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A.S. Dharta Reread

Literature | Tuesday, 16 November 2010 | sundanesecorner.org

Hawe Setiawan

The front cover of Dharta's book (reproduced from Budi Setiyono's blog)

We gathered at Gedung Indonesia Menggugat, Bandung, in Friday, 12 November 2010. It is a historical site, which in colonial era was known as landraad building; the place where Sukarno and his two comrades were sentenced to jail by the colonial court because of their nationalist movement in 1930s.

A new book edited by Jakarta-based young historian and journalist Budi Setiyono was launched in the afternoon. It is entitled Kepada Seniman Universal: Kumpulan Esai Sastra A.S. Dharta ‘To the Universal Artist: Collected Literary Essays of A.S. Dharta’ (Ultimus, 2010). Along with Martin Aleida, writer and former journalist of the now defunct Harian Rakjat, I talked in the forum about the late A.S. Dharta as well as his works. Setiaji Purnasatmoko, a Bandung-based columnist and cultural activist, anchored the discussion.

Like many Indonesians of my generation I know very little about the life and works of A.S. Dharta. During the era of Suharto’s New Order his name has apparently been excluded from the history of Indonesian literature. What we know (from secondary sources) is merely that he was born in Cibeber, a district in the regency of Cianjur, West Java, on 7 March 1924. He was a poet, writer, literary critic, and the first secretary general of the left wing cultural institute Lekra that stands for Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat ‘People Cultural Institute’ in 1950s. Yet we couldn’t read his works, for the military authoritarian government banned them.

Thanks to Budi and Bandung-based Ultimus publishing house, today we can read Dharta in more details. This book compiles Dharta’s literary columns and cultural papers from the decade of 1950s. It consists of five subsections based on the central theme or subject matter of the writings: the notion of realism in literature, art, and culture; comments on cultural matters; comments on some literary works; the notion of world literature; and activities of Lekra.

Martin talked about the history of Lekra. ‘It is impossible to talk about the People Cultural Institute (Lekra) without any reference to A.S. Dharta,’ said Martin.

I myself tried to shed light on the contribution of A.S. Dharta to the development of Sundanese language and literature—something that in my opinion would be of significant value for the coming biography of Dharta, which is being done by Budi.

On 6 October 1955 A.S. Dharta wrote a letter to Moh. Koerdi (Sjarif Amin), the Chief Editor of Sundanese daily newspaper Sipatahoenan. The letter expressed his appreciation to Sjarif Amin’s essays concerning the personal experiences of living in Bandung prior to the end of Dutch colonialism, which were issued regularly in the newspaper. Dharta suggested the essays to be republished in a book, for he thought that they were schepping ‘creation’. In 1983, that is 32 years later, the book was published entitled Keur Kuring di Bandung ‘When I was in Bandung’ (Pelita Masa, 1983).

In the year 2001, when Sundanese writer Tatang Sumarsono just issued his new novel about the life in the twilight of Suharto’s era entitled Galuring Gending (Kiblat Buku Utama, 2000), he received a letter from A.S. Dharta. That day Dharta was 77 years old. His letter expressed an appreciation to the novel and an encouragement to the creative endeavour of the writer.

Dharta himself wrote poems, lyrical prose, short stories, and essays in Sundanese. In the Kandjutkundang (Balai Pustaka, 1962), an anthology of Sundanese prose and poetry after World War II edited by Ajip Rosidi and Rusman Sutiasumarga, there are two lyrical proses and two poems by Dharta. In his poem entitled ‘Kidung Sundajana’ the poetic personae says:

Haréwoskeun angin Priangan

Anepaken tacan nepi tamat tugas

Cikal bugang kembang yuda

Beuntakeun panon waspada

Bélaan rayat tacan merdika

Prominent Sundanese poet Sayudi describes Dharta in his poem ‘Paturay’ as follow:

basa urang ngariung

di sasak gantung

kajeueung kénéh

bung darta maké switer

kalawan tandes pinuh sumanget

omat-omatan ka urang:

—béjakeun, bung!

najan kuring geus dipecat ti CC

kuring tetep satia ka kominis!

urang silihimeutan

There is an essay in this new book that show Dharta’s concern to the development of Sundanese language and literature. It is entitled Konferensi Bahasa dan Sastra Sunda ‘The Conference on Sundanese Language and Literature’ (pp. 43-47). In my opinion, this essay is important for it helps us to shed light on the historical background of the establishment of Lembaga Basa jeung Sastra Sunda ‘Institute of Sundanese Language and Literature’ (LBSS), which still exists up to this moment.***

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