Tag Archives: Kompas

Op-Ed: Megawati and the Corruption Eradication Commission

By Luky Djan

(Executive Director, Institute for Strategic Initiatives (ISI) and former jury member for the Bung Hatta Anti-Corruption Award)

The effort to eradicate corruption will always travel a rocky road. Indeed anyone acting against corruption has to face off directly against criminals working together in an organized group. Criminal corruption is almost certain to be perpetrated jointly as a conspiracy in conjunction with others and in a way that is highly organized. Organized criminal corruption has a stronger staying power than other forms of organized crime because the group of perpetrators involved typically occupy positions of formal authority and inevitably command considerable resources.

For this reason, anyone going up against the so-called “criminals in uniforms” has to steel him or herself with both ingenuity and resilience. He or she also must not be surprised at the range of strategies deployed to weaken the agenda and institutions endeavoring to eradicate corruption which will vary from the intervention of those in power to the use of physical violence.

Is the anti-corruption agenda in this country driving towards a yellow light? Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi or KPK) is the front-line vanguard and driving force in the fight against corruption and is now once more facing strong headwinds. The institution has weathered past tests successfully. Hopefully, the current crisis will likewise result in the strengthening of efforts to defeat corruption. The experience of South Korea and Thailand can provide lessons on the conditions under which institutions are tamed, and those under which anti-corruption efforts are successful. The fate of anti-corruption bodies in these places is quite tragic.

Thailand’s National Counter-Corruption Commission (NCCC) and the Korean Independent Commission Against Corruption (KICAC)

Prospects for the fight against corruption in Asia are currently entering their twilight years. Anti-corruption institutions are collapsing. The anti-corruption agenda in South Korea commenced when as leader of the opposition to the military regime Kim Dae-jung became President in February 1998. Kim’s main strategy was spearheaded by an initiative to pass legislation establishing an anti-corruption commission in August 1999. Kim’s idea generated resistance from politicians and legislators This resulted in anti-corruption legislation taking two years to produce, passing finally on 24 July 2001. Following the enactment of the legislation, opposition emerged to the establishment of an anti-corruption commission from the public prosecutor’s office as well as the police. The Korean Independent Commission Against Corruption (KICAC) was finally formed six months later in January 2002.

The KICAC’s findings shook the corrupt relations between those in power and the chaebol business conglomerates and in their wake caught senior government officials and businessmen. The breakthrough began to unsettle the corrupt, even though the KICAC was in fact not as powerful as its other Asian counterparts, such as Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, Thailand’s NCCC or Indonesia’s KPK, because the KICAC was not given investigative or prosecutorial functions. Following two periods of progressive leadership under Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, efforts to shake the KICAC gained momentum after 25 February 2008 when the government changed to the conservative government of President Lee Myung-bak.

On 29 February 2008, after only three days in office, President Lee merged the KICAC with two other institutions, the Ombudsman and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (an administrative decisions court similar to Indonesia’s Public Administration Court (Pengadilan Tata Usaha Negara or PTUN)), forming the Anti-Corruption Civil Rights Commission (ACRC). The sway of the KICAC declined, with the new body becoming more of a think tank with the primary function of preventing corruption. The major reason for the reduction in the power of the KICAC was the view that its breakthroughs in this period had hampered economic growth. President Lee’s background as an executive of one of the chaebol conglomerates meant that he viewed the fight against corruption as a hindrance to economic growth.

Of course the public reacted, opposing the merger. Transparency International Korea Chairman Geo-Sung Kim believes that economic growth is driven by a clean business environment and that an organization like the KICAC is necessary to achieve this. While ACRC commissioners are selected by and are responsible to the president, KICAC commissioners were selected by the Supreme Court, legislature and president. There are now valid concerns over the ACRC’s loss of independence.

