Tedjabayu dan Kami (1944-2021)

“Mbak, orang yang meminjamkan buku itu bodoh. Tapi Mbak tahu siapa yang lebih bodoh? Orang yang mengembalikan buku yang dia pinjam!”
Bapak being, well—himself.

Sebelum mengenal Bapak sebagai sosok yang Goenawan Mohamad sebut ‘tauladan gerakan demokrasi‘, saya terlebih dahulu bertemu beliau sebagai ayah sahabat saya. Tanggal 7 Februari 2015, saya main ke rumah beliau pertama kalinya setelah perjalanan akhir pekan singkat ke Bandung dengan Wikan. Saat itu, saya baru belajar bahwa mereka adalah keluarga Sudjojono, salah satu maestro pelukis kiri di masa revolusi. (Meski Bapak tidak terlalu suka membawa nama Sudjojono, karena dia ‘manusianya sendiri’.) Lantas ketika melihat beberapa lukisan di dinding rumah, saya langsung berasumsi semua lukisan Sudjojono.

“Mbak, yang ini lukisannya seharga 6 milyar lho!” kata Bapak (begitu keluarga beliau memanggilnya, dan kemudian saya pula) sambil menunjuk gambar burung bertanggar di pohon dengan latar belakang langit. Saya berekspresi kaget tapi tidak berkomentar apa-apa. Bapak seperti menikmati kegagapan saya. Kemudian dia tertawa sendiri. “Nggak ding, itu corat-coret Wikan aja! Paling nggak ada harganya, hahaha!”

Baru nanti saya sadar bahwa itu cuma satu dari daftar tak berujung kelakar dan kejahilan Bapak.

Di hari yang sama itu, saya mengagumi koleksi rak buku Bapak yang menjulang sampai ke langit-langit rumah mereka yang tidak besar. Saya bisa merasakan buku-buku adalah harta berharga bagi Bapak—mulai dari buku tentang sejarah, pelukis-pelukis Renaissance, sampai pasar karbon (kata Wikan, saat SMP Bapak suruh Wikan baca buku itu). Saya lupa apakah di hari yang sama atau pada kunjungan selanjutnya, Bapak meminjamkan saya buku Benedict Anderson, Java In a Time of Revolution. Buku itu saya bawa dalam perjalanan kerja sampai ke Bandung, dan sampai hari ini masih bertengger di rak buku rumah. Sekarang siapa yang berhasil mengecohmu, Pak!

Saya yang terbiasa beroperasi lewat struktur dan efisiensi di atas segalanya, pelan-pelan terserap ke dalam dunia seni dan perjuangan yang kental dalam darah keluarga Bapak. Beberapa kali saya bersama Wikan menemani Bapak dan Ibu ke acara-acara kesenian, demokrasi, atau berhubungan dengan HAM. Dari Taman Ismail Marzuki sampai Salihara. Muka Bapak selalu berbinar kalau bertemu dengan teman-teman seperjuangannya. Saat peluncuran buku Eyang Mia, Sudjojono dan Aku (yang menjadi inspirasi judul tulisan ini), Bapak tuliskan di halaman pertamanya, “Mbak Afu, kita saling belajar. Salam, Tedjabayu.”

Di salah satu perjalanan mengantar Bapak pulang, saya sempat bilang, “Duh, mobilnya perlu di-balance ini nggak lurus.” Bapak balas, “Oh ya, seperti apa?” Lalu saya contohkan lepas stir sebentar. Bapak bilang, “Oh nggak perlu. Ini memang mobilnya Kiri!” Selentingan-selentingan seperti ini yang sepertinya akan sangat saya rindukan.

Dari waktu ke waktu, terutama kalau sedang menunggu di Kedai Sagam (yang hilang setahun ini karena pandemi), Bapak akan bercerita tentang pengalamannya sebagai tahanan politik dari penjara ke penjara selama 14 tahun, sampai terakhir di Pulau Buru. Yang mengherankan, Bapak tidak pernah terdengar marah. Di balik semua ketidakadilan dan kekejaman Orde Baru, Bapak masih bisa menemukan kemanusiaan, dan kelakar—yang kadang sangat gelap, tapi tetap menggelitik. Saya ingat pernah panik karena merasa cerita ini terlalu berharga kalau hanya saya dan sedikit orang yang tahu. Untungnya, di tahun 2020 kemarin, Bapak berhasil merampungkan memoir-nya sebagai penyintas, Mutiara di Padang Ilalang.

Sekarang lebih banyak orang bisa mengetahui kenyataan sejarah dari perspektif Bapak.

