Novel Baswedan

To Be Empty Is To Be Full of Power – Lotus Poems

By W.S. Rendra

Habit is not character
Character is not a fantasy
About ourselves.
Character comes from emptiness.
If empty
we are agile and alert.
In emptiness
We can respond to anything,
According to the situation,
And not according to habit.
The full are rigid and slow –
Often even powerless.
To be empty is to be full of power.

WS Rendra, To Be Empty is To Be Full of Power (Kosong Itu Penuh Daya) Lotus Poems (Syair Teratai), Sinar Harapan Daily, 19 April 1975 (Sourced from Armin Bell, Kumpulan Fiksi Blog)

Novel Baswedan

Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) investigator Novel Baswedan, center, who was injured in an acid attack by unidentified assailants, sits in a wheelchair as he leaves the general hospital where he was initially treated in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, April 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim) ( Novel was subsequently treated in Singapore for 10 months, before returning to work in Jakarta in early 2018.

For background to Mr. Novel Baswedan see ‘I Don’t Want to Be Sad’: Indonesia’s Top Graft Buster Talks to TIME From His Hospital Bed and Pak Jokowi, Bentuk Tim Independen untuk Ungkap Kasus Novel!

Maria Ullfah

Maria Ullfah, Mother of Indonesia’s National Women’s Day – @PotretLawas

Dutch East Indies Students in Holland, 1932. Maria Ullfah (right) would go on to become the first woman bachelor of laws from the Dutch East Indies.

Dutch East Indies Students in Holland, 1932. Maria Ullfah (right) would go on to become the first woman Bachelor of Laws from the Dutch East Indies. (Source: @Potretlawas)

Maria Ullfah was the daughter of Kuningan regent R.A.A. Mohammad Achmad. Maria entered the Faculty of Law at the University of Leiden in 1929 and graduated in 1933.

A friend from the same faculty and boarding house, Siti Soendari (left), who was also the sister of Dr. Soetomo, followed by taking a Bachelor of Laws the following year. On her return to the Dutch East Indies, Maria Ullfah worked in the office of the Cirebon regency government, however, this was only to last several months because she chose to study German and government at the Muhammadiyah school in Batavia. It was probably here that Maria Ullfah’s involvement in the nationalist movement began.

The causes which Maria championed included a fair marriage law, which she proposed at the Third Women’s Congress. Maria then became the head of the Agency for the Protection of Indonesian Women in Marriage. Her goal was a marriage law which was based on the principle of equity of rights and responsibilities between men and women.

22 December was declared Women’s Day at the Third Women’s Congress which was held in Bandung from 23 to 27 July 1938. Women’s Day in 1953 was a gala celebration as it was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first Women’s Congress. However, as a national day Women’s Day was not made a public holiday until 1959 with the release of Presidential Decree No. 316/1959.

Some of Maria Ullfah’s other important roles included the inclusion of human rights articles in the 1945 Constitution as it was being drafted by the Body Investigating Steps for Preparedness for Indonesian Independence (BPUPKI). Maria was one of its members. It was Maria who strongly protested when the early draft made no mention of human rights. Drs. Mohammad Hatta played the same role.

After independence, Maria Ullfah became Minister of Social Affairs in the Second Sjahrir Cabinet in 1946. It was under her stewardship that the Office of Workers’ Affairs was born which was the forerunner of today’s Ministry of Labor (@KemnakerRI). She was part of the fight for workers’ rights through her drafting of the social affairs law which aimed to improve the conditions of workers. This draft became law in 1948.

So it was that after this long record of nationalist struggle in 1959 Maria Ullfah proposed that Women’s Day on 22 December be made a national day. At the time Maria was Director of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet office during the administration of Prime Minister Juanda.

Her dream was simple, that women would always be aware of their responsibilities as mothers of the nation.

Hari Ibu, 1939 (Source: @Potretlawas)

Hari Ibu, 1939 (Source: @Potretlawas)

Source: Various tweets from @potretlawas.

Note: Hari Ibu is usually rendered “Mother’s Day”.


De ‘witte hadji’ Snouck als avonturier

Java Post

Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje

Deze islamoloog en arabist was een van de eerste westerlingen die doordrong in Mekka. Later streek hij voor onderzoek neer in Java en Atjeh. En steeds weer schreef hij voorbeeldige etnografieën.

