—Où es-tu né ?
—Dans une guerre
Paris, 2 février 2017
—Où es-tu né ?
—Dans une guerre
Paris, 2 février 2017
by Leopold Adi Surya Indrawan
Translated by Indah Lestari, edited by Marjie Suanda
AFTER LINING UP the eight plates of milk custard pie on a long table in the living room, Ah Xiang returned to his room to take a rest. He actually felt fresh, as he had just taken a bath, the first time in over a year that a drop of water had touched his body. He was sure that his demise would come that day as Li Hwa had told him. Li Hwa is his cousin who has the ability to foresee the time of someone’s death.
He had found out about the day of his death six months ago, and the next day he called his elder brother and eight younger siblings one by one. “On the fourth day of the ninth month, my time shall come,” said Ah Xiang. His ‘announcement’ was meant to be an invitation for his brothers and sisters, to visit him on that very date.
“Rather than talking rubbish, you better take a bath! If you want to draw attention that way, people will avoid you instead,” said Ah Seh, Ah Xiang’s brother.
There were more brothers and sisters who disregarded Ah Xiang’s announcement than those who cared. Ah Xiang truly believed in Li Hwa’s foretelling—that elderly lady had accurately foreseen the death of one of Ah Xiang’s close friends. His brothers and sisters who had heard the story took it as a mere coincidence. It does not take an intelligent person to be able to predict the death of a dying person, so they thought.
Not only did he believe in Li Hwa’s prediction, but Ah Xiang also wanted to die soon. He did not have enough courage to commit suicide, however. He had heard a story that the god of the hereafter, Giam Lo Ong, does not think twice about sending people who commit suicide to hell.
He had been single all his life. The only woman he had ever slept with, Was, did not want to marry him. She was a maid who took care of Ah Xiang’s mother. After the death of his mother twenty years ago, Was went back to her hometown. Was had persuaded Ah Xiang to take her as a wife, but his parents could not consent to a domestic helper as a daughter-in-law. And later, Was realized her life would not be prosperous enough just living off of Ah Xiang’s inheritance from his family. Moreover, Ah Xiang remained unemployed. He lived on money sent to him by his brother, Ah Li, who had lived with him for years and then moved to Singapore to work, thus leaving him alone. Ah Li still sent him money, which he sometimes used for betting in chess matches against the handymen working next door.
Since Was left, Ah Xiang turned gloomy. And what was worse, after Ah Li left, Ah Xiang practically did not have anyone left. Yet, his sorrow could still be soothed at least once a year. Chinese New Year—the principal holiday for the Chinese—was still celebrated at his residence, as was sangjit, an offering rite, whenever one of Ah Xiang’s nieces was about to marry. These two celebrations took place at Ah Xiang’s house, in Jakarta, because the house was the family’s main house. So Ah Xiang always awaited at least these two annual events. He would be busy making his best custard tarts to enliven the mood. To him, custard tart is obligatory for every family celebration. Custard tart is an ancestral heritage. Its sweetness brings joy. And joy brings good fortune.
“The filling of the custard tart should be soft, so soft that it melts when you put it in your mouth,” said Ah Xiang’s mother when she was teaching him how to make custard tart for the first time. “And you must remember to always use the eggs from hens that are on pasture, as the yolk is darker yellow, the taste is milder and the smell less foul.”
Sometimes he imagined climbing his family tree back to the times of his ancestors in east Kengtang, China. He would meet his great-great-great grandmother, the person who made the first custard tart, after the kitchen master god Chàu-Kun sent the recipe to her in a dream. Ah Xiang could not accept it if anyone would say that our custard tart was only the people of Hong Kong’s adaptation of a Portuguese custard pie. He would not take the side of an historical possibility that threatened the purity of this recipe. And why would anyone want to question his belief anyways?
“No white men can make good cakes!” said Ah Xiang. This was despite the fact that he had never tried any European cake.
Some years after Ah Li had left him, the custard tarts were missing from the family parties. Ah Xiang did not feel like making them anymore. The Chinese New Year and sangjit celebrations were no longer held at his house, but rather at Ah Seh’s in the Kebon Jeruk area, where the living room and parking space are wider. The title of “principal house”, which signifies the house of the first generation, was ignored. At first Ah Xiang still regularly attended the events at her sister’s house, picked up by his niece with a car. But year after year he felt increasingly like an outsider amid the hilarity of his own extended family. Finally, he decided not to join the family gatherings anymore. He preferred being alone all year long at his house. Nobody visited him. He only went out to pay the water, electricity and telephone bills; and bought meals at the local food stalls. Most of the time he just sat on a chair on the terrace, watching the orange trees.
Why hasn’t anyone showed up? Ah Xiang thought.
Ah Xiang also decided not to take a bath or clean the house anymore. He thought, why should I take care of things that everyone ignores? His bad odor grew stronger and stronger. Nobody could stand being anywhere near him. His brothers and sisters were caught between pitying him and being disgusted by him, but the latter sentiment seemed to be stronger. They saw Ah Xiang’s behavior as his way of seeking attention. As a result, they cared less.
Whenever Ah Xiang heard the sound of a car approaching his house, he often thought it was one of his siblings coming to pay him a visit. But most of the time he was wrong. Then he would heave a deep sigh, watching the car pass by in front of his house.
One evening, after he had not bathed for months, Ah Xiang’s heart was filled with hope as he heard Li Hwa calling him from the fence of the house.
Li Hwa did not share a person’s expiration time easily, instead, she would keep it to herself. One would have to coax her for hours so that she would tell.
“Telling you about something like this is inappropriate,” said Li Hwa.
“If you have been given the gift to reveal the secret of the sky, that means you do have the right,” said Ah Xiang.
Although her ability sounded very powerful, Li Hwa told one’s time of death in an unceremonial way. She would simply need to close her eyes for some time. That way, she explained, she could let her consciousness wander in the sky, enter Giam Lo Ong’s palace over the cluster of clouds, pass through a long hallway with stacks of parchment scrolls on racks lining both sides, then stop in a small wooden-floored room: where a painting of a dragon and a phoenix hung on the wall and a gold-covered book sat on a table. She could look in that book for the name of a person whose time of death she wanted to know. The pages would turn by themselves as she wanted.