Tapi lebih dari semuanya, salah satu yang paling saya kagumi adalah cintanya Bapak kepada Ibu. One of the purest, rarest things. Bapak Tedjabayu dan Ibu Tuti Pujiarti menikah selama lebih dari 35 tahun. Mereka sebenar-benarnya teman hidup, saling menyayangi dan menjaga satu sama lain setiap hari, melewati berbagai kesulitan bersama-sama. Ketika anak-menantunya kadang kritis terhadap keputusan Ibu, Bapak akan melindungi Ibu tanpa syarat. Begitu pula Ibu, semua dikorbankan untuk menjaga Bapak, untuk menyenangkan Bapak, sampai hari terakhirnya. Seminggu ke belakang saat badan Bapak sudah mulai lemah, tangan yang Bapak genggam terus tanpa mau lepas adalah tangan Ibu. Ketika mobil kami perlahan meninggalkan taman pemakaman umum di mana Bapak dikuburkan, kalimat yang Ibu bisikkan adalah, “I love you.”

Setelah terjadi pendarahan otak di tahun 2003, pihak rumah sakit bilang bahwa hidup Bapak hanya tinggal 2-3 tahun lagi. Kalau prediksi tersebut benar, maka saya tidak akan sempat kenal dengan sosok Bapak. Wikan suka bercanda bahwa saya adalah kesayangan Bapak dari semua mantan-mantan Wikan yang lain. Wikan bilang, Bapak suka ngobrol sama saya yang pintar. Kami berdua bersyukur saya bisa bertemu Bapak, bahwa Bapak bisa hadir di hari pernikahan kami, dan seterusnya meski banyak kangen yang tidak selalu bisa dipenuhi.

Kalau berusaha mengingat Bapak, saya ingat Bapak yang sedang mengikat sepatunya sendiri sambil duduk di lantai, yang menolak kalau kami tawarkan untuk bawakan tas berisi laptop kesayangannya karena tidak suka merepotkan orang. Bapak yang sering mengirim lelucon forwardan grup sebelah melalui WhatsApp. Bapak yang sayang dengan cucu-cucunya, Bapak yang tersenyum atau ngakak karena geli dengan lelucon sendiri.

Bapak had had a full life, with no regrets. Bapak adalah definisi berjuang sebaik-baiknya. Ketika Orde Baru seenaknya, Bapak sebagai mahasiswa turun ke jalan. Ketika akhirnya keluar dari penjara, Bapak mencintai Ibu dan anak-cucunya dengan sebaik-baiknya. Bapak tidak pernah mengeluh, atau bersedih atas semua yang telah terjadi pada Bapak, tapi malah mengajarkan kami semua untuk menemukan lelucon dari tempat tergelap sekalipun.

Saya tahu Bapak suka membaca, jadi saya tuliskan ini untuk Bapak baca dari rumah baru di sana. Saya mau minta maaf karena belum bisa bertemu Bapak lagi setelah terakhir mengantar Bapak pulang dari rumah Cinere, sampai Bapak menghembuskan nafas terakhir. Pandemi sialan. Tapi saya tahu Bapak tidak akan mau kami penuh benci dan penyesalan, jadi kami coba untuk mengikhlaskan.

Salam ambung, Pak. Kami sayang Bapak.

Cinere, 26 Februari 2021

A Plea for Fear

In the wake of #KamiTidakTakut hashtag and all the diverging sentiments toward it, I wondered why—and particularly when—did today’s society begin to fear (v.) fear (n.). Somebody must’ve given fear a bad name, so much so that we decided to put him in the corner—as the emotion we shall all avoid, because it makes mankind small; it makes us a coward, unworthy member of civilization.

Terrorism, at its core, is about creating fear. At the political level, though, it is mostly about exhibiting power: proving that, the state hasn’t been effective in preventing attacks and protecting its citizens. In this light, a communal fear (or its false lack thereof) becomes irrelevant; at the end of the day, asymmetric warfare has a lot more layers to it beyond the people’s state of mind.

The following paragraphs however do not plan to join the debate in any way. It rather aims to limn a gentler introduction to fear, including why it deserves our respect and amity—for good reasons.

Many claims that one shouldn’t do anything based on fear: you shouldn’t stay at a certain workplace because you fear being poor—rather, you should quit and follow your passion. You shouldn’t listen to your parents because you’re afraid to let them down, you should do what you believe is right. One of these days, heroes are the brave: the ones who ‘handled’ their fear and take down the villain—which, in this case, are a job that sucks and your parents’ expectations.