Door Dirk Vlasblom

Snouck Hurgronje in Mekka

Philip Dröge heeft een scherp oog voor intrigerende, weinig bekende stukjes geschiedenis dicht bij huis. Dat bleek eerder uit zijn boeken Moresnet (2016), over dat vergeten buurlandje van Nederland, en De schaduw van Tambora (2015), een huiveringwekkend verhaal over de vulkaanuitbarsting van 1815 in Nederlands-Indië. Met Pelgrim, een biografie van de Leidse islamoloog en arabist Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, heeft hij alweer een boeiend onderwerp te pakken dat niet is opgenomen in de vaderlandse geschiedeniscanon. 

View original post 1,065 more words


“Asimetris” (Asymmetric) – WatchDoc Image Documentaries Trailer

This is the trailer for “Asimetris” (Asymmetric), the ninth documentary film in the ground-breaking Blue Indonesia Expedition series (Ekspedisi Indonesia Biru) on contemporary Indonesia following the acclaimed documentaries:

1. Samin vs Semen
2. Kala Benoa
3. The Mahuzes
4. Baduy
5. Kasepuhan Ciptagelar
6. Lewa di Lembata
7. Huhate
8. Gorontalo Baik

The full film is going to be uploaded this coming March.

Source: WatchDoc Image Documentaries


A Poem for Mother

By W.S. Rendra

To recall mother
Is to recall dessert
Wife is the sustaining main
Girlfriend the side dishes
And mother,
The perfect final,
The great communal feast of life.

Her countenance is the sky at sunset:
The grandeur of the day which has completed its work.
Her voice the echo
Of the whisper of my conscience.

Remembering mother
I see the best promise of life.
Hearing her voice,
I believe in the good in the human heart.
Looking at mother’s photograph,
I inherit the essence of the creation of the world.

Talking with you, my brothers and sisters,
I remember that you too have mothers.
I shake your hands,
I embrace you in fraternity.
We do not want to offend each other,
So we don’t insult each other’s mother,
Who always, like the earth, water and sky,
Defends us without affectation.

Thieves have mothers. Murderers have mothers.
As do corruptors, tyrants, fascists, journalists on the take, and members of parliament for sale,
They too also have mothers.

What sort of mother are their mothers?
Aren’t their mothers the dove soaring in the sky of the soul?
Aren’t their mothers the gateway to the universe?

Will the child say to his mother:
“Mother, I’ve become the errand boy of foreign capital,
That makes goods which do nothing to reduce the poverty of the people,
Then I bought a government mountain real cheap,
While the number of landless villagers skyrockets.
Now I’m rich.
And then, mother, I also bought you a mountain,
For your grave one day.”

No. This is not something the child says to his mother.
But how then will the child explain to his mother about his position as tyrant, corruptor, forest and rice-field mouse plague?
Will the tyrant name himself the leader of the revolution?
Will the corruptor and errand boy of foreign capital name himself the hero of development?
And will the forest and rice-field mouse plague consider himself the ideal farmer?

But then what of the glowing gaze of his mother?
Is it possible that a mother would say:
“Child, don’t forget to take your jacket.
Remember to wrap up against the night air.
A journalist needs to stay healthy.
Oh, yeah, and if you get any fat envelops,
Please pick me up some fried prawns.”

Mother, now I really understand your value.
You are the statue of my life,
Which isn’t fake or a white elephant like the National Monument and Mini Indonesia Park.
You are the anthem Great Indonesia.
You are the rain I watched in the village.
You are the forest encircling the lake.
You are the lotus flower of meditation’s peace.
You are the song of the simple people.
You are the arrow of my conscience in what I do.

Pejambon, Jakarta
23 October, 1977

A Poem of Mother (Sajak Ibunda) was published in State of Emergency, W.S. Rendra, Wild & Woolley, Glebe, 1978, p. 52.

Catatan Najwa Untuk Sumpah Pemudah

Ain’t No Night Fair #6

Ain’t No Night Fair

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Chapter 3

We left before dawn to make our way to the station. We queued to buy tickets. The train traveled along the coast, skirting the Java Sea. Sometimes the train would race cars and we watched the sight anxiously. The dust thrown up by cars – dust mixed with every kind of horse dung, human excrement, human snot and spit – billowed up and came to rest on our skin. Sometimes we caught sight of children cheering as they held out hats begging. And this situation had persisted from the time the railway line was opened and trains raged along its rails. Whenever anyone threw food scraps, the children would scramble against each other. But it isn’t so important for me to relate this.

