The 12 Apostles

Poetry is

By Amien Kamil

Poetry is…

Ink that pools, like an ocean of love
Where we sail as we dive
Exploring the ocean of love

Poetry is…

Not just merely…  words!
That can be muzzled by those in power
With words, or weapons!

Because

Poetry is…

 

 

Light

 

2004


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Short Story: Letter For Wai Tsz

By Leila L. Chudori

The weather in Jakarta seems to be reflecting the state of the nation, hot and sticky, not a tree anywhere to shade under. As for myself, I don’t know why I suddenly thought of writing you a letter. I know all too well that in our graduates’ newsletter Keep In Touch they’re always mentioning that you’re one of the graduates who hasn’t been seen since Tiananmen. But I live in hope because I will always believe that God will stretch out his hand and protect you. Your last letter, the one smelling of rotten vegetables and dried fish, the one you seemed to have sent from somewhere in the outskirts of Beijing, just before your escape – so heroic, so inspiring – more and more makes me feel so small, so insignificant.

Dear Wai Tsz,

It’s been exactly fourteen years since the four of us were gazing up at the stars – since you, Finn, Maria and I made that promise. We promised we wouldn’t marry until we had reached those stars.

Our roommate Finn, with her long Snow White blonde hair and blue eyes, told us her life’s mission was located in the constellation of Andromeda.

“What I want is for men and women to have the same rights. And I think that’s an ideal we all share,” she said in her romantic way.

Our Danish roommate’s idealism was really extremely annoying and because of that, I couldn’t be bothered talking about the problem of the completely rampant poverty and corruption in my own country. It would have been very hard to make her understand. Could you just see it, with her own country so rich and peaceful, how could she have begun to imagine?

Then I remember that Maria from the Philippines said with her firm, self-confident voice, “I long for change in my country and I hope that I can be a part of that change.” And straight away you and I yelled out trying to be first, “I wanted to say that too!”

“Come on! How could Indonesia have any problems? Your economy is wonderful compared to ours,” Maria replied. “And you, Wai Tsz, China is a sleeping giant that’s just beginning to wake up. When she’s standing on her own feet Western countries will be lapped up in one gulp. The Philippines is the only one with such an uncertain future under a president like Marcos…”

But as it transpired, the first country to see the smoldering embers of democracy burst into flame was her own country, the Philippines. And just as she had wanted, Maria was a part of the process of bringing democracy to her country. I remember when she sent a newspaper clipping showing her and a group of friends from the University of the Philippines in the middle of that historic demonstration in Edsa Road. Like a movie, I imagined our roommate Maria, the one who couldn’t even get up in the mornings, now part of such momentous change in her country. Image. She became part of the Philippines’ peaceful revolution in February 1986 when Marcos was finally forced to flee to Hawaii, and a widow finally moved into the presidential office. As all this was going on, for me, her neighbor, nothing had changed. I was working for the largest news magazine in my country naively thinking that here everything was nice and peaceful and prosperous. I thought, well, at least it wasn’t as bad as some of the countries that some of our campus friends had come from where there were several coups every year.

Wai Tsz, after we graduated I came home again to breathe our pollution-filled air and I became a journalist. You went home to breathe your own pollution-filled air in Beijing and you transformed into a human rights activist.

The interesting thing about your country was that as soon as your country opened up and allowed in a handful of American companies everyone began saying that this was Deng’s great breakthrough. When Chinese students were allowed to read translations of Milan Kundera and watch James Bond movies it was as if democracy had started to arrive in China. One of your spirited letters related how interesting Fang Lizhi’s lectures were, how he had no hesitation at all using words like “democracy” and “freedom”. But it was only after Tiananmen happened that we realized the so-called breakthrough talked about by Western experts was just an immensely simplified view of the problem.

