Journal | Wednesday, 15 February 2012 | sundanesecorner.org
IT is my second time to gratefully participate in the regular forum of Bandung-based Asia-Africa Reading Club. My previous participation was to put forward some introductory remarks on a memoir written by Roeslan Abdulgani (1914-2005), The Bandung Connection: the Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung in 1955 (1981). Today I get the honour to start a series of discussion on an autobiography written by Ali Sastroamidjojo (1903-1976), Tonggak-tonggak di Perjalananku ‘Milestones on My Journey’ (1974). All of the club members, as usual, will read and discuss the book from chapter to chapter through their weekly gathering.
SINCE my main concern is on literature and language, I would like to emphasize my remarks on the matter of autobiography. Autobiography, as we all know, is a story of the time, life, and works of someone written by her/himself. To the best of my knowledge, it is one of the interesting literary genres that are of a significant value for our knowledge of history. From a personal recollection of a great man that played a role within a historical episode of a nation, we could reconstruct how the nation faced its destiny. The ‘literary’ aspect of such a work should be recognized not in the sense of ‘fictitious’ things but rather in the sense of style: the way a narrator tries to tell her/his life story in the form of a prosaic composition.
The man whose work we are reading is former Prime Minister of Indonesia. He was also one of the central figures that wonderfully played his role in the well-known Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung in 1955. It was he the statesman who chaired the conference. His autobiography is too important to be excluded from our reading lists, for it helps illuminate several aspects of the history of Indonesia, mainly in postcolonial period.
Sadly to say that few statesmen from Indonesian history had been gifted with a literary talent to compose their stories as Ali Sastroamidjojo’s, and even fewer had faced their chances to write for the benefit of future generation by publishing a complete composition as he did toward the end of his life. The well-known ‘autobiography’ of former President Soekarno, for instance, is not really autobiography since his story is in fact retold by Cindy Adams based on her interviews with the great man—it is an ‘as told to’ biography. Apart from his celebrated Madilog (a donkey bridge for MAterialism, DIalectics, and LOgics) and prison notes, the great Tan Malaka didn’t legate any complete autobiography. We unfortunately don’t inherit such a work from Sjahrir too, except his diaries. Thanks to Ali Sastroamodjojo, we can read a complete work of more than 500 pages, which is published some two years before he passed away.
The saddest thing to be thought is a sort of leadership crises in current Indonesia. It is likely that today we have no true statesman. What we know have are merely various well-known politicians, high-ranking government officials, or lawmakers that committed their selves in several cases of corruption. Far from literary talent and chance to write their stories to inspire the people, they tend to hide their shameful faces before television camera and the public. Amid this gloomy situation, a great statesman like Ali Sastroamidjojo is really inspiring.
Based on his short introduction to the autobiography, we delightedly know that Ali Sastroamidjojo composed his story by himself, not by means of a ghost writer or such other person. He even typed his draft by himself though his physical condition seemed to be not so well at the time. And we are moved in reading that when he had finished his draft, he asked some qualified persons, including poet Goenawan Mohamad, to scrutinize whether his ‘Indonesian is not too “old” for the present time.’ In other words, as a public figure from the past time he is quite aware of the importance of finding a best way to connect his words to the present and the future.
DUE to the term of reference proposed by the club, I am expected to focus my reading on the first chapter of this book. Under the title of Tunas ‘Plant Shoot,’ this chapter tells the story of the great man’s formative years in his early life in a small town of Central Java. Three environments or milieus come to the scene as its social and cultural settings: family, school, and play ground. They seem to be the three pillars that support his future development.
Ali Sastroamidjojo was born into a family of priyayi ‘Javanese aristocrat’ of lower rank on 21 May 1903 in Grabag Merbabu, a small town at the foot of Mount Merbabu some 20 km from Magelang. He is the eleventh of twelve siblings of Rd. Ng. Sastroamidjojo from his marriage with Kustiah. His father was a retired wedana, i.e. a government official whose rank was under a regent. The family had a strong basis of Javanese culture as well as devote to Islam, and yet aware of the importance of Western education. Ali spent his childhood years in the town, playing with his friends from peasant families. In hoping to find a proper environment for the development of their children, the Sastroamijojos moved to Magelang. In the city Ali was sent to Dutch school, and regularly learned Javanese language and Islamic religion as well.
‘It was not until I had been grown up to be an adult that I could appreciate the wisdoms of my parents, and I deeply gratitude them for my knowledge in Javanese language and Islamic religion had at least become a brake of the totality of the impacts of Dutch education and culture in the development of my self and thoughts. Moreover, the atmosphere of family life at our home was a strong counterbalance to foreign influences that, for better or for worse, I had obtained from that Dutch school number one,’ said Ali Sastroamidjojo.