Category Archives: Culture

New Album: Menolak Tunduk By Wukir Suryadi

New Album: Menolak Tunduk [Refuse to Obey]

By Wukir Suryadi

Based on album notes from Bandcamp:

The uncertain situation of the pandemic due to government policies that are not concerned with the welfare and security of the people makes anyone indignant. Survival is initiated independently and collectively through community solidarity action, including protest. Ironically, community action has not been responded to as an aspiration prompting government improvement, but instead was responded to with repression. Wukir’s statement of disobedience is not only directed against the sociopolitical conditions, but also against all things that limit and restrict freedom of expression.

This attitude is reflected in the compositions on this album. It’s not as melodic as it used to be. Dark as usual, aggressive, abrasive, transcendental, and definitely tribal. The percussion element is very dominant. This emerged from his new instrument in the form of a wooden box with a line-shaped hole. This ancient-futuristic album marks a tumultuous new cross-dimensional era to affirm our stance, to disobey.

credits
released November 10, 2021

Instruments:
Kentongan serie A and B,
Guitar, Industrial Mutant, Solet, Senyawa x Benchlab Pedal serie R prototype

Recorded in Senyawa Mandiri, 2021
Mastered by Joseph Lamont

license
some rights reserved

Tags
alternative experimental indonesia Yogyakarta

Yes No Wave Music’s website

Short Story: Mrs Geni in December

Mrs Geni in December

By Arswendo Atmowiloto

For Mrs Geni, every month is December. Last month, this month, or next month, they all mean December. So if you have to deal with Mrs Geni, it’s better not to rely on dates but rather on the day. If you want to book her, you have to say, “Two Fridays from this Friday.” If you say the seventeenth, you could be in trouble because the seventeenth won’t necessarily be a Friday. If you book her for the seventeenth, she just might not show up on the day.

The problem is a great many people deal with Mrs Geni. For anyone wanting to arrange the wedding of a child, there is only one choice. Mrs Geni. Bridal makeup artist. There are many other bridal makeup artists, but none that can match Mrs Geni. Even after considering the many other beauty salons, people stay with the choice of Mrs Geni.

According to past clients, Mrs Geni is no ordinary makeup artist. She can transform a would-be bride and make her so beautiful she is truly stunning. Unrecognizable. One of her specialties is infusing cigarette smoke onto the face of a would-be bride. According to tradition, she explains, this is bronzing. The application of a bronze, not golden, hue to the skin. Almost every bridal makeup artist uses the technique, but none can match her skill. At one wedding, the host fainted because she thought the daughter she was marrying off had disappeared. The mother of the bride-to-be fainted, the father was embarrassed, and all the relatives started to search for the bride at friends’ houses. Even after she was found, the mother of the bride-to-be couldn’t accept it. “That is not my child. That is not my child,” she exclaimed.

“Well, if she isn’t your child, that makes her my child. Let’s go home.”

Only later the mother of the bride-to-be realized, and said, “How is it possible that my child could be as beautiful as this?”

Despite this, Mrs Geni does not always please everyone. Her voice is loud, and the people who have to listen to her do become annoyed. “This child is already pregnant. Why are you hiding it? Why are you embarrassed? To have children, to be able to become pregnant, is a gift. This is not something to be covered up, to be squeezed down with clothes. After all it’s your own child.”

If I am not mistaken, the incident happened at the house of a district head. As a result the news spread and continued to reverberate long after the incident was over. Another wedding ceremony was almost cancelled simply because Mrs Geni could see an unhappy face on the bride-to-be. Usually two or three days before a ceremony, Mrs Geni needs to meet with the bride-to-be in person. Why not with the bridegroom-to-be? “Well, his fate rests right here, doesn’t it.”