Meanwhile, Wai Tsz, in my own country new economic policies were being implemented which produced hundreds of new banks, new buildings, new companies, new television stations, new rich people, new cars, still more new policies, even more new buildings, more highways, ever more even richer people, and other, oh, absolutely astonishing, truly astounding…

All of this, Wai Tsz, in fact, turned us into journalists. Supposedly professional, agile, flexible, competitive, head in the clouds. It made us forget a lot about humanity. For example, yeah, for example, in planning meetings talking about a war in some country somewhere we would sit around like a bunch of know-all football commentators abusing one of the “stupid” players while we ate fried chicken and laughed. And really what we were talking about was the fate of thousands of women and children being slaughtered in the country. This profession made me, just as Professor Humphrey had predicted (he didn’t agree with my choice of becoming a journalist), turned us into “know-alls who don’t know much about anything”.

Professor Humphrey wasn’t completely right but I have to agree that in a couple of cases he wasn’t too far wrong either. This profession set me up in an ivory tower, made me look at the people as a news item, part of a “deadline”, a conversation on a mobile phone, as no more than a series of meaningless statistics. Tiananmen, an event that was so important for you, was a moral movement. But for us, it was nothing more than a bit of excitement, a fresh infusion of adrenaline, a new pump keeping our journalistic blood circulating. I almost forgot that for years I had a roommate who was probably still on the run, still hiding in garbage bins on the edge of the city. Wai Tsz, where are you?

In your last letter, after the events of June 1989, that smelly smudged letter, I read your handwriting through the ink which had run, “Nadira, help us through your writing.”

Oh, Wai Tsz, I am so ashamed. For sure we wrote, we covered, we photographed, the events in your country proudly. But I’m not convinced that the hundreds of journalists who swarmed to cover those events were moved by concern. Maybe there were some who were, but the others were driven by competition, the desire to get an exclusive, and maybe even out of a desire to win the coveted Pulitzer Prize.

Then this year, 1997, and suddenly I received a shock…

Only now in the midst of so many corporate collapses, bankruptcies, millions of people losing their jobs, bank liquidations, hoarding of food sending prices soaring, newspaper companies complaining about never ending increases in the price of paper, student demonstrations, mothers protesting the increases in the price of milk, only now have I again become “human”. Only now have I thought of you. Only now have I thought about our walks along the banks of the Otonabee River, recalled our arguments about equality and about the differences between East and West, and, oh, how I remember the Galaxy Theory you explained to me that time you tried to cheer me up after you found me crying. You made me lie down on the grass and look up at the stars.

“At times of sadness and pain, Nadira, fly up to one of those galaxies and leave the Earth. Then from way up there look back and the Earth will seem so small you will wonder what on earth you’re crying about. After that fly back to Earth, take a deep breath, and the problem will be solved.”

Wai Tsz, your Galaxy Theory was so simple and so good for so many reasons. But it won’t be any use for the problems of my country, or for the problems of your country. I have never before been as hopeless as I am now. I have never felt as powerless as I do now. Every day I open the window and I hear the complaints of ordinary mothers about the rising price of food, of people who have just lost their jobs, hear news about the speculators dancing for joy with every fall in the value of the currency. Hundreds and hundreds of people have suddenly become actors, smiling sweetly in front of the television cameras saying how much they love the nation.

William Shakespeare was truly a genius when he wrote: All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players, They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts.

Do you remember when Professor Johnson read this verse from As You Like It? Am I becoming a useless melancholic character like Jacques?

I can see Shakespeare doubled up in stitches laughing because the world, the stage for this drama, is full of nothing but a rabble of idiots. According to me the stage for this drama is full of people whose acting skills are terrifyingly good. Every morning the papers are full of stories about our economic problems but even the people complaining are still running around scratching for rupiah to exchange for foreign currency, still feeding on the corpse of other people’s suffering.

