May 28, 2024 Last Updated 8:34 AM, May 27, 2024

Despised delight

wife eks tapol1
Published: Mar 31, 1988

The Suharto Government's political prisoners have only very rarely been allowed to speak. Here, for the first time, we have an autobiographical story written by a woman, the wife of an ex-tapol, the mother of his child.

For my beloved 'Gale'

History (sejarah) is regularly re-written to suit those in power. 'History is a wicked thing, history is not at all objective. It can change.'  Tempo, 16 May 1987

Our child was born in the beginning of the eighties, some years after the release of my husband from Salemba jail and the island of Buru. Subsequently through the vagaries of life, or perhaps more accurately the influence of politics on daily life, our child has become our only child. Time for us to expand our family ran out, as we grew older during his stay on Buru. Maybe it would have been better if our only child had never been born, for the Indonesian government and parts of Indonesian society did not make her welcome. We, however, her family on both sides were thrilled with her arrival. In this sense our child became both our delight and their despised.

When she was growing inside me, we talked about her a great deal. Yes, we talked about her, because we were very sure she would be a daughter, simply because of his beloved mother who had helped him through the deep humiliation of being a prisoner of the country he loves. His mother had been in her grave a long time but she was not dead. Often she came to him in his dreams to point out what he could expect and what he had to do.

His mother had also come to me before our daughter was born. A few minutes after we had decided to make the best of a bad situation and to marry, she simply appeared out of the ground and, without saying anything, gave us her blessing. The second time I saw her was when my daughter was still a very small body within me. She, our mother and her grandmother, came to our bedroom early in the evening. It was as if she wanted to see whether her children needed anything before night fell and then, she herself could sleep. Before my eyes she became smaller and smaller until she was the size of the tiny child within me. Then she disappeared through the window. This strengthened my belief that our mother would return in our child. Thus she had to be a daughter. We also had reason to hope for a girl, however. We did not want to have a potential soldier in the house. It may have been wrong for would-be parents to think in this way, since they stand an equal chance of having a son; but we did think it and talked it over and over. We disliked ourselves for having such preconceived ideas about a baby boy. Countless times we solved our dilemma by planning a good education for him if he were a son. We knew, however, we would be disappointed if he arrived, a son.

Yet our feelings did not betray us in the way that fear always does. A daughter was born to us.

She was given three names. One can he translated as the strong wind, the gale. We gave her that name because she came into a stormy world which is often beset by titanic gales. Her name also expresses our hope for the future and for survival. A gale is strong and a kind of primal force. It rids the world of evil and speaks as the elements themselves.

Gale was our delight from the beginning. How delightful she was for me a few weeks before her arrival. On hearing the gamelan orchestra playing, she started to move inside my womb in a most gracious, graceful manner. Yes, a proper Javanese was coming.

We joked, but are not jokes a reality? We talked of her sometimes as the future president of Indonesia. In Javanese tradition women play an important role; officially they are not in power, their place is sitting at the back of the house, but in reality they are powerful. So the joke was not an impossibility. When we shared our dreams with our friends we met smiles, never opposition or contradiction. One of our sisters even gave Gale 10,000 Rupiah, with the words, ‘With love, for the future President’.

In 1982, not long after she was born, there was a general election. The streets of Jakarta were full of people campaigning, with their cars and motorbikes. Sometimes we would see the armed forces showing off their equipment. Was it to frighten us or to tell us that they had reason to intimidate us? Was not the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat killed in the streets of Cairo while surrounded by armed guards and soldiers? While looking at the campaigners it was easy to discover for which party they worked. You only had to listen to the number they shouted or the number of fingers they raised: one finger for P.P.P, two fingers for Golkar, and three for P.D.I.

A dream

Standing at the roadside, watching the so-called democratic process passing by, I had a dream. One day our daughter would participate in a campaign. She would not just be sitting in a car nor shouting nor giving away gifts of dried noodles, T-shirts and thousand rupiah notes to the people, as the campaigners were doing on that day. She would sit on a black Sumba horse, herself dressed in black, like the fishermen of Madura and with a piece of red and white cloth round her head, like the Independence fighters. No noise could be heard. This would be the day the silent masses take power.

Of course this is an idle dream. I thought it at the time and still do. Yet I hope that the day will come when the silent crowds, silent only because of their hard work, their fatigue, their intimidation, their fear, will bring an end to their age of oppression and insult. I can also feel that in my vision of the Ken Dedes who is to come, lies an expression of our optimism for the future of both Indonesia and our Gale.

Inside Indonesia 14: Apr-Jun 1988{jcomments on}

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A selection of stories from the Indonesian classics and modern writers, periodically published free for Inside Indonesia readers, courtesy of Lontar.