It would be pretty straightforward to argue that they’re right. After all, fear often clouds our judgment from seeing the bigger picture and aiming for the greater good. At other times, however, it occurs to me that maybe fearing these risks is the good instinct talking to you. Maybe it makes sense that you assess the cons—after all, having a safety net wouldn’t hurt, and your parents have provided you for quite a while, it’s your time to give in.

For what it’s worth, it is fear that tells us there’s something wrong.

We have all seen Inside Out (the movie which—quite literally—brings you into a girl’s head and understand the five primary emotions inside it). Fear was depicted as this anxious little guy who always drives Riley away from the adventures/exciting things a.k.a. ‘the boring one’. But he does so in the sole mission of avoiding risks that would’ve caused her pain and all other sorts of danger. Albeit Fear is unlikely to be anyone’s favorite (especially compared to Joy and Disgust—or, in my case, Sadness), he has his role and damn well aced it.

The crush you’ve wanted to ask out for so long, but haven’t got the confidence to? Maybe it is fear, alerting you that he/she has never signalled a positive note on your late-night chats. Maybe it is your subconscious, trying to save yourself from a possible sinking ship of broken heartedness.

You got my point.

Linking back to the terrorist attacks, I wondered if being not afraid only means that we’re starting to be immune about these dangerous fanatics living among us. Shouldn’t we be afraid? Shouldn’t we be telling the government to take serious measures to address the problem?

As this Guardian op-ed brilliantly pointed out, Indonesians may be trapped in a cognitive dissonance: despite realizing how it should be traumatizing, we have grown so used to thinking that ‘these things just happen’. To most of us not directly affected by the blasts, Bonni suggests, they seem no more than ceremonial. And this is bad.

Either way, maybe it’s time to give fear a second chance.

“Fear is wisdom in the face of danger, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock, The Abominable Bride

Post-Facto Notes and Whatnots

Funny how our brains work. One day it fools us into believing that a colony of butterflies is building a home in our abdomen; a couple of weeks later, it tells them to completely migrate somewhere else. To their convenience, of course, there are leftovers—some haystack used to finish the ceiling, or dying flower petals in their kitchen.

This post will not, however, talk about the natural habitat of animals in the Insecta class—although I must concur that it is a very appealing subject. Instead, we will talk about pain and ego, two mythical creatures that—just like those butterflies—share a nest inside our chest, although—unlike those butterflies—they usually stay. In fact, they stick with you religiously even when you want them gone. They’re loyal like that.

Kavva 2

Pain

Remember Anna Karenina’s first sentence—“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I’d like to anchor that proposition to an underlying possibility: all pleasures are similar, but every pain is irritating in its own way. Pain leaves a unique scar every time it touches you; depending on the degree, it also owns the power to change you into somebody you don’t want to be.

Whoever said pain demands to be felt, had no idea that pain is just a side effect of healing. When your body’s temperature rises, for instance, it’s not because the virus wants you to be aware of the trouble it causes you—it’s your immune system fighting back. If anything, mortals should embrace pain, for it signals the arrival of the remedial phase.

In other words: pain is not an end, it’s a means. A resource, if you might.

Of all pains, the most politically supported one to claim throne is that of a broken hearted person. Because what could’ve been more wounding than an unrequited love? To find out that the man/woman you dearly care about does not reciprocate, must’ve bashed your heart to the ground; or at least numbed it off for a little while.

I would’ve thought so, too—had I not been introduced to another breed of pain: that of not being able to love back, no matter how hard you’ve tried. You might think that being loved is simple: it’s a blessing from the universe, to have another living soul beaming affection onto your worthless self. But ‘being loved’ also endorses the power—or, as I’d like to call it, ‘the burden’—to hurt, to cause pain onto somebody else. And not just ‘somebody else’—it’s the very person who would trade the world to make you happy.

Love is beautiful when there is give and take—life is created upon cyclical patterns after all. Our lungs breath in and out, humans return to earth as soon as they die, while capitalism prevails because market lets you buy and sell at the same time. Mutualism sustains, but imbalanced bond destroys.

Being the party who only receives does not only make you an involuntary villain, but also a depressed black hole, incapable of providing back. And the thing about black holes, they grow. The more you feed them, the bigger they get, and sooner or later, they will end up eating themselves.

The most deranged part of this scheme: you have absolutely no control upon it. It’s like standing just one step behind the line to ‘perpetual happiness’ zone, and yet you could not move your foot any inch closer.

What a pain, don’t you think, to be deeply loved by someone you can’t love back.

