All That Is Gone (Tjerita Dari Blora) by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

All That Is Gone is another masterpiece by Pramoedya of short stories compiled, said to be adapted from his own childhood. Although I initially thought that this is supposed to be the English translation of its Indonesian title Tjerita Dari Blora (Stories from Blora), later I found out that only seven out of the original stories are included in the book, added with an additional short story originally appeared in another work by Pram, Dawn. As for whether the other three short stories from Tjerita Dari Blora are also translated or what happen to the English translation of those three, I have no clue yet. In the preface by Willem Samuels, it is indeed said that this selection was by the Pram’s personal favorites themselves.

The original story, Jang Telah Hilang is literally translated into All That Is Gone, and become the first story in the book itself. The story itself is full of nostalgic note of the main character’s childhood, and hence the title: All That Is Gone. The story is presented from the point of view of a child, not yet fully comprehending the political tension and situation which was happening at the moment of the story, which, at that time was the Indonesia-to-be, still was the Dutch East Indies under the rule of Dutch colonials. Not only that, it also presents the culture and belief of the Javanese at that time in the perspective of a child still very naive. All these are set in the house of the main character, near the River Lusi which personified in the author’s narrative as the witness of all that has happened—all that is gone. To me, this serves as a perfect beginning of the book, welcoming the readers into the author’s world, and perhaps one of the strongest stories in it. I say one of the strongest, because as expected of Pram, he didn’t stop there to get you book hangover.

Another favourites of mine are two stories titled Acceptance and Revenge. The first one is a story of Sri’s family, who’s been forced to leave Sekolah Rakjat  (the elementary school at that time) at a very early age in order to take care of her younger siblings after their mother passed away, while their father and three other older siblings were too occupied with their own jobs and political involvement, neglecting four children with little to care for their health and securities. This one is probably the longest stories in the book, following the struggles of Sri to provide for her brothers and sisters, and at the same time, trying to make their father and eldest sister who lived closest to them at that time, to understand Sri and the younger children’s situations, but then left herself to become submissive to her elders. Following the political turmoil and ever-changing power on the throne—the Japanese occupation, the independence day, the invasion of the Red Army and the coup afterwards—the kids were neglected further to accept their fate, unable to do much about it, and hence, teaching them very well the meaning of acceptance itself. Probably the most heartbreaking story, it’s easy to believe that Sri’s story depicts the chaos happening back then and the impact it has on the common folks like Sri and her younger siblings. This is exactly like one of the saying we have in Indonesian: “Gajah bertarung lawan gajah, pelanduk mati di tengah-tengah” (Elephants wage war against elephants, deer die in the midst—taken from wikiquote.org).

“Their laughter brought some respite from hunger but also the knowledge that they had learned to resign themselves to the situation, that they had come to accept things as they were. This was no crime, they had decided. Acceptance was a tool for survival, a means to get by.”

The latter one is the most unforgettable story, actually a story taken out of the three original stories from Dawn, also by Pramoedya. The title Revenge depicts the desire of most Indonesians at that time, tired of colonisation and oppression, hence trying to get revenge on just anyone who looked suspicious enough. In this story, the unfortunate revenge was done to a pilgrim accused of being a British spy. Being a soldier himself, the main character described with horror and tremor what his comrades did to get the suspected pilgrim to confess, at the same time, coming to a conclusion that being a soldier was not for him.

“It dawned on me that torture was the only thing these people were capable of doing. It was their second nature, no different from the pickpocket with his innate skill of lifting wallets, the lawyer with his gift of gab, the accountant with his ledger, and the doctor with his cures. And this was the verdict handed down by a court whose members were intoxicated by their own sense of intoxication. It was a court whose members despised the police for never having protected them and who hated informers for revealing to the Japanese their hidden supplies of food. Experience had taught them nothing about the proper role of judges.”

* * *

Only after some time that I got my hands on the original 1952 publication of Tjerita Dari Blora, still written in the old Indonesian spelling, undergoing a change only in the spelling of “oe” into “u.” The rest of the spellings themselves appear the same to me (do correct me if I’m wrong.) This book is supposed to be the original version of All That Is Gone. As I have never checked the newer version of this book (already using the New Order Speling—Ejaan Yang Disempurnakan (EYD), hence the title is written Cerita Dari Blora), I am sorry to admit that I don’t know whether the number of stories included is the same, as well as the stories in it, but this older publication has the original 11 short stories (Jang Sudah Hilang, Jang Menjewakan Diri, Inem, Sunat, Kemudian Lahirlah Dia, Pelarian Jang Tak Ditjari, Hidup Jang Tak Diharapkan, Hadiah Kawin, Anak Haram, Dia Jang Menjerah, & Jang Hitam). Initially unaware that the English version, All That Is Gone, contains of only 7 stories and one additional story not from the Indonesian counterpart, I ended up disappointed not finding the Indonesian version of Revenge. However, I didn’t let myself be disappointed for too long, since I get to read four new stories I haven’t read in the English translations: Jang Menjewakan Diri, Pelarian Jang Tak Ditjari, Hidup Jang Tak Diharapkan, and Anak Haram.

Out of these four, two of them stand out the most to me: Pelarian Jang Tak Ditjari (Unseeked Runaway—rough translation) and Anak Haram (Illegitimate Child—rough translation).

The first one tells a story of Siti, a witless country girl who married Siman who were just as stupid as her. Because of their stupidity, unfortunately, their situation soon changed. Siman was unable to get a lot of money to provide for his family, and when one of their children got sick, Siman was ready to sacrifice his kid due to the lack of money, causing a quarrel between the couple which later led to violence. This soon triggered Siti’s runaway.

Siti was stranded and finally ended up in a warung located between Blora and Djepon. The need for money to provide for herself finally forced her to use her youth and charm to the customers coming to the warung. Although finding it hard in the beginning, she soon got used to it, and the memory she has for her neglected family was slowly fading out.

