Leiden Asia Year

KITLV / Amnesty International seminar ‘The politics of Islam in Indonesia: Jakarta elections and beyond | By Sidney Jones & Chris Chaplin | 9 March Leiden University

KITLV / Amnesty International Seminar

‘The Politics of Islam in Indonesia: Jakarta elections and beyond’, By Sidney Jones & Chris Chaplin

Is conservative Islam gaining ground in Indonesia? The gubernatorial elections in Jakarta have convinced many that the political clout of Islamic organizations has grown. Demands that the incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama – a Christian of ethnic Hakka Chinese descent better known as Ahok – be convicted of blasphemy have been front and centre of efforts to diminish his electoral popularity. Furthermore, mass demonstrations by Islamic conservatives against the governor have dwarfed policy debates between the gubernatorial candidates.

As Amnesty International have reported, the charge of blasphemy has become increasingly common, with an estimated 106 convictions for blasphemy between 2005 and 2014, compared to approximately 10 during the 33 years of Suharto’s New Order. These developments suggest that religion is increasingly politicised in a country known for its moderate version of Islam.

Yet, not everything is as it seems. During the first round of the elections, Ahok still managed to eke out a small victory. Furthermore, Islamic identity may have played a crucial role in mobilising demonstrators, but the size and success of the rallies was in no small part due to established support networks between Islamic conservatives and politicians who wished to usurp the popular governor.

Accordingly, this talk discusses the ramifications of sectarian mobilisation, debating the wider implications of the Jakarta elections for the agenda of Islamic advocates and their ability to utilise religious and ethnic identity for political purpose. Sidney Jones, a prominent expert on Islam and terrorism in Indonesia will discuss these issues together with Chris Chaplin, a postdoctoral researcher at KITLV.

Speakers

Sidney Jones: Director, Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, Jakarta, Indonesia. From 2002 to 2013, Jones worked with the International Crisis Group, first as Southeast Asia project director, then from 2007 as senior adviser to the Asia program. Before joining Crisis Group, she worked for the Ford Foundation in Jakarta and New York (1977-84); Amnesty International in London as the Indonesia-Philippines-Pacific researcher (1985-88); and Human Rights Watch in New York as the Asia director (1989-2002).  She holds a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She lived in Shiraz, Iran for one year as a university student, 1971-72, and studied Arabic in Cairo and Tunisia.  She received an honorary doctorate in 2006 from the New School in New York.

Chris Chaplin: Researcher, KITLV / Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies. Chris is a postdoctoral researcher at the KITLV, where he is investigating the influence of conservative Islamic movements on ideas of citizenship and civic activism within Indonesian society, specifically focusing on Islamic activism within South Sulawesi. Prior to joining the KITLV, he completed his PhD at the University of Cambridge concerning Salafi piety and mobilisation in Java. Chris has also spent seven years living in Indonesia, researching and consulting for a number of international development institutions and human rights NGOs on issues of village development, elections, and security sector reform. He has been fortunate enough to have spent extensive time living in Java, Sulawesi and West Papua.

Date: Thursday 9 March 2017, Time: 15.30 h – 17.00 h, Venue: Lecture Hall 02, Mathias Vrieshof 2, Leiden University, If you wish to attend please register with Yayah Siegers: kitlv@kitlv.nl

Source: KITLV / Amnesty International seminar ‘The politics of Islam in Indonesia: Jakarta elections and beyond | By Sidney Jones & Chris Chaplin | 9 March

Benteng di Batavia

Jakarta Unfair

“Human rights group ‘LBH Jakarta’ reported that the Jakarta city government destroyed 113 homes in 2015 and planned to destroy 325 more in 2016. At least 70% of the homes were demolished with no consultation or settlement.

Today many of the homes threatened with demolition have been razed. The excuse is always the same: law and order and urban normalization (green open space, weirs or river management) in the interests of a better life.

“Jakarta Unfair” sets out to test the theory of the Jakarta city government that life is better after your home has been demolished.”

From WatchDoc Documentary, Jakarta

The Love of City People

By Hanna Rambe

A plate of small cakes dangled from little Masni’s excited grasp as she clambered into Aunty Ruli’s car. A career woman of impressive years, and still single, Ruli was taking Masni with her to visit a friend.

      Masni had only recently arrived in Jakarta. Ruli had invited her to come and live with her in the city feeling she was now of sufficient means to help raise Masni. Before coming to live with Aunty Ruli, Masni had been cared for by her grandparents in a tiny village in provincial Sumatra where Masni was destined to become just one more among countless rural peasant women, just as all her forebears had been.

      They were about to set off to visit Musa, one of Ruli’s cousins. For some years after Musa’s father had passed away, Ruli paid for Musa’s schooling. Ruli and Masni arrived in, well, the second part of the name of the area was “Indah”(*), but Ruli couldn’t remember exactly what Musa’s house looked like. Fortunately she had brought the address.

      Musa had added another storey to his house and the whole place was now a dazzling clean white, right down to the fine wrought-iron laced fence and gate. Expensive plants stood scattered around the modestly-sized yard, casuarinas, areca nut palm trees and a variety of imported flowering shrubs.

