of yore.

Another interesting point Sapardi raises in the book is that most of the works are written with the point of view of an omniscient narrator, a condition closely resembling the shadow puppet play in which the puppet master knows everything and tells everything. This close resemblance with the shadow puppet world is easily understandable as the Javanese people are generally raised in this tradition. They are very familiar with popular characters in the shadow puppet plays and in many cases model their own lives upon these.

Sapardi has the following to say about this issue: In the Javanese community, the shadow puppet play is an art form which can break through social partitions; it is performed in the palace and in remote rural areas. It is no exaggeration to say that in the 1950s, the shadow puppet play was still part of the culture inherent in writers and readers of the new Javanese literature. It is also quite reasonable to say that the relation ship existing between the puppet master, the shadow puppet play and the audience was made a model for the writing of new Javanese literature, or novels.

As new Javanese literature is put in the category of popular literature, something must be said about its readers. In the 1950s, these new Javanese novels were popular among the newly literate group of people, who included the new priyayi (the upper-class). These new priyayi originally belonged to the category of commoners. They could get to a higher social class thanks to their education and position in society. These readers might find themselves reflected in the novels and periodicals published in 1950s, which explains the popularity of Javanese novels among these people. Sapardi writes that "The world created in the Javanese novels is that of the priyayi abangan (Javanese of the upper social class not adhering strictly to their Islamic precepts) and the world view expressed by the writers is also that of the priyayi abangan".

He also writes that the world created in the novels under study is dominated by the priyayi and the shadow puppet play and that even the kiai, venerated scholars or teachers of Islam, convey their knowledge about the shadow puppet play rather than about the Koran. Hence the use of the term priyayi abangan, a combination of two different concepts in the Javanese community, a member of the Javanese upper class with scant attention to religious matters and greater interest in the values inherent in the Javanese shadow puppet play with which the priyayi are usually associated.

As literature reflects the condition of a particular society in which it is created, the Javanese novels of the 1950s also present the social conditions then prevailing. These works depict the attempt made by the abangan, the Javanese commoners, to climb the social ladder in order to reach the status of a priyayi or preserve the values of the priyayi. Logically, therefore, the common thread of Javanese novels in the 1950s is the spirit of the priyayi. As Javanese commoners are depicted in the novels as attempting to reach the status of a priyayi, it can be easily seen that what prompts them to do so must be their high deference to the moral values of the priyayi. It is clear, therefore, why, as referred to earlier, the shadow puppet play assumes an important role in Javanese novels of the 1950s.

In their attempt to live the life of a priyayi as much as possible, the characters are usually portrayed as heroes in the world of the shadow puppet play with control over their desires and a refined attitude. In relation to this, Sapardi writes that "In Javanese novels it is clearly portrayed that a shadow puppet play is an inseparable part of the life of the priyayi; an ideal priyayi is one with a good mastery of the art and the shadow puppet play is part of his main knowledge."

-- Lie Hua

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July 21, 2008

Novel Tanpa Huruf R

'Novel Tanpa Huruf R', local cinema new low

The Jakarta Post, Saturday, August 16, 2003

Joko Anwar, Contributor, Jakarta

Hats may be off to director/co-producer Aria Kusumadewa's efforts to get his latest movie made. But he must be asking for too much if he expects to hear any applause when the closing credits roll.

Novel Tanpa Huruf R (A Novel Without R) is a frustratingly incoherent mess with towering pretentiousness that gives freedom of artistic expression a bad name.

The filmmakers may argue they are only trying to deliver an important message of anti-violence but they only end up being backed up by their own nemesis.

These are filmmakers who think they can say something through shocks. Well, they may get our attention but certainly not our hearts. The movie is bleak, mean-spirited and completely unrewarding

In his earlier movie Beth, about life in a mental hospital, he showed a female inmate kissing a cockroach. In Novel Tanpa Huruf R, Aria seems determined to satisfy his fondness for grossness posing as art.