Wai Tsz, why was I born in a community which created such a meaningful word for community duty as our own word gotong royong but which is in reality just a collection of completely selfish individuals? My heart is broken. If I had been as selfish maybe I would already have flown off to join our friends chasing ever higher qualifications in the United States. But when all’s said and done, my heart is here, Wai Tsz, planted firmly here, rooted firmly in this soil. No matter how strong, there isn’t a crowbar or a hoe that could dislodge my heart from this land.

For months, Wai Tsz, I’ve been afflicted by horrible nightmares, more like Salvador Dali visions than dreams. One night I dreamed that I had fallen from a skyscraper and even though all my limbs came off I was still alive. Another night I dreamed my hands were chained together and the ends of my legs were being eaten by a pack of black dogs. And another night I was suddenly transported to an empty field where hundreds of crows were attempting to suck my baby from my stomach. Trying to stop these dreams I bought a pile of comics. I thought it would make me laugh. In fact, all that happened was I laughed so hard I cried.

Wai Tsz, I remember the time you said, “Something started with a good intention and a good conscience is always harder to believe in than something started with a bad intention.”

Maybe that’s the reason people find it hard to believe that a protest movement could be driven by conscience. Maybe the word conscience isn’t used very much today, or maybe it’s time to archive it forever in some dusty old museum.

Wai Tsz, where are you? Pretending to be a shop assistant? Or teaching in a tiny primary school in some far away village? Or maybe you’re really still hiding somewhere in Beijing? I have no idea whether you will ever read this letter. I’ll send it to your old address in Beijing. Wai Tsz, wherever you are, if you do not get to read this letter I am sure, you have read what is in my heart.

Your friend, Nadira. (Jakarta, November 1997)


Letter for Wai Tsz (Surat Untuk Wai Tsz) was published in Kompas Daily in March 1999.

(Note: The story was written six months before, and published some ten months after, the resignation of President Soeharto in May 1998.)

Background on Tiananmen Square: A massacre, erased

Recent use of the term “people power” is backgrounded widely, including, People power is dead, long live people power

Sesobek Buku Harian Indonesia by Emha Ainun Nadjib

A Shred From the Diary of Indonesia: A Collection of Poetry

Foreword

In the 1970s, I was learning how to carry a burden. In the 1980s, I carried the burden bravely and proudly. In the 1990s, I began to be overwhelmed by carrying the burden. In the 2000s I almost gave up because of the burden. By the 2010s I was questioning why I should be carrying the burden and who was actually the official responsible for carrying the burden.

What you are reading is my expression and impression about, in, from and towards Indonesia, from the 1980s to the 1990s. Anyone reading it is free to decide what the emphasis is: the poetry, the Indonesia, the me, or the shred.

If the reader focuses their reading on the poems in the book, I will be very embarrassed. Because if this book were entered into a competition for poetry books, and I were one of the judges, there is no way I would select it as a possibility for the winner.

I really want to write poetry. And in my old age, I have been very diligent writing poetry, but almost not even one would I acknowledge as poetry. My work doesn’t get beyond “intending to write poetry”, “there are elements which are intended to be poetry” or “officially this is poetry, but whether it deserves the name of and passes as poetry, would need a long discussion and complicated considerations.”

Katak

In fact, poetry has come to a halt in the present era, is no longer a part of the mainstream values that operate in the civilization of contemporary Indonesian people. It is not even remembered by the leaders of the age and the values they espouse. Poetry has been driven into a cave, and those who deal with poetry have become cave-dwelling creatures with shadowy outlines, invisible to the community.

Indonesia, the national ideology Pancasila, the Youth Pledge, the 1945 Constitution, development, progress, government, parliamentarians, government regulations, the president and ministry, all the way down to village regulations, not one of them know poetry. They do not look for poetry. They do not find poetry. They do not remember poetry. There might be a trace of the word “poem” in the far recesses of their brain, but what they understand is not really poetry. Possibly poetry is tucked away somewhere under a pile of garbage, buried under a muddy patch of earth soaked by torrential rain, or hidden behind the gloom, weakly crying out the sound of silence in midst of darkness.