      Despite the blaze of security lights the house itself looked quiet. Ruli pushed the bell on the gate several times but no one appeared. Masni began to shift uneasily from foot to foot shrinking before the soaring gates.

      “People in Jakarta don’t like guests,” Masni thought to herself. “I’m glad I’m with Aunty Ruli or I’d be standing here by myself.” She thought how different her own village had been. Nobody had a fence, apart from the village chief. And it certainly was not polite to let visitors stand for ages in the street.

      Ruli called out to someone, a builder it seemed, working next door who disappeared to the back and in a few minutes an elderly woman emerged who opened the gate for them. The old woman was wearing a sarong and a fine knee-length traditional lace blouse, indicating to Masni, happy at the sight, that she was from the same district in Sumatra as she was. The woman told Masni to call her “grandma” which also made Masni happy. Although the elderly woman was not her real grandmother she was a grandaunt.

      The three women talked away exchanging news. The man of the house was apparently away on annual holidays in Bali with his wife and children. Musa and the family, according to the elderly woman, always spent the New Years outside Java. Ruli did not known this, recalling that Musa and the children had always called in to see her at Christmas or New Years to wish her the seasons greetings and leave a present.

      The elderly woman continued her news. Last year Musa bought the block of land behind their house and turned it into an orchid garden for his wife. His wife was buying and selling orchids. Just to make a little money.

      One of Musa’s four younger brothers and sisters, his name was Kahar, had been completely uncontrollable but had turned over a new leaf and was now working for Musa.

      “What is Kahar doing?” asked Ruli rather taken aback.

      The elderly woman continued. Musa had a cattle farm outside town. He had bought the land and was raising cattle. Kahar was managing it all, and the cows were producing plenty of milk. She went on and on with the family news, of how, well, to put it simply, Musa had done quite well for himself and had helped his brother to find work. Pleased to hear all the news Ruli was gratified that her help with Musa’s education had not been in vain. She was happy also that it was only because of Musa being so busy with his career that he hadn’t had time to keep up with news of other members of the family.

      Ruli gazed around the front parlour, cavernous by land-squeezed Jakarta’s standards. She gazed at the intricately decorated crystal lamp on the wall unit, the video recorder in the corner, the delicately carved teak lounge, electric organ, seawater aquarium in the other corner, lush Middle-Eastern carpet and indescribably modern paintings. It was all there.

      “Could open a shop if he wanted to,” she thought. “People become rich so quickly!”

      Masni stared in awe as drinks and cakes were served by a maid with short wavy hair wearing long slacks and lipstick. In Masni’s village there weren’t any women made-up like that, not even the village chief’s wife.

      During their visit, Masni sat as quietly as a mouse. She didn’t utter a word. The elderly woman then told them about the family’s pet dogs, one or two of which had indeed been wandering about barking. They were strangely shaped dogs, not like the ones grandpa kept in the village. These dogs had curly hair and a soft bark, one very small and low and without a real snout. The elderly woman described how the family had recently had a terrible experience and Ruli, politely feigning offence at having not being informed, asked what had happened.

      “Musa’s youngest child was bitten by one of the large dogs and had to be taken to the doctor. The dog was punished by the trainer and finally it died,” explained the old woman.

      Ruli anxiously asked whether it was a serious bite.

      “The bite wasn’t the problem. What worried Musa was losing the dog.”

      Incredulous at hearing such a story on New Year’s Eve, Ruli listened as the old woman described what happened.

      “Two years ago Musa bought a special German Shepherd. I can’t remember how to say its name but I do know it cost more than a million rupiah. They had to give it special meat, take it to the vet from time to time for check-ups and after it was big enough they took it to school.”

      Masni’s ears stood up! “Take a dog to school!” she thought. “What sort of dog would it have to be? Is it possible for a dog to go to school? Not even all the children in the village go to school. They can’t afford the monthly fees,” she thought. “It wouldn’t be a bad life being a dog in Musa’s family,” Masni thought to herself still refusing to say a word to anyone.

      “The dog became very clever,” continued the elderly woman. “It could play ball with the children. It guarded the house and it could open a closed door, so long as it wasn’t locked, jump over chairs and pounce on dangerous looking strangers. And that wasn’t all.”

      “Well, Musa must certainly be rich, aunty,” commented Ruli.

      “Ah, I wouldn’t say that. He is also responsible for a lot of people. There’s me, his brothers and sisters, and all his brothers- and sisters-in-law. And then there’s some of his friends’ children from close by,” the old sarong bound woman answered modestly.

      “When the dog finished its course it got a certificate too,” added the woman returning to her story.

      “A certificate, aunty?” replied Ruli, wide-eyed. “What would be the use of giving a dog a certificate, aunty?”

      “The dog’s job was to guard Musa. If someone wanted to hurt Musa, the dog would jump up and bite the person. But if one day Musa wanted to sell the dog the birth certificate, the pedigree and the training certificates would all have to be handed over as well or he wouldn’t get a good price.”