Meanwhile, Ahjat in the story Anak Haram, suffered from bullying from his friends and teachers in his school, being the child of a father who once turned his back on his own country. A traitor. Therefore, Ahjat seeked for comfort in music. In fact, he doted on music very much, and he played the instruments just as well. Contemplating of his own situation, with only Mini and his music teacher to console him, he went home to seek tranquility in his piano. But that was not enough. Ahjat liked the piano, but not as much as the violin, so he asked his parents for one. Little did he know that the violin and the very sound of the instrument itself was closely intertwined with his father’s dark past, but Ahjat was sensitive enough to understand his father was not fond of his favorite instrument nor did he fulfil Ahjat’s wish to own the instrument. So, trying to be agreeable to his parents, he vowed not to play the violin again, especially in the house, with his father around. And he succeeded. At least until his music teacher finally decided to give him a violin.

* * *

One of the thing I really like about most of Pram’s work is how the theme in each of his story never really shows any allegiance toward a specific side of religion or allegiance. Instead, he tried to show a strong message of humanity, which to me was shown strongly especially in Revenge, but not neglected as well in his other stories. What he shows is not which ideology is right or wrong, but what happen to those who got tangled in the middle of the clash of ideologies, the helpless folk who are only able to be swept aside back and forth, and many times, suffer and died out in the midst of it. It shows the multiple face of those people holding on to certain beliefs—how they seemed to appear to one side, but so differently towards the other side as well. This was shown in the story Acceptance, where the family was entangled between Nationalism, Communism, and the remnants of the colonialism who still tried to fight back. We also see a different side of this through Ahjat’s father who happened to be someone who decided to put his allegiance on the “wrong” side for the means of survival, and later suffered and punished because of this misdeeds. Unfortunately, the punishment also extends to his offspring. And in Revenge, Pram couldn’t be clearer when showing the sad human nature which could come to the surface when the soul is fed with hatred and disappointment for too long, which indeed, still happen as long as the human race exist. The 1740 pogrom, the 1945 “Bersiap” and the 1965 coup have proven this to be true. In the end, there are always at least two sides of a coin instead of just one. But many times, only one side appears, that is, the side of the winner, and this is not always the right one.

“There is nothing more disastrous in life than a stupid judge. The same kind of stupidity that was evident here had also killed Socrates, Giordano, Bruno, Galileo, and Jesus.” —from Revenge, by Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

Please keep in mind that the thoughts and opinions written here are my own interpretation, which might differ from others.

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Letters of A Javanese Princess by Raden Adjeng Kartini & Agnes Louise Symmers

Raden Adjeng Kartini, or more known now simply as Kartini, is one of Indonesia’s most acclaimed heroines prior to the country’s independence day. Every year on 21 April, local schools usually commemorate the image of Kartini by having female students to dress up in batik kebaya and sometimes having traditional competition in schools. Back then, I learned about Kartini simply as a heroine who was among the first to fight for women’s right, especially for education, because my history books and my teachers said so. I did remembered one of my history teachers said that it was thanks to Kartini that we girls are now able to pursue education up to that level. However, outside Indonesia, she was famously known by those familiar with Indonesian history or the Dutch East Indies back then, even during her time, through the letters she wrote to many of her friends, where she really dedicated her time to write down her thoughts on various things related to her motherland and, of course, on the native women.

She was born on 21 April 1879 as the fifth child and second eldest daughter in an aristocratic Javanese family. Her father was a regent of Jepara, a government official, and from the letters, we could deduced that even back then, Kartini’s family was a bit different than most families in Java back then, because dating from her grandparents’ time, each children in the family, especially the boys, were all sent to schools and encouraged to read a lot, and hence, to study and to learn. Yet, even then, when they reached a certain age, the girls would then be called back home to continue their education to be a good, dutiful housewives until they were taken to their future husbands’ home. (Read more of the biography in the Wikipedia.)

I never really thought about the significance of Kartini’s letter or her contribution to her country until I read Letters of a Javanese Princess.

The book is a compilation of her letters written to many of her European friends during her lifetime, and published about 15 years after her death in 1904. The Dutch title is Door Duisternis tot Licht and translated into Indonesian as Habis Gelap Terbitlah Terang.

I just finished reading the whole book the day before yesterday, and it gave me a book hangover.

I read her first letter in the book and fell in love with the book right away. Throughout the book, I could see and feel her passion and energy toward learning. She wanted so much to continue studying in schools, and later, to pursued her passion further in the Netherlands—but alas, it was very uncommon back then for women to continue studying in schools after the age of 12 because by that time, they needed to start focusing on preparing themselves to be a good wife-to be and daughter-in-law-to be. But she tried to fight this tradition, and eventually, her father allowed her to go out occasionally during special events. It looked as though, despite Kartini’s protest on her seclusion, she was actually among the few lucky ones who were allowed to do so, and were even still allowed to continue studying by herself at home. It was quite obvious from the letters how much love the father and the daughter shared for each other, up to the point where Kartini was ready to give up her dreams if it meant sacrificing her father’s happiness. But she managed to learn many things through reading during her seclusion anyway. I took down as many titles I could find in the letters and googled the free e-book versions later. At a very young age, she already read a lot of books about her country and she was probably one of the most modern, open-minded women at that time. I got so excited upon reading her letters and her thoughts, and wondering what she would say if she could see the present-day Indonesia. I think that even in the present, if Kartini was still alive, she would still be considered very modern (especially looking at how, as time goes forward, this country seemed to go backward, becoming more medieval instead), and even put together with a lot of leading minds and women leader in the country, perhaps not even they could produce the same thought and ideas. I felt so in awe with Kartini after reading this book.

She hated the tradition and the culture that seemed to determine the fate of many Javanese women without considering their thought on marriage, as well as because the two also hindered her path to pursue education further. She said:

I would still go further, always further. I do not desire to go out to feasts, and little frivolous amusements. That has never been the cause of my longing for freedom. I long to be free, to be able to stand alone, to study, not to be subject to any one, and, above all, never, never to be obliged to marry.

I didn’t think, however, that she, in particular, was against marriage completely. I thought she was more against the tradition of having marriage as the only highest and noblest goal women back then could have, especially when the men they were marrying were the ones simply decided by the family, without having to have the women’s consent or even presence during the betrothal arrangement.