In Thailand, following the establishment of the People’s Constitution in 1997, the National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC) was formed in November 1999. This agency represented a strengthening of the previous anti-corruption institution, the Counter Corruption Commission or CCC, which had possessed limited functions and been less independent. The NCCC was responsible to the Senate and its nine commissioners were nominated by the Thai Senate and confirmed by the King. The NCCC took direct action by revealing the embezzlement of assets by Deputy Prime Minister Sanan Kachornprasart which led to his resignation. Two months later, the NCCC uncovered a 30 million baht bribery scandal which led to the dismissal of Deputy Finance Minister Nibhat Bhukkanasut.

The NCCC’s next target was a tax evasion scandal and dishonesty in the public wealth declaration filed by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. This case put Thaksin’s political career at stake. However, after the legislative elections in 2001 which handed control of the Senate to Thai Rak Thai, Thaksin soon gained control of the Supreme Court, leading to the asset embezzlement case being frozen. As payback, allegations were made against the nine NCCC commissioners alleging criminal conduct and making accusations of involvement in a conflict of interests by increasing their monthly salary of 45,000 baht (approximately 25 million rupiah). The ensuing investigation eventually forced the commissioners to resign in May 2005.

Having control of the majority in parliament, Thaksin had no difficulty installing ‘puppet commissioners’ (Pasuk and Baker, 2004). Following a power shift in a military coup, the military junta replaced the NCCC on 15 July 2008 with the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). The NACC became an instrument for the removal of political opponents of the Thai military regime.

Megawati’s Legacy

Every leader possesses a legacy that becomes a monument to his or her success. President Sukarno created magnificent iconic landmarks ranging from Gelora Bung Karno Stadium (GBK) to Istiqlal Mosque and the statues which adorn the capital. Times, however, change and monuments today no longer take the form of urban architectural landmarks. On the contrary, they now represent elements of constitutional architecture. President Habibie left monuments in the form of the rights of freedom of assembly and association, multi-party elections, freedom of the press and regional autonomy. President Abdurrahman Wahid reorganized the function and position of the Indonesian Armed Forces and strengthened respect for pluralism and human rights.

Megawati carved out important milestones in the nation’s efforts against corruption. Probably not many people remember that on 27 December 2002 Megawati signed into force Law No. 30/2002 concerning the Corruption Eradication Commission. This institution represented the spearhead and hope of the nation for the elimination of the misuse of power in the form of looting public resources by organized criminal groups who possess political power and financial strength.

So the commitment of President Megawati to try to remove all forms of criminal corruption can not be doubted. A year later, the Corruption Eradication Commission was officially established. This writer’s experience ranges from the drafting of the Commission bill to the establishment of the Commission itself which at the time was appropriately resourced by the government. If the commitment to the eradication of corruption had not been strong, it would have been simple to abort the drafting of the bill or to stall for time over the establishment of the Commission. Likewise, when on a number of occasions the Commission has investigated cases of corruption involving senior politicians from her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), Megawati did not intervene in the Commission.

Unfortunately, in the midst of the Commission’s efforts to strengthen measures aimed at combating corruption, a wave of attacks have emerged from all directions, including the PDIP. Reports by a member of Indoneisa’s House of Representatives (relating to legal action launched over the disputed election of the head of West Kotawaringin Regency in Central Kalimantan) have resulted in a storm of crisis over the very existence of the institution of the Commission and the entire effort to combat corruption. This writer believes these reports have destabilized the Commission because they have led to an institutional crisis cause by a commissioner of the anti-corruption agency being named a suspect in a criminal investigation.

It is regrettable that this has happened because, as noted above, President Megawati, both as head of state when in power and today as party chairwoman, has not taken action to weaken the Commission. As a mother, Megawati fully understands that the Corruption Eradication Commission is a child of her government for opposing the phantom of corruption that has taken root and become entrenched.