      “Oh,” sighed Ruli.

      It was late and Ruli could see the elderly woman was getting tired so she decided it was just about time to finish their New Year’s Eve visit. She had really wanted to see Musa’s wife. For the past seven years Musa’s wife had regularly sent a Christmas present and this was the first time Ruli had taken the time to drop in to thank her. Up till now Ruli had felt that as she was the older of the two it was Musa’s responsibility to call on her. In fact she wanted to introduce Masni to Musa and his family.

      They were about to leave when the old woman asked them to look through two thick photo albums full of pictures, of the dog and all its certificates. The elderly woman explained that one day Musa had been playing with the dog, telling it how clever it was, when the children arrived home from school and joined in. Something must have happened. Musa must have made some sort of movement that upset his youngest son because the child picked up a walking stick from the corner of the parlour and began pretending to hit his father.

      Suddenly the dog snarled angrily and jumped on the child and bit him. At first everyone thought it was all just wonderful fun, that the dog was showing how clever it was. As blood began to run down the child’s arm and she started screaming, the dog grew more and more angry. Then everyone suddenly realized what was happening and Musa leapt into action.

      Apparently what happened, the old woman remembered, was that the child moved exactly like the bad men the dog had been trained to attack at the school. Musa forced the dog out of the way and the house was in uproar. Someone called Musa’s wife who was next door at a neighbourhood function; someone called the family doctor; children started howling; and the elderly woman herself began yelling at Musa and the dog.

      The whole house was in chaos for a week. The dog was taken straight out of town to the trainer’s but after that the old woman didn’t know what happened to it. Musa never brought it home again and someone said that within a month it died.

      The child was not injured seriously but went into shock, unable to accept the fact that the dog she had lavished so much affection on had not returned the affection.

      “How could a dog respond the same way? An animal. The word itself is something you use to insult people,” the old woman scorned.

      Ruli and Masni finally asked the elderly woman to pass on their regards to Musa and his family and they left for home.

***

The following day Ruli asked Masni to go with her to visit another friend. “So the rest of the family in Jakarta can get to know you,” Ruli said. “After all, you’re new in Jakarta.”

      They set off for Boti’s house in the opposite direction to Musa’s. Also one of Ruli’s cousins, Boti was a senior civil servant with three children, all girls, and Ruli hoped that the girls would invite Masni to meet some of their friends. Boti’s house was always full of young people and the girls did turn out to be friendly to Masni. It was Masni herself who didn’t feel comfortable, preferring not to say a word.

      The main topic of conversation between Boti his wife Ida and Ruli was the sad event which had recently happened to the family. And what had happened? There had been a death, the mynah from Nias Island had died.

      “Ida, you really are too much! I thought that someone in the family had passed away. You shouldn’t be so sad over a bird?” tut-tutted Ruli making fun of her friends.

      “The problem isn’t just the death of an animal, Rul. You have to understand the role of the bird in the family.”

      “Ah. There are plenty of mynahs at the bird market near our house. You really shouldn’t be this sad about a dead bird,” said Ruli again somewhat frustrated.

      Ida looked at her husband and then explained. “This mynah was a gift from a very poor relative living on Nias Island when Boti was posted there. Boti was able to help the family in a small way and the mynah was a present, a token of their thanks for protection from the possibility of some penalty. It had only just been caught in the forest,” said Ida. “After we returned to Jakarta, Boti looked after the bird himself and taught it to talk and whistle. The whole household was happy with the new creature chortling away in the house.

      “In the mornings he would whistle and whistle, say ‘good morning’ to Boti and me and the children and in the afternoons he would sing the first lines of the folk song ‘Lisoi’. The children are always singing that song. Whenever a passing vegetable hawker or a rag-and-bone man was about to open the gate, the little mynah was taught to call out, ‘Who are you looking for? No one’s asked you to come in!’

      “For two years the mynah was the sixth person in the family and the maid was the seventh. When I think about it, Boti looked after the little mynah, checked its food and water every day when he arrived home from work before saying hello to me or the children. Only after he had seen that the mynah was all right would he check on the others in the house.

      “I had plenty to do outside, golf, the office wives’ association, dropping the children at school and picking them up in the afternoons, bowling and visiting all the different supermarkets in Jakarta, just for starters.

      “Last Sunday I got sick and had to stay home. I felt moody and fussed about as though nothing was how it should have been. I got cranky with everyone in the house and the maid and she even threatened to walk out if I kept becoming angry with her.

      “Well, I didn’t want the maid to leave so I bottled things up inside and that was the day I heard Boti come home. I was so furious when the first thing he did was stop outside the kitchen to look in the bird’s cage. Boti played with the bird, joked with it, whistled to it and filled up its water bowl.

      “Then he went into the bedroom, put down his case and changed. Well, I exploded. I told him he cared more about the bird than about his sick wife. Boti was worn out and sweaty and, shall I say, responded to my outburst in a way that was more appropriate to an infantryman in the middle of battle. Unkind, not to say, indelicate, words were fired between us mortar like. The maid was terrified, as was the little mynah who had never heard an angry word uttered in its life.