How he would die, Ah Xiang did not need to question. He thought he would perish due to his deteriorating health. He often vomited for no clear reason, then he would gasp and grow completely weak after eating. Yet, he had never consulted a doctor even once.
“In a month’s time, I will die!” said Ah Xiang when he was on the phone with Ah Li, reminding him about Li Hwa’s prophecy.
“Koh, you better not believe Li Hwa, she only talks bullshit. If she is indeed a clairvoyant, why is her life so difficult now?” asked Ah Li.
“What does ‘bullshit’ mean?”
AFTER HE FOUND out about his time of death, Ah Xiang started thinking of making a simple celebration. Chinese New Year comes every year, while death is a one-off happening (at least in one lifetime). Death is more worth celebrating, Ah Xiang thought. Thus, some days before the D-day, he started preparing custard tart batter. During one day he prepared eight tarts. Eight, he thought, is a lucky number. After baking the tarts, he waited until they cooled down and set, then stored them in the fridge. On the D-day, he would simply bring the tarts to the living room.
“Ah Li and Ah San must be the ones who miss my custard tart the most,” said Ah Xiang, cutting each tart into eight slices. He was tracing every member of the extended family, guessing who would come to his funeral. He wished that everybody would. But then he wondered if they would cry and pray for him? Or maybe they would come only out of courtesy? Isn’t it a stock reason for people to attend many kinds of events in this world?
Will they come today?
As time went by, Ah Xiang grew worried. He could no longer stand lying on his bed, watching the dull yellow walls of his bedroom and the 1995 calender with the photo of a white girl in a bikini that he had left hanging there since that year. He started wondering, it’s already late afternoon, but why haven’t his siblings come to see him off? Not even news from Li Hwa.
Ah Xiang got off his bed, walked and reached the telephone to check whether the cable was cut or gnawed by rats. He wanted to dial, but had doubts. How awkward would it be to ask his siblings: why don’t you come on the day of my death? He looked at the rows of custard tart on a long table in the living room. He stood pondering when a car honked outside. Surprised and hopeful, he ran out to the front yard.
“Good afternoon, is this the Pasaribus’ house?”
“Wr… wrong house.” Ah Xiang shook his head.
He walked feebly back to his bedroom and laid down for two hours. He was imagining his extended family coming and filling the house, having a great time in the simple celebration he held just before his funeral.
IT IS NOW 4pm, Ah Xiang goes out of his room. No sign whatsoever that anybody is coming. He walks to the living room and grabs a slice of custard tart. He eats it while sitting on a garden chair, watching the juicy oranges and the sky that turns a dark yellow. The sunlight bathes his face.
Deep in his mind he hears voices, “Ah Xiang, Ah Xiang, you are the first child that follows Mom.”
Not long after eating the piece of custard tart, Ah Xiang feels sleepy. But instead of going to his room, he remains seated and lets himself fall asleep. It is not windy, but feels airy and fresh. As he wakes up, his body feels so light, as if some burden has been lifted from his chest. He chuckles so long that tears seep out of his eyes. He does not really know why he is laughing.
He does not wish for anything, nor expect anybody to come.
As night almost falls, Ah Xiang leaves the terrace. He turns back and watches himself sitting motionlessly, his eyes shut as if he is sleeping soundly. Ah Xiang wipes the face and leaves his body.
He still has no idea of where to go.
Translation is first published on Intersastra.
ruang yang saban dihuni, hampa kini
aku mengumpulkan dirimu dari benda-benda, satu-satu
musim gigil yang mempertemukan daun pada tanah dan menelanjangi dahan-dahan, mengintip di antara sempitnya hari, betapa sendirii
ruang yang tak berjejak, tak melesak
aku mengukurmu dari kota-kota yang kau lewati
kereta yang maha tepercaya yang mempersembahkan tujuan di ujung jalannya,
menerobos igau, mengulir senyuman
dan kau kembali
dan aku tak lagi bertanya
Cologne, Januari 2015
I fled from the bed. Not many things I grabbed after I instantly decided I had to go out of the flat as soon as possible. I put on my cardigan, jeans and black thick jacket/suit, then my socks and boots. I took out my wallet from my bag, it would be a simple and short journey. Then I left. It was around 1pm. I forgot to wear a bra.
Walking outside and breathing some fresh air, I was quite content to know that I also forgot my cellphone. I would be unreachable for some time, which is good when you don’t feel like talking to anyone. But I kind of regretted it because the cellphone would obviously be useful for internet, getting info about whatever faraway, strange place I would end up being in. Anywhere my feet (and my wallet) would take me to. I am free like a kite to the wind.
The first place that crossed my chaotic mind was the park. There is a lake, there are swans, less people, green field of grass stretching in your horizon—this tranquility would be able to calm me down. I reached the park within around 20 minutes. I took a stroll and then sat on one of the benches before I decided something that is, I still think it is, brilliant. I would take the train and go out of Germany! I would enjoy some city, exhaust myself, discard my night sleep and instead sleep on the train on the way back tomorrow.
But as I was strolling, I realized that another thing I also forgot is my passport, my only valid identity in this part of the world, but I didn’t give it much thought. I would make my way. I could survive this. I had survived many far worse conditions than this. Everything would be okay, I told myself.
I took the tram and then the subway to Köln Hbf, the railway station. I reached at about 4pm. It was as hectic as you can expect a railway station can be on Saturdays. I withdrew some money from Geldautomat, or the cash dispenser. I went to the information desk and asked the lady how to go to… say, Amsterdam or Paris. She asked, which one exactly, Amsterdam OR Paris? Arbitrarily I uttered, Amsterdam. The lady gave me a printout of the train schedule, the Intercity Express, or ICE train would depart at 5.45pm. I had never taken the train in Europe before, I didn’t know how to choose the train. I pressed 6pm for the departure schedule on the ticket machine, opted for return ticket for departure from Amsterdam Centraal for 11am (that should be enough of time). But I actually got the wrong train, the timetable printout says I had four trains to take, instead of the direct one. But of course I didn’t mind. In the station I bought a red shawl for a shield of my neck, only 5 euros.
