translate jellyfish

The Death of a Translator

By Wawan Kurniawan

He would not have swallowed the poison if yesterday’s incident hadn’t happened. A week earlier, he’d had a dream about a woman dressed in red with shoulder-length hair who came to him on a beach he did not recognize. Without the chance to get a clear look at her face, the woman had straight away hugged him from behind. So tightly that his bones felt as if they were going to break.

Only on hearing a cracking sound, along with the feeling of excruciating pain, did he then wake up.

He saw the clock on the wall still showing forty-two minutes past three. Only the sound of the clock ticking could be heard. He decided to close his eyes again and remember absolutely nothing of what had happened in his dream. But the pain in his back was still there so that he had to change his sleeping position several times.

He managed to fall asleep and woke again at ten in the morning. Usually he woke up in the afternoon after staying up late translating some of the manuscripts that were on his laptop. The pain in his back made him wake up early. Even though his sleep had been disturbed earlier in the day, he tried to look for possible causes of the pain.

“Maybe my sleeping position was the problem.”

“Hang on, just maybe it’s because I was sitting for too long working.”

“No, it seems to be because last night I didn’t drink enough water.”

Among the possibilities it didn’t enter his head for a moment about his dream.

While thinking about the pain, he suddenly remembered his promise to Eka, the publisher who wanted to print his translation. He had twice asked for an extension to work on improving the translation. And in six days’ time the deadline would expire. He also did not want to ask for an extension, but on the other hand he still felt like he wasn’t finished the translation.

While struggling against the pain in the back of his body, he walked slowly toward the bathroom holding onto the wall of the house. His steps were exactly like those of an old man who’s lost his walking stick, one hand on the wall, the other on his back massaging his own lower back.

“What’s happen? Why do you have to be sick like this, Lord?”

There wasn’t a soul in the house. In the past, he had kept a cat and it had been given the name March — the month of his birth, as well as several his favorite authors. Now, the distance to the bathroom felt like a long way for him.

He took a few steps back and dropped himself onto a brown sofa in area that was his office. He took a deep breath, returned to looking for the right position to ease the pain. Sitting in the chair made him feel better.

He then took a book that was on a small table beside his chair. At the table, there were several novels he was reading, and a thin notebook with a white cover without any pictures. There were also two fountain pens that he often used to take notes or make lists in his book. If not to make notes, the fountain pens often became a way of getting rid of anxiety by tapping the table with the bottom of the fountain pen.

The book he was reading still had around a hundred and twenty-three pages to go before it was finished. His felt better after sitting down and reading a few pages of the book. He leaned back and let his back be swallowed softness of the chair.

All of a sudden, he felt that he wanted to do a wee but the comfortable position made him feel like not getting up. To his right the window hadn’t been opened so the sun’s rays weren’t fully making it into the house. But he could feel a warm sensation around his thighs after he allowed him to urinate where he was. He closed his eyes, feeling the warmth of the flow of his urine.

He only left his chair when he had finished the book.

***

After returning to read his translation, he lay down on the floor. That afternoon, after he had contacted one of his friends William who worked as a doctor at a health center, he had been asked not to sleep on a mattress. He didn’t want to go to bed yet, but the pain in his back was getting worse. The only way to feel better was by lying down. Before going to bed, he once again tried contacting his girlfriend Nadira.
Two days before, Nadira had left to return to Selayar Regency to organize their wedding which was scheduled to take place in the middle of the year. But Nadira just did not pick up the phone, or even respond to his WhatsApp chat message.

The day before Nadira had left, the weather in Selayar had turned extremely bad resulting in an interruption to the signal. Yesterday Nadira had still been able to message, she mentioned that the weather looked like it was getting worse and that communication might be interrupted.

From a media report from Selayar, he saw strong winds and continually pounding high waves. There was no news from Nadira, that night he began to have a strange sensation, a sense of fear about something. His pain was sometimes forgotten when he returned to looking for news of Nadira. While waiting for a miracle, he read the chat on WhatsApp from several days earlier.

Reading it made him smile, then laugh to himself, until, unwittingly, he fell asleep that night holding his cell phone.

And once again, the dream reoccurred, over five consecutive nights. In the end, everything that happened in the dream was clearly recorded in his memory. He was able to remember what happened but could not recognize who the woman was or where the beach was where they were.

That night too, before going to bed he again tried to contact Nadira, to tell her about his dream and the worry that he had been holding back for several days. But again, a bad feeling pressing in on his chest. Something might have happened. The news reporting about Selayar still had no new reports following the extreme bad weather of the last few days.

The pain in his back then spread toward one place, his tailbone. That same night, he could no longer sit and allowed himself to lie down on the floor. He looked at the ceiling of his room, noticing the lights that was appeared glowing. The lights in the room then went out, instantly his body became completely paralyzed.

A few moments later, the lights came back on and again he saw the figure of a long-haired woman dressed in red who had appeared in his dreams. The difference was, this time he could see her face, and the woman was Nadira.

His chest felt tight, not because he was scared, but rather a bad feeling he had had the whole time seemed to be coming true.