The experience of South Korea and Thailand show that anti-corruption commissions will be stunted, and even amputated, by subsequent regimes. President Jokowi himself has a real track record in promoting an anti-corruption agenda. He is a recipient of the Bung Hatta Anti-Corruption Award (BHACA) which clearly demonstrates he possesses a strong commitment to the eradication of corruption. The current crisis should be resolved with prudence and expedition. The community is now waiting for action from President Jokowi as “party official” to strengthen both efforts to eradicate corruption and the Commission which as an institution is one of Megawati’s important legacies.


Published in Kompas Daily, Thursday 29 January 2015 and http://youthproactive.com/expert-says/megawati-dan-kpk/

Featured image credit: Batik maker applying melted wax to fabric, Sultan’s Palace (Kraton), Yogyakarta by Rahiman Madli

Short Story: The Slave of Love

By Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Only her eyes are visible. What can you see from a pair of eyes that radiate the enchantment of the world with every blink?

That is how enchantment radiates from the eyes being watched to swallow the eyes watching, which are instantly dazzled and instantly stunned, as if struck by a blaze of heavenly light that completely obliterates the self and every desire, leaving the body devoid of all thought, except that of surrender and willingness in the yearning to be enslaved in the sacrifice of the soul.

“That’s enough! Stop standing there like that,” says his wife. “Let’s go home.”

But he no longer knows the words go home. Gone is home, gone is wife, gone is family. Vanished is all the cheerful chatter of children filling his life like the crashing of surf filling the silence of the universe.

He leaves his shocked wife who grabs his arm only to have him jerk it away, who can only watch the man who is her husband, the father of her children, vanish into the crowd and disappear…

Who would ever have thought that happiness was so fragile, the miracle of love so transitory?

***

From a distance, he continues to follow her. She steps without ever looking behind again, even though in all the reflections of all the glass at the intersection, in the shop windows, and in the side mirrors of motorbike taxi drivers waiting for passengers, she can see how he has been following her since the market.

She realizes he has been walking along the sidewalk continuously following her at a distance. If she turns into a lane, he follows her into the lane. If she climbs onto a bus, he follows in a minibus traveling the same route. If she gets into a taxi, he follows her on a motorbike taxi or in another taxi. If she catches a train, she knows too how he is in the same carriage, and immediately follows her when she gets off at whatever station she’s going to.

Later, when she arrives at her house, she kisses her husband’s hand, takes the little one back from the hands of the babysitter. Then from behind the window with the curtains that are always drawn, she needs to peek through and she can see the outline of her stalker darting into the small cafe at the end of the street. She is certain that from inside the cafe he’s constantly staring, waiting, hoping. Dreaming.

She and her husband look at each other. The little one is asleep. The babysitter has left.

From the small café closing up a pair of eyes stare out at her dark house and sips coffee.

***

From day to day he moves around the daily life of the woman whose eyes alone are visible. It is not enough to follow from behind, sometimes he pretends to pass her by accident.

It’s when they pass that he stares at her eyes, and at whatever else other than her eyes he can see. And it’s when they pass each other that his chest heaves, his heart comes alive and something else pounds more quickly than usual.

What can be expressed by a pair of eyes whose brightness excites, with a gaze that pierces and grips, that conquers? What can a pair of eyes express? It seems so much, but how can you be sure?

He hopes those eyes will recognize him, and if they recognize him, then pay him a small amount of attention, and if possible, not only pay a little attention, but still more also desire something in return from him. But not just desire something in return, also crave for something in return.

Is it possible that what he has hoped for, that what has never existed in the relationship between them, can happen? But those eyes seem to be saying everything! They seem to be paying attention, appear to be hoping for something. They seem even to crave for him…

Over the days, his guess seems to be becoming a reality.

***

One day when he follows her, she turns around and looks straight at his eyes.

He thinks, she’s looking for me! She wants to know if I’m following her today! She wants me to follow where she’s going!

He quickens his pace, draws nearer. But she doesn’t turn around again. After a while just walking behind her he ventures to speed up and draws alongside her.