Ego

Centuries of civilization has benefitted from ego—it sent ships to conquer a new world, delivered humans to the moon, and killed several along the way. For all I know, ego is an open-sourced energy, you are free to use it as you wish. When it comes to pain, however, one thing is clear: ego makes pain bearable. Your love for yourself, no matter how small it might be, helps you survive through pain—all kinds of them. The typically-evil thought of “you deserve better” or “this isn’t your fault” is exactly what you should hold on to, in order to get to the finish line and name yourself a champion.

Whenever an opportunity presents itself, ego walks around with hatred. Sometimes, the latter takes over and professes itself to be in charge. When this happens, of course, pain will hide and pretend it doesn’t exist, because obviously hatred makes you feel a lot better than pain does.

This is probably why most people succumb to hating the people they used to love. They don’t have to, you know, it’s just one of the easiest self-defense mechanism they could afford. Because the other alternative would hurt even more: declaration of dependence narrowly shows weakness, and one cannot bear pain unless they’re strong. Strong they’d rather become, without realizing that under the curtain, pain still works its due—altering them into a slightly less-trusting mind.

No two people experience the same pain, so maybe humans were never meant to really understand each other. Regardless, I know for a fact that there are people who opt for the most genuine interaction with pain—they do not let ego (nor hatred) distort what they should have felt.

They let pain humanize them, bringing back the primitiveness of being helpless and in need.

***

Together, pain and ego dance their way off whenever our subconsciousness calls for them. Their favorite music, to nobody’s surprise, is human connection—although they might as well enjoy the internal doubts humans cast upon themselves.

No, Not That Kind of Romance

Humans thought they understood love, and—for a narrow window of time—we probably did.

The earliest awareness universally begins as soon as you sense an unearthly gravity toward a particular figure. A boy whose name you barely learned a week a go, a girl who made politically-incorrect jokes throughout that boring lecture—whenever this person pops up in the same room as yours, your head suddenly gets clouded with a thin air of urge to appear a brush prettier, a sentence funnier, or an argument wittier.

Processed with VSCOcam with x1 preset

Maybe that’s why there’s a peculiar charm in wedding ceremonies.

Witnessing two people, once a complete stranger to each other, consciously commit to spend the rest of their lives together—you wouldn’t be able to resist an ink-drop of hopeful feeling inside you. And they don’t do this discreetly in the fear of not being able to live up to such promise, no, they do this in public—sometimes in front of over hundreds of groomed audience. Not because they deny the possibility of getting hurt on the way, nor ignore the fact that the person standing next to them is flawed and far from perfect—but rather because they have come to accept it. They have seen everything—the awkward first dates, the comforting company, the embarrassing habits, the ugly face, the laughters and tears—they have seen them, and just like that, decide to keep it with them a lifetime longer.

(That, or we’re just too coward to deal with life alone. Either way, for the species who were born and are to die alone, getting a temporary assurance of ‘living happily ever after’ becomes a beautiful impossibility—too beautiful nobody would have the heart to refuse and disappoint. So hey, we thought, let’s entertain the pinch of likelihood and smile and be happy for a little bit, no matter how ephemeral our story might end up be.)

You might notice that this post is starting to lose its point by now, because that’s basically what’s happening. Maybe we should’ve talked about critical spiritualism instead—oh wait—it’s coming back! Two things, before it disapparates again:

1. Some relationships have width, some have depth.

One of the most discussed issues in the realm of romance would probably be whether or not we should be with someone very similar to ourselves.

The argument-against contends that being with someone from a different background would definitely be nicer, because you get to learn new things everyday. A computer engineer should ask the journalist out, while an architect and a nerd-looking entrepreneur would make a great duo. On the other hand, dating a person coming from the same sector would bore you to death—not to mention the competition it would entail.

Beyond careers and interests, resemblance in personalities also wouldn’t be much of a help. In an ideal scenario, one of you should be more patient than the other, and a better financial manager than the splurging spouse. Nobody would want to double the trouble.

But we also know that there are power couples of the same profession. The reception above, for starters, was hosted by a jazz singer and a band member. Don’t forget that I once gave you a shortlist, too—what about them?

Well, here’s a thought-proposal: while you could ‘complete each other’ (I hate the overused phrase) by being with someone who comes from a separate world than yours, the two of you would never be able to reach the deepest—often hidden—room of mind-intimacy, unless you are with someone who understands, or at least has set their feet in your world.

Both have its practical perks, I guess—the way presidents could avoid trouble by being with stay-at-home first lady, or how Marie Curie and her chemist husband managed to win a Nobel Prize together. My favorite instance though, would be Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre’s 51 years of open marriage that gave birth to existentialism.