      “After a while Boti said to me, ‘Ida, you shouldn’t be jealous of a bird. The bird has only ever been something for the whole house to enjoy. If it could really talk you would have to apologize to it.’

      “I didn’t say anything but in my heart I was sorry. How could I have been jealous of a bird?

      “Three days after our fight the mynah died in its cage and we weren’t able to find the cause. The whole house is upset, especially Boti, who put in so much effort to training it.

      “Boti said to me flatly, ‘Now you don’t have to be jealous. Maybe the mynah did understand what we were saying and didn’t want to be a bother to you or the rest of us any more.’

      “I knew that Boti was distraught; he just wasn’t saying so for my sake. I was so sorry about my childish behaviour that day. True, nothing will bring him back, but everyone still feels his passing away terribly, no more cheery good mornings outside the kitchen.”

      For all their money, the mynah would not be easy to replace realized Ruli. A new bird would have to be trained patiently from scratch.

      Masni nodded politely in agreement when everyone in the house, equally politely, told her she should call in often and even stay over and that they wanted to take her out to Jaya Dream World at Ancol in North Jakarta or on a picnic into the mountains.

      Without saying anything, Masni was actually deeply disturbed by the fact Aunty Ida had been jealous of a bird. In the village mynahs lived in the forest.

      “The families Aunty Ruli has introduced me to are very odd,” Masni decided, “caring so much for dogs and jealous of birds.”

      In the car on the way home she wondered what marvels awaited her tomorrow.

      The next evening Aunty Ruli invited her to visit someone else and off they went to drop in on Grandma Sarintan who lived in Kebayoran in South Jakarta.

      Sarintan was a distant relative of Masni’s late father, but Ruli knew her well through work. She now lived by herself in a rented house which, compared to her former twelve bedroom palace which one had to circle on a small bicycle, was cozy and small. It had the feeling of a lonely mountain temple.

      She had once been in charge of a small company but it had gone bankrupt and she and her husband had fallen on hard times. Then her husband eventually ran off with another woman. Their only child, pretty and brilliant in school, had won a scholarship to study in Australia where she had married a millionaire Vietnamese refugee immigrant and settled down.

      Sarintan lived with no more companionship than that of her driver and two maids. She survived now by teaching English and music. Her income was actually not insubstantial, but with the tastes she had acquired in her days of plenty she never felt she had enough money. Her daughter understood how her mother felt, sending a little money from Australia from time to time and she had even sent her mother two Angora cats to provide a little companionship.

      When Ruli and Masni arrived a large crowd was gathered at the house and all the windows were wide open to the moist tropical air making a joke of the air conditioner still running. Ruli sensed something was wrong.

      And she was right. Without her usual corpse pale make-up, Sarintan was sobbing, and Ruli, startled by the scene, wondered what could possibly have happened.

      “Oh Ruli, Ruli, it’s so good to see you,” wailed Sarintan on seeing Ruli before bursting into tears.

      “There, there. Everything’s going to be all right. What’s happened?”

      Through her tears Sarintan sobbed, “Oh, oh. Onassis has been missing since yesterday afternoon. Ohh.”

      “Well, where is he? Have you looked for him?”

      “Yes,” she explained through her sobs, “all these neighbours have been helping me look for him.”

      It was as if someone in the family had died. Ruli thought to herself that if Sarintan became hysterical she would definitely have to take her off to the psychiatric hospital.

      Panic and pandemonium had gripped everyone in the house. They were looking everywhere, opening everything that opened, overturning everything that could be searched, but Onassis would not answer, not even to the loving calls of her owner.

      On seeing one neighbour climb down from the roof empty handed, Sarintan again burst into tears and called out repeatedly the name of her beloved puss Onassis.

      Whispering into Ruli’s ear Masni asked, “Why is she crying about a lost cat?”

      “Ah, the cat came all the way from America and cost a thousand dollars,” answered Ruli.

      “Is a thousand dollars a lot of money, Aunty Ruli?”

      “It’s a very large amount of money; it’s about one million seven hundred thousand rupiah, dear.”

      Masni didn’t say anything, unable to comprehend that amount of money. But when Ruli told her with that amount of money she could buy a large rice field and enough food and drink to last for one or two months, she began to understand what Sarintan was crying about.

      Quietly she began to think, “Maybe the old lady is crazy. Why would she want to pay more than a million rupiah for a cat?”

      Masni was shown a picture of the missing cat. Its partner lived in Sarintan’s bedroom and the cat was beautiful, thick fur, colours as soft as watercolours and large bright eyes. In all her life Masni had never seen a cat as beautiful as this, not even while collecting firewood in the forest around her village.

Masni listened open mouthed as Ruli whispered that the cat’s food had to be bought in Singapore because none of the supermarkets in Jakarta stocked it, and that Onassis, along with his partner Atina, had to take vitamins every day to make them strong.