There are gratuitous shots of cows being slaughtered and dismembered human body parts. A close shot of dog poop being picked up is more irony than the movie can handle since it is the best way to describe the film.

The story is extremely muddled. Whatever good intention the filmmakers may try to say is lost.

The movie opens with a scene where a man and his little son wake up after being stranded on a beach. How they can be stranded there? The movie does not seem to care to tell.

However, the film does care to show an iceberg ... on an Indonesian beach. Of course the filmmakers can always argue that their movie is an art film so the iceberg is meant to be a symbol of something. But who cares?

Anyway, the movie continues with the man and his son living in a big house on the island where the man has a ritual of getting angry with God for causing him to lose his wife, presumably in an event before they were stranded on the beach. (How they can suddenly own a big house, the movie does not seem care to tell).

All we know is that the little boy, Drum (played by newcomer Agastya) is accustomed to violence since he often sees cattle being slaughtered in the slaughterhouse where his father works.

Meanwhile, his father is often engaged in a fight with government officials who come down to the island to forcefully buy his property.

Several cow slaughters later, Drum lives in the city where he works at a crime news tabloid.

In doing his job, Drum has to witness so much violence. One inventive example is where a woman who is having an affair with a married man has her face smashed in with a durian fruit by the man's wife.

What we don't get is why Drum who hates violence still works for an exploitive tabloid. He even publishes a book that contains a series of crime stories he wrote.

Oh, there is a love story, too.

Among many characters who come and go for no apparent reason is Drum's lawyer girlfriend who then becomes a victim of a mass murder. Soon, Drum becomes a God hater just like his dad, especially as he also loses two dogs.

Drum moves back to the island where he lives in a quite luxurious studio by the beach. Is he supposed to be able to afford the place from his paycheck as a journalist or do the filmmakers want us to believe that his crappy book becomes a best seller?

Meanwhile, the government officials keep coming to the island to buy Drum's old house and send people to terrorize Drum's childhood friend who now lives there.

Drum also develops a new routine on the island. Every full moon, he will pay a hooker to come to his studio where he will tie her up and sleep naked next to her.

In the meantime, there is a female post-graduate student (played by Lola Amaria who also co-executive produced with Aria) who is doing a study on Drum's book and tracks him down to the island. Too bad she comes to his house when he is in a bad mood after learning that his best friend has been arrested for murdering another hooker.

Drum kidnaps the student and ties her up to the bed just like he does to the hooker and keeps her for several days while he is writing his new novel.

After an incident, Drum loses his left middle finger, which makes him unable to type the letter r in his novel. This is just plain ridiculous.

If Drum can not type the letter r because he does not have a middle finger, this means that he decides to stick to the 10-finger typing rule. This also means that he shouldn't be able to type the letters d, e and c.

However, after endless absurdity this last goof seems negligible.

Chances are you will never see this movie in the multiplexes since the film producers plan to show it in an event they call a "movie road show" where they will play the movie in colleges and art centers across the country.

Aria also applied the same distribution strategy to his earlier movie, Beth.

It is quite inspiring to see these young filmmakers' determination to get their movie made. Too bad in the end, their energy is wallowed in sensationalism and they drown in ultra-pretentiousness.


Novel Tanpa Huruf R (A Novel Without R) Drama, zero stars out of four Starring Agastya, Lola Amaria Directed by Aria Kusumadewa

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July 18, 2008

Si Kabayan 1


For a long time Si Kabayan and his father-in-law had entertained the idea of making a deer trap, but nothing had ever come of their intention. One day Kabayan called his father in-law.

"Come, Pa," he said. "Let's dig a ditch. A deer is sure to fall into it, and then we'll slaughter it together."

"No," replied Kabayan's father-in-law. "You dig the ditch, Kabayan. I'd rather snare a bird."

"Good," said Kabayan. "But when I catch my deer, I won't give you any part of it."

"Never mind," replied the father-in-law. "When I catch my bird, you'll get no part of it either."

