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Ain’t No Night Fair #7

Ain’t No Night Fair

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Chapter 4

We relaxed in the front guestroom. My younger siblings who weren’t grown up yet, who still appeared so wild, now began to draw near and we talked a great deal, about Djakarta, about Semarang, and about cars. Conversation wasn’t boring, it made me happy, and it usually carried on for a long time.

And at one point I asked, “How’s father’s health?”

Suddenly everyone went quiet; not one person was looking directly at me. Suddenly the animated joyful conversation was gone, replaced by an air of seriousness.

And I asked again, “How is father’s health?”

Carefully and slowly my sister answered, “We received the pills and the blanket you sent for father. I also received the money order and we used it to buy milk and eggs, just as you instructed.”

My wife and I listened silently. She continued, “I also collected the shirt for father from the post office. And I took the blanket, the shirt and the pills to the hospital. But father said, ‘Just take them all back to the house.’ So I brought them home again.”

I was surprised and asked, “And the pills?”

“He has finished one container.”

I was a pleased a little.

“And the milk and eggs?” I asked again.

“Father didn’t like them. ‘I’m bored with eggs and milk,’ he said.”

I was lost for words. I looked at my wife, but in her face, I did not find an answer. I glanced outside the house. I noticed the orange tree which father had long ago planted. It was dry now and almost dead.

“And father’s health?” I repeated my question.

My younger sister didn’t reply. Her eyes reddened with tears.

“Why don’t you answer me?” I asked fearfully.

“Yesterday and up to yesterday father just smiled, smiled a lot. But then, then…”

She was silent. I did not force her to continue what she was saying. I didn’t say anything either. Both of us sat for a time with our heads bowed. My youngest sister, who had just begun to speak to me, now wouldn’t say a word. The time was only just half past twelve in the afternoon and the sound of frying could be heard clearly coming from the kitchen.

My younger sister continued, her voice still slow, foreboding and careful. “…and then this morning father wasn’t smiling anymore. His voice was weak and almost inaudible.” Her voice trailed away.

“And what did the doctor say?” I asked.

“The doctor has never said anything to us. There is just the one doctor here. And there aren’t enough medicines.”

Then my younger brother, who by chance was home with leave from his commander, said, “I’ve discussed father’s illness with the doctor too. He said, ‘I already know about your father’s illness.’”

“Is that all he said?” I asked.

“Yes. That’s all. Then they told me to go home.”

The atmosphere turned serious once more. Everyone sat silently with their own feelings and their own thoughts. Then without realizing it, my younger sister changed the subject of the conversation to a new topic. She mentioned that my third younger sister, the one who was married, was currently in Blora too. Straight away I asked her where she was.

Her hand pointed to the door of one of the bedrooms. All eyes followed the direction she indicated. In my mind I could see my sister’s face and I imagined she was thin. I knew it; she had to be sick. But I opened my mouth and said, “Tell her to come out.”

My younger sister went over to the door and opened it carefully. Every eye was on her. She disappeared into the room, then she emerged red eyed and said, half crying, “She’s still asleep.”

We talked about other things. But the image of my sick younger sister filled my mind. It was because of her I wrote the letter to my father, the unpleasant letter, for allowing her to become sick. But at the time I was still in gaol. My father had replied:

Yes, my child, throughout my life of fifty-six years I have realized that people’s efforts and means are very limited. For my part, I wouldn’t have allowed your sister to become ill if only I had some power over people’s fates. She became sick when she was detained by the red militia in an area that was swampy, an area rife with malaria. And maybe you can understand yourself the situation with medicines in a war zone, and especially if you yourself are not a soldier.

That reply melted my anger. The question had been clear in my heart, “Did I sin by writing that angry letter?” The answer had come back by itself, “Yes, you have sinned.” And it had been because of that answer I had felt up to this time that I had sinned. Before seeing father again. But that long wandering conversation had removed these terrible memories. I looked at my six younger siblings surrounding me, surrounding my wife and I, starting to be free of the atmosphere of seriousness, while I was still stuck with so many thoughts and memories pressing in.

I noticed my watch. We had been talking for an hour. Then looking at my smallest sister I said slowly, “Please look in on your big sister. Maybe she’s awake.”

She got up, went to the door and called out in her childish voice, “Sister, sister. Big brother’s here.”