And about her seclusion, she shared her feelings through this:

Gone, gone was her merry childhood; gone everything that made her young life happy. She still felt herself such a child, and she was that in fact too, but the law placed her inexorably among the full grown. And she to whom no ditch was too broad to be leapt, no tree too high to be climbed, who loved nothing so much as to run like a wild cold in the meadows, must now be calm, composed and grace, as beseemed a Javanese young lady of a high and noble house.

As much as she longed to continue staying in school and learn, she did not keep this dream only for herself. She also longed to have other women to long for the same thing, instead of being like another obedient little daughter, like a “wooden doll”, only doing what is told and expected of them. She wanted others to have the same chance, just like the boys, and she was more than ready to help her fellow countrywomen to learn. She inspired her younger sisters, Kleintje and Roekmini to do the same, and together, they wished so much to open a school for girls, and were even ready to “work for it in some other way, ask our friends to subscribe, start a lottery or something,” should the government against their plan.

I know that the way I wish to go is difficult, full of thorns, thistles, pitfalls; it is stormy, rough, slippery and it is—free! And even though I shall not be happy after I have reached my goal, though I may give way before it is half reached, I shall die gladly, for the path will then have been broken, and I shall have helped to clear the way which leads to freedom and independence for the native women.

And just as much as she hated the way old traditions treated native women, she felt the same toward religion, although in the end she managed to regain her faith upon finally realising that it was not the belief or the religion itself that kept disappointing her, but its massive followers. Yet she kept calling out for peace and scorned the misdeeds done in the name of religion.

O God! Sometimes I wish that there had never been a religion because that which should unite mankind into one common brotherhood has been through all the ages a cause of strife, of discord, and of bloodshed. Members of the same family have persecuted one another because of the different manner in which they worshipped one and the same God. Those who ought to have been bound together by the tenderest love have turned with hatred from one another. Differences of Church, albeit in each the same word, God, is spoken, have built a dividing wall between two throbbing hearts. I often ask myself uneasily: is religion indeed a blessing to mankind? Religion, which is meant to save us from our sins, how many sins are committed in thy name?

We think that love is the highest religion, and must one be a Christian in order to love according to that Heavenly command? For the Buddhist, the Brahmin, the Jew, the Mohammedan and even the Heathen can lead lives of pure love.

However, the chains of old traditions which shackled her didn’t, surprisingly, lessened her love and passion for her land’s cultural art and customs. She loved the music—the sound of gamelan in particular, the paintings and literature made by the natives, from the most educated minds to the ones less educated, and she thought highly of her native Javanese language.

Have you any desire to learn the Javanese language? It is difficult—certainly, but it is beautiful. It is sentient language; often the words seem to be conscious, they express so much. We are astonished sometimes, own children we are of the country, at the cleverness of our fellow countrymen. Things of which one could never imagine anything could be made, they express charmingly. Name something in the dark, give out a subject at random, and a simple Javanese will immediately make a rhyme that astonishes by its aptness and clearness. This facility belongs peculiarly to our Eastern people.

I remembered back in elementary school where my English teacher was teaching us new vocabularies of animals and that not all little, younger animals who haven’t matured yet can be called differently, just like “dog” and “puppy,” and then compared it with the Indonesian language and Javanese. He eventually admitted proudly how rich the Javanese vocabularies are.

Did a dreamy song never reach you then? the song of a Javanese, who sings to his family and to his neighbours—of love—of heroic deeds, and glittering pageantry—of beauty and of wisdom; of mighty men and women, princess and princesses of the long ago. It is that loveliest hour when the Javanese, tired from the hard day’s work, seek rest in song, dreaming all his cares away, wholly lost in the singing far away past, whither his song leads him.

I wonder where have all these old customs gone. An article which is related to the 1965 tragedy brought my attention a couple days ago (click here to read it in Indonesian). In it, the author talked about how imaginative and culturally rich Indonesian people back then prior to the mass killings—especially those from lower-income class like farmers. It was a custom for farmers to actually dance and sing to celebrate the harvest, yet now… there’s the harvest, and that’s it. How I long to be able to see such thing. (Sigh.)

Another thing that caught and crossed my mind when I was reading this book was, other than the letters which made me in love with the book right away, is the language style used in the letters itself. I suppose I can’t help noticing, even though it’s the English translation, how strong the emotions shown with each words, especially when it comes to expressing love to the recipients of the letters whenever Kartini wrote about how much she loved him or her, and how she longed to be with them, to kiss their cheeks, and care for them. I know that it’s a translation, and I wish so bad that I could read her letters in the language in which the letters were written, except that I do not know any word of Dutch—even though some Indonesian words are adapted from Dutch, yes—so I could only imagine how it was written and expressed in its original language; I could probably look for the Indonesian translation, but it would still be a translation. However, what crossed my mind whenever I read such emotions strongly expressed in the sentences is the question whether back then every one actually expressed things similarly. And one thought lead to another, so I wondered again, since I do not know many people who do the same thing in the present days, whether the communication between one another now is becoming less intense and personal because we now have sophisticated technology to back us up such as Instant Messaging, SMS, emails, telephones and video callings. If I were born in that much older eras, would I write in a similar way?

But now I’m starting to ramble again. I would definitely recommend this books to my feminist friends, as well as my male friends—well everyone who might be interested in reading more about the past Dutch East Indies from the perspective of Kartini, if not about Kartini’s life itself. She was definitely an exceptional figure, and I wish I could have a time machine to transport me back to that time so I could have a chat with her. (Stop being delusional, Dian!) Back then, I simply considered this as something of the past—a part of the past that has shaped the present days, but still a part of a distant past, and not significant enough for today. But I suppose this book has helped me to appreciate Kartini’s effort more.

Tempo Doeloe by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

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Another masterpiece by Pramoedya, I have to admit this book has taken me by surprise. The title said it from the beginning: “Tempo Doeloe: Antologi Sastra Pra-Indonesia,” and once I accidentally opened the book halfway before I started to read it, I was mixed with both surprise and thrill to find out that the book is written with the old Indonesian spelling.