The local train was quite full but I had a seat. At the stop in Eindhoven I bought myself a croissant. I was not really hungry but I realized I had not eaten anything since morning, so even the cold croissant was super tasty. The intercity train, but not the express one, was almost empty. It was like one of the trains I saw in the movies. I sat on the upper level. It’s dark outside, and I was a bit worried when I saw some drops of the drizzle falling on the window. It would be colder. It turned out to be true. It was not because the rain, but rather the wind. The wind blew from every direction and I was already shivering. Maybe I was walking in the park for too long, I felt my body had been storing the coldness I had been exposed to.
Amsterdam Centraal. It was around 11pm. A gush of wind almost swept me. I crossed lines of railways and the street, joining the crowd. A city like this should be gay, stay lively throughout the night, no? I had neither my Lonely Planet – Europe on a Shoestring edition, nor any idea of the must-see place. Like a firefly, I was drawn to the spot that bore the most lights, the Christmas market. I walked along the street, the snacks and other food on my left. Seemed like people from all over the world were as many as the local-looking.
I kept my orientation as I didn’t have my GPS-equipped device. But it was difficult as the area is not zoned in square blocks. A road became an alley became smaller alleys, and the canals were no longer pinned down in the map in my head. I let all of them blur my way. The were bookstores, sex shops, and restaurants. Unfortunately the sex shops were already closed. There were quire numerous Chinese restaurants, a Thai restaurant and certainly, an Indonesian restaurant. Two seemingly-American girls asked me to take a picture of them. I gayly did so.
A lot of bars indicated by Heineken. I randomly entered one of them as I could no longer stand the chill of the air. I sat on the bar, ordered a Cointreau and coke on the rocks. The barterder who served me looked very young, maybe aged around 15. The drink cost 7 euros. I didn’t know where to rest my gaze on. The TV emitting a billiard match, how interesting. Three men on my right were talking and laughing, loud. Then I saw myself on the mirror right in front of me, behind the bottles. My lips did not show either a smile or a pout. It must be strange for people to see me, a stranger, an Asian-looking woman sitting alone in a bar in Amsterdam, looking restless? The man on my left introduced himself, un Marocain, I practiced my French until I found him boring, like men in general. I left.
In the small alleys, some windows showcased cheerful young girls, showered in red-and-blue lights, in white underwear. Girls of various races. Smiling to everybody on the street. So this is what they say about the funky girls of Amsterdam. I returned their smile.
Another bar, another Cointreau and coke on the rocks. It was cheaper, 6.3 euros. The music played was not actually my kind of music, it was countrish or blues. But the Led Zepelin’s Stairway to Heaven and the succeeding Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters kept me awake.
A lady from Colombia came to the cigarette machine and bought a package behind me. Not too tall, not too short. Black wavy hair, lipsticked lips– maybe red. Tight top, mini skirt. Then she approached me and asked if I had a lighter. I handed it to her and she said she would return it later. I was so lonely that I thought that maybe we could be good friends. She went out and met her friends, then knocked on the glass in front of me, gave me the lighter back. So honest of her.
Sitting and watching the beer glass pads on the table, I was distracted with the scene outside. People passed, walking slowly, turning their head to the glass window next to my bar, sometimes stopped for a while, then laughed. I wondered what was going on besides the plain girls dancing and smiling. Three-four men were standing and leaning on the wall, they were straightforwardly watching the supposedly quirky scene, shamelessly. I shamelessly watched them, looked straight into their eyes. It was fun, too, to see their nervousness.
I quit the bar and went strolling to the other side of the railway station. A short building of a cafe. It says Cafe Batavia 1920. The other Cafe Batavia besides the one in my city. This part was less flashy. As I trotted on the paving blocks of the street, I saw an amusing animal, a cat! It was black with grey stripes, very fluffy due to the winter, about to eat some dried cat food put just by the door. I came near him and tried to touch him but he reluctantly accepted my intention. I meowed several times, maybe speaking the ‘same language’ can break the ice. I came closer, bowing down, squatting and stretching my hand trying to touch him, or let him kiss my finger with his nose. But he ran away, sacrificing the blessing of easy-ready food.
I didn’t realize that my cat pursuing attracted the guests sitting in the bar. Sitting on the floor, with pillows in dark colors. One of them waved at me and yelled Come on. I was brought into a shisha bar. I didn’t join the group at the front, and rather went to the bar. There were four female bartenders and the girl who greeted me spoke good English. Cointreau and coke. Eight euro something went into a wooden box that says Boîte de gâteau. The cash box. My mistake, I didn’t ask what time the bar would close. One bartender politely refused to give more drink to an obviously drunk customer. I smoked. I thought of letting him know where I was, where I had been. The English speaking girl lent me her phone and I sent a message via Facebook chat. I had to deal with the autocorrect that always suggest words with so many accented letters, which later on she told me that was Latvian. He had been worried, had not slept. It was 4 in the morning.
I had to go back, these feelings were uncontainable, still incurable. I can save the canal tour or the Van Gogh museum for next time. It was drizzling. I pulled myself together. I supposed I was done with the nuptial sightseeing. The kite was free, blown by the wind, but it is attached to a string. I went back to the station but it is only open at 6. So I took a bus to Utrecht to catch the next train. Still dark outside, and strangely silent.
Mas Sujono always thought that I dominated him. Once in a while he said I was asking too much from him, demanding more than what he could give. But was I wrong to ask him for some money to feed our child?
Mas Sujono always said Joko was not his biological son. He repeatedly taunted me because I was in early stage of pregnancy when he married me. He did not believe that the child I was carrying was his. He said Joko was Mas Wandi’s child.
I knew Mas Wandi before I met Mas Sujono. Mas Wandi is a pedicab driver whose base was Tanjung Perak port. He’s 42. Although he was nearly as old as my father, he still looked sturdy. He was muscular on the chest, back and arms. The muscles lustered as the sunshine fell on his sweaty skin. The smell of his sweat was mixed with that of the sunburned skin and the self-rolled clove cigarette. I like to secretly smell his odor whenever he sat next to me.