      After Ruli and Masni had been there about two hours, one of Sarintan’s neighbours from the street walked in – Onasis in arms. Wearing a sarong the neighbour refused to come into the house. He had been about to go to bed when he came across Onassis being chased by a group of cats. Even though he was fat and well looked after Onassis was not up to fighting his brother cats.

      Sarintan leapt to the front door, wrapped her arms around Onassis warmly and carried him off forgetting the man at the door. Tears welled up in her eyes then flowed down her cheeks as she murmured ‘thank you’ over and over. Finally she carried him into the bedroom for a joyful reunion, all three losing themselves in a joyful embrace. Sarintan was clearing overjoyed, elated, by Onassis’ return. There was no doubt about it, her joy was palpable.

      To express her gratitude to all those who had helped her Sarintan handed out five thousand rupiah notes: to those who had climbed onto the roof, to those who had rummaged through the back yard and to those who had roamed up and down the street calling, “Puss… Onassis… puss, puss, puss.”

      Sitting silently throughout all her visits Masni could not decide whether she felt amazed, sick in the stomach, sorry for the old lady, or slightly jealous of all the people she had met on her New Year’s visits.

      It was almost midnight before Ruli and Masni left for home, almost the end of the third day of the New Year’s holiday. Before leaving, Masni caught sight of Sarintan lovingly pushing Onassis’ pills into his mouth. The old lady hadn’t paid the slightest attention to Masni or Ruli. She was drowning in the grief of losing Onassis when they arrived. By the time they left she was floating in an ocean of happiness over finding her imported cat again.

***

      During the past week Ruli and Masni had done a lot together to celebrate the New Year and all sorts of people had dropped in on Ruli. Each had their own particular stories, some unintelligible to Masni, others completely unbelievable. Masni found the city people she had met strange and foreign, totally unlike the people she knew back in her village.

      In the village she had seen images of Jakarta on television, sparkling glitter, dazzling lights, bustling crowds of cheerful chatter. Where was the real Jakarta, the one people did not see on television, full of people making friends of animals, full of endless overflowing rivers of cars flooding past the fronts of houses?

      Masni was deeply disturbed. Was this Jakarta, the place she had longed to see so much, centre of learning, the place where people could find a better life? There were other people from her village, other members of her family, here in Jakarta and she had visited some of them together with her late father’s cousin, Aunty Ruli. But not one had asked her to come and live with them. They all knew how her father had passed away, how her widowed mother had remarried and how, as a result, Masni and her sister Misna were being brought up on the edge of the forest by their poor grandparents.

      When Aunty Ruli invited her to come to Jakarta she had no idea she would see such things: emptiness, loneliness, coldness, indifference. Life in her village, so hard because of the poverty everyone lived in was nonetheless warm and affectionate.

      Masni didn’t have the courage to tell Ruli, busy with work and visitors, what was swimming in her head. Ruli had never tried to discuss with her how she was feeling or what she was thinking. Ruli had just accepted Masni would get used to life in the city quickly. After all didn’t every villager want to live in the big city?

      In Aunty Ruli’s house Masni could use as much fresh water as she liked. She didn’t have to haul buckets or earthenware pitchers from the well. In the evenings she didn’t have to light the lamps. Electricity did make it easier to cook and to find something to do. True. Life was easier in Ruli’s house.

      “But, dear Lord!” sighed Masni to herself. “Why do they care so much about animals?” This was what her tiny heart could not accept. Her grandpa had never killed an animal, hadn’t ever eaten meat and had once become angry when a group of children killed an animal that wasn’t threatening anyone. Grandpa taught the village children that animals were made by God to help people and therefore they shouldn’t be killed. But grandpa did get very annoyed every time an animal came into the house, except for skinks or ants. Dogs were not loved and fawned over and people didn’t sleep together with cats!

***

      Finally one day Ruli told Masni to gather all her personal papers together. She was off to enroll in school.

      School enrolments had started and Masni, little Masni who hadn’t been able to summon the courage to say a word at any of the gatherings of city people, now mustered all her bravery and said, “Aunty Ruli, I don’t want to go to school in Jakarta. I know we decided. But it doesn’t matter. I…, I would like to go home to my village.”

      “Honey, what’s that? Go back to your village? You said you wanted to become a clever girl, that you wanted to send some money back to help grandma and grandpa in the village. How are you going to earn any money if you don’t go to school?”  

“Aunty Ruli, please don’t be angry. Jakarta is too busy and crowded. There’s so much noise and dust and so many people, so many people and none of them are friendly. I don’t have any friends here. On television everything looks wonderful and new but every night I think of grandpa. I want to go home.”

      Ruli wasn’t pleased as she watched Masni sob quietly. Young as she was Masni was immovable. She had made up her mind. She wanted to be taken back to her village. Ruli tried to encourage Masni to change her mind but it didn’t work. A successful career woman, Ruli had forgotten about the thoughts and feelings of a small village girl. She hadn’t taken the time to sit down and talk to Masni heart-to-heart before going to bed. She had felt she was doing something good by helping the poor orphan child. To her mind Masni was being inconsiderate, even rude.