When she met the soon-to-be bride who she felt was wearing a sad face, Mrs Geni said, “Can’t be like this. You have to start off happy.” No matter that the invitations had already been sent out, the reception hall paid for in advance, and, more importantly, the food already prepared. If it had ended in cancellation, the story would have been unremarkable. What was unusual was that two days later, a bus crashed over a cliff into a gorge. It turned out that if the wedding had actually gone ahead and had not been cancelled, the bridegroom-to-be would probably have gone into the gorge, because he had in fact planned to travel on that very bus at that very time. Mrs Geni’s story continues next with the time she was asked to prepare the makeup of the daughter of a government minister – possibly a senior coordinating minister – but she replied, “Just tell the daughter to come to my house. A lot of people here are going to be inconvenienced if I leave them.”

Last seventeenth of August, the residents of her neighborhood waited to see whether Mrs Geni would put up the national red and white flag at her house, because according to Mrs Geni that is the essence of the seventeenth of August. As it turned out, Mrs Geni did have a flag put up. “What’s wrong with flying the flag on the seventeenth of December?” she asked.

The officials in the village were happy too, because if Mrs Geni hadn’t displayed the flag on the anniversary of independence, there could have been trouble. On the following thirty-first of December, Mrs Geni didn’t object to having a party at her house. But to her, the following day wasn’t New Year’s Day but rather the first of December again.

Many people say that Mrs Geni’s magic is to always appear young. And Mrs Geni does indeed seem to have always looked the same, whether it was doing the makeup for a neighbor, or doing it for her own child. Her face and presentation have been the same. Photos taken at the time can prove this along with photos taken over the succeeding twenty years. And maybe the twenty years before that.

“Marriage is the most illogical of ceremonies. It causes a lot of trouble. You all stress about working out an auspicious date, what sort of matching clothes to wear. And none of it has any connection with the marriage itself. Just look at the people who make the speeches at weddings, the people delivering advice to the newlyweds. That is the most boring part, the part listened to the least. But it’s always included. That’s weddings for you.” It is rather strange for these words to come from Mrs Geni, because she in fact makes her living from weddings. “Yes, it is strange. Isn’t marriage a strange thing. Because something strange is thought of as normal, the people who do not marry, who are widows or widowers, are even thought of as strange.”

On a different occasion Mrs Geni said, “The strange expression ‘soul mate’ hides the fear or questions that we don’t have the courage to answer. ‘Oh, such and such is my soul mate.’ We commonly speak like that. Or if it fails, ‘Oh, such and such was not my soul mate.’” Mrs Geni then laughs at length. “So, is my soul mate actually Mr Geni? Because I married Mr Geni, he becomes my soul mate. Not, because Mr Geni was my soul mate therefore I married him. It would have been different if before that I hadn’t married Mr Geni. Then he wouldn’t have been my soul mate.”

Why marry Mr Geni at the time?

“Well, because it was time to get married, like everybody else.”

Does that then mean it wasn’t out of love that I married Mr Geni?

“As with soul mates, as soon as you marry, well, that has to be accepted as love. That is more important. Because if you rely on love beforehand, it might not last. What you have, that is what you love, whether there is love there before or not.”

The question arises because there is word that Mr Geni is to marry again. “Yeah, don’t worry about that. And I will do the makeup for the bride,” she says easily in a flat, almost emotionless tone. “To try to forbid it would be hard and it would be useless anyway. Just let him do it.”

Maybe that is the reason Mrs Geni is still happy to do the makeup of the soon-to-be brides who are to become second or third wives. “Let people experience joy once in their lives.” For Mrs Geni marriage is joy, happiness. “If someone does not even experience joy when they marry, they aren’t going to find any other joy.”

According to Mrs Geni, no marriage really fails because marriage itself is not a success. “All you need is a little courage and a lot of foolishness. That is what is needed for a marriage. In order to divorce, on the other hand, you need to have a lot of courage and a small amount of foolishness.”

Has Mrs Geni ever thought about divorcing Mr Geni?

“I’ve never thought about getting divorced. Have I thought about killing him? Often.”

