Friday, May 21, 2010

Wiji Thukul

I've been reading Menagerie 5, an issue of an anthology series of Indonesian fiction, poetry, and essays. The short stories are okay but the highlight is a section of poems by Wiji Thukul, accompanied by a short biographical essay. Thukul was born in 1963 and lived in Solo in central Java. His poems strongly criticised the Indonesian government and social conditions on Indonesia. He has been missing since 1998, when he took part the anti-Suharto demonstrations occurring then, probably eliminated by government forces.

Here's a sample of his work. The translation is by Richard Curtis.

An odd puzzle
that night we got together and talked
from our mouths no grand issues emerged;
we talked about our hopes,
things simple and understandable

one person had been hoping for a long time
to add on a kitchen to the place he rents
which reminded others
they didn't own a saucepan, kerosene stove,
drinking glasses, or frying pan,
which made them remember
they had once wanted to buy such things
only to see their wishes soon buried
beneath weariness
and wages that so quickly changed
into toothpaste, shampoo, rent
and unpaid bills at the food stall

after that many of us found it difficult
to enjoy the warm tea that had been served
because we were still busy thinking
about where to rest our heads and where to hang our clothes

another person mentioned that for ages he had wanted
a bathroom of his own
from which topic the discussion jumped to cement and wall paint,
prices for which never seem to fall

we also talked about the election campaign,
the one just passed
and of the three parties that competed,
we concluded had no connection with us: workers
whose only use for them is our votes,
to be exploited for their own interests

we laughed because we realised
that for many years we had been deceived
and treated like buffalo
but in the end we asked
why it's so difficult for a worker to buy a can of paint,
even after working no less that eight hours a day,
and why it's so difficult for them
to send their children to school
when each day they produce
tons and tons of goods

and then one among the group stood up,
looked around and asked:
"are there any things you use
that are not made by workers?"
a question that made us observe
the many things around us: neon lights, televisions, radios, clothes, books...

since that time I've always felt
we are faced with an odd puzzle, one that arises whenever we talk
about saucepans, kerosene stoves,
drinking glasses, or frying pans
and also at times we count our wages
which so quickly change
to tooth paste, shampoo, rent
and unpaid bills at the food stall

I'm always surprised and ask myself
what kind of power it is that can so easily absorb
our energy and the fruits of our labour.

I demand change
one hundred latrines
mean more to me
than your big mouth
it's not important
who's going to win
we're fed up
with a life like this:
a hassle going to the toilet
a roof that leaks when it rains.
we don't need chants
magic spells
or promises;
a sack of rice
from the masters' food stores
won't wipe out poverty;
sympathy and second-hand clothing donations
are of no help;
we no longer believe in that.
political parties
and the language of their trade
floating so far over our heads
and our problems
will not fill our stomachs.
shut down this silly comedy,
we want to sleep soundly
with our debts paid off,
truly free,
not under pressure.
we're fed up
with a life like this
or to say it more explicitly:
I demand change!

Don't forget, my love
don't forget, my love
when the moon is full
and we are taking a stroll
those people sleeping outside, in front of the house
and on the edge of the drainage canal,
are our neighbours, my love

don't forget, my love
when it's five o'clock in the morning,
the throngs of female workers
with bleary eyes
who walk alongside you
are your friends, my love

don't forget, my love
to whomever should ask who your in-law is
to answer: a pedicab driver
for he is your father, my love

don't forget, my love
to whomever should ask
to tell them your name
and do not be ashamed
for that is your name, my love