Something had happened to Nadira. The figure disappeared quickly, in just the blink of an eye. Right then he thought his body was normal again and he stood up resisting the pain in his tailbone.

His laptop was still open, the text of his translation was still not complete. Still there was no news of Nadira. His pain was becoming more and more unbearable. Standing up while resisting the pain, he grimaced in pain. He felt as if his life was in chaos. A voice in his head asked him to go straight into the kitchen. A bottle of insecticide was stored behind the back of the kitchen door.

The figure he had just seen was indeed possibly his girlfriend Nadira. Death has met her before him. He was not able to translate events as well as he translated the manuscript that was on his laptop.

He took stumbling steps towards the bottle of poison. Now as he started to draw near it was me who then hugged him from behind until everything that was in him was crushed, while I had embraced Nadira before him in the high pounding waves.

Why had he not translated me first?


The Death of a Translator (Kematian Seorang Penerjemah) was published in Kompas Daily, 24 March 201.

Wawan Kurniawan, writes poetry, short stories, essays, novels and translations. Joined the Kompas Daily short story writing class (2015), published a book of poetry entitled Persinggahan Perangai Sepi (2013) and Sajak Penghuni Surga (2017). One of his novels entitled Seratus Tahun Kebisuan (A Hundred Years of Silence) is a Unnes International Novel Writing Contest 2017 Novel of Choice. Check out https://www.instagram.com/wawankurn/

Nyoman Sujana Kenyem, born in Ubud, Bali, 9 September 1972, Nyoman studied at STSI Denpasar (1992-1998). His solo exhibitions include, A Place Behind The House at  Komaneka Gallery Ubud, Bali (2016), Silence of Nature, at Lovina, Bali (2015), and his solo exhibition at G13 Gallery, Kelana Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia (2013). See https://www.instagram.com/artkenyem/

Kematian Seorang Penerjemah ilustrasi Nyoman Sujana Kenyem/Kompas

The Death of a Translator illustration by Nyoman Sujana Kenyem/Kompas Daily

 

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The Sufi Teacher Passed By…

By Seno Gumira Ajidarma

One ordinary sleepy day a sufi teacher landed in Jakarta on his magic carpet at the gates of the toll road leading from Jakarta to Cengkareng International Airport. He hopped down and strolled into Jakarta as his magic carpet flew off again back up into the heavens.

It happened to be a Friday and at midday the sufi teacher went looking for the nearest place to perform his Friday prayers. He went into the office block he was passing and on the ground floor found a small prayer room. The usual plastic prayer mats were laid out ready for Friday prayers but the room was still empty. A man who seemed to be the prayer room attendant was getting ready to perform his prayers, so the sufi teacher asked, “Prayer room attendant, isn’t it Friday today and shouldn’t everyone be here performing their prayers?”

kebenaran

“True. Usually there are lots of people here on Fridays to pray. The office workers in this building prefer to pray here on the ground floor rather than go out and look for a mosque.”

“But prayer room attendant, why isn’t anyone at all here today even though it’s time for prayer?”

“Ah, they’re all praying on the ninth floor.”

“And why is that?”

“Because.., it’s air conditioned. They say the atmosphere there is more conducive to prayer, and it’s nice and cool on the ninth floor, while down here it’s hot and sticky.”

“Ah, I see,” replied the sufi teacher in English, nodding.

And so he and the attendant performed their prayers together by themselves with the attendant leading the devotions.

When they had finished, the sufi teacher continued on his way looking for Gus Dur, the director of the Islamic community organization called Nahdlatul Ulama. He wanted to ask whether Americans could use the English phrase ‘good morning’ instead of the Arabic greeting ‘Assalamu alaikum’.

A month later the sufi teacher was again going past the same building and as it happened to be right on time for midday prayer he once again entered the building.

It turned out that this time there were dozens of people preparing to pray in the small prayer room. There were so many in fact that they were spilling out of the prayer room into the lobby as the fiery sermon lambasted the spread of worldly greed.

The sufi teacher again asked the attendant, “Prayer room attendant, why are there now so many people praying here, so many that they are overflowing into the lobby? What has become of the air conditioned prayer room on the ninth floor?”

“Sojourner, the office workers have come back here to pray because the air conditioning is out of order, and the room which used to be so nice and cool is now unbearably hot. Because of the humidity on the ninth floor, they now want to pray here; if they are lucky they might catch a passing breeze.”

The sufi teacher again nodded, saying in English, “I see. I see.” Then he continued, “Well then, take note prayer room attendant. Reflect on this question: Is there any difference between those who pray in an air conditioned room and those who do not?”

The prayer room attendant was silent, and, after midday prayers were over, forever more followed the sufi teacher wherever he went.

One day on their travels they arrived at the edge of a river somewhere in Central Java where there was no bridge. To cross to the other side it was necessary to use a small bamboo raft. The raft landing on the other side was not directly opposite and had to be reached by using a punt some way along the bank before crossing over.

Punting along the edge of the river the sufi teacher noticed a man fishing at the edge of the river who didn’t seem to be using any bait. But even though the fisherman wasn’t using any bait, the fish were just jumping from the water by themselves and landing in the man’s basket, filling it to overflowing. As the basket filled, the local people emptied fish into their own baskets and carried them away to their homes. The villagers flocked to the fisherman’s basket.