The next morning, very, very early, Kabayan's father-in-law went outside to have a look at the trap he had set up. It was just as-he had left it the night before. He walked over to Kabayan's trap and there he saw a fine, large deer. He looked about him stealthily and seeing no one, he tied a rope around the deer's neck, which he then fastened to his own trap. He quickly returned to the house and called his son-in-law.

"Kabayan, Kabayan, wake up!" he shouted. "Let's go out and see whether there's anything in our traps."

Kabayan yawned and stretched and joined his father-in-law.

"Alhamdullillah! The Lord be praised!" exclaimed Kabayan's father-in-law. "Look at that!" He pointed to the deen next to his trap.

Si Kabayan walked away without saying a word.

A little later, when Si Kabayan's wife called her father and husband for breakfast Kabayan did not appear. Kabayan's wife was worried. "Where is he?" she asked her father. They waited, but he did not come. Kabayan's wife began to cry.

"He's been eaten by a tiger," she sobbed, "Or choked by a devil in the forest - or kidnapped!"

Her father tried to console her and said he would go out immediately to search for Kabayan.

It was not long before he found him, sitting by the bank of a river in an attitude of meditation, watching the water flow by.

"Kabayan!" called his father-in-law. "What are you doing? Why didn't you come to breakfast?"

"Look, Pa!" said Kabayan, glancing up at his father-in-law, but leaving his questions unanswered. "Look at this water. If this isn't the strangest thing! ........"

"What's the matter?"

"Just look! The river is flowing upstream!"

"Ah, Kabayan, impossible, Kabayan! Water doesn't flow up stream. It has to flow downstream!"

"Why does it have to?" said Kabayan, if a deer can be caught in a trap for a bird?"

Kabayan's father-in-law looked very sheepish. He admitted that he had deceived Kabayan and he returned the deer to his son-in-law. But Kabayan took revenge, and when the deer was slaughtered his father-in-law got nothing but its bones.***

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July 15, 2008

Critics in Djenar's novel 'Nayla'

Djenar confronts societal taboos, critics in first novel 'Nayla'

cited from The Jakarta Post, Sunday, July 10, 2005

A. Junaidi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Djenar Maesa Ayu
Gramedia Pustaka Utama, May 2005
180 pp
in Bahasa Indonesia

Djenar Maesa Ayu's first novel is a testament to her unchanging courage in defending women's sexuality and rejecting taboos. Through Nayla, she also rejects the criticism of certain reviewers that her writing is "titillating".

Yes, she uses words like vagina -- at least 15 times -- and penis in her novel, as she does in her short stories). But who classified these terms as "dirty"?

Djenar said she tried to be honest with herself and write about a reality she really knows and feels about (p. 121). The 32-year-old writer thus talked about women's orgasm and the issue of sexual harassment without any intention to arouse desire.

Nayla should probably be viewed from a different perspective.

For a long time, woman has been categorized (by men) as a soft and lovely creature, and a description of what makes a "good" and "bad" woman has been established over the years in many novels. In many cultures, women are often forbidden from speaking "dirty words" -- which restriction typically does not apply to men -- so that, women writers in these cultures who explore sensitive issues such as sexuality are often considered to be less intellectual and unwomanly.

For years, leading feminist literary critics, such as Helene Cixous, Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray, encouraged women writers worldwide to reject the taboos and bans set for women.

These feminist thinkers repudiated categorizations based on a binary opposition -- yin and yang -- which, in the end, marginalized women's works. According to this polar classification, the soul is valuable and the body less so; white is separated from black; as are men and women.

Women are often viewed through her body first and then performance, and men vice-versa.

Some local critics even included Djenar among female writers arbitrarily grouped together in the so-called Sastra Wangi, or fragrant literature, which implied that their work lacked substance. She, of course, renounced the patronizing industry categorization.