      Reluctantly Ruli took Masni back to her village. They flew to Medan, and then went by bus deep into the countryside. Ruli was so sad to lose Masni. She liked her very much, her clear olive skin, her gentle nature. True, Masni didn’t say much, didn’t ask many questions, but she did love reading and she always paid careful attention to any advice given to her.

      Quite some time after Ruli had left the village to return to Jakarta, Masni’s grandpa asked why she wanted to come back to the village. Had Aunty Ruli been angry or had Masni done something wrong?

      Masni answered with the honesty of a nine-year-old village child. “Grandpa, in the city people care more about animals than people. The rich people we visited keep dogs and cats and mynah. They pay lots of money for them. They don’t catch them in the forest. They send animals to school and the animals get certificates. They give medicine to cats as if they were babies and hug them and cry over them when they get lost. Even Aunty Ruli has pet fish in a tank and the water has to be pumped with an electric pump. I couldn’t bear to look at all the people, watch them ignore me. I’m poor and I come from a village. I don’t mean anything to them. To them the animals mean more than I do.”

      At first Masni’s grandpa laughed at her story, thinking she was making it all up to impress him now that she had been to the big city. But after a while her grandpa could see in Masni’s obvious sincerity that she wasn’t making it up.

      He put his arms around her, squeezed tightly and whispering, “Silly old Aunty Ruli. She cares more about her fish than about you.”

      Without thinking, Masni reached up and touched her grandpa’s cheek and realized it was wet.


Kasih Sayang Manusia Kota was published in Horison magazine in June 1990.

(*) Pondok Indah is a well known up-market district of Jakarta.

Image: Moord op Chinezen te Batavia, 1740, Jacob van der Schley, after Adolf van der Laan, 1761 – 1763

Sandalwood Fan

By Gerson Poyk

I live completely alone. But I can still live well enough since I don’t depend on anyone else. I can eat three meals a day. I can live in one rented room where there’s a couch, a bathroom and a kitchen. Outside at the back there’s a roof that extends a long way so the cooker, dish rack, bucket and bicycle can be stored there. There’s a second-hand television in my room which keeps me entertained every day.

If only my daughter hadn’t married a man who worked in the Middle East. Maybe I wouldn’t be living alone as she’d have been able to look after me, and my two grandchildren could have entertained me. But thankfully my daughter can help me out a little financially. For a long time since my wife passed away our situation has been pretty tight. My wife used to cook food out the back to sell for a little income. She’d cook spiced fish, uduk rice, chili soya bean, grilled fish, grilled eggplant and a chili sauce which I liked to call ‘chili Inul sauce’.

Every day I travel around on my bike selling food. I pedal from before dawn, sometimes till afternoon, and sometimes till late in the day. I target selling at the traditional markets and the multi-storey projects where day labourers work.

But after my wife passed away everything was a mess. My daughter was forced to drop out of school in year ten because she had to help me. Every evening I had to cook, carrying on as my wife had shown me. However, after cooking I had to rest half a day which meant the food wasn’t all sold everyday. Luckily my daughter knew a young woman from the island of Madura who sold drop cakes.

“Dad, I want to do what that woman from Madura is doing,” said my daughter.

”She dropped out of primary school but she could still get to run a business,” she said.

”Ah, you shouldn’t make fun of her,” I said.

”The only assets she has is a small cooker and one rice flour dough pot. She runs a business selling drop cakes. She’s very busy, dad,” said my daughter. ”I want to sell drop cakes like her,” she went on.

“But what about the food business your mother left behind? Do we have to forget about that? Would the income from that be enough for the two of us to survive on?” I asked.

”That’s easy. All it needs is one table. Some of the food you cook could be displayed on that one table and you can sell some of it from your bike. What do you think?”

So three days later there was a small food stall in the traditional market. At the side of the table was a hissing cooker wafting the aroma of fresh drop cakes. My daughter’s drop cake “lecturer”, the woman from Madura, was selling not far away beside my daughter’s stall. Everyday very early in the morning my daughter sold by herself in the market without me for company. After sleeping till eleven o’clock in the middle of the day, I pedaled my bicycle to the market and collected some of the food my daughter was selling. I rode around to the busy building sites, outside factory fences and places like that.

Early one morning a young journalist from the tabloid Voice of the Market, no stranger to staying up all night, squatted in front of my daughter’s drop cake cooker. The young journalist fell in love with my daughter. He published a photograph of her and the girl from Madura prominently in his tabloid newspaper. The story was long and detailed and described the “candak kulak” program which was a government program from the time of the New Order government which had provided small-scale capital. The program was long gone, vanished without a trace.

Later my daughter married the journalist from the Voice of the Market.

Her friend the girl from Madura sold up and down the market until one day several months later a minibus driver proposed to her.  

Not long after that my son-in-law moved to the Middle East to work as a journalist with the magazine Oil which is part of an oil company.

Nevertheless, neither of them did help me much because they were studying while they worked there. My son-in-law was at university and my daughter finished her high school matriculation and then she went on to university.