The book, compiled by one of Indonesia’s most prominent writer, contains 8 short stories written not by Pram himself, but instead by various different writers in during the late 19th to early 20th century. This was when Indonesia was known as the Dutch East Indies back then. Even though he did discussed a number of literary works written in that era, Pram said that he decided to collect and select only the ones with similar theme that could chronologically sum up the progress of the politics-social-economic situations of the citizens, especially the ones that keeps getting worse towards the natives, starting from the 17th century up to the 19th century. Pram also decided not to change the language style and spelling of the original versions, although I kind of wonder whether he at least simplified it–and this is what I had previously stated as the one that had taken me by surprise earlier. Only recently finishing another book by Pramoedya, Sang Pemula, I decided to move on to this book just because Pram kept referring to this book in his biography of R. M. Tirto Adhi Soerjo. As soon as I found out that the stories are written in Bahasa Melayu Pasar (Malay), I recalled my experience of struggling with the language style used in Sang Pemula, which mostly consisted of articles written by Tirto Adhi Soerjo in Malay language used during his time. Therefore, it’s no wonder that I only expected to meet the same struggle. Turned out I was wrong, and this was what had really strike me.

Despite the old spelling and the old style, as well as the use of words that has now either unused or change in meaning, I found it much easier actually to understand the meaning. Even much easier than when reading Sang Pemula. Pram did provided footnotes for each stories with explanations of those long-forgotten words, but many times I found it unnecessary because I already deduced the meaning, and when I decided to double check, I only found confirmation of what I had guessed before.

Now, the 8 short stories in the book are: Dari Boedak Sampe Djadi Radja (A Slave Who Becomes A King) by F. Wiggers–which tells a story of Surapati, Pieter Elberveld by Tio Ie Soei, Tjerita Rossina (A Story About Rossina) & Tjerita Si Tjonat (A Story About Tjonat), both by F. D. J. Pangemanann, Tjerita Njai Dasima (A Story About Njai Dasima) by G. Francis, and the last two are Tjerita Kong Hong Nio (A Story About Kong Hong Nio) & Tjerita Nji Paina (A Story About Nji Paina) written by H. Kommer.

Looking into an insight of the Dutch East Indies, we could find out more about the condition and situation of the era from multiple perspective (the Natives’, the Chinese’s, and the Indo’s). My personal favorites are Tjerita si Tjonat and Tjerita Kong Hong Nio.

I did learned that the Dutch used to enforce a racial politics where people were supposed to dressed up based on their race, and they would need formal letter of permission to allow themselves wearing outfits belonging to other racial groups. Or that the term “Islam” or “Slam” was used to address the Natives, regardless of their actual religion.

Of course, as a language geek, the language style and the old spelling are amongst those that really intrigued me. Even simple stuff such as “kabaja” that apparently means pajamas, or the term “peloek dada” (literally “hugging one’s own breast”) means folding your arms, and “menjaru” means to disguise yourself, even those really captivates me.

What’s even more interesting is the thought-provoking comments on the back of the book that the enforced New Spelling created by Soeharto’s regime during the New Order is merely politics in disguise, yet it had unfairly treated literary works belonged to the previous Order as old and outdated.

Overall, again, I would highly recommend this book to you who are interested in Indonesian history, or you who are just a language geek like me (I’m still checking my geekiness level… Hold on), or perhaps are interested to the history of Indonesian language. I think at this point we can safely assume that I already fell in love with this book.

Habibie & Ainun (2012)

This is a biographical movie telling the love story of the former Indonesian president, B. J. Habibie and his one and only wife, the late Hasri Ainun Besari (later Ainun Habibie). Adapted from a book with the same title, written by Habibie himself, this movie takes the audience into a roller-coaster of emotion revolving around their life. Going back to the days when they were together in high school, the movie portrays further their life onwards up to the day Ainun passed away, which means this include the day they got married, moved to Germany, and then went back to Indonesia and the day Habibie became the vice president and later, the 3rd president of Indonesia.

“Habibie & Ainun” Movie Poster

The lead actor, Reza Rahadian, is one of the main reason I so badly wanted to see this movie. I saw him acted before in three different movies which I’ve come to like: Alangkah Lucunya (Negeri Ini), 3 Hati 2 Dunia 1 Cinta, and Tanda Tanya, and his performance in this movie haven’t change my opinion of how good he is as an actor. I never really saw him act like he was in the movie–he became a completely different person, with a different attitude and even the way he altered his intonation and articulation when he speak is brilliantly meticulous. Of course, I might be clouded by me being a fan of his already, but I do think it deserves an applause.

As for the lead actress, the prominent Indonesian actress Bunga Citra Lestari played Habibie’s wife, Ainun. I believe that Bunga (also known with her initial: BCL) is a very good and talented actress, and she did played Ainun wonderfully. My favorite scene is probably (SPOILER ALERT!) the one when she got homesick during the early years of her marriage with Habibie, and she tried to hold it back inside, but when her husband asked, she finally spilled and cried. Another one is the scenes when she got diagnosed with ovarian cancer and finally hospitalized. Probably one of the most touching scene throughout the movie, we could see a very strong connection between Habibie and his wife when he got anxious waiting outside the operation room and insisted to get inside and accompanied his wife because he thought she might be worried about him. Then when he finally got in after the operation, he asked gently what got Ainun worried sick. She weakly shook her head when he asked whether she felt any pain (there’s one more question but I forgot), but she finally nodded her head when he asked whether she’d been worried about him instead. Then he reassured her that he’d taken his meds (he was diagnosed with tuberculosis early in the movie, when he was still young). Most certainly, this got me and the girls sitting next to me sobbing badly. And the way BCL depicted Ainun’s last days on bed, when she got very sick that she could not talk and had to struggled hard to merely lift her hands was really touching and brought me into tears. However, I don’t think this movie has really shown the extent of what BCL could do with her act. For me, at least, it’s not enough.

Reza Rahadian as Habibie & BCL as Ainun

One thing that got me pretty disappointed is the lack of a full portrayal of the time when Habibie got involved in politics and then elected as the vice-president to the late Soeharto. All we see is Habibie got home one day after the night before promising Ainun a cruise trip, telling her that they might have to delay that because he’s gonna be the vice president of Indonesia. Of course, later I remembered that this is a story of both Habibie AND Ainun, not just Habibie himself, but still, I was hoping they would show more of his journey of becoming the vice president. But again, I haven’t really read the book itself, Habibie & Ainun, so I don’t really know whether Habibie also wrote a lot about that one as well or not.

