Tag: seno gumira ajidarma

Negeri Kabut

34833186645_41dae51100Seno Gumira Ajidarma is one of the big names in Indonesia’s literary world, many of his works have gained critical acclaim. Negeri Kabut, first published in 1996, is one of them, having been awarded the 1997 Indonesian Literary Prize for the best short-story collection. To “celebrate the passion for reading of the new generation,” last October the publisher has decided to reissue it with a new, unfortunately disappointing, cover. Not to worry, though, the contents are still of a very high quality.

There are twelve short stories in the collection, most of which bear the typical writing style of the writer—surreal, beautifully poetic, yet so critically biting—pretty much like what you would find in stories of Sepotong Senja untuk Pacarku. The book opens with the titular story, Negeri Kabut, a dreamily written account of someone’s journey to find the so-called land of mists (the title in English has two versions, The Land of Mists in 1997 and The Foggy Lands in 2003). The land might truly exist, or it might not, but the man on the trip has been determined to find and see it with his own eyes. He doesn’t mind all the mountains, all the hills he has to climb and climb again, all the long walks through the thick mists and silence and green forest. He keeps going and going until he sets foot on a mysterious village which appears to pop out of nowhere and is full of mists. Everything is like a sweet dream there, too happy, too peaceful, too serene that the man—who has been so used to all the hullabaloo of the world—feels unsettled instead.

Semuanya terasa menyejukkan, tapi aku tidak merasa tenteram. Aku sudah terlalu akrab dengan pertentangan, ketegangan, dan kesulitan. Betapa celaka.

As poetically written as the stories contained in this book might be, Ajidarma never lets himself speak only of beauty. He seems to deem it his duty to observe and to criticize, especially the greedy nature of people, the unstoppable desire to own one thing and another, and another, and another. It implicitly shows in Long Puh, the third story on the list. On the outside, it looks like a very short, restless story about a man in fever who was wandering around the hinterland of East Borneo and carries the memory of it along with him when he’s already out. But after a brief, last scene where a foreign man finds gold and gets crazy over it, it becomes pretty clear that it’s a criticism of human greed. Greed of people who don’t care about anything but wealth while some people far away in the middle of back country are still living in poverty and backwardness. But Long Puh is so subtle, not as flagrant as Rembulan Terapung di Kolam Renang, where Ajidarma doesn’t shy away from describing vividly a man of greed who thinks he deserves all that he’s got, whatever the way or trick he employs to get them. No remorse, no sorry. He only fears that common, poor people will get angry at him for his greediness and revolt. And revolt they all. But they do it in the same greedy way, plundering everything from his house, eating the moon floating on his swimming pool. While this story was actually written long before the economic crisis happened in 1998, what Ajidarma describes there reminded me of the event where President Soeharto, who was deemed as corrupt, stepped down as people rioting and looting items in stores everywhere.

Some people of older generation might have already known the story of Panji Tengkorak, written and drawn for comic books by Hans Jaladara back in the 1960s. Here, Seno Gumira Ajidarma is kind enough to provide the reader with his prose adaptation, albeit only a small fraction of some part. Entitled Panji Tengkorak Menyeret Peti, the narrative focuses on the complicated love affair surrounding the hero, Panji Tengkorak himself. The bitter tale tells us how he hates his wife Nesia so much but has to drag around her casket (with her dead body inside it) everywhere he goes, how he loves Mariani but has to bury his dream to be with her, how his first love Murni has to die before he can marry her, and how Andini has to die for him. All this tragic romance, and the fact that Panji Tengkorak is basically a martial arts story, reminded me of Chinese martial arts novels which have been adapted into both small and big screens so many times. But, of course, Panji Tengkorak has local flavor to it that might suit Indonesian readers better. Putting aside all the characteristics, though, Panji Tengkorak Menyeret Peti is a painfully heartbreaking love story of a pugilistic hero who thinks his life is done and over. And Ajidarma has successfully represented it with his excellent prose.

It can be said that the martial arts short story is the only one that strays away from the surrealistic path and almost bumps itself into somewhat realism, since numbers like Ada Kupu-kupu, Ada Tamu; Di Tepi Sungai Parfum; and Ratri & Burung Bangau still bear the characteristics of so-called surrealism. After two or three pages you’ll realize that you’ve been tricked into a narrative world that’s mostly beyond anything you can imagine. They are so confusing that they seem like posing questions without any will to reveal the answers. That said, they are not the most absurd. Perahu yang Muncul dari Balik Kabut has to be the one, so much so that it looks more like a painting than a prose, one with twisting lines and twirling brushes. And these strokes are done repeatedly, powerfully, beautifully. As it is clearly told in the title, the story tells of a boat coming out of morning mists on a twisting river. This has occured for years and years and people who have been following the event always stand there by the river and wait for the boat to come, carrying a dancing, eternally young woman and an old man playing a stringed instrument. The whole narrative appears to only bring out beauty and melancholy, without telling anything nor carrying any meaning whatsoever. Funnily enough, Perahu yang Muncul dari Balik Kabut is the longest short story among others in the collection.

As it is in Sepotong Senja untuk Pacarku, here in Negeri Kabut Seno Gumira Ajidarma aims his gun at human nature, firing ceaselessly and mercilessly. He talks about greediness, never-ending searching, boundless dissatisfaction, fear of death, desire to die, gender and female stereotypes. And he does it ever so subtly, as if he merely writes pages and pages of prose without meaning, wearing mask or hiding in plain sight. But it’s been his typical style, alongside surrealistic narratives and poetic language. He is one of few writers I know who can combine beautiful writing, marvelous ideas, and biting criticism. If he likes to tell stories about greedy people who always search and never feel satisfied, then I would say that I’m always satisfied with his works (including the Mahabharata-based novel Drupadi). I feel lucky that I could have a chance to read them, and I will certainly look for more.

Rating: 4/5

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Drupadi

33828926655_9a7f05b53b_oWanita sering kali tidak punya pilihan, dan tidak bisa berkata tidak. Sebelum banyak dari kaum perempuan di zaman modern menangisi kenyataan ini, kisah-kisah wayang Jawa kuna sudah sejak lama menyiratkannya, dan kisah Drupadi dalam epos Mahabharata adalah salah satunya. Seno Gumira Ajidarma menuliskan kembali kisah sang dewi nan cantik cemerlang ini dalam sejumlah cerita pendeknya, yang kemudian dijadikan satu sehingga terbaca sebagai sebuah novel yang utuh. Ditemani ilustrasi-ilustrasi apik karya Danarto serta bait-bait puisi yang memantik akal dan rasa, buku yang diberi judul Drupadi ini tidak hanya berbicara tentang penderitaan yang harus dialami wanita, tetapi juga peran dan apa yang sanggup mereka lakukan dengan kekuatan tersembunyi yang mereka miliki.

Di buku ini kisah Drupadi dimulai ketika ia diarak dengan segenap upacara kebesaran menuju gelaran sayembara yang diadakan sang ayah, Prabu Drupada, untuk mencarikan suami baginya. Belum apa-apa pembaca sudah disuguhi kenyataan pahit di mana Drupadi, sebagai seorang wanita, tidak berhak untuk memilih suaminya sendiri, karena yang akan menjadi suaminya adalah siapa pun yang memenangkan sayembara tersebut. Pesertanya pun dibatasi hanya dari golongan yang sederajat atau yang tidak lebih rendah dari Dewi Drupadi sendiri. Secercah harapan muncul ketika Arjuna memenangkan sayembara, karena walaupun akhirnya ada seorang pria yang berhasil “memiliki” dirinya, Drupadi jatuh cinta pada pandangan pertama pada sang kesatria yang tengah menyamar. Dapat menikah dengan pria yang dicintai merupakan kebebasan tersendiri, tetapi bukan lagi saat pria itu justru kemudian menolak untuk menikahinya dan melempar tanggung jawab untuk mempersunting dirinya kepada saudara yang lain. Jadilah Drupadi dari seorang putri yang tak bisa memilih suaminya sendiri menjadi sebentuk tanggung jawab yang dilempar-lempar di antara para Pandawa karena tidak ada yang mau menanggungnya. Drupadi hanya bisa tertunduk dan diam, tak mengungkapkan pendapat maupun keinginannya. Karena sekalipun ia mempunyai keinginan dan harapan, wanita seakan-akan tidak dikodratkan untuk memperjuangkan dengan cara mengungkapkannya. Maka pada akhirnya orang lainlah yang menentukan nasib Drupadi, menjadikannya istri dari kelima Pandawa bersaudara sekaligus.

Drupadi tertunduk. Apakah perempuan diandaikan tidak punya kemauan? Tentu seorang perempuan memiliki kehendaknya sendiri. Namun meski dirinya hidup di antara para bijak, selain kepada perempuan tidak pernah diajukan pertanyaan, perempuan sendiri tidak akan memperjuangkan kehendak dan cita-citanya dengan cara menyatakannya.

Dalam kisah ini, menjadi seorang wanita yang bersuamikan lima orang bukanlah balasan atau jawaban dari praktik poligami di mana seorang pria boleh memiliki lebih dari satu istri. Di sini, Drupadi justru menanggung beban harus bersikap adil kepada kelima suaminya (walau hanya mencintai seorang saja) dan menurut kepada kelimanya pula. Ia tetaplah seorang istri yang, sedikit banyak, merupakan properti dari para suaminya dan dengan demikian menjadikannya bagian dari diri kelima Pandawa. Ia tetaplah seorang wanita yang tak bisa berbuat apa-apa kala salah seorang suaminya, Yudhistira, mempertaruhkannya di atas meja judi dan menyerahkan nasibnya pada dadu yang berputar. Dan benar saja, ketika Yudhistira kalah di tangan Sangkuni, sebagai bagian dari properti sang suami, Drupadi pun harus ikut diserahkan kepada Kurawa bersama seluruh negeri Indraprastha. Sekeras apa pun ia menolak, bukanlah takdirnya sebagai seorang istri dan wanita untuk bisa lepas dari suratan menjadi “milik orang lain”. Belum cukup penderitaannya sampai di situ, ia diperkosa beramai-ramai di hadapan kelima suaminya sendiri serta harus ikut mengembara bersama mereka di hutan saat terbuang dalam penyamaran.

32946376464_713f388337Namun Seno Gumira Ajidarma tidak hanya menceritakan derita yang mesti dialami Drupadi sebagai seorang wanita. Dalam bab berjudul Wacana Drupadi, SGA menggambarkan betapa sang dewi sudah tak sanggup lagi memendam dendam di dalam hati dan menuntut kelima suaminya agar menuntut balas kepada para Kurawa. Dari tuntutan Drupadi inilah berkobar Perang Bharatayudha, di mana Kurawa dikalahkan oleh Pandawa dan Drupadi dapat memenuhi sumpahnya: mengeramasi rambutnya dengan darah Dursasana. Dari sini dapat dilihat betapa perang bisa terjadi “hanya” karena dendam dan tuntutan dari seorang wanita. Tetapi dari sisi lain juga dapat dilihat betapa balasan dari menghinakan seorang wanita mampu menyeret seratus orang kesatria beserta seluruh pasukannya pada kematian. Ini adalah kekuatan wanita, kekuatan tersembunyi yang tidak diperoleh dari penempaan fisik maupun penggunaan senjata.

Seno Gumira Ajidarma mampu menceritakan ulang kisah wayang Jawa yang berakar dari legenda India ini dengan sangat sederhana tetapi dengan gaya bahasa yang sangat apik dan dramatis. Dan meski terkesan sangat singkat dan plotnya melompat-lompat, novel ini mampu menerangkan karakter dan menangkap peran seorang Drupadi dalam kisah peperangan yang didominasi oleh kaum lelaki dengan lugas dan terperinci. Novel ini menggambarkan dua sisi wanita (kuat dan lemah) yang tak terelakkan, layaknya dua sisi kehidupan (baik dan buruk) yang sudah menjadi suratan dan hanya dipisahkan oleh sebuah garis tipis berwarna abu-abu. Novel ini juga seolah ingin menyatakan bahwa pria dan wanita seharusnya setara dan sederajat, bahwa bukan hanya wanita yang memiliki kewajiban terhadap suami tetapi juga sebaliknya. Pesan inilah, selain gaya bahasa dan ilustrasi-ilustrasinya, yang membuat novel Drupadi terasa sangat indah dan menggugah.

Rating: 4/5

Sepotong Senja untuk Pacarku

Early 2016 edition’s cover

Add a poetic style to surrealism and you’ll get beautiful narratives contained in Sepotong Senja untuk Pacarku. First published in 2002, and then later in a new edition in 2016, this book by senior Indonesian writer Seno Gumira Ajidarma brings to the reader a whole new reading experience like nothing else. It’s not only a collection of short stories meant to read as one composition, and it’s not only a pack of gorgeous writings with deep meanings, but as a whole it’s a vibrant literary work with an almost perfect quality in every aspect. By the time you finish it, you will want nothing more than enjoying your reading hangover.