And so, Mrs Geni, bridal makeup artist, has done the makeup for all the women in her village. You could say for everyone who has been married, as well as for those who have not. The latter Mrs Geni makes up as bodies when women pass away having never married. Before burial, Mrs Geni makes them up completely. Many people do not approve. For many people it is regrettable. Still others fear being made up. “Frightened it will come to pass during the marriage. Frightened of being too happy, too free, too enjoyable. So that is why we commit ourselves to a marriage that regulates responsibilities so much, regulates obligations, including the provision of a living and the raising of children. Only it’s strange, but basically we’re afraid of our own happiness and limit it through the existence of the power of God.”

Even though she says humanity’s most limiting and frightening discovery is marriage, Mrs Geni continues to prepare people’s makeup, still uses the infusing of cigarette smoke. For someone who is able to make time for herself – even though it is still tied to December – Mrs Geni is able to do the makeup for people, bodies, bridal statues and trees, as well as buffaloes. Mrs Geni also chants the bridal mantra, breathes the three breaths onto the crown of the bride’s head, with the same seriousness she uses to fast before making someone up. “Let the buffaloes experience happiness, just as we have believed all this time that marriage is happiness.”

Fortunately all of this only happens in December.


Mrs Geni in December (Bu Geni di Bulan Desember) by Arswendo Atmowiloto was first published in the national daily newspaper Harian Kompas on 20 May 2012. Retrieved from https://cerpenkompas.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/bu-geni-di-bulan-desember/

Featured image credit: “Tribute to Arswendo Atmowiloto” by Karikatoer (Khoirul Anwar), https://www.instagram.com/karikatoer/

Short Story: Bitter Beans

Bitter Beans

By Seno Gumira Ajidarma

A discrete young couple is engrossed in an animated argument about bitter beans. In fact they have just finished a dinner that consisted largely, among other things, of bitter beans.

“Just imagine if there were no bitter beans in the world,” muses the young man.

“Well, what about it?”

“If there were no bitter beans in the world, the poor wouldn’t have anything to make them happy. Imagine! Wouldn’t it be dreadful if the only thing that made the poor happy was owning a Mercedes Benz and working in an office? We’re lucky to have bitter beans! Every individual bitter bean makes a huge contribution to the total sum of human happiness. It’s about time we realized that the bitter bean is one of Indonesia’s most important national resources.”

“But the image of the bitter bean doesn’t fit the image of the newly rich city dwelling office worker, the collar-and-tie look. It’s obvious that the bitter bean just isn’t, or at least isn’t very, well, cool. You can hardly be proud of the smell! After all these days people are only happy if they have something to be proud of.”

“To be proud of, or, to be arrogant about? Look at us. We’re happy eating bitter beans. Try smelling my breath.” The young man exhales. “Phew!”

The young woman waves a hand in front of her nose. “Yuck! What a revolting smell!”

“Well, of course it smells! But the embarrassing smell of bitter beans is only an image problem. Something has to be done to change its image. You can’t deny it. It does bring joy to millions of people, people who can only afford to find happiness in eating bitter beans. That’s the first thing. And another thing. Aren’t they also good for you? According to a friend of mine they’re good for your kidneys. They help you piss. And the problem of the smell? Ah! The smell can even be turned into… a unique national symbol! I might even write a letter to the newspaper suggesting, yes, that the Director General of Tourism start an advertising campaign promoting the smell of bitter beans as, `The Smell of Indonesia’. What do you think? Do you like that?”

The attractive young girlfriend is silent. She blinks and listens to her excited boyfriend’s ideas. Out of affection she usually tries to agree even though she does think this suggestion sounds a little odd. There is no way in the world the bitter bean is ever going to amount to anything of world importance. Not like crude oil, or nuclear energy. It’s just a fact that bitter beans will probably only ever be important for the little person, to the ordinary man and woman in the street.

“I don’t think you’re actually wrong,” she says, “but do you really think many people are going to be able to follow what you mean?”