They walk together, against the current of the surge of urban humanity swirling along the streets. Who among so many people in this world would think that something so important has happened between the two of them?

With all these feelings flowering in his heart, he still can not be sure of anything.

How can he be sure of anything just from the look of somebody’s eyes, even though it has certainly been proved that the blaze of a radiant pair of eyes has captured and uprooted him from his old, comfortable, serene, problem-free life to enter a world that, despite its uncertainty, still promises the happiness of a heaven like the one created by the glow of her eyes?

The waves of humanity continue to swirl around them. He observes their eyes and it seems that not one of them passes with the glow of the eyes of the woman beside him. How is it possible?

How is it possible that all these people flowing past from the front can miss so blithely the shining radiance of the most beautiful eyes? Are the eyes of city people any blinder than when they are looking for something false which has in fact never existed? But they are there in front of him!

Walking alongside her, he cannot see anything, until it’s dark and the woman is gone. He searches everywhere, and doesn’t find her…

***

The house lights have to be switched off before she squints through the curtains and sees that he’s in the small café, his glare penetrating the night directly in her direction. She closes the curtains quickly as if that stare were a whirling arrow able to pierce the glass of the window, able to penetrate the window and pierce her heart. But then she parts the curtains again. He won’t be able to see her. She can see him. There’s a large crowd in the cafe, but his back is turned to them and he stares in her direction. A slight sense of sadness passes over her, but only for a moment. She’s used to disregarding her own feelings, for the sake of the larger interest she believes in.

She turns in the direction of her husband who’s reading verses from the holy book to their son before he goes to bed.

Her husband raises his head, looks at her, and nods.

***

The dark cloudy sky surges as he follows her from a distance for the umpteenth time in as many months. She glances back just before disappearing into a lane. With a gaze that shines brightly, fleetingly, but which takes complete possession of the soul which has cried and worshiped for so long craving a response. He feels how his feet are so light, as he weaves between the thousands of people in the street to follow her. He wants to never lose her again, even though he can always go back to the cafe in front of her house.

Rain thunders down the moment she reaches the back of the lane. She is waiting there, leaning against a wall, soaked to the bone, staring straight into his eyes. He’s frozen. What he has become accustomed to experiencing as a hope, a yearning makes him giddy as it transforms into a reality.

Not only stare, she takes his hands, draws them in the torrential rain that makes every other human disappear from the streets, vanish from the lane, and leaves only the two of them breaking through the rain hand in hand. Although the rain is so heavy and the torrent from the sky feels like the rubber bullets that hit him randomly as he watched the demonstration, he is not conscious of them.

***

A door opens. they enter a darkened room and inhales the odor of old metal. But what is he going to worry about when in the darkness his wet clothes no longer cover his body, when hands as soft as cotton draw his hands to the other unclothed body?

In the darkness and the thundering rain, he cannot hear the sounds and sighs but is able to feel everything.

***

He carries a backpack on his back. As ultimate service what is there that he would not do? He does not even feel the need to ask what is in the pack. He does not want to worry about that out of fear of losing the one who has mastered him.

Those are still his feelings as the world disappears suddenly from his consciousness as the explosive in his backpack goes off destroying everything, everything. Buildings, ants, and humanity…


The Slave of Love (Budak Cinta) was published in Kompas Daily, 20 January 2019. (Retrieved from lakonhidup.wordpress.com)

Seno Gumira Ajidarma, born in Boston, United States, June 19, 1958. Now serves as Chancellor of the Jakarta Institute of the Arts (IKJ). Seno became better known after writing his trilogy of works on East Timor, namely Saksi Mata (collection of short stories), Jazz, Purfum, dan Insiden? (novel), and Ketika Jurnalisme Dibungkam, Sastra Harus Bicara (collection of essays). In 2014, he launched a blog called Pana-Journal (www.panajournal.com) about human interest stories with a number of journalists and professionals in the field of communication.