The train went on and on, and when it reached the town of Rembang began to turn southward traveling through teak forests and rice fields. The closer we got to the town of my birth, the more vivid became the images in my mind of its narrow lanes, of its people living in poverty and, of my father. From time to time deer could be seen darting frightened by the hiss of the train, running into the undergrowth with forelegs and hind legs almost crossing over and tight stomachs appearing to almost float up.

The conductor checking our tickets was still the same conductor who had been there when I was young and would often travel to Rembang to visit the beach when the holidays finally arrived. But the conductor was now old and no longer recognized me. He paid no attention to the people on the train, interested only in their tickets.

I glanced over at my wife and said, “Look, the forest is so beautiful.”

Quietly my wife popped her head out the window, then she pulled her head in again and nestled into the corner of the carriage seat.

I gazed at the beauty of the forest. I had gone into that forest once long ago, before at a time when as a scout we had visited the grave of Raden Ajeng Kartini. Her grave was not far from our train then. Suddenly a canyon unfurled before my eyes and I called spontaneously.

“Look at the canyon! It’s so deep!”

I looked at my wife. She lifted her eyelids, and then lowering them again slowly she closed her eyes once more.

I sighed.

I wanted to show off the beauty of my own area, with its canyons and forests, deer and monkeys. Yes, I wanted to do that so much.

Our train passed through stations and stops which were now no more than solitary platforms, passed lime kilns and piles of teak logs, and it all brought memories back to me of my childhood when we would often go on trips by bicycle in and out of the forest. Yes, what a wonderful childhood it had been, which was now past. Now my memories sang sweetly of its beauty.

As the train entered the outskirts of the town of Blora, I noticed open blocks of land. Land where once buildings had stood, and suddenly it dawned on me. These buildings had been flattened by the war. Desperate to know what had happened, I put my head out the window.

Cepu Destruction 10 January 1949 by J. Zijlstra

Then all at once I said, “I hope the telegram did get there. And hopefully someone will be there to meet us at the station.”

My wife opened her eyes, and as our eyes met I said, “We’re here at Blora now.”

She tidied herself, and I did likewise, then the train came to a halt at Blora station. Once more I poked my head out the window, but my eyes were not able to catch sight of the person I had hoped would come to meet us. So it was true, the telegram hadn’t made it.

We carried our things. Then, traveling gently just as it had once before long ago, the horse and buggy carried us to the house I had left all this time. The driver constantly nudged his horse with whip and commands only out of habit. Many of the buildings along the road were destroyed. The Post and Telegraph office which had been the pride of the residents of the small town of Blora was now no more than a crumpled stack of concrete pillars. I drew in a long breath. The statue celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the reign of Queen Wilhelmina was still standing, though its former glory was gone and it was now painted a pale red.

And I did not understand why. Maybe a red militia had painted it when they occupied our town.

Thus when our buggy drew up in front of the house I had left behind so long ago, my young brothers and sisters yelled excitedly, “Big brother’s here! Big brother’s here!”

But they did not want to approach. In fact those who weren’t adults distanced themselves. Possibly their shyness was due to the fact I was now married, and that my wife was now standing beside me. I didn’t really know. Only the brothers and sisters who were now grown up came to help us carry our bags.

When I went into the house, I bumped my head on the roof beam, and it made me think. I had grown taller now. When I had left this house, the roof beams had still been far above my head.

Cepu Destruction 10 January 1949

Source: Ain’t No Night Fair (Bukan Pasarmalam) by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Dinas Penerbitan Balai Pustaka, Jakarta, 1959.