Is poetry really this hopeless in the midst of today’s civilization of hyper-materialism? Is it really so pessimistic for poetry in the middle of the stream of robots and bodies that regard themselves as humans? Has hope completely vanished for poetry in the midst of the life of the human family and Indonesian people who desperately pursue the world and things, but who complain incessantly of the world and things? In the midst of the arrogance of breath-taking advancement and while killing themselves to make it into the emergency response unit of the times in the pursuit of wealth, position, opportunity, access, and assets and arguing day in and day out of not achieving worldly desires?

No. Absolutely not. Poetry is not marginal, not marginalized. It’s not sidelined or disappeared. Poetry is indeed not food on the plate, a vehicle that is gassed and braked, a house with decor or shopping malls designed by architects to be like paradise. Poetry is not something achieved, but something journeyed towards. Poetry is not something which is held, but a trip to be traveled. Poetry is not something to be grasped or stored in a wallet, but something to be cherished and ached for.

Poetry – like the horizon in nature, the sky in the universe, justice in the sight of the soul, trueness in the recesses of the heart, eternity at the edge of time’s mystery, and God himself who seems to hide behind a secret without ever meeting – is the tenderest point far beyond the spirit, traveled with yearning, which inside a speck of the dust of that tenderness is encompassed all of nature and thousands and thousands of universes.

I myself, earlier, when that current of energy and magnetism passed right through me whose outpouring is a flow of writings or poems, was captured by the instinct to foster and allow poetry to be a mystery, one which must not lose its essence today. So every day I concentrate on the Indonesia side of it. I am concerned about it, am anxious for it, take care of it. Maybe ever since God inscribed in the Preserved Tablet for me to love, probably for that reason too I called the book A Shred from the Diary of Indonesia.

Even right until now as it is re-published, I turned the pages, my heart is still, and my mind fixed on Indonesia. But if you go into the “shred” deeply, it feels too broken. Indonesia today is no longer a shred: it’s like an old book lying forgotten in the cupboard, gnawed at by rats every night, its pages torn to pieces, ripped up, shredded, almost not a single page left intact. Half-soaked, reeking of a mixture of mouse piss.

A Shred From the Diary of Indonesia holds out a mirror before my own face. I stare back into my own eyes. I behold growth in decay, a baby in poverty, a young man in old age, a future for all those who are benighted. The wrinkles of an old face in the mirror, unimaginable weakness and helplessness, but there is a refreshing breeze that springs from the depths of the soul: I will take Indonesia into the future.

If you find letters and words in this book, flow with them into tomorrow. At the same time, invite the letters and words to flow over you, without any limit as to time. One day you will be snatched by death, but that is only a crossing bridge…

Emha Ainun Nadjib
11 November 2016

Langston Hughes

AKU, JUGA

Oleh Langston Hughes

Aku, juga, menyanyikan Amerika.

Aku saudaranya yang lebih gelap.
Aku disuruh mereka makan di dapur
Ketika tamu datang menjenguk.
Tetapi aku tertawa,
Dan makan dengan lahap,
Dan tumbuh semakin kuat.

Besok,
Aku akan makan di meja
Ketika tamu datang menjenguk.
Maka
Tak akan ada yang berani
Bilang kepadaku
“Makan di dapur.”

Tambah lagi,
Mereka akan melihat betapa tampannya aku
Dan merasa malu –

Aku, juga, Amerika.


Featured image from We Are the American Heartbreak: Langston Hughes on Race in a Rare Recording

sebelahmata_erk11 di Pare-Pare

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. The 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 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 one doctor here. And there aren’t enough medicines.”

Then my younger brother, who by chance was home on leave with permission 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 jail. 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

Kooa Cigarette Label

Short Story: Fujinkai

By Idrus

The Women’s Association(*) of a nondescript village was holding a meeting. The day before the meeting, Mrs. Scholar had been in quite a flap. She looked as if she was organizing her own daughter’s wedding, borrowing chairs from here and there, dropping in and out of homes to invite members. For Mrs. Scholar, Women’s Association meetings were very important events in her day-to-day life.