Oetje Lamno, born in Yogyakarta on May 31, 1978, completed his art education at the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI) Yogyakarta. He has participated in various art exhibitions in several places, including overseas. In 2010, he attended Beijing Biennale # 4 at the National Art Museum of China. In 2017, he returned to exhibit in China on “Silk Road, International Festival Art, Xi-an”. Oetje was a finalist of the 2015 Indonesia Art Award art competition, whose works are on display at the National Gallery of Indonesia, Jakarta.

The Slave of Love Budak Cinta ilustrasi Oetje Lamno/Kompas

The Slave of Love (Budak Cinta) illustration by Oetje Lamno/Kompas Daily

Short Story: The Death of a Translator

By Wawan Kurniawan

He wouldn’t have swallowed the poison if the events of yesterday had not occurred. A week earlier, he had a dream about a woman, dressed in red with shoulder-lengthed hair, who approached him on a beach he did not recognize. Without the chance to get a clear look at her face, the woman immediately embraced him from behind so tightly that he thought his bones were going to be crushed.

Only after he heard the sound of cracking, and felt an excruciating pain did he wake up.

He saw that the clock on the wall was still showing three forty-two. There was only the sound of the ticking of the clock. He decided to close his eyes again and he remembered absolutely nothing about what had happened in his dream. But the pain in his back was still there, and it made him shift his sleeping position again and again.

He managed to fall asleep and woke again at ten in the morning. After staying up late to translate some of the manuscripts on his laptop, he usually woke in the afternoon. But the pain in his back woke him early. As his sleep had been disrupted so early in the day, he tried to think about what could be causing the pain.

“Maybe my sleeping position is the problem.”

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

“No, it’s probably because I didn’t drink enough water last night.”

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

As he considered the pain, he suddenly remembered his promise to Eka, the publisher who wanted to print his translation. He had twice asked for an extension to work on improving the translation. And in six days the deadline would expire. He also didn’t want to ask for an extension, but at the same time, he still didn’t feel like the translation was finished.

Struggling with the pain in his back, he walked slowly toward the bathroom by holding the wall. He walked just like an old man who had lost his walking stick, one hand on the wall the other on his back massaging his lower spine.

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

There wasn’t a soul in the house now. In the past, he had kept a cat and he had called it March — his birth month and that of several of his favorite authors. Now he felt like the bathroom was a long way away.

He took a few steps back then dropped himself onto the brown sofa in the space that was also his office. He took a deep breath and again began to search for the best position to ease the pain. He felt better sitting in the chair.

He then lifted a book from the small table next to his chair. On the table, there were a number of novels he was reading and a thin notebook with a white cover that had no pictures. There were also two fountain pens that he often used to take notes or make lists in his book. If it wasn’t being used to make notes, the fountain pen would often become a way of relieving anxiety as he tapped the end of the pen on the table.

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

Suddenly he felt the need to urinate, but he didn’t feel like getting up because the position he had achieved was so comfortable. To his right, the window had not been opened so the sun’s rays were not fully coming into the house. But he could feel a warm sensation around his thighs as he allowed himself to urinate where he was. He closed his eyes and felt the warmth of the flow of his urine.

He only rose from the chair after he had finished his book.

***

After returning to read his translation, he lay down on the floor. That afternoon, after contacting his friend William who was a doctor at a health center, he had been told not to sleep on a mattress. He didn’t want to go to bed yet, but the pain in his back was becoming worse. The only way to gain any relief was to lay down. Before going to bed, he once again tried to contact his girlfriend Nadira.

Two days earlier, Nadira had left to return to the district of Selayar to organize their wedding which was scheduled to take place in the middle of the year. But Nadira just didn’t pick up the phone or even respond to his WhatsApp chat messages.