National Library Photo Collection of the work of J. Zijlstra

Cover photo credit Mata Najwa

Najwa Shihab of MetroTV's Mata Najwa Globe Asia Cover "99 Most Powerful Women"

Ain’t No Night Fair #5

Ain’t No Night Fair

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Chapter 2 (continued)

… Suddenly those thoughts died as my eyes fell on one small hamlet in the middle of rice fields surrounded by bamboo thickets and trees. I knew the conditions in this hamlet all too well. At that time, the hamlet had been under the control of a gang of outlaws. Once with my platoon I had been on patrol there and made a detailed report. The report would now be lying buried in some cupboard. I had become acquainted with one very attractive woman in particular. As the hamlet was owned by a large landowner, the thought occurred to me that the woman would have to have been mixed race. But that didn’t matter and her father had made me an offer, “If you marry my daughter, I will no longer need to work. There’s a sizeable amount of land here and you can take half of my fields.” I was completely intoxicated by the offer as I listened. At the time, poverty always circled in the sky ready to swoop down on your head. Yes, the thought of the offer made me smile at the time. But the patrol was to last no more than a day and a night and before long our platoon made its return to base.

I did return to the place later though, but the beautiful woman had been kidnapped by the gang of bandits. I would return home again filled with regret, but happy also that I had not sold myself out. Nevertheless, the beauty of the woman and her fate would continue to haunt my thoughts.

Then in my heart I told myself a story which went like this.

“The woman was now living contentedly with the bandits who had kidnapped her. She would by now have given birth to two young children and her body was adorned with silk and gold and diamond-studded jewelry.”

The train thundered on at high speed. The hamlet too vanished, from my view, and from my memory.

I coughed.

“You are too close to the window,” said my wife.

Dutch war train

We changed places. I drew the collar of my coat up tightly around my neck then I leaned back against the seat and closed my eyes. I dropped off to sleep, but my sleep was not to be secure as the train was beginning to fill with new passengers. Then I drifted back to sleep once more. Arriving in the district that had only recently been cleared of the threat and terror presented by the Darul Islam movement, we could see damaged telegraph wires, tangled and twisted around their poles which were lying bent, strewn on the ground.

“Well, not a chance the telegram has arrived there,” I said.

“No, the telegram couldn’t possibly have arrived,” my wife echoed. The train roared on, and on. And on, all the way to Semarang.

We slept the night at a hotel and although the hotel was grubby, we were nevertheless able to sleep soundly.

Dutch patrol at Semarang, Java, 23 July 1947



Source: Ain’t No Night Fair (Bukan Pasarmalam) by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Dinas Penerbitan Balai Pustaka, Jakarta, 1959.

National Archive Photo Collection

Mata Najwa Globe Asia Cover Photo Credit

Mata Najwa "Generasi Antikorupsi #KitaKPK"

Ain’t No Night Fair #4

Ain’t No Night Fair

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Chapter 2 (continued)

… My memory circled back again, the sheep transformed into a person, and that person was my father.

I sighed.

I could feel a shudder in my chest and I moaned.

“What’s wrong?” my wife asked.

“I might be coming down with a cold,” I answered.

“Put on your coat.”

I slipped on the coat I had taken off previously after putting up our suitcases at Gambir station. After that effort I had felt very hot and the feeling of having a temperature added to the pressure of the fear that we wouldn’t get a place to sit.

I fastened the buttons.

“You catch colds quite easily,” my wife added.

Coldly I didn’t respond to her reminder.

Now in my mind there appeared the sight of a grave, the final resting place of every person, despite certain people sometimes not finding a place in the womb of the earth. Yes, sometimes sailors, or soldiers in times of war, often they do not find a final resting place. And in my mind I imagined that it was my father who did not find a place.

I shuddered.

My eyes misted. But not enough for tears to fall.

“Ah, I do not want to listen to every thought in my head,” I screamed to myself.

And I thought. If only I could win the lottery. What a sweet dream that was. And that dream was ended by an old idea, the idea that at the end of the day every person passes away. Death. Sickness. And sickness brought my thoughts back to my father.

Once more I sighed.

“Hopefully your uncle should have waited before writing that letter,” my wife said. “Hopefully your father’s condition isn’t as bad as he described.”

Again I looked her straight in the eye. They were eyes that were now no longer of any interest to me. This time she lowered her head and rearranged her hair which was moved by the wind.

“Hopefully,” I said.

I turned yet again to stare out the train window. Rubber plantations chased each other. Small towns which I had often passed before I was once more going through again. And dozens of memories, some of which were bitter and some of which were happy, with a force I could not control assaulted my mind. And at that moment I became conscious. Sometimes people do not have the power to resist their own memories, and I smiled at this consciousness. Yes, people unknowingly are too strong and repress their awareness. I smiled again.