“She really is enthusiastic,” said one member to a friend.

Mrs. Scholar rose to her feet and spoke to open the meeting. With the voice of a cold, shivering cat, Mrs. Scholar explained that she was in receipt of an instruction from her superiors to hold a meeting to discuss a number of matters.

A member sitting directly across from Mrs. Scholar muttered, “Well, you wouldn’t dare do this without being ordered to.”

As she spoke, Mrs. Scholar glanced at the member with a sour face. The other member’s face twisted into a mocking look.

Trembling slightly, Mrs. Scholar continued what she had been saying. She spoke for a long time, she had not finished everything that she’d been ordered to say by her superiors. All the members yawned, like soldiers on a silent battlefield.

Ten minutes… twenty minutes, Mrs. Scholar talked on and on. Her mouth moved like the snout of a squirrel, puffing up and down like a bellows. Her nostrils flared widely, like a fishing net ballooning in the water. The hairs were visible, dark like a squid. As she spoke, saliva oozed from her teeth and rolled down her chin like a small child’s snot.

Shyly a member rose to her feet and said, “Mrs. Scholar, please excuse me, but I have to leave to go home. I have a lot of things that need doing at home.”

Mrs. Scholar felt offended and in an angry tone asked, “What is the matter, Mrs. Waluyo? The meeting is not over. We’ve only just begun. At home, you work for yourself, but here, we are working for the common good.”

Mrs. Waluyo appeared thoughtful, and then said firmly, “That’s a shame Mrs. Scholar.” She looked at her watch, small like a beetle, and continued what she was saying, “At six sharp I’ve arranged to meet the chicken seller. To exchange for some tatty clothes.”

Mrs. Waluyo bowed her head respectfully to Mrs. Scholar, and to the other members, then departed. As soon as she was outside, she said between clenched teeth, “For the first and the last time.” Then contemptuously, “Huh… the common good.”

The other members appeared most uncomfortable, as if they had come face to face with someone just widowed.

Mrs. Scholar went back to what she was saying. She continued to talk about events that had been reported in the newspapers recently. She thanked the Japanese Navy which had won a great victory in the waters east of Taiwan. She expressed admiration for the dashing Japanese soldiers who had fallen in action on Peleliu Island. She thanked the Empire of Greater Japan for Indonesia’s forthcoming independence, and she was grateful that the military government had managed the smooth distribution of rice so that everyone was receiving a fifth of a liter of rice each day.

Then another member stood up. Obviously a real village person, her Indonesian was stilted and sounded like a very old woman’s. Her blouse was faded and tattered. Her chest was as flat as the waters of Lake Toba, waveless. Every now and again she coughed.

Very gently she said, “Mrs. Scholar, it isn’t even as much as a fifth of a liter. And you can’t find any extra anywhere. My husband can’t work anymore. The Japanese cut off his hands, because…”

Her heavy heart stopped her finishing the sentence. But she was desperate to make Mrs. Scholar feel sorry for her. Just maybe, Mrs. Scholar would be able to help her. She gathered her strength, and between her coughs, she continued, “…because he took a liter of rice from his employer’s house. Because he had no choice, you see. Salim is really an honest man, but he was desperate. Please help me, madam. I have two children, they have big appetites.”

All the members felt sorry for her.

But sternly Mrs. Scholar said, “Mrs. Salim, I can not help you. It has already been decided. We have to do what we are told. It is different now compared to before.”

“Before we could argue with decisions from higher up, but the present era is a time of obedience. This has great benefits because in previous times everything took such a long time. Imperial Japan is different. Everything is fast. In only two years, we have obtained our soon-to-arrive independence. We have to work, Mrs. Salim.”

Looking as if she was about to start to cry, Mrs. Salim said, “So we get a fifth of a liter? Down again from a quarter? Well, in that case, please excuse me, but I’m just going home. There’s a lot to do at home.”