The idea of binary opposition also does not admit to other sexual orientations, such as lesbian, gay and bisexual, that have "come out of the closet" in the modern day and age.

In Nayla, Djenar continues her exploration of identity through sexuality, and goes beyond the "vagina" to a consenting, positive lesbian relationship.

The title character is an abused teenage girl. In a departure from the common theme of parental abuse by a father or father figure, Nayla's abuse is committed by her mother, who punctures her genitalia with a pin as punishment for wetting the bed. In addition, Nayla is raped by one of her mother's boyfriends in a blatant example of the failure of maternal protection.

Nayla finds happiness when she leaves home and moves in with her father, a well-known writer. But the joy does not last long, and the theme of abuse by a mother figure is extended through Nayla's stepmother.

Nayla's journey of self-discovery is facilitated through Juli, a lesbian she meets on the streets, and through an exploration of her sexual orientation, including bisexuality. As she matures and eventually becomes a writer herself, she decides she is of no singular "orientation", but a lover of humanity.

Meanwhile, Djenar also questions the age-old theory that happiness and self-satisfaction are to be found in a single partner or a single love relationship as she follows Nayla's entry and acceptance into the literary circle.

For first-time readers of Djenar's work, it may not be easy to track the flow of the story. Like her short stories, the plot jumps forwards and backwards throughout the book, with intermittent flashbacks. Others may find Djenar's characteristic style of repeating sentences and paragraphs to stress her intentions to be tiring or disruptive.

Even so, Nayla is a valuable work for both men and women to understand the pluralism of women and to look at women, femininity, perhaps even humanity, as viewed through the eyes of a woman and a woman writer -- better yet, just call Djenar a writer of contemporary humanity.

Her critics say the popularity of Djenar's work is due to her use of profanity and themes of sexual exploration -- both "unwomanly" traits -- and because there is a market for arousal. Most likely, they would say the same for Nayla.

But such criticism will fall on deaf ears.

A literary force in her own right, the mother of two has published two short story anthologies, Mereka Bilang Saya Monyet (They say I'm a monkey) and Jangan Main-Main (dengan kelaminmu) [Don't play (with your genitals)], while Waktu Nayla (Nayla's time) and Menyusu Ayah (Suckling father) received best short story awards by the largest national newspaper Kompas and feminist publication Jurnal Perempuan (Women's Journal).

Her books have gone through several reprints and have been nominated for the best book category by the prestigious Khatulistiwa Literary Award.

As Djenar once said in an earlier interview with The Jakarta Post and which she reiterates in Nayla: "I just want to write what I want to write and what I know about. I want to be honest... I don't care what people might think about me."

From such a woman, Nayla is no surprise, as the novel is ultimately about finding -- and accepting -- one's identity, no matter how it is viewed from the outside.

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July 11, 2008

Novel Review

Novel gives knowing peek into dirty oil business

cited from The Jakarta Post, Sunday, March 05, 2006

Kornelius Purba, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Cinta di Marindo Oil
Puti Lenggo
Djambatan, 2005
328 pp.

Writing under the pen name Puti Lenggo, the author of Cinta di Marindo Oil (Love at Marindo Oil) originally wrote this novel in English, titled Down with The Oil, and finished it in October 2004. Puti thought at the time that, if she wrote in Bahasa Indonesia, it would be difficult for her to find an Indonesian publisher who would dare to publish the book.

Cinta di Marindo Oil covers in detail the "mega corruption practices" of Indonesia's oil industry under Soeharto's 32-year reign until 1998, and even few years after that.

On reading the English version, readers will soon find that the writer's mastery of that language is quite decent. Puti worked at two English-language newspapers in Jakarta, including The Jakarta Post in the 1980s -- a fact that is mentioned on the back cover -- before entering the oil business, which she describes as "another field". She has also experienced living abroad, such as in London.