“What time is it, brother?” my wife asked.

I swung my eyes in her direction and again my gaze landed on her eyes, those once wonderful eyes that now held no interest for me. Just for a moment. Then I dropped my eyes to my watch.

“It’s almost nine o’clock,” I answered.

“Maybe he’s already received the telegram.”

“Hopefully he has,” I said.

And I swung my gaze to stare out the window again. The telegram now appeared in my mind. Just maybe the telegram which had said “Tomorrow arriving with my wife” would be of some comfort to my father. In fact this hope had not even been my own.

The previous night a friend had said, “You’ve been in prison so long. Two and a half years! And all that time your father was definitely wanting you to come home. And not only that. He was definitely worrying about how you were too.” And that is what had made me send him, I mean, have somebody else send him, the telegram. That friend had also said, “You have to go. Maybe you visiting him will make him feel better, help him recover.”


1940s Netherlands Indies Government Lottery Semarang

1940s Netherlands Indies Government Lottery, Gang Pinggir, Semarang (Source:

Source: Ain’t No Night Fair (Bukan Pasarmalam) by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Dinas Penerbitan Balai Pustaka, Jakarta, 1959.

National Archive Photo Collection

Mata Najwa Generasi Antikorupsi #KitaKPK Photo Credit

Jihat Anti-korupsi Mata Najwa

Ain’t No Night Fair #3

Ain’t No Night Fair

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Chapter 2 (continued)

… I swung my head, and my eyes too, from her stare and gazed out the train window again.

We were at Lemah Abang now.

All at once an old memory shimmered into my mind. Before, four years ago. Completely out of the blue, the Dutch had rained shells on our defenses from three directions using between eight and ten Howitzers. The number could be worked out by the fighters who had previously been soldiers in the Netherlands East Indies artillery. The people had panicked and run out in the direction of the rice fields. I still remember the time. I cupped my two hands and shouted, “Don’t run! Get on the ground!” But there were too many of them, and they were too confused, too frightened, and they were incapable of hearing my voice. And when I fell to the ground behind a large tree I was able to see one, then two, three, four, five artillery shells explode among the mass of scattering people. Bodies. Corpses. And my mind ran through the blood, injuries, bodies, to the letter, my uncle, and finally, to my father.

I sighed. My heart ached. I was indeed sensitive. And my family was full of sensitive creatures.

I closed my eyes tightly so I couldn’t see the scene around Lemah Abang. But the remnants of those memories would not leave my mind. The extraordinary achievement of the Dutch shooting, four sheep killed in front of their pen. And this is what was so upsetting: one old sheep, pregnant, eyes gazing into the sky, head resting on the rail of a pen post, with its two hind legs kneeling and its forelegs standing up straight. And the sheep was dead. I rocked the body of the sheep slightly and it tottered to the ground. It didn’t move. Really, it was dead. A friend suggested, “Let’s just cut it up.” I stared at its eyes which were open and pallid. I could feel a shiver run down my spine, and I ran all the way home. It was three days before I could get the vision of the sheep gazing into the sky out of my head. The sheep! My memory circled back again, the sheep transformed into a person, and that person was my father.

I sighed.


Karawang sector, 23 July 1947

Karawang sector, 23 July 1947. A convoy of the Dutch 7th December Division in the town Cikarang on route Karawang.

Source: Ain’t No Night Fair (Bukan Pasarmalam) by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Dinas Penerbitan Balai Pustaka, Jakarta, 1959.

National Archive Photo Collection

Anti-corruption Jihad photo credit

Burnt out car of a Brigadier A W S Mallaby

Ain’t No Night Fair #2

Ain’t No Night Fair

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Chapter 2

… Early that morning the first train flew along its tracks from Gambir station. Now there was only a quarter of the number of the tall red earthen mounds left which I had seen everywhere before during the Japanese occupation each time I returned to Blora. Settled by the rain. Chipped away. Dragged off by the rain. Then suddenly a horrible feeling came over me as I noticed all of the mounds of red earth at Jatinegara station. Aren’t the lives of all of humanity chipped away every day, squeezed down, and dragged off like those mounds of red earth? And as I was married, and because my wife was sitting next to me, I turned briskly to look at her.