Amazed at this sight, the sufi teacher asked the raft keeper, “Raft keeper, who is that man by the river fishing without any bait?”

“That’s Saint Jagakali.”

“Who’s he?”

And so the raft keeper told the sufi teacher the story of the fisherman. It was said that long ago in that village there had lived a fisherman who lived solely from the fish he caught. Every day he would take his catch, return home and cook and eat it. One day one of the fish he caught was flapping gasping on the ground near him when it had begun speaking to him.

Mesjid Cikini Raden Saleh Jakarta 1947

Mesjid Cikini Raden Saleh Jakarta 1947

“Fisherman, please let me go. Grant me a great blessing and throw me back into the river. What good can I be to you? The small amount of flesh on my tiny bones will hardly fill you.”

The fisherman was astonished, but replied, “Talking fish, why do you speak to me this way? Does a fisherman not have the right to eat a fish he catches? This is the way it has always been, and the way it always shall be.”

“But life is like a wheel,” replied the fish. “What would happen if you should die and be reborn as a fish?”

The fisherman laughed aloud and threw the speaking fish into his basket.

Finally after the fisherman had died he was indeed reborn as a fish. On the other hand, after passing away the talking fish was also reborn, but as a fisherman.

One day the fisherman who had once been a fish caught the fish who had at one time been a fisherman. The fish who had been a fisherman was also able to speak.

“Good fisherman, I beg you to let me go because I am just a small fish and life means so much to me. My small body will hardly provide you with enough. Please throw me back into the river and set me free.”

The fisherman who had once been a fish happened to recognize that the fish he had caught was the fisherman who had once caught him.

The fisherman said, “Talking fish, do you not remember that once you were a fisherman and that once you refused to grant the request of a small fish. I am that very fish, and now you must experience what I felt that day.”

“No! Please! Haven’t you thought that one day you might be reborn yet again as a fish and I as a fisherman who might catch you? Remember that life is like a wheel, spinning around and around and around.”

“I don’t care; I desire vengeance. Aha ha ha ha ha!” responded the fisherman as he threw the fish into his basket. The fish flip-flopped backwards and forwards with slowly weakening flicks until it was finished.

In its next life, the fish did return as a man and the fisherman too returned, this time as a fish. The man who had once been a fish who had once been a fisherman did indeed become a fisherman who loved fishing more than anything in the world. But he did not forget that once he had killed a fish and had finally as a fish himself been killed by a fisherman despite his pleas for mercy. Full of reverence, he resolved to return the fish he had caught to the river.

Hence forth the fisherman fished without using any bait. The strange thing was that ever since he had decided not to use bait the fish had just leaped from the water by themselves into his basket. Even then he couldn’t bring himself to eat the fish so he allowed the local villagers to take them. As there were more fish than a fish factory the local villagers took them gratefully.

The fisherman would sit by the river day and night fishing, refusing to use any bait. He did not want to eat any of the fish and he lived solely from the dew that formed on his lips in the morning, chanting the mantras of the poet Sutardji Calzoum Bachri:

How many centuries must pass,
How many watches must stop,
How many signs must appear,
How many steps must I take,
Before I am able to reach You?

Over time, the fisherman had been given the name Saint Jagakali after the great Muslim mystic of Central Java, even though the fisherman himself had acknowledged no creed.

When the sufi teacher and the prayer room attendant arrived at the other side of the river, the sufi teacher thanked the raft keeper and together he and the prayer room attendant continued on their journey to East Java.

The sufi teacher wanted to meet the chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama, Kiai Ahmad Shiddiq, to ask the venerable teacher what he would think if Michael Jackson and Jean-Michel Jarre were to record Arabic devotional songs.

After that, the sufi teacher wanted to summon his flying carpet and return to Isfahan. He was planning to drop into Qom and let Khomeini know that wisdom had spread to every corner of the earth. But then he remembered, the Great Teacher was already dead, so he changed his mind.

The sufi teacher next planned to fly from East Java to Japan, but first he wanted to take the prayer room attendant to the modern Islamic boarding school at Gontor in East Java so he could learn English. After all, a prayer room attendant in an office block in Jakarta’s ‘golden triangle’ central business district crowded with the offices of foreign investors needs to know English.

When he arrived in Japan the sufi teacher planned to go straight to Kyoto, find a Buddhist priest, and find out how he practiced Zen.

(Jakarta, February 1990)


The Sufi Teacher Passed By… (Guru Sufi Lewat…) was published in Kompas Daily in May 1990. It also appears in Ajidarma, Seno G. Dilarang Menyanyi Di Kamar Mandi: Kumpulan Cerita Pendek. Jakarta: Subentra Citra Pustaka, 1995. Print.  Kesadaran Mitis Seno by Aprinus Salam, Humaniora No. 10 Jan-Apr 1999, p. 91.

Dilarang Menyanyi Di Kamar Mandi

Dilarang Menyanyi Di Kamar Mandi