His diary is not a monologue, and not a soliloquy: even in the narrowest of cells and in the most cruel oppression—particularly in Nusabambangan, the camp that was actually even worse than Buru—his voice was one of many.
Who is a beast now, who is a man
How long before the execution
— Anna Akhmatova.
TEDJABAYU has died, like the proverbial tiger that leaves behind its brilliant stripes. He departed, forever, just a few days after his book Mutiara di Padang Ilalang (Pearl in the Prairie) was launched.
The seed of the book was planted before 1978 in the form of a diary that he wrote in secret while incarcerated in the New Order’s prisons; he concealed it between sentences of his prayer book.
Tedjabayu, an activist in a student organization called CGMI (Consentrasi Gerakan Mahasiswa Indonesia) that was under the umbrella of the Indonesian Communist Party, was arrested in 1965. From Wirogunan prison in Yogyakarta he was moved to Nusakambangan and finally to Buru Island in Maluku. It was only in 1978 and 1979, when the detainees on the island were permitted to read and write, that Tedjabayu could fill out his diary notes.
All this has now been collected and edited in a volume of over 400 pages. The book was a kind of testament when Tedjabayu neared 80, having suffered a stroke a few years earlier that resulted in virtual loss of memory.
The testament is a message for his children and grandchildren, and also for readers born after 1965. It is an extremely important record of a personal life journey that is fused with memories about a traumatic part of Indonesia’s history.
Memory cannot have replicas. The past cannot be precisely fitted to the present. There are things that become murky, there are things that become solid. There is selection. But what is wrong with that? Gabriel García Márquez called this selective ability ‘artifice’, which allows us “to endure the burden of the past.”
The way Tedjabayu bore and overcame the burden of his past was impressive. His memory was sharp, but it was more than that. His memory also showed character and attitude. He was a victim of brutal tyranny, but he survived without feeling he could become an unblemished judge with a verdict definitively true.
His diary is not a monologue, and not a soliloquy: even in the narrowest of cells and in the most cruel oppression—particularly in Nusabambangan, the camp that was actually even worse than Buru—his voice was one of many. He mentions many names, with Javanese terms of address like ‘dik’, ‘mas’, ‘mbak’—showing a spontaneous intimacy. He brings peoples’ faces present. In his hands, ‘fellow being’ is not a concept, but a concrete story.
It is true that his book does not give enough analysis to ‘larger’ matters. Perhaps he had no opportunity. For nine years of his youth he suffered forced labor. In his book he writes only briefly about his own conclusions: the 1965 event was “just a small eruption…from a terrifying eruption like the big bang…which had been ingeniously planned by intelligence agencies of other countries…”
Nor do I find in the book any reflections about whether the Indonesian Communist Party made mistakes in choosing the path of the ‘September 30 movement’; why there was virtually no mass protest at the establishment of the ‘New Order’; why military and civil violence was so brutal; and what the expectations were about what would happen after the Buru internment camp.
But this book is of course not for analytical discussion. Of no less value is its telling, as its conclusion states, of “the journey to seek and find life experience and to understand human character and behavior.”
The book presents not analysis, ngelmu, but deed, laku.
In it, we find what is buried and what is expressed, nuance and ambiguity. The book’s theme is not a bleeding-heart account of misery. It is not intended as a slow taking of revenge. Rather, it is a greeting of kindness.
Of course Tedjabayu cannot entirely bury his anger at what happened in the past, even though he tries. His account in the book about Professor Loekman Sutrisno, professor of sociology at Gadjah Mada University, is much sharper than what he once told me.
According to Tedjabayu, Loekman was “once also a member of the CGMI.” But in 1965, when members of this student organization and Leftists were being arrested, Loekman turned into a cruel interrogator “a clown pretending to be a soldier.” He once beat Trubus, the famous Lekra artist, with a typewriter until he passed out. Trubus later disappeared, probably murdered. Tedjabayu suspects Loekman was involved.
1965 was a time of trauma, like the mood in the poetry of Anna Akhmatova, the famous Russian poet, when her husband was killed and her son imprisoned during Stalin’s repression of the 1930s. “Who is a beast now, who is a man/ How long before the execution?”
Tedjabayu responded, man.
Mas Tedja (we addressed each other as ‘mas’ and spoke high Javanese when we were alone together) was always polite, even in the tense time when we had to work clandestinely. To the extent that, while opposing the New Order, he saw others as ‘gifts’, not threats. With this attitude, oppression at a particular time is an important part of becoming strong and wise.
C’est la vie, his mother Mia Bustam said, when she saw Mas Tedja return home from exile.
There is something strong but elegant in the words and attitude of this woman who was Mas Tedja’s role model, and a woman I also admired. From her lap came the pearl, the lap he is now finding once again.