As slowly as the announcement of a defeat by Imperial Headquarters, Mrs. Salim moved towards the door. When she arrived at her house, she cried.

Mrs. Scholar laughed. Mocking Mrs. Salim she said, “That’s what happens when a village person gets involved in a meeting. They talk about inappropriate things. They ask the wrong questions. Ha ha ha!”
Sitting some distance from Mrs. Scholar, Mrs. Djoko and Mrs. Surya were deep in conversation.

Mrs. Djoko said, “My husband Djoko now looks quite pale. I feel terrible when I look at him. Every day he works hard, but when he gets home, all there is to eat is rice porridge. I’m a little better off. Whichever food sellers passes the front of the house, whether it’s peanut salad or fried soybean cakes, I buy some to help keep the hunger away. Sometimes we spend as much as one rupiah per day. Poor Djoko.”

Mrs. Surya, on the other hand, wasn’t having so much trouble paying for things. Her husband was a member of the regional advisory council. Rather proudly she said, “For us, our life is just the same, not much has changed from before. My husband Surya has a permit to travel anywhere. When he comes home from Banten he brings coffee. When he comes home from Cirebon, he brings home rice and Kooa cigarettes. Usually, the rice he brings is more than the two of us need. Well, what else can we do, we sell the left over. Sometimes it sells for as much as two rupiahs seventy-five cents per liter. Yes, it even covers the cost of going sightseeing at Warnasari.”

Mrs. Djoko stood and said to Mrs. Scholar, “Mrs. Scholar, is that all that’s going to be discussed at this meeting? I just want to say that I am very grateful. Excuse me, I have to go home.”

Mrs. Scholar was surprised, from her leather bag she removed a piece of paper and in a chilly quiet voice said, “Just a moment, Mrs. Djoko. That was only the introduction. The real reason for this meeting is…”

Mrs. Scholar opened the folded sheet of paper. She continued her address.
“This. The 8th December will mark the third anniversary of Japan declaring war on America by attacking Hawaii. This has to be commemorated. It has been decided that the Women’s Association has a responsibility. Together with the Women’s Associations from other villages, we are to go and visit Japanese soldiers who are sick. For this, we are going to make them cakes. And to make the cakes will incur a cost. We are to show our thanks to those who have fought for our interests. Ladies, allow me to abbreviate my address, and to say that the reason for this meeting is to ask for your generosity to volunteer, if you could, a financial contribution for the making of these cakes.

“At least two and a half rupiah from each family. I feel that this is not too much for you all. Two and a half rupiah is not much. Just look at it like you are giving a liter of rice. I’m sure it won’t feel like too heavy a burden. About when we will begin to work, I shall provide further details in the near future.”

The members of the Women’s Association of a nondescript village whispered to each other. One of them said, “And about the two and a half rupiah. That’s not the main thing. Why did you deliver such a long-winded introduction just to tell us that we are going to have to dig deeper into our pockets yet again? Just cross my name off the membership list of the Women’s Association. I don’t even care if everyone talks about me not having the right spirit.”

Now frightened and trembling, Mrs. Scholar said, “Mrs. Samiun, please don’t become angry so quickly. We have to be patient in the present age. You really are jumping to the wrong conclusion. I feel obliged to advise you then, even if it is a secret, that everything I have been saying, I was ordered to say by my superiors, which all arrived along together with the order to hold this meeting. I went to a great deal of trouble yesterday, memorizing all of this by heart, word for word, Mrs. Samiun.”

Mrs. Scholar wiped the perspiration from her brow. The meeting dispersed successfully.

(*) Fujinkai


Published in Pantja Raja, No. 16 Vol. II, 1 July 1947, p. 551.

(Use was also made of a translation published in Indonesia, No. 2 (Oct., 1966), pp. 125-134, Southeast Asia Program Publications, Cornell University, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3350757)