Only a few pedicabs waited for customers at Tanjung Perak port. Apart from trams and bicycles, pedicabs were the widely used means of transportation. People would flock to get a pedicab whenever a ship weighs anchor on the pier. Pedicab passengers are mostly the Chinese who come to Surabaya for the first time. I didn’t know for sure why there had been a flow of slanted-eyed and yellow-skinned people coming to the city these days. Some said that these people were the Chinese who left their homeland, which was devastated by the Japanese and the communist ruling system.
I had no idea about it.
But from my observation, tiredness hung over the faces of the Chinese who arrived in Surabaya. They might have been exhausted being in the ship for months. Or perplexed as their country was being torn apart by the war.
The same case with Indonesia. Everywhere I turn to, all I see was mourning faces.
Tanjung Perak port was where I often roamed to sell jamu, herbal drinks. I had a lot of customers there, one of whom was Mas Wandi, my most generous customer. I pointed this out because he always paid more for one botok (coconut shell) of the jamu he ordered. He never asked for the change. He even often embedded some money quietly into my brassiere, and then squeezed my breast.
Of course I was stunned. First, because of the money he put. Second, he squeezed my breast. And third, I realized that his squeezing made me shiver. He was the first man who touches me. I was frozen, not knowing what to do. I became nervous, but the strange sensation spread on. I just let it be as I enjoyed it.
These kinds of things are common among the jamu gendong (carryback) sellers like me. You can even just take a woman or two to a rented chamber in the brothel. Brothels were mushrooming along Kalimas Barat and Kalimas Timur streets since Tanjung Perak grew into a trade port.
I started by merely offering jamu gendong—where the bottles, small glasses and everything else put in a basket that I carry on my back with a cloth sling—to the women sitting in the dim-lighted chambers. The women who roar at night and sleep in the day. The jamu drinks I carried in the basket were those made of lempuyangan chilies, rice and galingale, betel leaves, and galian singset and sinom mixtures. All were jamu variants for women.
Gradually my customers were not only those women, but also the men who stopped over their chambers. These men were mostly kerani (port coolies) who usually sat around in the stalls along Kalimas Barat and Kalimas Timur streets, as they rested from work. They drank legen (unfermented toddy) and smoked rolled klobor cigarettes (clove cigarette rolled in corn leaf) that emitted strong clove smell. Their shoulders and backs were powdered with dusts of jute sacks they carried.
As the dusk falls and darkness seeped in, the women stood in front of their chambers, exposing their protruding bosom. They recited pantun, or rhymed poem, in tempting tone.
“Tanjung Perak, Mas… kapale kosong…
Monggo pinarak, Mas… kamare kosong…”
(Tanjung Perak, Mas, the ship is empty…
Come drop in, Mas, the room is empty…)
One poem was replied by another, in giggles. Then palm wine was spoiled all over. The night heated up. The protruding bosoms rubbed against the solid backs that sweated from heavy duty. The bosoms that lured money to be slipped in the brasserie, and men to enter the chamber. The reflections from the dim lights danced as the wind blew.
Moaning, bellowing, wet, sweat.
I met Mas Wandi in one of those stalls. Being a virgin who had never been touched by a man, I was shy, nervous and awkward in the beginning. The skin of his hand felt hot as it touched the skin of my breast. Some sensation crept in me and made me shiver. Gradually I longed for his squeeze. I no longer bashfully sat still and waited. I was bold enough to fixed myself close to him when I yearned for his squeezes.
And Mas Wandi always got my signals.
“You’re so desirous that I want to pinch you, Nduk (small girl)…” he used to say while squeezing my breast secretly.
As time passed, his brief pinch and squeeze every now and then were not sufficient for me. I was a virgin budding into a grown woman. I felt torrential passion inside my body, wanting more… and more… and more, something like what those men and women did in the chambers. I wanted his hands to explore my entire bosom longer. So then I had the courage to hold his hand rested there.
“Really, Nduk. You make me excited. Especially these…” he said staring at me while still squeezing my breasts.
Passion possessed me when I sensed his breath on my ear and nape.
“You’re serious? Yu (elder sister) Ning is prettier. Yu Sih even more,” I replied intuitively, flirting.
“But they’re not as desirous as you,” he whispered to my earlobe, full of passion.
Was I flirting, tempting, seducing, or luring him?
I don’t know.
But I liked to be so.
Besides that Mas Wandi often gave me tips so that I was able to buy face powder and lipsticks, I also liked his squeezes. I heard from Yu Ning and Yu Sih—fellow jamu gendong sellers—that men’s accompaniment make you quiver.
Yu Ning and Yu Sih were three or four years older than me. Yu Ning has a pair of dreary melancholic eyes. I heard men talked about her, that in spite of her dreary melancholic eyes, she was hot in bed… on the mat, in this case. Meanwhile, Yu Sih has a beautiful face that is very njawani (Javanese characteristics), and fair skin. Men desired to see the smoothness of her body.
I myself am not too pretty. I am fully aware of this. My skin is sunburnt sawo matang (literally ripe sapodilla) like typical Indonesians, or dark brown. My hands are hefty and my palms rough. My heels crack. My face is not egg-round or njawani like Yu Sih, but squarish with sharp jaws. My eyes are not dreary or melancholic like Yu Ning, but big and glaring. I sometimes cursed my ugly face, that I was not able to gain a lot of customers like Yu Ning and Yu Sih.
“Ning and Sih are nothing compared to you, Nduk. Just take a look at your body. Whoever is not passionate seeing it, is surely not a man,” said Mas Wandi.
Although I was barely sixteen, I was stout, with full, rounded, sizeable breasts, hip and buttocks. If I touched my breasts, the nipples were swollen, firm and lifted.
I came to know that when I wore kebaya (traditional Javanese clothing for female), the bosom part was tight and my breasts were protruding. And the curves of my hip would be apparent underneath the cloth wrapped around me to the calves. When I walked, the bulging top part of my bosom and the sway of my buttocks would seem very tempting.
That was why two women’s pretty face is not a rival for me, since more and more people became my jamu customers. I was no longer bothered with my not-so-attractive face and dull skin whenever men whistled naughtily as I walked before them. I confidently threw a smile at them and offered my jamu.