But they did not forget to think about my financial situation. My daughter sent some money for me to use as capital to buy sandalwood and agarwood fans to sell in the Middle East along with necklaces made from sandalwood and agarwood beads. Later they also asked for offcuts of sandalwood and agarwood used for burning in the incense burners of wealthy middle eastern people.

So I was busy with my new business as a sandalwood fan trader. Each month I would freight the aromatic commodity. I rented a small post office box to support my business activity. Everything was small. The post office box was small, the bedroom was small, but with these small things I was involved in a world which was wide and large! Although sales of sandalwood fans was brisk enough for me to be able to buy a block of land in Jakarta, my children told me not to buy land to build a house in the city. My daughter thought it would just be destroyed by floods of both water and people.  

Their thinking seemed pretty strange to me.

Every time I went to the post office to send products I visited a small open air food stall in the grounds of the post office to have coffee or a bit to eat.  

The owner of the food stall Misses Agus was helped by her daughter who had a younger brother who hadn’t undergone the Islamic khitan or circumcision ceremony yet. At first I only had breakfast there then I visited every day to have lunch and dinner. Master Agus who wasn’t circumcised yet was very pleased when I did drop in. Usually if I had any spare change I would give it to him as a present. Suddenly one day he showed me a piggy bank that was heavy. It was full of the coins I had given him. It was a real surprise to me to see a child who had apparently been left by a father who had passed away. Master Agus’ big sister Julie had been a wonderful help to her mother. Almost every day she worked in the small food stall unless she had to wash clothes at home, sweep or hang out washing.   

“Where do you work, sir?” Julie asked one day.  

“I work at home,” I answered.

“Where’s your office?” asked Julie.

“My office is as small as a box, a post office box!”

Julie laughed. “When you go to work, you first have to turn into an ant!”

“Ah, don’t be silly,” I said.

“Ah, don’t underestimate ants. They have a lot to teach humans. They work together and cooperate without anger, without getting emotional, like…”

“You’re having a go at me, aren’t you!” said her mother.

“So you’re emotional?” I asked.

“No, my mother is born from noble Javanese descent but now works in this humble little food stall,” said Julie.

“It doesn’t matter that it’s small, so long as it turns a dollar and makes a profit, to turn this food stall into a building. This shop is larger than my post office box. That’s my shop. It only returns a little, but fortunately I’m an ant so I don’t eat much,” I said. “Small people like us have to start small.”

“A post box can’t be bulldozed and relocated but it seems that even if the rent is paid this food stall can be taken away in a truck and piled up in the municipal depot.”   

One day early in the morning when I arrived at the post office I saw Mrs Agus having an argument. Two large men were carrying plates, pots, woks, cookers and other things, and piling them into a pickup truck. It seemed that Mrs Agus owed money to a village money lender. She just sat silently staring blankly, bright red eyes.

Although it was none of my business, something inside me compelled me to ask, “How much money do you owe?”   

“Only three-hundred thousand. How could they do something like that! And after the agreement was to pay a thousand rupiah a day. Suddenly he asked me to repay the whole loan because he said his house had been flooded,” said Julie.

“Where’s the money…”

“I actually had the money but yesterday I paid the doctor and bought blood pressure medicine,” said Mrs Agus.

I wasn’t being rational any more. At once I called out, “Mate, put those things back in the food stall. Here, I’ll pay what Mrs Agus owes you.” Then I pulled out three-hundred thousand rupiah from my wallet.   

“Wow, three hundred, only what about the interest? It’s now three years and my money’s been locked up in this food stall. Five hundred…”

“No way…”

“Why not?”

“There is no more money. Only three hundred.”

“Ah all right. Here’s the money.

“Yeh, and here are your things back,” they said.

After the debt collectors had gone, a little while later Master Agus arrived home from school. The small, first grade child was surprised mainly because there was no food. I told him to buy packets of cooked rice for four people and then help get the stall set up so it didn’t look like a wreck.

Since that incident Julie would always visit my boarding room with food, cleaned all the dirty things, washed my clothes and helped me pack the sandalwood and agarwood fans and also help cut up agarwood pieces. Then, when that was in order, she would help put them into boxes, write sender and recipient addresses and help carry them to the post office. She would also always check the post box and get any mail from my daughter overseas.    

Julie had become my assistant. Although she had only finished junior high school, her writing was good and she was quick with numbers.

After six months there was a disaster. Julie the fatherless child all of a sudden found she had a father in me, and at the same time, fell in love with me. I was racked by conflict. I was fifty five years old and Julie was just twenty. It wasn’t right. Poor Julie. But she stubbornly wanted to be my wife. For me this was not love that was normal, it was all because of the sandalwood fans, the aromatic agarwood fans meant money. If I hadn’t had any money the young woman wouldn’t have wanted this. Ah, sandalwood fans, the beautiful aroma of agarwood fans had preserved an old man who already smelt of the soil. It wasn’t right for Julie to marry this ancient from Jakarta.

Julie hugged me, hung round my neck and said, “I’ll look after you until you’re using a walking stick. You’ll live again, become young again, through our children.   

