Poem on Hands

Poem on Hands

By W.S. Rendra

These are the hands of a student,
Undergraduate level.
My hands. Oh my God.

My hand reaches out,
And what I grab is a beautiful hostess’s petticoat.
What an idiot. My hand goes limp.

My hand knocks on the door,
But no one answers.
I kick the door,
And the door swings open.
Behind the door there’s another door.
And always:
There’s a sign with the opening hours,
Which are short.

I shove my hands in my trouser pockets,
And I go out and sojourn.
I’m swallowed by Great Indonesia.

Dozens of hands used in life
Suddenly appear in front of me.
I hold out my hands too.
But they look out of place among the thousands of hands.
I’m worried about my future.

Farmers’ hands are covered in mud,
Fishermen’s hands are covered in salt,
I pull back my hands.
Their hands are full of struggle.
Hands that are productive.
My hands are anxious,
They don’t solve any problems.

But the hands of businessmen,
The hands of bureaucrats,
Are calculating, nibble, and very strong.
My anxious hands are suspected,
Brushed aside.

My hands close into a fist.
And when they open again are transformed into claws.
I reach out in all directions.
At every desk in every office
Sits a soldier or an old person.
In the villages
Farmers are just laborers for landowners.
On the beaches
Fishermen do not own any of the boats.
Trade goes on without supermarkets.
Politics only serves the weather…
My hands close into a fist.
But there’s a brick wall in front of me.
My life has no future.

For now I have my hands in my pockets.
I journey from place to place.
I scrawl obscenities
On the chancellor’s desk.

Jakarta Arts Center
23 June 1977


Poem on Hands (Sajak Tangan), State of Emergency, W.S. Rendra, Wild & Woolley, Glebe, 1978, p. 34.

Featured image credit https://www.instagram.com/p/BZYRUiSBrrtd13aM9EKfg8l9E5nrXfm3pJFNys0

Seminar Kesusastraan Tutup Pekan DIKSATRASIA

Poem for a Student Meeting

Poem for a Student Meeting

By W.S. Rendra

The sun rose this morning
Sniffed the smell of baby piss on the horizon,
Looked at the brown river snaking its way to the sea,
And listened to the hum of the bees in the forest.

And now it starts to climb into the sky
And it presides to bear witness, that we are gathered here
To investigate the current situation.

We ask:
Why are good intentions sometimes no use?
Why can good intentions clash with good intentions?
People say: “We have good intentions.”
And we ask: “Good intentions for who?”

Yes, some are mighty and some are humble.
Some are armed and some are injured.
Some have positions and some are occupied.
Some have plenty and some are emptied.
And we here ask:
“Your good intentions are for who?
You stand on the side of who?”

Why are good intentions put into practice
But more and more farmers lose their land?
Farms in the mountains are bought up by people from the city.
Huge plantations
Only benefit just one small group.
Advanced equipment that is imported
Doesn’t suit farmers with tiny pieces of land.

Well we ask:
“So your good intentions are for who?”

Now the sun is rising high in the sky.
And will indeed be enthroned above the palm trees.
And here in the hot air we will also ask:
All of us are educated to stand on the side of who?
Will the knowledge taught here
Be an instrument of liberation,
Or of oppression?

The sun shall soon go down.
Night will arrive,
The geckos chatter on the wall
And the moon sail forth.
But our questions shall not abate.
They shall live in the people’s dreams,
Grow in the fields that recede into the distance.

And on the morrow,
The sun shall rise once more.
Evermore the new day shall incarnate,
Our questions shall become a forest,
Transform into rivers,
And become the waves of an ocean.

Under this hot sun, we ask:
There are those who scream, and those who beat,
There are some with nothing, and some who scratch for something.
And our good intentions,
Stand on the side of who?

Jakarta
1 December 1977

This poem was presented to students at the University of Indonesia, and performed in the film “Yang Muda Yang Bercinta” directed by Syumanjaya.


Poem for a Student Meeting (Sajak Pertemuan Mahasiswa), State of Emergency, W.S. Rendra, Wild & Woolley, Glebe, 1978, p. 38.

The featured image is from Yang Tegak Berdiri Kokoh dan Yang Lunglai Meleyot-Leyot: Tentang Patung, Ruang Publik dan Kekuasaan.

Tugu Tani Today

Tugu Tani Today (Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/BXhI9dYAb9J)

For background on the history and controversy surrounding Tugu Tani see Matvey Manizer, Kisah Di Balik Tugu Tani: Patung Pahlawan, Banyak Ormas Menuduh Patung di Tugu Tani di Jakpus and the following article from The Jakarta Post ‘Tugu Tani’ a hero statue, not farmers statue: History book .

National Peasants Day 2017

National Peasants Day 2017 (Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/BZarEQAnIRt)

Shu Li Peasant Heroes 1945 NGA

Shu Li, Peasant Heroes, c. 1945 NGA

Exhibition: NGA Contemporary Worlds Indonesia

New Exhibition: NGA Contemporary Worlds Indonesia

21 June – 27 October 2019

This exhibition looks at the creative practices of Indonesian artists working since the fall of President Suharto in 1998, an event that marked the end of three decades of the repressive, discriminatory New Order regime. (Find out more here.)