Then those men turned like bees buzzing the flower. They strived to sit next to or in front of me. As close as they could. Sipping the jamu, they tried to touch my arm, peep into my cleavage, and pat my thigh. Slowly I understood that those were signs that they desired me.
Yu Ning and Yu Sih often told, giggling, about the customers that often caressed them. I heard that the two even exchanged knowledge of how to balance the men’s maneuver. They also exchanged the jamu recipes for men’s stamina. According to them, the recipes were bonus for their customers so that they were able to earn extra money from selling jamu.
But, to me, Mas Wandi was an ordinary customer. He was different. I was not sure, whether it’s because he was the first man that touched me–stroked and squeezed my breast, or I was in fact attracted to him. His every touch streamed to the marrow. Even every night I slept recklessly if I imagined his solid muscles and smelling his odor again.
“What’s in me that you desire, Mas?” I asked curiously, giving all of myself to him.
“Kabeh (everything), Nduk…”
“Really?” I seduced him more.
“I’ll take you home later, okay?” it was obvious that he desired me.
Mas Wandi gave me a ride home by his pedicab. The man paddled the pedicab and we passed Jalan Kembang Jepun. It was getting dark and less bustling. We rode on passing grand houses owned by rich Chinese people on Jalan Kapasan. Near the railway on Jalan Kendjeran, we stopped. It was dark and quiet. The place was full of trees and bushes. There was not lighting at all.
Mas Wandi parked his pedicab by the roadside. Then he sat in the passenger seat, next to me. His body was so close to mine. I felt his shoulders rubbed against mine, he threw his arm around my shoulder. I sat still, yielding to whatever pleasure that I was about to experience.
Darkness blanketed us, his breath crept on my nape and ear. Then his hand slipped underneath my kebaya. The touch was not light as usual, but
People knew me as Tjoa Kim Hwa, the Golden Flower.
I was a prima donna there, so my rate was high. I was very picky about the guest to host. For ordinary guests, I only accompanied them drinking sake, singing and by playing shamisen. But for the important ones, especially those Shosho Kobayashi ushered, I had to provide extra service. Surely I pocketed extra fees, too!
You have to entertain men, give them the perfect pleasure and satisfaction, that was Yuriko’s order that had been fixated in my mind.
As long as I had been a geisha, I have practiced all the lessons and instructions Gion and Yuriko gave me on entertaining men. As such, my savings were piling. But there was one thing I had never done, lip kissing!
Yuriko told me once, “The task of a geisha is only to entertain. Giving men pleasure in perfection. Don’t involve your emotion. Only kiss the lips of someone you love, because it involves you emotionally.”
After accompanying the guests drinking sake, chatting or singing, I usually offered them taking a bath in ofuro. My guest would be in the bathtub that was filled with hot water, then I would scrub his back and chest with wet napkin, or, to be precise, scrubbing-cum-patting. After that, I put a fresh kimono on him and followed him to the chamber. Once we’re inside, I took off his kimono as well as mine, piece by piece as gracefully as a dancer. Then I started massaging him gently. Or, to be precise, massaging-cum-stroking.
I started massaging from the back, to the neck, chest, through the entire body to the feet. While massaging and stroking, set my bare naked body against his. Slowly but sure, his skin would be warm, his breath heavy like the train’s locomotive, and I would remain controlling the game until he reaches the full satisfaction!
Yes, I pleased men…
I give full satisfaction!
I always followed Yuriko’s advice.
Followed? I cried silently. My hand which were writing so many words that took so many pages then stopped as the heavy guilt hung over me.
Did I really follow Yuriko’s advice? My eyes were burning and my heart aching.
No! Ever since I knew Sujono, I had never done what Yuriko told me. Sujono had made a lot of changes to my life, the bitter and the sweet ones. The man had turned my wheel of life 180 degrees, now that I was at the peak of my career and became the most popular geisha ever.
I did not know how it started, how I liked to have a conversation with him. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have any friend to talk to in Hanada-san’s nightclub. All the male guests came for my service. They did not need to have a chat with me. Meanwhile, all the girls here were only concerned with rivalry and jealousy toward each other. Especially as they knew Shosho Kobayashi and Hanada-san treated me differently. The girls suspected I was a Japanese, but they couldn’t prove it. In the club we were all required to speak Japanese and wear kimonos.
“I am actually Japanese. My real name is Matsumi. Tjoa Kim Hwa is only a fake name I used when I was smuggled here. A Japanese girl becoming a hostess in another country is considered shameful. The Japanese would not degrade their own women in other countries…”
It just happened… I started to trust Sujono. I also learned Indonesian language from him. I revealed to everybody the identity that I had kept secret.
I needed someone who I could have a chat with without any prejudice and fear. I had wanted this long but I kept it to myself. It’s true that as long as Shosho Kobayashi was there, everything was easy and safe for me. But some restlessness still lingered, captivating me.
Restless by myself. Being afraid by myself. Who could bear that?
“Do you like this job?” Sujono asked me once in an afternoon when he was delivering fabrics, but Hanada-san was out.
“I have been a geisha since I was fourteen.”
“That’s not what I asked!” he shouted. “Do you like this job?” he repeated.
“Why?” I asked him back. “Is it wrong to be a geisha?”
“Do you have an idea of what you do now?”
“I’m an artistan.”
He burst into laugh.
“In Japan it’s not easy to become a geisha. We are trained in schools. We have to be able to sing, dance, play the shamisen, make poems and accompany the guest during the tea ceremony,” I said, trying to explain, as his laugh sounded belittling to my ears.
“Also accompanying them in bed,” he went on.
I furrowed my brows, displeased with his tone.
“Here, that kind of job is the most disgraceful!” he said blatantly.
“Why so?” I could not accept it. I worked hard for years become a geisha. And now, as easy as that, this profession was considered so low in Indonesia.
“Do you know of the women in kurubu?” he asked again.
“Have you heard the stories of what happened to them?”
Again I nodded.
“So what’s the difference between you and them?”
This time I did not nod, but I could not dispute it either.