I became weak, and fell onto the bed.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door and as it wasn’t locked Mrs Agus walked right in. Her eyes were red. Maybe her high blood pressure had come back. Anyway she appeared to have tidied herself up and was thinking herself pretty. In fact because of the bright red of her lipstick I felt like I was being approached by a tiger.

It isn’t right for Julie to become your wife,” she said, “I’m the right one for you.” As she spoke she moved towards Julie then she slapped Julie.

As Julie ran out I made a run for the back door and then into the bathroom. I hid there for an hour. When I emerged into my room Mrs Agus was thankfully no longer in sight.

Since then I haven’t appeared at Mrs Agus’ food stall. I closed down the post office box and moved to another post office.

About three months later, Julie arrived at my room. She sat down as she slid a baby bottle into the lips of the baby in her arms. I was dumbstruck. Surely she wasn’t going to try it on me. I hoped she wasn’t about to go to the police station and report that her baby was my child, the child of a humble sandalwood fan trader.

“I’ve been living with a minibus driver,” she said.

“And had a baby right away?” I asked.

“No. His wife has left him and she handed the baby over to me. I just took her. After all where else was I going to go. My mother has high blood pressure. The important thing is that I have a husband,” said Julie, cradling the baby.

I couldn’t say anything. My eyes missed over.

One day about a year later as I was pedaling my bicycle, I saw Mrs Agus shuffling along dragging a half filled sack. I stopped but she had forgotten who I was which shocked me deeply. When I looked at the sack I realized. It was just full of plastic water bottles and old newspapers. Mrs Agus had become a garbage collector. To her Jakarta had given only garbage.   

“Where’s Julie now?” I asked.

“Julie passed away,” she said.

“And where’s young Agus?” I asked again.

“At the intersection, selling bottled water,” she answered.

“Where are you living?”

“In doorways. There are plenty of doorways. You can just curl up anywhere.”

I was shocked.

“Who are you, sir?” she asked

“I’m a sandalwood fan trader.”

“Oh, my son-in-law, my son-in-law. Please can you just give me a ride on the back of your bike!”

Right away I gave her a ride to my room after getting rid of the sack of garbage. I told her to wash and fetched her something to eat.

The following day I went with her to the psychiatric hospital and put her into a nursing home.  

Depok, 10 February 2008


Kipas Cendana was published in Kompas daily in March 2008. [Retrieved from https://cerpenkompas.wordpress.com/2008/03/30/. Accessed 12 October 2016.]


Image: Back cover of EAP153/13/40: Syair Raksi Macam Baru [1915] http://eap.bl.uk/database/results.a4d?projID=EAP153;r=18467

Accept

By Sheila on 7

What is wrong with this song?
Why do I remember you again?
It’s as if, I can feel
The beat of your heart and the step of your feet
Where is this going to carry me?

You have to be able, able to accept
You have to be able, able to take the positive
Because nothing, nothing’s the same any more
Although you know, he feels it too
Aaaa aa…

On this quiet narrow road
It’s as if I can hear you sing
You know, you know
My feeling was your feeling too
You have to be able, able to accept
You have to be able, able to take the positive
Because nothing, nothing’s the same any more
Although you know, he feels it too
Where is this going to carry me?
I won’t ever know

You have to be able, able to accept
You have to be able, able to take the positive
Because nothing, nothing’s the same any more
Although you know, he feels it too
Na na na na na na…

Sending rays of light for you

And 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.

“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)


Guru Sufi Lewat… was published in Kompas Daily in May 1990.

Haters

Haters

By Kotak

Hey, my hater, don’t hate me
You’ll just beat yourself up
Hey, my hater, don’t spy on me
You’ll just be disappointed

I’m having a good time, enjoying my life
Why are you the one who winds up
Suffering, disturbed
Because of me?

You claim to be happy
But in reality you’ve got problems
Problems seeing, seeing
That I’m happy.. that’s your tough luck.

Hey, my hater, don’t hate me
You’re just wasting your energy
Hey, my hater, the more you hate me
The sadder you’re life becomes

I’m having a good time, enjoying my life
Why are you the one who winds up
Suffering, disturbed
Because of me?

You claim to be happy
But the reality is, you’ve got problems
Problems seeing, seeing
That I’m happy.. that’s your tough luck.

What’s wrong, see, you want your life to be difficult
Always finding fault, so you can criticize
I’m over it, wow, friends even, what’s the point?
What there is, is you’re disappointed, when I’m having fun
Criticize here, criticize there, you don’t like anything
You don’t even provide, but you’re the one who gets mad
Me, well, I don’t have a problem, but you get stressed
Always wrong, better if I just party
You hate, but I get motivated
For me it’s better, you though, are getting angrier
We’ve stopped being friends, we’re, true, not enemies?
Pull your life together, don’t you throw everything away

Claiming to be happy
But the reality is you’ve got problems
Problems seeing, seeing
That I’m happy, ohhh..

Claiming to be happy
But the reality is you’ve got problems
problems seeing, seeing
That I’m happy, that’s your tough luck