Although Puti does not explicitly identify the oil company that is central to Cinta di Marindo Oil, as the story reveals her knowledge about the "deep secrets" of the "slick oil business" -- for instance, how Army generals and Soeharto's cronies milked the company, and about the system "ala mafia" of importing crude oil and distributing fuel oil to the domestic market -- it is clear she worked for a major oil company.

When Puti offered her manuscript to a major bookstore and publisher in Jakarta that mostly sells English books, apparently its editor rejected it, saying her novel was uninteresting.

Then she visited another major publishing company, PT Grasindo, which asked her to translate the book into Bahasa Indonesia.

"However, after reading the translated version, the editor told me they couldn't publish the book because its content was controversial, especially as regards the 'mafia' of the fuel oil business in our country," the writer recently told a friend.

She eventually found a publishing company, PT Penerbit Djambatan, which specializes in publishing works of literature; as a result, Cinta di Marindo Oil has been available in major bookstores in Indonesia since January 2006.

Cinta di Marindo Oil tells the story of Ratna, a senior public relations officer at the Marindo Oil company, and the ups and downs of her relationship with husband Burhan, a proud Minang man who cares more about his status within Minang society than the fact that Ratna must support not just their family but also her husband's "generosity" toward his relatives in West Sumatra.

Ratna becomes involved in complex internal intrigue while she also has an affair with Hassan, a young technocrat who naively tries to clean up the company from its dirty practices.

The most interesting parts of the novel concern the scheming among the elite to dip their fingers in the lucrative oil industry. Powerful generals, politicians and those with close ties to Soeharto can easily force the oil company to grant them a large concession for their introduction to oil contractors and procurement companies.

Smuggling oil to neighboring countries is rampant and the company often pretends ignorance of this, because the illicit trade involves the military or even "hoodlum" politicians. No special skills are necessary to qualify for enjoying the lucrative oil business when people have strong political connections to the First Family.

"Much collusion existed in the past between powerful officials at the state oil company, Marindo Oil management and government officials. There is even strong suspicion over money manipulation," Ratna writes in her diary (p. 68).

The writer, however, is often hesitant about revealing the darker side of the oil industry -- apparently because she is worried about her own safety. So she punishes corruptors in the business by declaring them "impotent".

Just a few days ago, British-based Author House reportedly expressed an interest in publishing an English version of her novel, and a production company has indicated it would like to make a film adaptation.

When the English-language version of Cinta di Marindo Oil is realized, foreign readers will get a chance to take a peek -- albeit from a distance -- into the corrupt oil industry of Indonesia. ***

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July 08, 2008

Korrie Layun Rampan


by Korrie Layun Rampan

Cited from The Jakarta Post, Sunday, November 02, 2003

I had not been back to enjoy the beauty of this river for 40 years.

As a child, I took pride in Nyuatan River, where I first learned to swim, went fishing and paddled a boat against a strong current.

I was able catch bigger baung and belida fish, tortoises, even jelawat and patin fish, turtles and crocodiles.

Along with my elder brother Tingang, I was almost dragged down under a heap of wood caught on a fallen tree trunk, with its branches blocking the flow of flotsam from upstream. It happened when a crocodile pulled the rope tied to a long rattan stem floating in the stream.

With a dead monkey as bait, the crocodile trap was set afloat near the upper side of Nyomit Bay. Tingang immediately paddled toward the tip of the drifting stem and yanked the rope to make its iron hook become entangled in the reptile's guts. Perhaps out of fright or pain from its snagged belly, it quickly dove into the riverbed, going downstream under the scrap.

Our boat nearly tipped over as it hit the drooping log, which hampered river traffic with its top end lying halfway across. If my brother had not promptly released the rattan rope that he held, the boat might have slipped down under the sinking tree top.

I reversed the boat at once. The rattan tip of the trap sank for a while, drifting downstream. The crocodile was apparently trying to hide itself under the scrap to evade the hunt. But it had swallowed the monkey with the hook sticking inside. Wherever it went, the stem would show its floating tip to signal its whereabouts to my brother.