But overall, I really enjoy the movie, and despite usually preferring other movies than a cliché and cheesy romance, I’d definitely looking forward to buy the DVD later. …or maybe I again got clouded by this idea that no matter how cheesy these romances are, they did happened for real.

I’m not sure whether this is a movie guys would want to see because I know several guys who did watched it and liked it, and I also know those who lacked interest in watching it (which made it so hard for me to find companion to watch it), but I’d definitely recommend this movie.

FYI, this movie is delivered in two different languages: Bahasa Indonesia and Germany, but movies like this usually got me in doubt of how good the foreign language is in the movie (in this case, the Germany language), so I don’t know whether the Germany spoken by Indonesians in the movie a natural, good Germany or a broken one instead, but considering the frequency of the language spoken (which is a lot), I’d assumed that it has to be quite good, at least.

P.S. Oh, and this is definitely a tearjerker.

Lewat Djam Malam (After the Curfew) (1954)

Lewat Djam Malam (After the Curfew) is actually a 1954 Indonesian movie which was played in the Cannes Film Festival last May, and was restored by the Italian L’immagine Ritrovata, funded, not even by the Indonesian government, but instead by the National Museum of Singapore and the World Cinema Foundation, based on an article I read in The Jakarta Globe.

This is an old movie, even older than my parents, so why oh why, instead of making a newer version of the film, they insisted on restoring it instead? This has sure piqued my curiosity.

A. N. Alcaff as Iskandar

The movie summarize the story where idealism meets reality as Iskandar, who, as a soldier, once fought for the Indonesian revolution, hoping that the country he fought for would become a better country, which would provide a better future for its citizens, ended up in a broken heart as he found out that apparently the country turned out to be nothing at all like what he’d imagined. First of all, as he returned to a society life in Bandung, West Java, and stayed at his fiancé’s house along with her family, he found that readjusting to a life post-independence wasn’t as easy as he thought. Initially he told his fiancé, Norma, that all he wanted was to live a quiet life in the suburbs as a peaceful farmer with Norma by his side. But as he started his first job in the governor’s office due to his future father-in-law’s pressure, he started to question himself. Whether his very definition of his country actually exist at all. Whether his fight back then during the revolution was really a fight for the cause of the country he loves. Then he met his friends who used to serve with him in the army, and he became even more brokenhearted finding out that the fight he fought was merely to fulfill his the personal ambition of his superior, Gunawan to get his hands on wealth and fortune. Iskandar had suspected all along as he saw how the figure he used to honor and follow became a part of a corrupted capitalists. And despite trying her best to understand him, Iskandar didn’t think Norma ever understood exactly his grief of the nation’s fate going down, because Norma came from a bourgeois family, belonged to the upper class society, who were not familiar with despair, hunger and tarnished wishes. On the other hand, when he met Laila, a prostitute kept by his former subordinate in the army, Puja, he saw the suffering of the low class society as they could do nothing but hope for a better life they’d never cease to wish for, yet in the end, the hope stays merely as a hope, an unfulfilled one.

Laila

As the frustrated Iskandar tried to resolve this problem and agitation on his own, his own fate was determined toward the end of the movie.

“Siapa yang tidak kuat melawan kelampauan akan hancur.” ~Gafar, Lewat Djam Malam

“Those who cannot fight the past would vanish.” ~Gafar, After the Curfew (roughly translated by me)

“Lewat Djam Malam” old movie poster, taken from Wikipedia

Starring A. N. Alcaff as Iskandar and Netty Herawati and directed by Usmar Ismail, I think this movie is totally a must-watch one, despite me being put off now and then by Laila’s brief-but-constant singing in a few scenes (I mean, they didn’t have Sinetron back then, right?). I agree with the review I read in the Hey Diaspora! magazine that the movie deserves more attention, because of its first class quality in the themes, plot, and act. Of course it’s incomparable in the matter of cinematography and sound effects (it’s a restored movie, come on!) with the modern-day movies as they did admit that the restoration took “great pains,” but overall, I was glad that I decided to watch the movie. Yet despite all that, there were hardly 20 audiences in the theater when despite it being only the 2nd day it was played in Surabaya (and only one theater out of fifteen), and less than a week after I watched it, it was no longer played when I checked the 21 Cineplex website. Too bad. I love every part of the movie (yes, despite the brief-but-constant singing), the story, the act (how deeply explored each character was, in my opinion), the language–oh yes, the language! The movie used a more formal, Malay Indonesian, or more of what I’d like to refer to as the Transatlantic Indonesian. There are many terms and expressions unfamiliar to the Javanese-Indonesian used around me nowadays, such as, “Mengekori sarung kebaya,” (means chasing women; “sarung kebaya” refers to the outfit worn by women at that time), or “Kita mesti gasak semua penghalang” (means “We must banish all the obstacles,” but “gasak” is a word seldomly used in the contemporary Indonesian now, as far as I know). And I can’t even believe that I’ve forgotten the existence of the word “Semampai.” I remember getting really excited as the movie started, seeing so many Indonesian words in the movie credits (the verb “Mempersembahkan” instead of “Presents,” “Tjerita Asli dan Skenario” instead of “Original Story and Scenario,”Iringan Musik oleh” instead of “Music Accompaniments by,” or “Produksi” instead of “Production”), and all of them are written using the old Indonesian Spelling (“Tj” for “C”, “Dj” for “J,” also “J” for “Y”). Yes, yes, I’m such a nerd, but those are words and language that I don’t think I ever find in the modern day movie nowadays (as we now become more and more of an English mania).

As for the title itself, “Lewat Djam Malam” which is translated into “After the Curfew”, although I kind of think “Past Curfew” might fit better, refers to the curfew first pointed out at the beginning of the story, which was 10 PM, and the scenes occurred after the set curfew at that time.