“We’re not going on a honeymoon. We’re going to visit someone in hospital this time,” I said.

Gambir Railway Station Jakarta

Gambir Railway Station, Jakarta 1945

The roar and hiss of the train that had started to move off once more prevented me from hearing her reply. Her mouth was all that I could see opening and closing.
“We get to Blora tomorrow at twelve midday,” I continued.

I watched her nod, then turned back once more to gaze from the carriage window. The morning mist was beginning to thin and then Klender station appeared from the window. The carcasses of Dutch armored pantserwagen, British brengun carriers and old trucks still lay scattered across fields and along the sides of the main roads, English weapons which had been disabled by the groups of youth militia fighters, and disabled too by their own old age. Then suddenly I recalled: the youth militia fighters who had been under pressure from the wealth of firepower of the foreign forces had made it to the other side of the Cakung River.

The train then passed through Cakung station. I had so many recollections of this tiny hamlet. Cakung, among the rubber plantations, where the situation had changed so often, youth militia fighters pinned down one minute, then the foreign forces the next.

I drew on my cigarette. Now the morning cold and cool breeze weren’t as unpleasant as before. Barren empty rice fields and rice fields whose harvest time had all but arrived exchanged places chasing each other through the window. And before in those fields, there were occasions when single-prop Dutch warplanes had dropped hand grenades on farmers. There were times too when planes had landed in those empty fields and stolen goats from villagers. Yes, I recalled all of these things now. And in that grass too there had been friends then defending the line of the railway track who had fallen sprawling, their blood spraying over the ever green grass.

Dutch warplane

“What time will we arrive at Semarang?” my wife asked.


And I returned to my memories. Kranji station, Tambun. Cikarang. These were a series of defenses before the first military action. And the train continued roaring along. And suddenly I again remembered the letter from my uncle, “has already vomited blood four times!” And my recollections stopped and circled in on that word blood. Then I recalled as well how his letter had continued:

I feel that our father can’t be expected to recover. You can come home, can’t you? Surely, you can come home.

I shivered all over, like someone with malaria. And the military performance disappeared from my head. My father once more filled my thoughts.

“We can’t stay in Blora too long,” said my wife.

I looked at my wife. I could feel my forehead creasing deeply and I replied sharply, “We’ll see how things are first.”

For a moment the memory of my father vanished.

“If we’re there too long maybe I might have to go home ahead of you.”

I was annoyed.

I stared at her. Before. Before when we were still engaged, I had felt her eyes were so completely wonderful. But the wonder had gone now. Yes, her eyes were now just the same as the eyes of anyone else, without any affect on my heart. And I answered her gaze. Perhaps it was my eyes which were awful, as indeed I had known since I was a child, no longer having any affect on her heart either.

I answered, “That’s entirely up to you.”

I swung my head, and my eyes too, from her stare and gazed out the train window again.

We were at Lemah Abang now.

All at once an old memory shimmered into my mind.


Pantserwagen in action in Weleri

Pantserwagen in action in Weleri 1 Augustus 1947

Source: Ain’t No Night Fair (Bukan Pasarmalam) by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Dinas Penerbitan Balai Pustaka, Jakarta, 1959.

National Archive Photo Collection

Ain't No Night Fair Cover Illustration By DA Peransi

Ain’t No Night Fair

Ain’t No Night Fair

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Chapter 1

The letter really wouldn’t have cut me up so bad if only, before it arrived, I just hadn’t send that letter of my own. My letter contained what can only be described as something that was going to be pretty unpleasant to read. The letter that I received went like this:

Blora, 17 December 1949

My beloved child!

There is no more profound a joy in this world than the rich joy felt by a father who gets his child back, his first born child, the child who carries all his swelling pride and his honor, the child who’s been kept away from contact with normal society for so long and been separated from the ordinary life of decent human beings.

My child!

I am able to picture the suffering in your soul. I can picture your suffering in that cramped place because I experienced that myself during the rebellion of the Socialist Youth militia, when I was moved to three jails in two weeks. From that time until now, every single night, I beg the Lord Almighty for safety and happiness for our family and for our future generations. I pray that He will forgive the sins of our family.