With his previous crocodile hunting experience on the river, he was certainly aware that hooked crocodiles were easy to haul onto the water surface. Yet it's on this surface that anglers should be particularly alert, because the powerful tail of this reptile could even smash down the large proboscis ape monkey native to this area of Kalimantan.

Jerking the rope he'd grabbed in the downstream current, he asked me to paddle to the bank. The boat was rocking slightly as the crocodile struggled hard and tried to swim further down. Tingang gripped the rope and the boat was tugged along by the crocodile, gliding fast downstream.

But when it was approaching the bay, the rope he clasped loosened. Then he drew the cord to reduce the distance between the crocodile and the boat. My heart was pounding for fear of those sharp-toothed long jaws snatching and devouring us both.

My brother already displayed the courage of a man. Showing no bewilderment or dread, he kept pulling the rope so that he got even closer to the crocodile. Now and again, it hit the boat with its tail, but Tingang deftly blocked the attack with the paddle blade. Another harder strike broke the blade and he was almost knocked off-balance.

Fortunately, he retained the handle to keep guard and save himself in case it smashed again. Meanwhile, the boat continued to cruise down the river and my brother tried to tie up its jaws. When he managed to lasso the jaws with the noose he had prepared, he jerked the rope to tighten the loop. He twisted the cord round and round to render the animal hopeless.

We so wanted to declare that we were top crocodile catchers. The next morning we would proudly tell our local villagers that we were no longer children thanks to our feat. So we tied the strapped reptile with a long rope to a robust wild mango tree to prevent it from escaping while allowing it to submerge. When people gathered, we would show them how two kids were the real conquerors of the "river king".

But before we had the opportunity to boast about our catch in the village, uncle Kojajanga found the crocodile dead at dawn.

"I went to the bay to lift a fish trap and when I returned I found it lifeless," I remembered him telling us.

But we got a good price for its skin. A Chinese trader from the city visiting the village bought our crocodile skin and Tingang deposited the money in a bank, enabling him to go to secondary school.

He told me later that the money left in his account was spent on his college tuition until graduation. He knew crocodile hunting was risky but he loved it. "Some day," he said wistfully, "nobody will catch crocodiles because they will no longer be found in this river."

I had no idea of the truth of his words at that time. But after my long absence from my ancestral village to study in the city -- and brought back by a desperate note from my mother about my father's sickness -- I realized that everything had changed.

When I went back to the stream where I had grown up, I felt something was missing. The shady rengas trees known for their fine timber, from which honeycombs hung in the past, no longer covered river plains.

Even nangka air, a kind of jackfruit formerly used as bait for catching baung and jelawat fish, was gone without a trace. Only some dahuq trees were left, with their yellow fruit dangling in clusters. The giant trees of the past were nowhere to be found, as if they had been uprooted by tornadoes and flown to realms of the hereafter! Puti and bilas trees, also the habitat of honeybees, vanished, probably due to long droughts or widespread forest fires several years ago.

I took a motorcycle taxi from Mencimai and Pucak Lomuq crossroads till I reached the riverbank to go by boat to Rinding village.

"So you're a native of Rinding?" asked the young man paddling the boat. "I've never seen you here so far."

"I'm a native here indeed," I affirmed. "But I was away for 40 years. This place has changed a lot."

"You left 40 years ago?" he responded with surprise. "It means you're 21 years older than me. Are you working in Jakarta?"

"I've been working there since I graduated in Yogyakarta," was my reply. "Do you go to college?"

"I can't afford to. Rattan is now worthless. Lakes are drying up and abandoned by fish because of the spread of water hyacinth. Our land has been stripped of logs, only forest products can be collected. But only a few have such permits. My father just cultivates dry fields..."

"Who's your father?"

"Upo Solai Puaq."

I remembered who his father was. He was my cousin.

"Your dad was my playmate. I used to go downstream myself by boat to school in Damai, but once it almost sank. Later I went to secondary and high school in Samarinda, before attending college in Yogyakarta and settling in Jakarta."