“The difference is they are used as sex slaves for the Japanese soldiers, while you, high-ranked officials. And one more, they are not paid, while you are highly paid!” he concluded, answering his own question.
How dare he talked that way to me, without a single bit of courtesy. Am I so low from the perspective of a grudge? I felt insulted.
“The difference is the Japanese restrain themselves from degrading their women so much that even you were told to disguise yourself as a Chinese. But do they care about the other nation’s women’s honor? About the Chinese and Korean women who were brought by force to Japan, to Indonesia, to any country where the Japanese soldiers are as sex slaves. Now Indonesian women are enslaved, too. Don’t you know that the Japanese are very cruel?” his bitter tone persisted.
I felt like raging. But how could I? My conscience was restless and I was reluctant to disagree with him. My feminine heart cried whenever I heard a story of the jugun ianfus at kurabu. Regardless that they were Javanese, Chinese and Korean, they were also women. Like me. Plus they carried out the duty because they had no choice, they were threatened. Being proud to be a prima donna at the most exclusive nightclub on Jalan Kembang Jepun was actually shameful and improper.
“How much I have to pay to get such service that you give to your guests?” he asked.
I was stunned. Speechless. How could I possibly say that with his pay as a coolie he won’t be able to afford even the cheapest service of the Hanada-san’s club girls. Let alone my service…
But since then he had been bothering me. From his glances to his odor mixed with clove cigarette smell, everything about him kept popping in my head. One day Hanada-san said an ‘unusual’ guest asked me to entertain him. And that person is… Sujono!
get ready for another one! the workshop sounds great
(this is not my translation, but rather taken from here)
Apa yang mesti kulakukan, O Muslim? Aku tak mengenal didiku sendiri
Aku bukan Kristen, bukan Yahudi, bukan Gabar, bukan Muslim
Aku bukan dari Timur, bukan dari Barat, bukan dari darat, bukan dari laut,
Aku bukan dari alam, bukan dari langit berputar,
Aku bukan dari tanah, bukan dari air, bukan dari udara, bukan dari api,
Aku bukan dari cahaya, bukan dari debu, bukan dari wujud dan bukan dari hal
Aku bukan dari India, bukan dari Cina, bukan dari Bulgaria, bukan dari Saqsin,
Aku bukan dari Kerajaan Iraq, bukan dari negeri Korazan.
Aku bukan dari dunia in ataupun dari akhirat, bukan dari Sorga ataupun Neraka
Aku bukan dari Adam, bukan dari Hawa, bukan dari Firdaus bukan dari Rizwan
Tempatku adalah Tanpa tempat, jejakku adalah tak berjejak
Ini bukan raga dan jiwa, sebab aku milik jiwa Kekasih
Telah ku buang anggapan ganda, kulihat dua dunia ini esa
Esa yang kucari, Esa yang kutahu, Esa yang kulihat, Esa yang ku panggil
Ia yang pertama, Ia yang terakhir, Ia yang lahir, Ia yang bathin
Tidak ada yang kuketahui kecuali :Ya Hu » dan « Ya man Hu »
Aku mabok oleh piala Cinta, dua dunia lewat tanpa kutahu
Aku tak berbuat apa pun kecuali mabok gila-gilaan
Kalau sekali saja aku semenit tanpa kau,
Saat itu aku pasti menyesali hidupku
Jika sekali di dunia ini aku pernah sejenak senyum,
Aku akan merambah dua dunia, aku akan menari jaya sepanjang masa.
O Syamsi Tabrizi, aku begitu mabok di dunia ini,
Tak ada yang bisa kukisahkan lagi, kecuali tentang mabok dan gila-gilaan.
Meskipun aku mengatakan menghitung bunga-bunga labu di tengah malam jauh lebih pedih daripada basah kuyup karena hujan, itu pasti tidak benar, karena aku takkan bisa memaksakab diriku untuk mencabut pohon labu itu dan membuangnya. Sebaliknya, dengan hati-hati aku mengumpulkan benihnya … Lire la suite
Chairil Anwar was regarded as Indonesia’s greatest twentieth-century poet. Indonesian foremost literary critic H.B. Jassin proclaimed him to be the founder of Generation ’45 of Indonesian literature. Born on July 22, 1922 in Medan, North Sumatra, Chairil attended the Hollands Inlandsche School (HIS), a Dutch elementary school for the natives. He continued his education at the Meer Uitgebreid Lager Onderwijs, a Dutch junior high school, but he dropped out. At the age of nineteen, Chairil moved with his mother to Jakarta where he came in contact with the literary world. Despite his unfinished education, Chairil had an active command of English, Dutch and German, and he read the works of international authors.
In this paper I attempt to analyze four poems, “Aku” (“Me”), “Senja di Pelabuhan Kecil” (“Twilight at a Little Harbor”), “Rumahku” (“My House”), and “Yang Terampas dan yang Putus” (“The Captured and the Freed”). The selection of these poems is based on the principal theme of each poem, namely: identity, love, poetry and language, and death.
There are several factors that create ambiguity in Chairil Anwar’s language. The first is homonymy, or two words with the same pronunciation but different meanings. Second, multivalence, a word that has more than one meaning, for example baru means “new” and “just”. The third is transposition without formal indication. This has to do with the part of speech. Fourth, the paucity in Indonesian of phrase marker. Another factor is the frequent omission of subject pronouns, articles and copulas, for example adalah (“to be”) (Oemarjati in Echols 553). However, what makes the reading of the poems more intriguing is the English rendering or translation. Translation is a way of interpretation. Yet poetry is open to multiple interpretations. Thus in this paper I will discuss the multiple meanings based on the original Bahasa poems.
As already mentioned, the main theme of this poem is identity. Here the narrator calls himself binatang jalang, or wild beast. One way of reading a poem is by taking the words’ meanings literally. The attribute of jalang has a sexual connotation (which is lost in the translation. Calling a woman jalang is the same as calling her a whore. The “I” in the poem is “wild” because of his hedonistic life. Chairil indeed had a profane lifestyle. He died young at the age of twenty-six of syphilis, tuberculosis, typhus and cirrhosis of the liver.