Yes, that was the start of the letter I received after being out of jail for two weeks. With me sending such an angry letter, and with me getting this reply, well, tears just welled up in my eyes. And I just promised to myself: I’ve got to not be so disrespectful.

I never had any idea my father had been held prisoner by the communists too. And six months later there arrived another letter from Blora. This time it wasn’t from my father. It was from an uncle.

If you can, please come home to Blora for a couple of days. Your father isn’t well. First it was malaria and a cough. Then he also got hemorrhoids and finally they figured out he’s got tuberculosis. Your father’s now in the hospital and he’s already thrown up blood four times.

To start with I was in shock reading the letter. My chest felt tight. Then I couldn’t say anything. In my mind I could see, first, my father, and then, the money. Where was I going to get the money to go home? And this is what made me hit the streets of Jakarta, hunting for my friends, and debt.

It was hot! And the tens of thousands of cars threw up dust all over your sweaty body. And it was dust that contained a mixture of all sorts of things: dried snot, horse shit, pieces of car tire, bits of bike and becak tire and probably also some of my own bike tires that the day before had flown down the same streets I was riding down now. And the dust mixture stuck with your sweat like glue to your body. I couldn’t help swearing, just a little, to myself.

Yes, if only I owned a car, if only I said, none of this would’ve happened. At that moment I also thought, people who do own cars sure cause a lot of trouble for those who don’t. And they don’t even know it.

About half an hour after the sunset prayer time, I succeeded in acquiring the debt. If that decent friend hadn’t been able to hold out the money as he said “you can use this money for the time being”, I’m sure I would have been a bigger wreck than before. The angry letter I had sent first made me rigid with the feeling I had done something terribly wrong. And to make that go away I had a duty to go see my sick father. That’s what my heart told me.

Among the darkness and violet and the sun setting in the reddening west, my bike sped down the small streets near the president’s palace. The palace. It was bathed in the rays of electric lights. Who knew how many hundreds of watts it used. I didn’t know. I just figured that in my estimation the palace’s electricity couldn’t be anything less than five kilowatts. And if anyone had thought there wasn’t enough electricity, someone just had to pick up the phone and the palace would get more.

The President was, after all, a practical person, not like those people struggling to eke out a living every day along the side of the road. If you weren’t the president, and also weren’t a minister, and you wanted to get forty or fifty more watts of electricity, you had to have the guts to pay somebody off with two- or three-hundred rupiah. This was really very impractical. And if those in the palace wanted to go out and head for A, or for B, everything was ready – airplane, car, cigarettes, and the dough. And to get to Blora I had to go all over Jakarta first and acquire some debt. Living like that was really very impractical.

And if you became president, and your mother got sick, or, take your father, or take any other member of your close family, the tomorrow or the day after that you’d already be able to go visit them. And say you were a low-level civil servant with a wage that was only just enough to breathe on, even asking for leave to visit someone sick would be difficult. After all, it makes those two-bit office bosses feel big if they can hand down some dictate that stops their officials from doing something.

All of this was just getting me worked up. Democracy is one truly beautiful system. You’re allowed to become president. You’re allowed to choose whatever job you like. You’ve got the same rights as anyone else. And democracy means you don’t have to bow or scrape for the president or a minister or any other lord or noble. Truly. This is one of democracy’s victories. And you’re allowed to do whatever else takes your fancy just so long as it’s stays within the limits of the law. But if you ain’t got no money, you’re screwed, you can’t move an inch. In a democratic country, you’re allowed to buy whatever things you like. But if you haven’t got any money, you’re only allowed to look at the things you want. This is also a sort of win for democracy.

All of this filled my heaving chest as I pedaled along with the borrowed money in my pocket. And, yes, debt too was a good thing, a kind deed even, when some person was caught in a difficult spot.

Debt! President! Minister! Lords! And sickness! Cars! Sweat and horse shit dust! My heart cried out.


Ain't No Night Fair Cover Illustration By DA Peransi

Ain’t No Night Fair Cover Illustration By DA Peransi


Source: Ain’t No Night Fair (Bukan Pasarmalam) by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Dinas Penerbitan Balai Pustaka, Jakarta, 1959.

For more background on DA Peransi see Indonesian Visual Art Archive.