The day before Nadira left, the weather in Selayar had turned extremely bad and this had caused an interruption to the cellphone network. Yesterday Nadira had still been able to message. She had mentioned that the weather looked as though it was becoming worse and that communication might be interrupted.

In a media report from Selayar, he saw that there were strong winds and constantly pounding high seas. There was no news from Nadira. That night he began to have a strange sensation, a sense of dread about something. He sometimes forgot his pain as he went back to looking for news about Nadira. As he waited for a miracle, he reread the WhatsApp chat from several days before.

Reading it made him smile, then laugh to himself, until, unwittingly, he fell asleep that night cellphone still in hand.

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

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

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

After a few moments, the lights came back on. Again he saw the figure of the long-haired woman dressed in red who had appeared in his dreams. However, the difference was that this time he could see the woman’s face, and the woman was Nadira.

His chest tightened, not because he was scared, but rather because the sense of dread that he had felt the whole time seemed to be coming true.

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

His laptop was still open, the text of his translation was still not complete. There was still no news of Nadira. The pain was becoming increasingly unbearable. Resisting the pain, he rose and grimaced. He felt as though his life was in chaos. A voice in his head asked him to go straight to the kitchen. A bottle of insecticide was stored behind the back of the kitchen door.

The figure he had just seen was possibly actually his girlfriend Nadira. Death has taken her before him. He did not have the ability to translate events as well as he translated the manuscripts on his laptop.

He stumbled toward the bottle of poison. Now as he started to reach it, it was me who then embraced him from behind so that his entire being was crushed. And before him, I was the one who embraced Nadira in the high pounding waves. Why hadn’t he translated me first?

 


The Death of a Translator (Kematian Seorang Penerjemah) was published in the national daily newspaper Kompas on 24 March 2019. [Retrieved from https://lakonhidup.com/2019/03/24/kematian-seorang-penerjemah/]

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

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

Kematian Seorang Penerjemah ilustrasi Nyoman Sujana Kenyem/Kompas
The Death of a Translator illustration by Nyoman Sujana Kenyem/Kompas Daily

Short Story: The Sufi Teacher Passed By…

By Seno Gumira Ajidarma

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

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

kebenaran

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

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

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

“And why is that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s Saint Jagakali.”

“Who’s he?”

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

Mesjid Cikini Raden Saleh Jakarta 1947
Mesjid Cikini Raden Saleh Jakarta 1947

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Jakarta, February 1990)


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

Dilarang Menyanyi Di Kamar Mandi
Dilarang Menyanyi Di Kamar Mandi

Short Story: Karyamin’s Smile

leftphotoBy Ahmad Tohari

Karyamin measured careful deliberate steps. The weight bearing down across his shoulders was a long supple bamboo pole with woven rattan baskets full of river rocks swinging pendulum-like from each end. The steep dirt track leading up the river bank was wet from the sweat that had dripped from Karyamin and the other workers as they trudged up and down the bank hauling rocks from the river to the storage bay at the top.

        Long experience had taught Karyamin that he could make the climb to the top all right if he kept the center of gravity for his body and the load either on the right, or on the left foot, and if he shifted it very carefully from one foot to the other. He had also learned that to maintain his balance he had to concentrate on each breath and every movement of his arms.

        Even so, Karyamin had slipped over twice that morning, collapsing in a heap and tumbling back down the trail followed by the rocks disgorging from his disheveled baskets. Every time Karyamin’s fellow rock collectors had doubled up in fits of laughter, pleased for the amusement that could be extracted from laughing at one another. This time Karyamin crept up the bank more cautiously. Despite his trembling knees, he gripped the earth with his toes as he went, every ounce of attention focused on maintaining his balance. The tension was visible on his face, sweat covered his body and poured through his shorts. Ridged veins bulged from his neck under the strain of the weight bearing down on his back and shoulders. (Continue reading here.)


Karyamin’s Smile (Senyum Karyamin) by Ahmad Tohari was published in the daily newspaper Kompas in July 1987.