However, we can also read the “I” as the initiator of Indonesian modern poetry. Chairil is a pioneer of literature in his era. His style was totally new, a breakthrough. H.B. Jassin said that Chairil Chairil “is the one who brought about a radical break in Indonesian literature” (151). This is why he is often regarded to represent the image of “wild beast” in this poem. He is damned from “the herd”. He is hurt and suffering. However, he does not care about what others think of him. All that matters to him is himself, with “[his] wound and … pain”.
But can a poet be separated from history? The second interpretation is the narrator as a poet in relation to his predecessors. Chairil has complex relations with them. We can name a lot of writers that may have influenced Chairil. This is because he was a keen reader of world literature. Moreover, he was a translator. Some of his translation works are Eliot’s poetry, Rilke’s letters. Andre Gide’s Pulanglah Dia Si Anak Hilang (1948), John Steinbeck’s Kena Gempur (1951). Critics also found that some of his poems were later discovered as adaptations from the poems by, among others, W.H. Auden, H. Marsman, Willem Elsshot, J. Slauerhoff, Archibald MacLeish and Edgar du Perron. True, as TS Eliot says in Tradition and Individual Talent, writer or artist can be judged by the conventions or aesthetics of his predecessors. His works are compared and contrasted with that of the previous era. Some critics also see the influence of Indonesian poet Amir Hamzah (1911-1946) of Pujangga Baru Generation. As a man of letters who wrote in Indonesian, Hamzah gave a lot of contribution to the development of Malay language to become Indonesian national language. Malay words are in his poetry vocabulary. In his letter to literary figure Armijn Pane, Hamzah asserted that Malay is a beautiful language. Bahasa Indonesia is a symbol of heroism and Islam.
However, Chairil is Chairil and Hamzah is Hamzah. Each of them has his own poetic character and philosophy. Hamzah is of East-oriented tradition. He collected and translated poems from the East in Setanggi Timur, published in 1939. Hamzah is rooted in his nation. On the other hand, Chairil was influenced by Western tradition. He included ancient Greek and English myths in his poetry, such as Eros, Ahasveros, as well as Romeo and Juliet.
Besides identity, the poem also talks about God and life. One of the most memorable lines of Chairil is “I want to live another thousand years”. Individualism and existentialism are also the traces of Western philosophy in the poem. German philosopher Heidegger inquires into the “being that we ourselves are”. The individual and the public are always in tension. According to him, ‘I’ is an entity whose essence is exactly to be and nothing but to be. Humans must make a choice every time in order to maintain their liberty. This is further developed by Jean-Paul Sartre, whose proposition is that human is for itself (pour soi) and not emasculated by its determination. Chairil’s wish to live extremely long is a negation of God, seen under the light of Friedrich Nietzsche’s nihilism. The thesis of the death of God is due to the collapse of human morality. Morality is orchestrated by the ‘will to power’. Yet the narrator of “Me” is not an ordinary person. He is exiled, banished by his people. The people or ‘crowd’, in line with Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, is ‘untruth’. The so-called autonomous self-legislating individual is a merely herd animal that deliberately train itself to succumb to the universal morality (Crowel). The ‘bullets [that] pierce [Chairil’s] skin’ are the morality.
In addition to existentialism, Generation of ’45 falls into the thoughts of universal humanism. (Jassin 54). Although this term seems to have been appropriated in Indonesian literary criticism, I find it hard to define. If it is to embrace all humanisms (Renaissance humanism, Judaism humanism, Secular humanism, etc.) the effort would only create problems and contradictions. So I would rather see it as simple humanism, the idea that human is the center of the world. The freedom of expression, of organization and other basic rights are also implied. This goes with the themes of rigorousness, struggle and nationalism, which are typical in the Generation of ‘45. ‘Universal humanism’ was responded by Gelanggang, a self-appointed group which declared to be the heir of the hero of the intellectual circles of Jakarta. Among the members are writers Rivai Apin and Asrul Sani. Although the document was published one and a half year after Chairil’s death, he was associated with Gelanggang, which was founded on November 19, 1946. Gelanggang published Surat Kepercayaan (Letter of Belief) in early 1950. Those who signed Letter of Belief proclaim: “we are the true heirs of world culture and we must perpetuate this culture in our own way”. This statement, which was more like a manifesto, was born out of the endless inquiry into East-West distinction (Djatmiko 249). Gelanggang members’ arrogance is similar to the poets in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry, whom he calls as “unacknowledged legislators of the mankind”. Art is seen to lie only at the hands of the poets. It is assumed that they posses a faculty that common people do not.
The poem is to me the most interesting poem to discuss because it talks about language, thus poetry itself. It can be read as self-reflective. The poet ponders upon his creation and the ability of it. The ‘house’ is his imagination and his mind. The house is where he makes poetry. He is married to words and begets poems. Here the poet seems to believe that words are reliable and poems can perfectly convey the thoughts and the feelings. But his house keeps changing, even he loses it. A poet raises different issues. His style can also change.
Death is also a theme of this poem. The poet as if predicts that he will soon die and therefore will not be able to create anymore poem. He cannot survive until the next ‘dusk’, to find another house. He cannot ask God for more time either, even though he says the most beautiful prayer, ‘words as sweet as honey’. However, a poet is actually eternalized by his works. This reminds me of Shakespeare’s Sonnet XVIII:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.
The poem gives life to the poet because it will last much longer.
The form in terms of the rhyme and number of lines, is quite regular. The rhyme scheme is aa bb cc aa dd ee. This is almost like English (Shakespearean) sonnet, whose rhyme scheme is abba cdcd efef gg. Thus the English poetics is influential to Chairil’s poem.
Chairil enhances Bahasa Indonesia. He includes Malay words into Bahasa Indonesia poems. This is contradictory to John Milton, who did not much coin new words from Latin although he masters the language. He felt that the language of serious poetry had been corrupted by popular writers. Yet there are some Latin idiom and syntax, as Milton prioritizes conciseness.
