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Thursday, April 10, 2008

NH Dini

Several weeks ago I attended a sort-of promotion book of ARGENTEUIL by one senior writer in Indonesia, NH Dini at RUMAH SENI Semarang located at Kampung Jambe number 280. NH Dini herself as the main speaker, with Adhyanggono from Unika Soegijapranata as the moderator. NH Dini called ARGENTEUIL her autobiography which she wrote in the form of novel.

The first thing attracted my attention was when Dini said she has made herself accustomed to writing anything daily since she was very young in one special book she labeled ‘a red book’—because the cover of the book is red. The way she wrote in the red book was not like writing in diary—at least my way in writing diary --because she often used kinds of symbols recognized by herself only. From this ‘red book’ she improved her notes into many novels.

I asked whether she continued writing in her ‘red book’ after getting married. The background of my question was in the patriarchal culture—at least what I learned when I was a teenager from articles I read in magazines/books/newspapers—people believed that after getting married man and woman became one, each was the soul mate for the other. Therefore, women were not supposed to ‘confide in’ anybody else—including in their dead diary, the reflection of their own self—but to their husbands (I call ‘living diary’) that could be considered as the substitute of the dead diary. Husband and wife were supposed to be open to each other, no secrets between them. Dini said she continued writing in her diary—still using her secret symbols. Her husband let her do that and she was not ‘beaten’ by the so-called culture that I illustrated previously so that she didn’t teach her husband how to read the symbols. In other words it can be said that Dini kept doing her hobby and her husband let her have secrets. One moral lesson I was supposed to learn when I was in teenager—it was not sinful to keep something secretly from your husband—so that I wouldn’t have been beaten by the culture. Consequently, I would have had one most loyal friend, my ‘dead’ diary, when I was ‘buried’ under my sorrow because I couldn’t tell a human being. As a result, I wouldn’t have needed to be so depressed.

This is one thing I admire from NH Dini: as a Javanese woman who was born in the patriarchal Javanese culture, she already had a very progressive way of thinking. I believe this had happened before she moved to western countries to follow her husband where of course she was somewhat westernized.

The second thing I noted down from the discussion was when Dini said her two novels—PADA SEBUAH KAPAL and LA BARKA—were forbidden to be in the library of some schools in Jakarta in 1970s. The reason was because the two novels illustrated many inappropriate scenes. Surprisingly when she went to Indonesia to visit her mother in that decade, she was invited by Pondok Pabelan to give a talk about her writing career, and she found the two novels in the library there. She was questioning if some public schools in Jakarta—usually considered more receptive to anything since it was the metropolis city—forbade the students to read the novels, why Pabelan, the Islamic school, provided the novels in the library. It means Pabelan let the students read them.

When Dini asked one teacher there, the teacher explained, “We tell the students that these ‘inappropriate scenes’ are a part of western culture. We as eastern people are not to imitate what they are doing.”

This reminded me of what Ayu Utami said about her novel SAMAN. Ayu wanted to offer a new way of thinking to view women’s bodies. Women must listen to their own bodies, and not just listen to what patriarchal society demands from women. I also remember what Dewi Lestari said when she promoted FILOSOFI KOPI in Semarang around two years ago. When someone asked her converting to Buddhist, Dee explained “For someone who is going to sink in a wide sea, she/he will consider islands she/he sees the same. In Indonesia, the government (un)fortunately only gives six choices: Islam, Christian, Catholic, Hindu, Buddhism, and Confucianism. Luckily, the ‘island’ closest to where Dee was about to sink was Buddhism.” In her SUPERNOVA series, Dee illustrated her spiritual experience, to share with her readers. I could draw one similar conclusion between Ayu and Dee; that was to give a new paradigm.

This inspired me to ask Dini about her motivation to write her novels, especially the two novels I mentioned above. To my surprise (or disappointment), she said, “I didn’t have such a motivation when writing the two novels. I just wrote my experience.”

“What kind of moral lesson did you expect to convey to your readers?” I continued asking.

“Well, I just wanted people to know that this kind of experience happened, especially in an intermarriage involving one Indonesian and a westerner.”

Furthermore, when someone asked her why she wrote, Dini gave four reasons:

First, she realized that she had a talent in writing, so she improved that gift.

Second, her mother knowing that she had a talent in writing asked her to write books. It means Dini wanted to make her mother happy.

Third, she could earn her own money by doing her hobby.

Fourth, she got satisfaction when knowing that other people enjoyed reading her books.

And I was not supposed to expect ‘deeper’ and more critical reasons just like the contemporary writers.

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