Contemporary Worlds Indonesian NGA Exhibition Neon

Contemporary Worlds Indonesian NGA Exhibition Arrows

Short Story: They Spelt The Begging Ban

They Spelt The Begging Ban

By Ahmad Tohari

They were five street children and Gupris was the only girl. The five of them rarely washed, and even more infrequently changed clothes. Of the lot, Gupris was the most active and noisy, and also the most talkative. Gupris was the only one too who had ever been to school even if only briefly.

And now the five children had jumped onto the tray of an open-sided truck that had started moving toward the depot. Every morning they gathered at the truck depot that was surrounded by stalls, mostly stalls selling rice meals. The four boys always slept there, on the floor under the awning of the closed stalls, or wherever they liked. At night, they were used to the mosquitoes. But often they couldn’t sleep when they had empty stomachs. Gupris didn’t join them sleeping rough at the depot. She did something different. She had a small house behind the depot. Her mother was there, but her father wasn’t.

Three o’clock in the morning was the time Gupris hated the most. She was often woken by the fragrant smell. She would often see early in the morning that her mother was already washed and dressed, and had put on her makeup and lipstick. Then her mother would take the handbasket and say she was off to go shopping at the market. At first, Gupris didn’t care. But then she came to hate it because her mother would always come home with an empty basket, her striking brightly colored clothes and makeup a mess. Gupris came to hate it more and more. So now every morning at two-thirty she got up and went to the depot to join her four friends before her mother arrived home.

Gupris and her four friends sat cross-legged on the tray of the empty truck that was headed for the cement factory. The truck was huge, it had fourteen wheels, the tray was steel, and it had no sides. One of the children played a small drum, one played a tambourine, and another played an old battered guitar. The result was a traveling dangdut* stage. The truck drivers were never angry even though the five street kids would often make a noise banging on the floor of the tray. Gupris usually sang like a dangdut singer, but this time she preferred to play on her cellphone. She had become fond of looking at rude pictures. Gupris still wore her hair in two pigtails.

Approaching Karangasu intersection, Gupris got up and stood unsteadily. She invited her four friends to get ready to get down. If they were lucky, the traffic lights at the intersection would turn red for them. But not this time. So one of the children who couldn’t wait jumped down along the side. He slammed into the ground and immediately streamed. Gupris ran to the front pounding on the roof of the truck cabin. The truck finally stopped after crossing the intersection. The driver looked back but wasn’t angry. The other four children jumped down. They wanted to help their friend who was sitting in pain but the traffic was very heavy. Gupris took action. She moved to the center of the road, raising her hands high to motion for a chance to get cross. The sun’s heat had started to bite.

The five street children who rarely took a bath walked away from the intersection, the one being helped to a sheltered place and left there alone.

Gupris invited the three friends back to the corner of the intersection. The drum made from PVC pipe and a membrane made of tire started to pound. The tambourine and old battered guitar started to make a noise.

Gupris got ready for their dangdut show. But suddenly she stopped still. She saw something. Something had changed at the corner of the intersection. Near them a noticeboard had been erected. The writing was black on a white painted wooden board. Unlike her friends who weren’t interested because they couldn’t read, Gupris was different. She wanted to read the writing. She began to spell out. Her friends approached and stood behind her to listen.

“A-n-y-o-ne be-gg-i-ng a-n-d b-us-ki-n-g w-i-ll b-e… pu-n-i-s-h-ed b-y… i-m-p-ri-s-o-n-e-d …”.

Gupris stopped, then turned to face her friends.

“What is punished? What does being punished and imprisoned mean?” they asked.

The four boys grinned and then each shook his head. None of them knew. They just stared at each other. Gupris was annoyed and felt useless. So Gupris invited her friends to leave. But they suddenly stopped.

“Now, read that! You are wild kids who just wander around aimlessly, you have to read it. You have to!”

Gupris and her friends looked to the side at the same time. There was a watchman coming out of the food stall wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Above the right pocket of his shirt was clearly embroidered with the name Karidun. He was moving in a half run. And he stopped, puffing himself up. His loud voice sounded over the noise of the cars and motorbikes. There was still some rice or coconut pieces stuck to the corner of his lips. The left over food continued to dance following the movement of his mouth as the watchman spoke. That was the sight that made Gupris almost burst out laughing.

“Go on reading. You have to!” said watchman Karidun, hand pointing to the noticeboard there in a commanding style. “I’m a security officer, see, security from Community Services. I was the one who put the sign up this morning. For people just like you. Get it? Remember, I’m security from Community Services, right?”

Quietly Gupris stopped, her face blank. Then she looked behind her in the direction of her friends.

“Hey, why stop. Read on. I’m security. And I told you to read. Go on,” shouted watchman Karidun, voice becoming louder this time.

“P-u-n-is-he-d, what does that mean, mister?” Gupris asked in a normal tone. Although she was still a little girl, who didn’t wash often, Gupris dared to quip back to Karidun, who wanted to be called security.

