Kritikus Adinan is one of several books by Budi Darma that recently got republished. Previously released under the title Laki-Laki dalam Secarik Surat in 2008, last year it had a chance to see the light again with a new one, referring to one of the short stories on its table of contents. Here the senior writer holds his very view on morality—which doesn’t sound preachy, but is not unclear, either—and his surrealistic style as he does in Hotel Tua, with characters mostly unnamed and showing the reader the clear line between what’s right and what’s wrong within the somehow unclear narratives not easily understood.
The collection has fifteen short stories mostly written in the 1970s while the rest without any time stamp. Just as in Hotel Tua, Budi Darma starts the book with a shocking, unbelievable tale where readers, at some point, have to question their sanity in order to get into and understand it. Krematorium Itu Untukku is a story of a sick man who has promised his friend to attend her father’s funeral. He comes earlier, but no one’s there. He keeps waiting and asking people—who, for some unknown reason, keep looking at him in a weird way and secretly laughing at him—if anyone has come and whether the funeral has actually started and he is late. But no one knows, and so he keeps waiting there, until he finally finds his way to the right crematorium. There, he doesn’t get a warm welcome and is attacked by the doorman instead. And that is not the weirdest thing he finds at the crematorium. His friend Corrie, and Tien, look so much older than they should be, or at least than he thinks they should be. And, in the middle of his confusion, he’s sweating and crying blood. More unexpectedly, all people present lift him up then put him into one of the burning booths and burn him like a dead body.
Sahabat Saya Bruce is also one of the first pieces here. Those who already know Budi Darma and frequently enjoy his works must have known that he often writes stories with foreign backgrounds and characters, all thanks to his long stay in the United States back then. This piece of story is one of them, so it should not be surprising to see the name Bruce on the title. It is unusually not surrealistic, but it is still strange in many ways and so hard to chew.
Through Burhan, the narrator whom we see everything from, the reader knows that Bruce is not there when he comes to visit him in his rented house. It looks like a house which has not been inhabited for a long time: dirty, everything is in disorder. Burhan thinks it’s weird, because they’ve been close friends for quite long and the fact that Bruce is suddenly gone without telling him sort of bewilders him. However, when you see it from one side, it’s not really weird for Bruce is basically indeed a weird person. One day he asks Burhan to marry Milann, saying that Milann likes him and all. But while Milann is not Bruce’s girlfriend, the request is not something Burhan can wrap aroud his mind because, in fact, Milann often spends her time with Bruce. And then, both Bruce and Milann are gone, just leaving without telling Burhan a word. He is as much in the dark as everyone else, but he is the one who is being suspected.
This book, in its entirety, is very thought-provoking and very funny in a cynical way. Some stories might hit the reader in the cruelest way possible yet they won’t probably realize it until one or two sentences punch them in their head. The story Laki-Laki Lain for instance, which basically talks about a husband-wife relationship. It is only natural that husbands and wives know each other very well, but here, Budi Darma gives somekind of a hint that that’s actually when they start to hate each other. If we just think about it, then there must be something about our spouse that we hate after years and years living together. Though, on the other hand, this shortcoming is also what sticks them perhaps forever. However, ironically, the more we know our spouse, the more we feel we don’t know them.
“Laki-laki sudah ditakdirkan untuk tidak mampu mengalahkan nafsunya sendiri, dan perempuan telanjur sudah diciptakan untuk memperbudak nafsu laki-laki.” – page 228.
There is also Dua Laki-Laki, a pretty long tale telling us how people, in general, always try to prove that they’re right and others are wrong. Even to their death they won’t let others’ opinions win. Bambang Subali Budiman is interesting, too. In the afternote, Budi Darma states that what brought him to write this short story was a particular discussion on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown, which is related to one aspect of Puritan life in New England back in the 19th century where people were so afraid of devils and their bad influence that people tried so hard to prevent it. But they didn’t realize the more they tried to purify themselves, the more rooms existed for devils to enter and control them. This idea then develops within the story, displaying implicitly that people are basically hypocrites, doing good deeds not because they are good people, or for the sake of others, but only for their own benefit, if only to get good karma in return.
There are layers and layers in each and every narrative presented in Kritikus Adinan and all of them are down to three recurring themes: humanity, morality and conscience. It has the same tone as Hotel Tua: not preachy, but hammering over and over again into the reader’s mind what is right and what is wrong, subtly yet strongly. The writer clearly wants readers to see through those layers of smoke their own conscience. Is it good, or bad? Are you good people, or not? Have you done something wrong? And even if you’re doing good deeds, is it for real? And the best of all, Budi Darma does it in his surrealistic style, which is clouding his intention even more, making this book something to ponder about and not some kind of tool to judge. If there is any shortcoming, it’s just that several stories read longer than they should, dragging a bit too much before finally getting the reader to the point. But still, its significance doesn’t miss the target.
All in all, Kritikus Adinan is a short-story collection anyone would expect from Budi Darma. The beauty of his surrealism alone is an enough reason for readers to plunge into his typical narrative of morality and conscience, even if they would like to do nothing but dismiss it. All the mostly-unnamed characters are also beautifully drawn: very flawed, with a good side that can only be seen from one narrow angle. This book is truly a masterpiece.