I kept thinking that I would definitely go and watch the movie for the second time, but now, knowing that it’s not even played anymore, I suppose I’d go for the DVD instead. Yes, it’s worth-watching, and yes, now I see why they went through “great pains” to restore an old movie such as this.

* * *

“Kepada mereka jang telah memberikan sebesar-besar pengorbanan njawa mereka

Supaya kita jang hidup pada saat ini dapat menikmat segala kelezatan buah kemerdekaan…..

Kepada mereka jang tidak menuntut apapun buat diri mereka sendiri.”

~Lewat Djam Malam

“To those who have given the biggest sacrifice in the form of life

So that we who live today could have freedom and all that come with it…..

To those who did not pursue their personal desire.”

~After the Curfew, roughly translated by me (they did have the translation in the movie, perhaps a more proper one)

The Raid: Redemption (Serbuan Maut)

I’ve been noticing (and waiting impatiently) for the movie The Raid, ever since I saw my cousin posted its trailer on his facebook wall. I was awed by it, and even more surprised that this movie had gone international, going to release worldwide. Well, I’m not really that devoted to Indonesian movie industry until after I watched Sang Penari (The Dancer), so you could later confront me for this next sentence: I knew that it’s not the first time Indonesian movie goes international. I don’t really own a complete list of Indonesian movies which have gone worldwide, and what I could think of so far is only Pasir Berbisik (Whispering Sands), which has gotten about five awards in movie festivals, such as the Asia Pacific Film Festival, Singapore International Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival and Brisbane International Film Festival–and even up to now, I still haven’t watched the entire movie. I’ve seen it played and watched it for a while in one Indonesian channel once, but didn’t finished watching it eventually. I don’t remember whether it’s because I got bored in the end or because I had to do something else which apparently was more important and urgent than watching Dian Sastro and Christine Hakim.

Anyway, this movie was previously known as Serbuan Maut in Bahasa Indonesia, or just The Raid internationally, but as he explained in his blog dedicated for the movie, Gareth Evans and his team had to make a bit change in it in order for the movie to enter the United States of America. (Seriously, Americans, what the hell is wrong with ‘The Raid’??) Now it’s known officially as The Raid: Redemption. Gareth Evans (the director) also said that this probably is better since he was considering a trilogy–The Raid being the first part of the Trilogy.

The director, Gareth Evans, is apparently a Welsh, and seems like a big fan of Indonesian martial arts, known as Pencak Silat, or merely Silat. Other than guessing this based on all reviews I read from Times to some blogs reviewing this movie, I also assumed this based on watching a movie from the same director, collaborating with the same actor, Iko Uwais, called Merantau. In the one that I downloaded, it has the title Warrior, and I’m not really clear whether this supposed to be the English title for the movie, but the word ‘merantau’ itself doesn’t mean ‘warrior’ at all in English. In Bahasa Indonesia, ‘merantau’ is when you move from your parents’ lovely and comfy house, to a faraway places (mostly big cities) in order to get a better job, to make money, so when you return home, you could give back and repay what your parents had given to raise you and make you a decent person. The process of going away (and being far away from homeland) is called ‘merantau.’ (Seriously English, do you have words for that?) Now, the movie Merantau is also a full action movie. The storyline centers on a guy named Yuda, a guy from Minangkabau, West Sumatera, who went ‘merantau’ to the capital, Jakarta, to teach Pencak Silat to people there. That sure is such a naive and and nice goal for such a young man, but as he met another passenger in the bus on his way to Jakarta, the dream seems like too good to be true. After seeing a young beautiful girl being physically harassed on the street, Yuda ended up protecting the girl instead. Little did Yuda know at that time that the girl was actually one of the victim of human-trafficking business, led by a hot-headed European businessman, Ratger (Mads Koudal). The movie, just like The Raid, is of course, all full-action.

Merantau Movie Poster

Now, as much as I love the action as well as the beauty of the kicks, punches and the blood spattered captured magnificently by Evans, I hate to admit that I’m not a huge fan of the movie. The storyline is very simple, and quite predictable to me. But in terms of action, it blew me away. Super awesomeness.

Well, I’m not here to talk about Merantau, of course, but in one review I once read (I forgot which one, and I’m too lazy to track it back just so I could put the link. I would probably do this later), The Raid is said to be a prequel of Merantau.

It could probably make a perfect sense, especially since the main character and his estranged brother in the movie is played by the same actors in both movies, with the exact same relationship in their roles, except for the different names for both characters.

Iko Uwais

First of all, Iko Uwais’ character in The Raid: Redemption is called Rama, not Yuda. And this movie starts with the scene where Rama was waking up early, preparing himself by practicing his martial arts, and shalat (Islamic prayer) before he finally woke his pregnant wife, to say goodbye. Of course he said that he’ll be back soon.

Then we’re led to a truck where it’s filled with special cops (described as the Indonesian SWAT team) who were  preparing themselves to ambush a drug lord, Tama Riyadi (played by Ray Sahetapy), living in a 30-storey apartment, which is filled with criminals in most rooms.

Ray Sahetapy

Sneaking their way in to the apartment, they quietly kill and slay the criminals in each room, room by room, and floor by floor. It seems like everything was going really well.

Until they reached the 6th floor, where their existence is finally uncovered.

As the drug lord noticed them through one of his surveillance cameras (the building was apparently filled with cameras everywhere), he told the residents to welcome this unwanted visitors and “have fun.” The task already seems like an impossible task by then, and the future of those SWAT team seems so predictable.

The handsome Joe Taslim, who apparently is also a Judo athlete. Work that six-pack, Joe!

As already suspected by the leader of this ill-fated team, Sergeant Jaka (Joe Taslim), the team was actually sent for a suicide mission, being a part of a black-ops, and the backups promised to come earlier was nothing but a fake promise. They’re on their own.

As the team breaks and getting separated from each other, Rama (Iko Uwais) also needs to fight in order to survive–and to find his estranged brother, Andi (played by the charming Donny Alamsyah), who turns out is the right hand of Tama the drug lord. In order to do this, eventually he would later fight Tama’s deadly brutal and cruel hitman, known as Mad Dog (played by Yayan Ruhian, also co-coreographed the fighting in the movie with Iko himself).