"You must be Pelanuk Muntih Jelo," the other youth at the bow said. "Only bapak Pelanuk Muntih Jelo has not returned. The others have been back, so we recognize them."

"You're right. You are brothers?"

"Yes, we are."

"Where's your dad's school?"

"Dad never attended school. Neither did mom. Rinding has no school. Only two houses are now left, or three with Usmaha Tinga's home, which nearly collapsed because it had been left abandoned for so long."

I could not express my emotions. When the boat was moored at the spot where villagers bathed, I suddenly remembered how Tingang and I had caught uncle Kojajanga stepping out of the house of a woman, Mileuwaq, during that foggy dawn when we went to check on the crocodile.

Perhaps in an attempt to avert suspicion, Kojajanga said he was checking that crocodile we had tied to the wild mango tree was dead.

Now, I jumped onto the shore. As I looked in the direction of downstream, a river extended to the east, seemingly penetrating a marshy forest.

"The bay has been cut off," said the one at the stern. "There were big floods and the family graves by the bay were washed away, because its plains were shattered by mighty flows of flood water."

I felt apprehensive. So the graves of my ancestors had vanished along with the broken bay that turned into a river?

Suddenly there was the sound of a gong struck repeatedly, signaling a death. In whose home? In my parents'? Or in Upo Solai Puaq's? I started going up the hill as fast as possible.

I was no stranger here but I was confused that there were only two houses. Where were the hundreds of homes from the past? It was like those deserted mining towns after workers sought new sources of livelihood in other places.

I knew in my heart that the sound came from my parents' home.

As I hurried into the house, I saw six or seven unfamiliar faces in the packed room.

An old man looked up and called me. "You're back home, Pelanuk Muntih Jelo?"

His voice was unchanged though his face and body were different. He was my father.

I was suddenly swept by an intense feeling of alienation. Why had my mom been taken and not my father? I had left for 40 years, never believing I would return for one day, and now the smell of death and decay pervaded my village.

I looked for my brother among the faces. Had death taken him to? And would it now take me as well, like it had taken my mom, the forests, the crocodiles and what had once been my beautiful home.
Translated by Aris Prawira

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July 05, 2008

The Sublime Truth

Short story: The Sublime Truth

The Jakarta Post, Sunday, April 27, 2008

By Garniasih

It was a Sunday afternoon and no one would blame the day for being so cold, after all winter had arrived just on time.

Silence ruled every path covered by snow, one could hardly hear the breeze rustling in the leaves.

Why would anyone be plodding along outside at this hour when they could be inside, having a hot cup of coffee rather than the surge of chill that seemed to freeze the blood? But this man with his head buried beneath an ebony hood kept walking, though his feet were literally dying.

Not far from here ... I'm sure of it. Come on ... a few more steps. You won't let it go this time ...

Something was waiting for him, and through the darkening day he tried to move his feet a bit faster, as if time were the only challenge he would have to defeat.

Suddenly he stopped, trying to remember how the cottage looked the last time he saw it. Closing his eyes, he had not intended to get the memories back in his head.

Then, moving slightly toward the "standing wooden box", his feet were heavier than ever, hundreds of tons it seemed. He was not afraid though, since by then he had more than five years to come to a final decision in doing this. But as he came closer to the door, he knew he was more than just terrified.

Trembling and shivering not merely for the cold, his left hand reached for the handle of the rickety door.

Have faith in what you're doing ...

Every second from then on counted the time he had left to live a normal life.

"Enjoy the moment Richard," his wife would always say. "You will regret every single moment you skipped just to avoid the sad part of this world ...."

How he desperately wanted the presence of his late wife, and not only her, there were two more parts taken away from him. Sassy, the eldest and the only one who was always able to bring him back from work late at night to make sure he got enough rest. Just 17, she would have had a lot of new experiences in high school, but it was gone in vain.

