Category Archives: Writers

Poem of a Scrap of Paper 1

Poem of a Scrap of Paper 1

By Emha Ainun Nadjib

A novelist, in Europe
paid a political group
in an African country
to stage a coup d’état.
The novelist carefully noted
every aspect of the process of replacing those in power
and wrote about it in a famous novel
which was marketed and produced
more than the cost of the coup.
And you, sipping on your coffee
in some little food stall
after witnessing a fight between
pedicab drivers and minivan drivers
say bluntly:
Ah, why isn’t the novelist interested
in countries in Asia!
Then you laugh to yourself, and grumble
Why have we come to the point
where a nightmare about blood
has become the only dream
that feels beautiful?

Yogya, 13 March 1982


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A Shred From The Diary of Indonesia

A Shred From The Diary of Indonesia

By Emha Ainun Nadjib

See the performances of plays in my country
called Bloodbath in Jember
Attack the Country of the White Ghost in Solo
Klaten, Semarang, Surabaya and Medan
The Terrorising of the Neighbourhood Security Post in Bandung
Woyla.
Ah, remember in the past
the performance of the folk drama
that was called Jihad Command.
Remember Malari.
Remember the hundreds of plays performed
whose scripts we did not known
and our naked eyes
so easily fooled and hoodwinked.
Ah, complete dramas
not played on a stage
but rather played out over the heads
of the sea of onlookers.
Blood flowing, flowers of death.
The foul stench of the saliva of the cunning directors
who hide in the hearts of the people.
Dramas of a civilisation that plays with lives
toys with humanity
tells dirty jokes to God.
We are very simple people and do not know
our Minds are steered
bit through the nose and doused in perfume
Backsides prodded and we bellow
meaninglessly
We who are too simple and forgiving
chattering amongst ourselves
like small children running around with crackers
then falling sound asleep
after being fed sponge cake and chewing gum.
Ah, who owns this land.
Who owns the forests being cut down.
Tin ore and timber that are officially smuggled
Who owns the mines
decisions about the future
Who owns nature’s wealth
now being wasted completely
Who owns the changes
in the interests of official decisions
We ourselves here
who owns us.
Have we ever owned even a small amount
more than just being owned, and owned.
Have we ever determined even a small amount
more than just being determined, and determined.

Yogya, 13 March 1982


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

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

By Emha Ainun Nadjib

Foreword

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

What you are reading is my expression of 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 am going to be very embarrassed. Because if the book were to be entered into a competition for poetry books, and I was one of the judges, there is no way I would select it as a possible winner.

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

Katak

The fact is poetry has come to a halt in the present era. It 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, none of them understand 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 hidden away somewhere under a pile of garbage, buried under a muddy patch of earth soaked by torrential rain, or hidden in the gloom and 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 think of themselves as humans? Has hope completely vanished for poetry in the midst of the life of the human family and the Indonesian nation who desperately pursue the world and material things, but who complain incessantly about the world and material things? In the midst of the arrogance of such breath-taking progress and as they kill themselves to make it into the emergency response unit of the age in pursuit of wealth, position, opportunity, access, assets, and squabble day in and day out about not achieving their worldly desires?

No. Absolutely not. Poetry is not marginal, not marginalized. It is 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 that is held, but a journey to be traveled. Poetry is not something to be grasped or stored in a wallet, but rather something to be cherished and longed for.

Poetry – like the horizon in nature, the sky in the world, justice within 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 to return, which encompasses within one speck of the dust of that tenderness the whole 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, maybe for that reason too I called the book A Shred From the Diary of Indonesia.

Even right up to now, as it is published again, I turn its pages, and my heart and mind is still 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 by rats every night, pages torn to pieces, ripped up, shredded, almost not a single page left intact. It is half-soaked and reeking because it is mixed with the urine of those rats. 

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

Emha Ainun Nadjib
11 November 2016


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64

64

By Emha Ainun Nadjib

My God
one among the thousands of faults
that ensnare the history of our life
is the error we fall into when deciding 
how much backwardness is contained in our progress
how much failure is contained in our success
how much destruction is contained in our improvement
how pressing is the darkness contained in our awakening
how enormous is the backwardness contained in our advancement
and how much war is contained in our call for peace.
My God
in our eyes so full of arrogance
ever greater grows the confusion of
what is to be left behind and what embraced
what is of the heights and what of the depths

 


Emha Ainun Nadjib.  99 untuk Tuhanku [99 For My God],  Pustaka Bandung  1983.

Short Story: Mrs Geni in December

Mrs Geni in December

By Arswendo Atmowiloto

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

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

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

“Well, if it is not your child, that makes her my child. Let’s go home.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Marriage is the most illogical of ceremonies. It causes a lot of trouble. You all stress about working out an auspicious date, what sort of matching clothes to have, and it all has no connection with the marriage itself. Just look at the people who make the speeches at weddings, the people delivering advice to the newlyweds. That is the most boring part, the part that is listened to the least. But it is always included. That’s weddings for you.” It is somewhat odd for these words to come from Mrs Geni because she in fact makes her living from weddings. “Yes, it is strange. Isn’t marriage a strange thing. Because something strange is thought of as normal, the people who do not marry, who are widows or widowers, are even thought of as strange.”

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

Why marry Mr Geni at the time?

“Well, because it was time to get married, like everybody else.”
Does that then mean that it wasn’t out of love that I married Mr Geni?
“As with soul mates, as soon as you marry, well, that has to be accepted as love. That is more important. Because if you rely on love beforehand, it might not last. What you have, that is what you love whether there is love there before or not.”

The question arises because there is word that Mr Geni is to marry again. “Yeah, don’t worry about that. And I will do the makeup for the bride,” she says easily, in a flat almost emotionless tone. “To try to forbid it would be hard and it would be useless anyway. Just let him do it.”
Maybe that is the reason Mrs Geni is still happy to do the makeup for the soon-to-be brides who are to become second or third wives. “Let people experience joy once in their lives.” For Mrs Geni marriage is joy, happiness. “If someone does not even experience joy when they marry they aren’t going to find any other joy.”

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

Has Mrs Geni ever thought about divorcing Mr. Geni?

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

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

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

Fortunately all of this only happens in December.


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

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