Donny (also spelled as 'Doni) Alamsyah
Yayan Ruhian

Well, I’m not gonna give you any more spoiler, of course, but I hope my summary tease you enough to buy the ticket and watch the movie yourself in the theater.

Anyway, other than what I’m going to write next, the movie itself has received 3 awards internationally as well as positive critics.

I was actually worried about watching this first since I remember that I don’t really like Merantau. I don’t want this to be another cheesy, all action movie with meaningless expressions and acts. I mean, Iko Uwais (and Donny Alamsyah, hahaha) is definitely a good actor, but there’s not really much exploration in terms of storyline and acting. What he did in 90% of the movie is kick, punch, and show off his skill in Pencak Silat. And boy, isn’t he charming. It’s very obvious that Iko is definitely the man when it comes to Silat. But other than the fighting, Merantau is a cheesy romance, and towards the end of the movie, I was so bored that I immediately deleted the movie as soon as I finished watching.

But apparently, there’s not even 1% element of romance in The Raid, which probably lead to a conclusion that I may not be a huge fan of romance, really (says the woman who’ve read Amanda Scott’s Border Wedding twice and watched Ever After more than 5 times).

Anyway, as you’d probably read in most reviews (if you did read them, hopefully after watching the movie, not before), the movie is purely action, that without the action, it would probably be… super suck.

If you’re the kind of person who’s looking for a meaningful, heavily-themed, and serious movie like A Dangerous Method or Sang Penari (The Dancer), and not a fan of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan or Rush Hour, you’d probably be disappointed.

But if you’re crazy about the French movie Banlieue 13 and its sequel, adore Cyril Raffaeli and can’t get enough of Jet Li, this movie is definitely for you.

The movie does reminds me a bit of Banlieue 13 with all its action and plot, although, of course, the storyline is different, along with its setting, character, and style, but I do think they both have similar theme, especially towards the ending of the movie. I’m pretty curious about the sequel already.

Which would mean that I love the movie. Of course this would probably be a contradiction, since I already stated that I don’t like meaningless movie, with cheesy romance and such. But this one does not have a bit of romance in it, and despite its full action scene from beginning to end, again, I have to applaud Gareth Evans for making all the fighting looks so breathtaking, with the detail of each movement, capturing how Rama takes down all his opponents one by one. Oh, and slow motion effects, especially when the leader, Sergeant Jaka fired his riffle is just too awesome to miss. Despite being a very violent movie, I did managed to finish my large-size popcorn throughout the movie, while at the same time, watching Rama and Mad Dog slit their opponents’ throats. Of course, watching with me, you would need to bear the swearing and cursing which I shouted almost every time someone fall, or got bombed, or stabbed brutally, or when Rama awesomely took down his opponent. I guess everybody’s adrenaline got pumped as we got too excited watching all the never ending action because one time, when Rama amazingly took down one of the bad guy so skillfully, the audience around me were clapping their hands, applauding Iko’s mastery in his Silat. A guy sitting next to me was watching the movie with his peers, and he kept praising Iko’s skills, commenting his expertise on Silat with awe.

I do agree with one review I read which says that other than the action, one irrational thing about the movie, more specifically about the main character Rama, is the unrealistic stamina he has. I mean, Rama has been kicked, thrown, punched, despite punching and kicking himself, and fallen down several stories down out the window before landing on a kind of balcony thingy on a lower floor, yet he never seem to show exhaustion or tiredness and still managed to fight till the very end of the movie. I remember the same thing also happen in the movie Merantau. I mean, I know that this tireless trait is one thing that we are always looking for in every hero of martial arts movie. It’s what we always look for in legends such a Bruce Lee, Jet Li, or even the manga character Chinmi from Kung-Fu Boy. But even such legends never seem to own this trait. At some point, they would lose their power and energy, after fighting non-stop for quite a long time. Yet Rama (and Yuda in Merantau) appears to be some kind of superhuman with limitless energy. This might be something to think about for Gareth Evans for the next two sequels. Of course, the chance of him reading this is very little, but I’m hoping to see more of the storyline, and more down-to-earth, weakness, human-alike character for Rama in the so-called sequel, Berandal (meaning ‘thugs/brat’ in English).

Pierre Gruno

Another thing, perhaps, is the contradiction I found as the head of the operation, Lieutenant Wahyu (played by Pierre Gruno) complained to Sergeant Jaka for bringing rookie officers for such a dangerous operation (which is confusing–I mean, who would ever take rookies for that risky business? At the same time, it seems make sense since the operation is indeed, a suicide mission).

…but probably my Indonesian pride also created some biased arguments here, and perhaps explains why I really like this movie, because… it’s an Indonesian movie, for crying out loud! (Says the woman whose movie list is actually filled with Hollywood movies–oh, but I’ve been putting some Indonesian movies as well now.) Whichever it is, I’ve been considering to watch it for the second time. Perhaps this time, anyone would like to come with me?

Lobakan: Antologi Cerita Pendek (Kesenyapan Gemuruh Bali ’65)

I have no idea what ‘Lobakan’ means. I’ve checked both Google and Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian Dictionary) and found nothing about the word, but the words after the colon mean: “A compilation of short stories (The silenced thunderstorm of Bali in ’65).” The number 65 at the end of the title there refers to the year of 1965.

That is the title of the book that I just read.

*edited March 20, 2012 – Just found out from my grandpa that Lobakan is actually a Balinese term for lamp–the old, ancient, petromax lantern. (Doh, I’m such a fake Balinese!)

So, back in December, my grandpa gave me this book Lobakan after I shared with him my interest and findings on one of the darkest history of Indonesia about the PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia/The Communist Party of Indonesia). After getting enough courage to finally asked him about the incident, my grandpa decided to give me this book ‘if I’m interested.’ (He’s gotta be joking. Of course I’m interested!)

