Ninus D. Andarnuswari
After1965. The fateful year that defined our contemporary nation. A twist in history violently brought down the Indonesian Communist Party, transforming it from a massive force of public empowerment into a symbol of evil in the minds of many, even today. After Suharto efficiently took the role of president from Sukarno, and through the long period of authoritarian rule that followed, the Indonesian people were taught to forget about what truly happened that year.
And many of us did forget. The details of 1965 and its victims have largely fallen outside the scope of our everyday realities. Most of us have never heard about those who were erased from the official history, and thus from memory. But for those still living at the fringes, the memory of that bloody year remains fresh.
The book “65” reopens this forgotten chapter of Indonesia’s history, following the journey of a boy who lost his father to the communist purges at age 10. The autobiographical account is a sequel to last year’s “Blues Merbabu,” written by an anonymous journalist under the pen name Gitanyali, who has since been revealed as former Kompas writer Bre Redana.
Bre again takes on the name Gitanyali both as the author of the book and its protagonist. “I is another,” he quotes French poet Arthur Rimbaud in the book. To Bre’s mind, names are irrelevant to the self, which is always changing with time, not unlike flowing water. Even the name Bre Redana is a pseudonym of an earlier name, which he lost as his family tried to escape its connection to communism. But in the first chapter of “65,” the author lightheartedly says, “The one to be pitied is my society,
“65” draws out a narrative that is curiously engaging, albeit chronologically disjointed. In principle, it follows on from the eerily nonchalant narrative of “Blues Merbabu,” or in English “Merbabu Blues,” in which Gitanyali recalls the traumatic shift from his father’s position as a respected leader of the community to an enemy of the state and, ultimately, a victim of its brutality.
After his father’s death, Gitanyali and his family lived a low-profile life, always trying to blend in to society, even as they remembered the scars that separated them from the rest. Eventually, Gitanyali decided to join his family in Jakarta to start a new life.
“65” picks up the story at the point of his migration to Jakarta, bringing to light his lascivious adventures with several of the women he meets there. These passages, as in his previous work, seem to contain little but blatant sensuality. Even so, they offer valuable insights into the life of a man whose identity was denied by his state and society.
Gitanyali knows little of his true self, but one thing about him is certain: “You know how to pick up a girl,” his aunt, Martha, tells him. Over the length of his bittersweet journey to the present, women are indeed a substantial part.
On a trip back to his hometown near Mount Merbabu in Central Java, Gitanyali forms a relationship with an older woman named Zus Rosa.
Neglected by her husband, Rosa is drawn to the young man, and in sexual terms at least, she is evidently special to him. Their passionate sexual encounters whenever they meet help fuel the long-distance relationship.
But in the end, Rosa becomes more demanding, while Gitanyali becomes ever more convinced that the big city has more to offer a young, intelligent and free-wheeling man like him. And it certainly does.
From his many exploits, few names remain in Gitanyali’s memory. One is Emma, a beautiful woman of Sino-Sundanese descent who owns an art gallery in Bangkok.
Of his young lover Gitanyali says, “Pasangan yang inosen akan memberikan cermin paling jujur” (“An innocent partner will provide the most honest mirror”).
Before meeting Emma, Gitanyali doesn’t seem to know what to else to look for in the many women he gets involved with, except for great sex. He has some anxiety concerning married life and keeps hopping from one woman to another.
After pursuing a relationship with Emma for some time, he proposes to her, saying he is finally ready to turn over a new leaf.
Jakarta also presents many career opportunities for the young Gitanyali. As a communist’s son, he knows he can’t have a career in formal sectors. Instead, he chooses media, studying cinema and freelancing as a journalist.
One assignment after another introduces him to many places and faces, and many unforgettable experiences.
One such experience is his acquaintance with Mbak Dani, a beautiful socialite who also has links to communism. On her deathbed she whispers to him, “Orang-orang seperti kita harus bisa membuktikan, kita bisa lebih baik dari orang lain” (“People like us have to prove ourselves, we must be better than other people”).
Through his acquaintance with an Englishman working at the British Embassy, Gitanyali receives a scholarship to Glasgow University. He flies to Scotland to study film, leaving behind the women in his life.
As fate would have it, communism is tumbling in a domino effect all over Europe. At a gathering to celebrate Idul Fitri at the Indonesian Embassy in London, the ambassador gives a speech about the latent dangers of communism, leaving Gitanyali struck with an overwhelming incredulity.
“Akal sehat dan daya hidup tidak begitu saja bisa dilumpuhkan,” (“Common sense and life force cannot be easily made paralyzed”) says Gitanyali, ending the first chapter of this book.
Dealing with the burden of 1965 all his life, with good grace he lives on. And testifies in his writing.