“Well, of course. What’s so hard about it? It isn’t complicated. It’s getting harder and harder to make a living. The measure of success is becoming more and more difficult to achieve. And that means too many people will feel like they have failed in life, that their lives are worthless if they can’t live up to this measure of success. These are the defeated people, the unfortunate, those who despite having worked and worked are never going to strike it big. These people have to be entertained…”

“And how is that going to happen?”

“Oh! I can’t believe you haven’t got it yet!”

“You mean they have to be made to realize that happiness can be achieved, not by having a white-collar job, but by.. eating bitter beans?”

“Exactly!”

“You mean grilled bitter beans, don’t you?”

“They could also be fried.”

“What about raw bitter beans?”

“Not interesting enough.”

“Steamed then?”

“Now that’s a little better. But what would be exciting is beans mixed with milk.”

“You mean…?”

Udang Sambal Petai
Short Story: Bitter Beans by Seno Gumira Ajidarma

“A bitter bean nog! Not milk, egg, honey and ginger, but milk, egg, honey and bitter beans! Ha ha ha!!” they laughed together.

“Then, you could also have bitter bean juice.”

“Wow! That’s a great idea!”

“Now you’re getting silly!”

“Why?”

“If the meaning of life can only be found in eating bitter beans, what would be the point of going to school and getting a good education? Surely the achievements of human civilization can’t be measured by the happiness someone finds in eating bitter beans. It wouldn’t be right for bitter beans to be so important that nothing else made people happy.”

“Hang on! Do you actually believe that? Look, the central business district of Jakarta, Jakarta’s ‘Golden Triangle’, is just the tip of an enormous pyramid and just a mere handful of people ever get to enjoy the bright lights. If everybody tried to climb to the top of the pyramid it would be a disaster! Most people are going to roll back down again, or fall off, or get pushed off and become poor again and then they’re going to end up believing there isn’t any point to life.”

“You’re so cynical.”

“What do you mean, cynical? I have great hope.”

“You mean hope in bitter beans, that the only thing that will make Indonesians happy is eating bitter beans?”

“You can make an Indonesian happy with a tie and you can get millions of ties from Sogo department store.”

The couple chatter away excitedly as the distinctive aroma of bitter beans sprays from their mouths with every enthusiastic breath.

They explore every aspect of the bitter bean for more than an hour then finally they  realize they’re very tired.

Eventually, all that is left is for them to kiss passionately.

“You reek of bitter beans,” says the young man.

“You smell of bitter beans yourself,” replies the woman, as they each depart for their homes.

Arriving at his home, the young man kisses his wife.

“You smell of bitter beans,” she greets him.

“Yes, I did have some at a food stall.”

“You are always eating those things!”

“No, I’m not. Only now and again.”

“I am amazed. I have told you before but you just don’t learn, do you?” says the man’s wife. “If you eat bitter beans everyone in the house has to put up with it. You know no one else in the house likes them besides you. I don’t like them and neither do the children. Whenever you eat bitter beans the smell goes everywhere, from the toilet out back to the gutter out the front of the house. The smell gets into everything. It’s embarrassing! The neighbors will say, “Err. The people next door are eating bitter beans again!” Try to cut down a little, will you? Try to show a little consideration for someone other than yourself, all right! So you honestly enjoy them, but you have to realize, only poor people eat bitter beans, darling.”

After that she doesn’t say anything else. But before going to bed she suddenly remembers that her bitter bean munching husband in fact gave them up before they got married fifteen years ago. Lately, however, over the last few months, she has noticed he has started eating them again. She can’t understand why.

“Maybe he needs a little variation,” she thinks.

(Jakarta, October 1990.)


Bitter Beans (Petai) was published in the Jakarta national newspaper Kompas Daily in December 1990.

Box of Petai
Short Story: Bitter Beans by Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Click here for a selection of other work by Seno Gumira Ajidarma or here.