Just in case you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a bit of background information based on my findings:

Soekarno, the first president of Indonesia, once proposed a political concept called as ‘Nasakom,’ which literally is an abbreviation of three words: ‘Nasionalisme’ (nationalism), ‘Agama’ (religion), and ‘Komunisme’ (Communism). This is the notion invented by Soekarno as a part of his vision to unite three big political parties existed in Indonesia at that time–PNI (Partai Nasional Indonesia/Indonesian National Party), Islamic parties which were divided into two parties at that time: Masyumi (Partai Majelis Syuro Muslimin Indonesia/Council of Indonesian Muslim Associations) and NU (Nahdlatul Ulama–a traditionalist Sunni Islam group), and PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia/The Communist Party of Indonesia)–in order to create harmonies between the three, and hence: peace amongst society.

By 1965, the member of the communist party had rapidly increased to 3 million people, and this worried the other 2 parties. Negative sentiments against Soekarno also grew as he supported and protected PKI, along with his ideology as it’s similar with his own.

Long story made short, the tension finally broke by September 30, 1965 as a movement called the 30 September Movement kidnapped several Indonesian war heroes in the army and killed them. Hence, General Soeharto (later the 2nd president of Indonesia) took control and provoked massacre of those known or suspected as “communist allies.” As the army publicly announced that the communists had killed Indonesian respected war heroes to encourage and approve the killings (of the PKI partisans), the Islamic forces did the same thing as they labeled those “communists” as atheists–a word that does not make any sense to most Indonesians, even until now, as Indonesia is not an “atheist country.”

Today it is speculated that the movement was actually a coup d’etat provoked by Soeharto and his army friends, backed by the CIA as they were afraid that Indonesia would become a strong ally to the communist (remember the Cold War?) and the PKI and its “allies” were merely victims of false accusations.

Of course, I might get this wrong, so feel free to correct me.

Here are the links to the sources (most of them, of course, will be Wikipedia):

*

Okay, enough about history. As my old man put it, “History is about perspective. The more you read, the more you find out.” Well said, grandpa!

Now, aside from the fact of who actually did what, or who was the bad guy, or even who was right or wrong, the thing is that the massacre killed a lot of innocent people. The army encouraged citizens to kill their neighbors, friends, and even family members without trial. And those were the people who might not even know what on earth PKI actually was. Most of them were actually those who merely hired to entertain the actual PKI members in one of their events/propagandas, or hired as a guard during a PKI meeting, and these people are poor peasants who, even if they actually owned the land or the field they were working on, they were really poor that eating rice was considered a luxury for them. Worse, they could even be poor farmers who didn’t even own a land, and merely working on a landowner’s land and gained almost nothing as a result of their hard work. Uneducated people, already suffered, and then suddenly stabbed or even tortured for reasons unknown to them.

Meanwhile, the religious parties (those who does not want to be associated with atheists) also made propaganda as they identify all communist partisans as atheists. They used folklore, myth, legend, belief, and they toyed with people’s faith to encourage the killings. They believed (and I am not referring to a specific kind of religion here because this includes all kinds of religion existed in Indonesia at that time) that killing communists was a religious duty. I am not a big fan of religion so of course I mock this idea. Were I lived during that time, I would definitely be assassinated.

Many believe that at least half a million people died during that time. In one article I read, people were getting used to seeing tons of dead bodies in the river, floating from one village to another village, spreading awful smells of rotten corpses. “No one wanted to risk coming out of the house,” said my grandpa. If I had not mistaken, the biggest killing happened in either East Java and Central Java or Bali, where they said that it was one step closer to become an anarchy.

These are the stories I read in Lobakan. All of them are, of course, fictionalized, because, as I read in the foreword, most of the victims interviewed (or talked to) tried so hard to erase those tragic events from their memories that most of them tried to deflect or even talked about something irrelevant instead of retelling the truth. In the end, no one actually ever find out what actually happened, and I doubt anyone will ever do.

One of my favorite stories is titled Monolog (Monologue), by Putu Fajar Arcana. It contains a speech of one of the victim of the massacre, who told his story of how he got involved with the PKI (although it is not explicitly stated whether he realized and fully acknowledged PKI at all) and later caught and killed. He said he came from a very poor family, whose field were taken by landowners and later were forced into a huge amount of debt by those landowners where in the end they had to work on the land they were supposed to own. The PKI held meetings talking about possibilities to get their land back, and as a poor peasant, how could they say no? The idea alone already seemed like ‘water from the moon’ (meaning impossible) to them. Later, of course, it costed him his life.

Another favorites are Warisan (Legacy) by Putu Satria Kusuma and Menanti Tantri (Waiting for Tantri) by Soeprijadi Tomodiharjo. The first one tells a story about Wayan Guru who was suspected as a PKI partisan and were hiding at his parents’ house while many people were waiting in front of the house, ready to ambush and slay him. His parents told the masses that Wayan Guru was away in Java, yet they waited. At the same time, Wayan Guru begged to see his son, Kadek, who stayed with his wife in his house near his parents’. He was determined to see Kadek, even if it would cost him his life, but his parents asked him to think it through, because death means missing his son’s 3 months ceremony, as well as watching him growing up.

The latter, Menanti Tantri tells a story about Made Arka Wiratma, an activist in fighting against illiteracy, who got a visit from a respectable figure: The governor of Bali, when he was lying sick on a hospital bed, suffering from malaria. His wife who accompanied him at that time was pregnant with his son. The governor suggested to name the unborn child Rai, taken from Balinese war hero: I Gusti Ngurah Rai. To them the visit was such a great honor. Little did they know that the governor was a leftist, and hence, a PKI partisan, as well as what the visit would cost them later.

What’s ironic is how I Gusti Agung Ayu Ratih put it in the foreword about how the government seemed so easily dismissed the tragedy and instead polished the so-called “The island of the gods” with monuments, malls, hotels and clubs to attract investors and tourists from around the world by making the native of this “island of gods” to work (I actually intent to use the work “slavery”) for these visitors who’d see Bali as, indeed, their “heaven on earth.” Try ask the people whether they think it’s a heaven on earth to them.

*

What? You didn’t expect me to write the complete stories as well as all of the short stories included, right? That wouldn’t be fair to the writers (says the person whose life is devoted to download free stuffs). >:D

I owe my grandpa for willing to give and share this with me, and I love the inscription he wrote on the first page of the book (I always love inscriptions on the first page of my book!) for me: