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bricolage \bree-koh-LAHZH; brih-\, noun: -a dump site for anything at hand, in mind-

Monday, December 16, 2002


I attended his book launching because I read most of his books. There's something about his writing that tickles me. It's a subjective thing. He's one of few Indonesian writers whose stories always set in urban settings. Compared to his peers, his works are the most published in any sorts - be that novels, comics or columns.

At that time, one of his novels was translated into English by an Indonesian-Australian foundation that pays lots of attention to Indonesian literature. The book launching was pretty festive. Wine and petit fours were flowing (I don't know since when the Indonesians residing in Indonesia are accustomed to drinking wine). A blend of literature and political crowd I'd say, since this English-translated novel has a political undercurrent.

He walked up the so-called stage; under a blinding spotlight, in broken English he apologized for being unable to speak the foreign language fluently. He went on, saying that he didn't mean to write a novel while he was writing the novel. Basically, he was just protesting against the regime through his writing.

A former human rights NGO** activist walked up to his side. It's a she, now the head of ICG*** in Indonesia. She said that his novel is an apt metaphor (gee, I like these words. Sounds so erudite ) of East Timorese suffering and its independence. She added that East Timorese have to read the book. (I wonder whether they can afford it over there). Well, I read the compelling book while the ruling regime was still there. I gotta admit that SGA has the guts to do it and yet still survived.

As I said, I didn't attend the book launching because of the book. It was him who made me putting up with the crowd there. I wanted to see the man in real life. I wanted to hear his words. His arguments. Well, he wasn't the first so-called celebrity that I had the chance to see and listen to without any mediating medium. I was somehow aware of remarks and comments a person in such capacity would make. But because to some extent his novels are part of my personal stuff (books are personal stuff to me), I was expecting something else. A personality of a regular guy.

The way he looks, the way he moves and his gestures promised a lively evening filled with jokes and stories. The way he wrote, the stories, the sentences and the style promised interesting and fulfilling debates on several issues on the novel.

I asked the possibility of translating the novel into Tetun - local East Timorese language. A silly question, of course - but I was just bridging Sidney Jones' comments earlier, as well as pointing out that similar effort have been made.***** Without any further thinking, he said it flatly, "It's okay." I was like, "WHUD?" I was gaping at him. Jones who were still by his side, somehow taking the role of an interpreter, trying to translate and rephrase my question (I refuse to speak English despite the multinational crowd, because SGA himself has stated his inability to speak the language. I saw no point in posing a question in English). After Jones' rather lengthy explanation, finally something more sensible (to my acknowledgement) came out of his mouth. When the book was launched for the first time, despite several talk shows in radios, book launching events cum seminars and the language used in the first edition: Indonesian; no soul seemed to give a damn about it. He went on saying that not many Indonesians were able to understand the story and the book itself; it was foreign readers who actually grasped the book. "I don't think there will be an impact if it were translated into Tetun." His final flat statement.

The way he talked, the tone he used, the words he spoke clearly illustrated a flat boring figure.

He seemed unable (or actually unwilling) to argue the audience who posed several questions. Most of the words that came out were: "I don't know", "It can be", "It's okay, that's your opinion".

I met a couple of journalists (gee, each invitee -most of them cultural events journalist- received a copy of the newly translated novel, which was worth Rp. 65,000.00!) and exchanged a couple of words with them. They were laughing to hear my grumble. "Well, that's him. That's how he always behaves in any book launching events, conferences, anything. Aloof, uncaring, flat, hushed."

Well, he's better off a writer then.

aksara bookstore, jakarta.

* seno gumira ajidarma
** non-governmental organization
*** international crisis group
***** see: "Seribu Kunang-kunang di Manhattan" - Umar Khayam (Yayasan Obor Indonesia). The short story was translated in several major local languages in Indonesia in an attempt to observe the capacity of local languages in interpreting modern culture.


Saturday, December 14, 2002

only the dead have seen the end of war*

Finally, I made the time to watch Black Hawk Down. Initially, I expected a war movie, but it turned out to be (well, for me it is) a half docu-war movie with a humanitarian and political undercurrents.

Scene #1
The first scene has a thick "gladiator-like" musical background. Is it a Ridley Scott trademark? Dunno..

A gripping first scene. Truck loaded with food aid (rice) in a distribution point somewhere in Mogadishu. Chaos. Crowd. People were all over the place - they were practically attacked the truck. Logistic workers (presumably) were throwing the rice bags out of the truck. Men and women were fighting for the rice. Rice bags were grabbed, tugged, torn away. Rice spilled on dusty earth. A perfect chaotic rice distribution. There were no stamps, no coupons, no queue, no beneficiaries (IDPs** list).

An armed car - a pick up vehicle with a machine gun on it, came up and emptied live bullets to the crowd. The civilians. While yelling, that the rice belonged to General Aidid --- the ruling regime leader.

A total chaos.

Scene #2
A US Somalia Operation Base asked for a backup to the UN in an UN-Safe zone, where the Pakistani and Malaysian soldiers were housed. UN tanks strolled out of the safe haven to extract trapped US soldiers in a planned 30 minutes operation that revolved into a full 24 hours urban war.

That scene struck me because as far as I know, in most cases, the big, gigantic and bureaucratic UN has been described as incapable and feeble.

Black Hawk Down was:

>> About a very absorbing movie due to its proximity to my professional life (no, I'm not somebody who wears uniform).

>> About working colleagues, who has a big chance of experiencing (be that in the past, present and future) such hellish, anarchic and frenzied situation in any conflict hot spots in my part of the world.

>> About a situation and condition so liquid, which makes security (both personnel and situation) very hard to be determined nor guaranteed; while on the other hand, humanitarian actions must be sustained.

>> About to what extent should a situation is considered as secure? From whose point of view? Are there any exact measures to assess security?

>> About soldiers who were trained and paid to die and to stay alive at their best under any circumstances.

>> About soldiers, who were flown into and thrown out to some foreign land and areas they have never heard before and were ordered to stay alive and to prepare to die at the same time.

>> About people who were not part of the war, had never been in a war; were unable to any extent understand reasons behind a war and reasons for people to go to war.

>> About the person next to you.

>> About one's inability to choose and to expect, who will be shot at and inability to provide any assistance whatsoever.

>> About whether military and war are that bad?

>> About the chance of peaceful negotiation in time of war.

>> About whether war is totally unavoidable?

>> About the cost of a nation's pride.

>> About considering our present atmosphere, whether we are ready and brave enough to stand such situation?

The first urban war that the US has gone into took place almost 10 years ago. When I was barely a freshman at my university, trying to understand the term of "international affairs".

Where were you on October 3, 1993?

la brioche doreƩ,
blok m plaza,
sat, 02/03/02 (original)
sat, 14/12/02 (revised)

* plato
** IDPs: internally displaced persons.
people who are forced to leave their hometown to seek refuge in another area within one's national border.
***movie poster found in google.com.
site of origin: http://www.cartelia.net/fotos/b/blackhawkderribado.jpg