There was quiet again. Watchman Karidun didn’t seem to be ready to answer Gupris’ question.

His face changed. Like somebody with a stutter, confused, but his eyebrows hardened. Then he turned himself around rubbing his forehead.

Finally he snapped back to face the five street kids as he also puffed himself right up.

“I am a security official. Right, now?”

“Yes!” Gupris answered very quickly.

“So, in my opinion, to be punished is definitely not the same as being given some money. Being punished might be the same as being convicted. Yes. Being punished by imprisonment is the same as being sentenced to confinement, put in prison, sent to jail. Get it? That’s it, so don’t you go begging and busking. You should all be going to school. So you can be like me who’s a security officer and knows what being punished means.”

Gupris fell silent a moment. Then turned back to face her friends. “You hear, we should be going to school.”

“Do you get money going to school?” interrupted one of the children.

“Seriously! Schools, see, don’t get you money, in fact you have to pay,” Gupris answered.

“Wow, that’s a problem if it’s like that? You don’t get any money? So what are we supposed to buy food with? It would be better to keep on busking, keep on begging. Then we can keep on eating.”

“Wait, what?” exclaimed watchman Karidun with a fierce face. “I have just told you. Begging and busking will be punished by imprisonment. P-u-n-ish-ed b-y i-mp-ri-so-n-me-nt for 30 days, with a fine of 50 million rupiah! Do you hear that?”

Gupris’s face sank. But then she smiled faintly as she noticed the leftover food in the corner of Karidun’s mouth dancing again.

“Why is that?” Gupris responded again. “Begging isn’t pickpocketing, or stealing, is it?”

“Yes, but it is against the ban. Anyone who breaks the ban is definitely going to be punished, convicted.”

“Why is it like that? Who made the ban?”

“Well, I’m security. So I know who made the ban on begging, the mayor and the city council members.”

“What’s a mayor?”

“Really, you wild child. The mayor is an important official.”

“Are the city council members too?”

“Yess. Now listen. As security I want to explain everything. The city council members are the representatives of the people, so your representatives too.”

Gupris’ eyebrows narrowed. She was confused. But at least now she knew. The city council members were a type of human too. And they along with the mayor had made the ban, whoever begged and busked would be punished by imprisonment.

“Yes, yes. We beg and busk every day. But we’ve never been punished.” Gupris grinned. Her four friends laughed.

“Oh, so you’re all asking to be punished, are you?” Karidun hurriedly rummaged for his cellphone in his pocket. He muttering to himself, the leftover food still not yet gone from the corners of his mouth. Gupris and her four friends laughed again.

“Hang on. I’ll call for a city police patrol car to grab you guys. Just hang on. I’m the security who calls the city police. So they’ll be right here.”

“What’s the city police anyway?” Gupris stared up at Karidun. But there was no answer.

As Karidun was busy with his cellphone, Gupris turned to face her friends. She whispered. The four friends nodded together. Then they glanced to the side. The traffic lights was showing red. Two large empty trucks with open trays and an expensive car were pulled up. The light changed to yellow, then to green. Gupris moved the fastest, the others following. They deftly jumped up like monkeys as the big truck with the open tray began to move off. Then they waved wildly to watchman Karidun.

“Hey mister watchman, we’re off to Tegal, then Cirebon. Then to…, then, then… If you want to punish us, chase us there, OK, mister?” Gupris shouted as she laughed. The four friends danced wildly on the truck as it sped off. Gupris’ voice was still audible, but grew fainter and fainter. The cement truck drove on into the distance headed north in the direction of the city of Tegal.

The Karangasu intersection would continue to be busy but it was left behind by Gupris and her four friends. The five street kids who were still just young children had gone on a journey. They would wander through Tegal, Cirebon, and who knows where else. Watchman Karidun was still standing on the corner at the intersection. He stared at the sign that announced the ban on begging he had just built that morning. Oh, and once the sixty by one hundred centimeter sign was up it had immediately proved its potency. Five street children had left the Karangasu intersection. Watchman Karidun was proud because he felt he had done a good job. Or, had he. Because the vision of Gupris’ cute face and two pigtails continued to linger before his eyes. The voice of Gupris as she spelt in a halting voice, “…what is punished by imprisonment?…” continued to ring in his ears too.


They Spelt The Begging Ban (Mereka Mengeja Larangan Mengemis) was published in Kompas Daily on 15 September 2019. (Retrieved from Mereka Mengeja Larangan Mengemis.)

Ahmad Tohari, was born in Banyumas, June 13, 1948. He now lives in the village of Tinggarjaya, Jatilawang, Purwokerto in Central Java province. His most popular work is the novel trilogy Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk. His collections of short stories include Senyum Karyamin, Nyanyian Malam, dan Mata yang Enak Dipandang. Other works includes the novels: Kubah (1982), Di Kaki Bakit Cibalak (1977), Bekisar Merah (1993), Lingkar Tanah Lingkar Air (1995), Bclantik (2001), dan Orang-orang Proyek (2002).

*On dangdut check out https://www.britannica.com/art/dangdut or

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