The poet’s being lost may be interpreted as a dilemma in himself. He is the Generation of ’45, the moment of the birth of nation-state, the culmination of nationalism. He is expected to write about heroism, patriotism, war—the external world. He did write such poems, including Diponegoro, about Indonesian national hero. At the same time, the poet’s tagline, in the same poem, is “sekali berarti, sudah itu mati” (once meaningful, then die). He is individualistic. He writes about subjective issues, such as failed romance, loneliness, religiosity and death. However, we can argue whether TS Eliot’s ‘dissociation of sensibility’, the thoughts and passion not being fused, which characterizes Metaphysical poets, is applicable to this dualism. Writing about war does not mean it does not involve feeling. Subjectivity also plays a role, especially since the poet experiences the struggle in the war.
The issue of the function of poetry, or art in general, tempts me to interpret this poem again. There has been a tussle whether art is for art’s sake or for political means. Between 1950s and 1965 Indonesian literary ideology was roughly divided into two: art as a (communist) medium and art as an independent entity. The first one was professed by Lekra (Institute of People’s Culture), a leftist cultural organization and mouthpiece of Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). The second ideology was followed by Manikebu (Cultural Manifesto). The poem can be seen to fall into the first category. Writing is a procreation. It is reproductive because it gives form to something else. This something can be, for example, a party’s propaganda. Art becomes a vehicle for a larger cause.
The poem is about an unspeakable agony, deep sadness. Chairil dedicated this poem to a woman Sri Ajati, which was not her real name. She is Mrs. RH Soeparsono, now about 85 years old and is living in Magelang, East Java. Chairil met Sri when she was working as a Japanese radio host in 1942.At that time she was already in a relationship with Soeparsono, who then became her husband. It seems that they shared an interest in literature. Like Chairil, she speaks many languages. She is fluent in Dutch, English, Javanese and four other local languages.
This quatrain has regular rhyme aabb aabb abab, like Yang Terampas dan yang Luput. Damono cited that Derai-Derai Cemara also obeys the strict quatrain rhyme. We can infer that Chairil views that creating a new way of expression requires fixed forms that need to stand against time. A new language of poetry means that which is used widely by its generation. However, a generation can never be fully detached from its predecessor. We can still see the trace of Amir Hamzah in Chairil in the use of pantun, a Malay poetic form that originated from traditional oral expression. Another feature of the poem’s structure is the blank verse. There are enjambments. Sometimes a sentence breaks in the middle, for example the first line of the third stanza there is only one word in the third sentence.
In this poetry we can see how each word is powerful in its ambiguity. A word stands on its own, its relation with the following word is unclear. For example, the word “menyinggung” in the second line of the second stanza is pregnant with several meanings. It is derived from the root word “singgung”, which means ‘(to) mention’, ‘(to) touch’, or ‘(to) offend’.
A clause seems only comprises of random words, with loose relations among each other. The words’ part of speech is ambiguous, whether adjective, verb or noun. This is an issue in Bahasa Indonesia, which highly depend on suffix. For example “desir hari lari berenang” can prosaically translated into “the day’s hiss is running, swimming”. So the juxtaposition of running and swimming is a personification of the ‘day’. The imagery may not make sense but what is featured here is the rhyming “hari” (day) with “lari” (to run).
“Tanah” and “air” are wordplay as the two words together, “tanah air”, means ‘motherland’. Such pairing can suggest the couple. The narrator and the lover are like the boat and the sea; the motherland and the waves
The last line lacks of reference as regards the beach. We are not given information about the other three beaches. And we can interpret the embrace of the last sob in two ways. First, he will meet his love again someday, after he or she arrives at the beach for the forth time (or the second coming). Second, he will walk alone until he reaches the forth beach and then releases his grief. The latter implies pessimistic and is in line with the lack of hope and the goodbye in the previous lines. Of course “four” can be a mere number, and is not much different from five or six.
Existentialist theme of death is again obvious in this poem, as the narrator names his next destination in life, that is Karet cemetery. This poem was written in the year of his death. That time his health was declining. He says that “the great room where the one [he] want[s] is lying” is cold. His coffin is cold as his life is “darkening”. Tugu, which was translated as ‘columns of stone’ actually means ‘monument’. Monument is something public, fixed, a memorial, a contrast to rimba, or jungle. So does Chairil mean that his wildness will be tamed? Not only tamed, but also made into public, or even a celebration? Tugu can be read as the declaration of Chairil as the pioneer of the Generation of ’45, especially by Indonesian literature ‘pope’ H.B. Jassin.
In the third stanza kau, or you, despite being translated as ‘my heart’, may be seen as Death. He patiently waits for his death but suddenly realizes that life impulses have never been completely inert (Budiman 23). This mood is depicted in some interpretations of the title. A.H. John proposed the title of The Ravaged and the Broken. His argument was the health of Chairil, ravaged by syphilis and tuberculosis. He also believes that the chill soughing (deru) reaches Karet, rather than the wind blows there. Meanwhile McGlynn’s version of the title is “The Seized and the Severed” (in Yampolsky). All these suggest that the narrator is imprisoned.
But can we read the line that says “But now it’s only my hands that move fiercely” positively? As full of vitality also? The poet would share his all. As he himself says that the will to shake, to scold is part of vitaliteit, life spirit. In art, this spirit precedes beauty, it is chaotisch voorstadium, a preliminary chaotic stage. There is something wild and destructive in the spirit. A poet is not afraid of anything, he is still ‘fierce’. The body may be passive, but he can still move his hand, write. If his mind is free, then he is also free to write, and that is what matters for a poet.
Discussing Chairil’s poem is more like analyzing a puzzle. Each sentence invites many interpretations. A word must be translated into so many senses. Meaning can differ every time we read the poem. This is the strength of his language. The form sometimes complies with earlier tradition, from Indonesia or abroad. The context of the poem is very much important to understand the poem, such as Indonesian independence and the Western existentialism philosophy. Appreciating these four poems would hopefully nourish the understanding of Indonesian poetry, literature, and mind.
 See also Sapardi Djoko Damono’s “Chairil Anwar and New Language of Indonesian Literature
(Tempo, January 10, 2000) where he writes that Kepada Peminta-minta is a collage of foreign poems, Cintaku Jauh di Pulau is an adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca, Kerawang Bekasi Archibald McLeish, and Datang Dara Hilang Dara, which Anwar claimed as his own, is a translation of a Chinese poem.