The collection is divided into three parts, each of them contains several loosely interlinked stories with various themes. The first part is Trilogi Alina, of which opener is the already well-known Sepotong Senja untuk Pacarku (has been translated into English with the title A Slice of Sunset for My Sweetheart by Michael H. Bodden). It tells the story of a man who is so crazily in love with a woman that he will do anything for her, and in this case it’s slicing sunset above the seashore. Literally. He then sends the slice in an envelope to said woman as a proof of his love for her. The short story is written in the form of a love letter, and some people may read it as one, but deep inside it lies a criticism of the emptiness of life where beauty is something rare to see and to find that someone has to snatch it up from nature. The second number in this first set of short stories, Jawaban Alina (translated into English as Alina’s Reply by Michael H. Bodden) is a letter the woman referred to in Sepotong Senja untuk Pacarku writes in reply to it. However, opposed to what readers might expect, the woman doesn’t reply in a loving manner. With angry tone, she firmly states that she doesn’t love him and doesn’t expect him to do such a stupid thing as cropping sunset for her. She even condemns him for damaging nature that later ends up in environmental disaster. The last installment of the trilogy, Tukang Pos dalam Amplop (or The Postman in the Envelope in English, translated by Michael H. Bodden), is quite straying from the main path but still in the same theme. It’s about the postman who delivers the love letter from Sukab (the crazily-in-love man sending a slice of sunset) to the woman living at the top of Himalaya. In accord with the woman, the postman laments the destruction of nature at the hands of people. His rather strange experience as a fish shows the reader an awakening view on knowledge and the destructive behavior it provokes in humans.

While in the first part Ajidarma implicitly talks about the destruction of the earth, in the second one he focuses more on humans and humanity. In the story entitled Jezebel, for instance, he describes the slaughter of people in a large number which, ironically, becomes something of an art: beautiful and invoking a sense of drama. Another example that supports this theme of severely damaged humanity is Kunang-kunang Mandarin (The Mandarin Fireflies in English, translated by Wawan Eko Yulianto) which is an account of the dark days of modern Indonesian history where many Indonesian citizens of Chinese descent were massacred in the 1965’s communist hunt. Ajidarma doesn’t give an explicit description of the historically known tragedy, but conceals it in a story of a man who breeds fireflies born of the nails of the slaughtered Chinese people. Ironically, it is on this firefly breeding business that the natives of the setting town build their economy. Now you must have guessed what Ajidarma tries to imply.

Some other short stories in the second part, like Rumah Panggung di Tepi Pantai and Senja Hitam Putih, particularly examines how most of people view the world. The former tells of a man who refuses the traditional way and builds his house facing the seashore (so that he can enjoy the sunset), hence being called crazy. While in the later, which has been translated into English with the title Twilight in Black and White by John MacDougall, Ajidarma criticizes how most people often see the world they’re living in as something black and white, when everything has different colors. The rest of the second part, along with the third, Atas Nama Senja, explore the theme of reality. What is reality? Perhaps that’s what stories like Senja di Pulau Tanpa Nama, Perahu Nelayan Melintas Cakrawala, and Senja di Kaca Spion want to ask us as readers. When something real is unreal, and vice versa, nothing is certain about our existence, about anything in the world. And then we will ask ourselves: is something there? Or not? One of my favorite quotes from the book is the question posed by the narrator of Perahu Nelayan Melintas Cakrawala, “Apalah yang kita ketahui tentang dunia ini?” (What do we know about this world? —my translation). To my thinking, the entire third part is not only surreal but also very thought-provoking.

The elegant prose of each number, rendered so by the poetic, surrealistic style, is the key point of the book’s grandness. And the main theme of every part only strengthens the already profound effect the book has on the reader. The only weakness, and it won’t appear until you scrutinize the whole text, is the spelling system. To be honest, I have doubt about the spelling of some words because it’s not the standard one I know. Nevertheless, in general, Sepotong Senja untuk Pacarku by Seno Gumira Ajidarma is a big work of literary fiction. It’s a rare gem, and it’s really, really shining bright from its pages.

Rating: 4/5