Randy, an extraordinary boy. How he had always loved the jokes that slipped out from his tiny 8-year-old hero. Three people out of thousands, who made his life perfect, were gone, and it surely took another important thing: his life.

Grasping the handle, he slowly pushed the door until it opened a creak. Squinting through the dusty air, he once again smelled the typical wooden odor. He took a deep breath and stood there for several minutes.

This was where the whole family spent most of their holidays. A nice little cottage perfect for the four of them. But there were not going to be any more family holidays, not after the terrible incident that had left him all alone. And since, he had left all the sweet memories locked up in that place, forbidden for others, hoping not to ever have to open the door again. Perhaps he was just wishing, from the moment he lost everything, that something would remain, something that would keep him alive, love that was lost for good.

He had no time to turn and run away. After all these years of living more like a fugitive of an unforgivable crime. But what he was seeing now was supposed to be the healing spring for all those buried pains. The dim light was turned on, and gently he stepped in. Nothing had moved an inch. Pictures of smiling faces filled the living room; one would think they were retelling the exact feelings they experienced.

Coming up here was a challenge, he had to face things that once brought him happiness. If only they still could do it, if only they could still build some castles in the sky high above, if only ... suddenly he spotted something, there was a case under the dining table, perfectly wrapped by brown leather.

Is it? Can it be? Yes, this is it ...

Moving gently, he first leaned forward and had a long look at the case while trying to figure out what it might contain. Then he squatted and began to touch the edges, his soul was suddenly filled with feelings he could barely understand. Brushing off the dust, he made a decision to open the forgotten case.

There were so much to see, books, pieces of scattered papers, some sort of silhouettes and more pictures. A tiny notepad caught his attention not because of its bright scarlet color, but rather the fine handwritten words that ran across the cover:

Collected Poems & Quotations of the Reynalds

He carefully opened the notepad and started reading the first quotation that appeared, so familiar, "The greatest pleasure I know, is to do a good action by stealth, and to have it found out by accident." (Table Talk by the late Elia. The Athenaeum, 4 Jan., 1834) This was one of his late wife's favorite things to say while she gave a big smile to her beloved husband, expecting that one day he would find out what it meant. Below that was another quotation, this time from the Bible: "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed; for the Lord thy God is with thee, whithersoever thou goest." (Joshua 1:9)

Silence and loneliness had always accompanied him, but this last sentence started to fill his soul, emerging as his new best friend. He touched every single word, trying to hear it repeating again and again in him.

He shut his eyes and there came three smiling faces, the people he loved most. Those words were waiting right there to be read one day by a desperate and lonely man hungry for love. Struck by the sudden truth, he realized that all this time he was never alone nor left alone, because He was there, and forever will He be with him.***

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July 02, 2008

What's Poetry

What's poetry

The Jakarta Post, Sunday, July 15, 2001

What's Poetry?

One shouldn't write poetry,
For the sake of writing poetry,
A subject or a thought,
That catches the mind,
A thought that steals your heart,
That stirs and emboldens the mind.
Poetry should be something Divine,
An emotion out of the blue,
It should help us to fly,
On the wings of fancy.
A thought provoking sonnet,
Promises the company of a friend.
A lunatic, a lover, a poet,
Are of imagination all compact
Said the famous bard.
Do you agree with the bard?
Is poetry an emotion recollected in tranquility?

So that one should be inspired.
The limitless inspiration,
The power of imagination,
A willing suspension of disbelief,
Can give you the strength and belief,
To write and enjoy poetry,
In its infinite variety.

By Sapna Deepak

Time, Playing with a Kaleidoscope . .

Time, playing with a kaleidoscope (his toy),
Moved it a bit with a twist of his wrist
Breaking a pattern;
And other shapes come settling in place,
Color making room for color
Forming another pattern,
Until Time, playing with the kaleidoscope, his toy,
Moves it a bit with a twist of his wrist
Changing the pattern again

By Bibsy Soenharjo

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