She vanished into the bedroom.

No-one was paying much attention to her and the conversation broke out again. But when my smallest sister emerged, the conversation halted. She approached me and whispered, “Sister’s crying.”

I took a deep breath.

Slowly I stood up and went over to the bedroom. And there sprawled on the iron bed devoid of mosquito netting, half blanketed by a light cotton sheet, was my little sister, covering her eyes with her arm. I lifted her arm and I beheld two eyes looking up at me, red and moist. I hugged her. She started to cry and I too wept, and among the sobs, I could hear my own voice ask, “Why are you so thin?”

Her crying subsided and she composed herself, so she was calmer. And I did the same.

“I’ve been sick for a long time, brother,” I listened to her broken voice.

“Have you been to the doctor?” I asked, my voice cracking too.

“I’ve seen the doctor, but my condition just stays like this,” her voice still breaking.

“Maybe it would be better if you went to a large city. There are a lot of specialists there,” my voice still breaking.

There was just sobbing.

“Do you have any children, sister?”

“Yes, brother.”

“Where are they?”

Our crying had subsided, but my sister now broke out in tears again. She answered without emotion, “He passed away, brother. He’s not here anymore.”

She snatched back the arm I was holding and covered her eyes again. I took out my handkerchief and wiped the tears running down her face.

“What do you mean not here,” I asked.

“I gave birth at six months. He cried a lot. I could hear him crying. Then God took him back again.”

Once more I started to weep openly and she too sobbed uncontrollably. All I could hear now was the storm heaving in my chest. And all I could see was her thin body, the single cloth sheet, the small mattress covering only half the bed frame, and the iron and the bamboo slats protruding next to the mattress.

“You’re still young, little sister, you still have the chance to have another child,” I said to comfort her.

“Where’s your husband?”

“He’s doing training in Semarang, brother.”

Our crying, which had filled that room, now subsided and eventually died.

I straightened the blanket, kissed my younger sister on her cheek and I said, “Go to sleep.”

She took her arm away from her eyes. She was calm now. Slowly she closed her eyelids. Once more I kissed her on the cheeks, cheeks that had once been so full and which were now so drawn. Then I left the room.

(Continued)

Duduk Duduk


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

Featured image: After an interval of 11 years, rock band Efek Rumah Kaca play in Pare-Pare, South Sulawesi, December 2018

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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, forelegs and hind legs almost crossing over and stomachs tight. They seemed to almost float.

The conductor checking our tickets was still the same conductor who had been there when I was young and often traveled to Rembang to visit the beach after the holidays had finally arrived. But the conductor was old now 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 pulled it 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.

(Continued)

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

(Continued)

 


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.”

(Continued)

1940s Netherlands Indies Government Lottery Semarang

1940s Netherlands Indies Government Lottery, Gang Pinggir, Semarang (Source: http://reklamejadoel.blogspot.com.au)


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.

(Continued)

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. http://www.gahetna.nl


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

The Najwa Gaze

A Note From Ahok

A Note from Ahok

For Metro TV Show “Mata Najwa” and host Nana.

Indonesian Police Mobile Brigade
Headquarters Prison, 16 August 2017

I was one of the ones always being invited onto Metro TV’s talk show Mata Najwa. (Showing off a little here 🙂 ) What’s for sure is there were a lot of supporters both for and against me appearing on the show. Why? Because Najwa would ask the hard questions and would fish and box me in when the viewers suspected me of, thought I was giving the impression I was guilty or lying. For me, [the host of the show] Nana is a professional person, and doesn’t try to win the argument all the time or give the impression of cornering you. Nana only wants her viewers to get the truth from insightful questions, of course with that classic Najwa gaze. I’m grateful, the Mata Najwa show allowed me to appear just as I am, and definitely to say it as it is. Facing questions, and the Mata Najwa gaze, there was only one key. I had to answer according to what was in my heart and conscience. My mouth and brain had to connect. By doing that, Nana and the viewers would accept all my answers. I pray that Nana is successful and full of joy wherever she serves. The Lord bless you, Nana.

Signed BTP

Nana

Nana

Nervous waiting to interview Ahok

Nervous waiting to interview Ahok

Notes from Ahok on Twitter

A note from Ahok on Twitter