2. When it comes to soulmate-ship, we are cursed with eternal ignorance.

Until somebody comes up with a valid methodology to verify the concept of ‘being destined for someone’, it’s simply an overrated myth. Us humans fall in love, several times for most of us—often: 1) with the wrong person, 2) at the wrong time, or 3) in the wrong place—and that usually leaves either one of you brokenhearted. Now what if we don’t really ‘find’ a soulmate, but simply happen to have ticked all three boxes above?

As soon as you say yes to this, you would also realize that you could engineer a soulmate for yourself. If experience taught that you could only stay with the smart men, don’t pick boys that still have mother issues. Don’t fall in love when you’re about to leave for a master’s degree, or in the busiest year of work. Lastly, limit your feelings for someone who could geographically be a home when you need them, but not too close that your togetherness could later turn into obsession for possession.

Voila, a ready-to-be-married-with soulmate for you.

Unfortunately, these three variables are not as adjustable/arrangeable as you wish them to be. Cosmologically the probability of having them all set within line is—well, once or twice in a lifetime. (Right now I’m silently laughing at the pathetic-ness of us mortals.) I am of course overgeneralizing the idea into soulmates you would want to get married (or have sex) with. After all, we might have best friends without whom we know we couldn’t live with, but we never thought of them as a partner in physical interactions.

Like all myths, this one also has unverifiable superstitions—’real’ soulmates are: couples who die after one another (“The husband passed away only six days after the wife did. Aww.”), couples who look alike (“I seriously thought they were twins!”), and a bunch of other false—appealing, but very likely untrue—assumptions.

At the end of the day, all these postulations might boil down to the person who could appreciate you for who you are, whose sense of humor warms you during the rainy days. It might all actually be very simple—only if you allow your mind to think so.

***

P. S. Sometimes, entering the full realization that I am human—with all its consequences and social contracts—even for just five seconds, astonishes me profoundly.

P. S. S. I don’t know why but I’m very much into this album lately.

The Arcane Truth Behind Growing Up (a.k.a. How Parents Nag Differently When You’re an Adult)

Among the 8.7 million living species on earth today, I think homo sapiens still tops the planet-wide rank for the most complex inter-species relations. First of: we have a confusing system of social interactions—first there are strangers to judge, then you have acquaintances for cheap talks, friends to hang out with, parents to respect, spouses to love, kids to take care, and the list goes on. But what adds complication to that already-intricate web of agents and structures is this: the time dimension. You see, ladies and gentlemen: as humans grow up, the nature of these associations also shift, pushing us to adjust and eventually win (again) in the standing of ‘the most adaptive species’.

Now let’s take a closer look at one of the most understudied human bonds around us: that between mother/father and their daughters/sons.

Baby-Deer

For most species in kingdom animalia, parenthood is not a permanent state—as soon as their offsprings turn into their ‘adult’ phase, parents ‘abandon’ their kids into feeding, and defending themselves from predator attacks. For us human beings, however, (expectedly) the story is a little bit more complicated than that. Parents don’t just ‘leave’ us in the woods to build our own nest and magically survive—instead, they:

(Disclaimer: I might be over-generalizing since the only sample of ‘parents’ I use here is my own—but who knows, you might be able to relate somehow.)

1. Take Our Opinions Into Account

For almost two decades, my parents had made most of my decisions for me. They picked the town where I was born in (Cianjur), my first schools, the books I could read (thankfully Harry Potter was one of themdespite our economic limitations), and others. During these early days, the things I said didn’t really matter. One time I told father I wanted to take my bachelor degree abroad (I even passed the test and got a scholarship offer already) but he said no, and I trusted his judgment.

In fact, I used to trust all of my parents’ judgment. For most kids, this is also the case: parents are the first humans they look up to, whose sayings and deeds are stored properly in their memory as a life guide (at least temporarily), and later affect their personality as their own identity shapes up.

Later as we age, however, each of usespecially those with access to better education—typically realizes that our parents could be wrong, too. We suddenly see that they are ordinary humans, and that sometimes we know better.

This new epiphany might yield in two different possibilities:

  1. some people get downright disappointed—they fail to accept such huge shift of perspective and they end up—in a way or another—taking distance from their parents;
  2. some others take the wiser road and respond better—they seek to reestablish the old subordinate-superordinate structural bond with that of two equal friends.

In the cases where the latter succeed to bring their parents to the same understanding, this is what usually happens: more substantial discussions over dinner, and more life decisions are now made together. They start to see you as an equal, and your opinions now count.

2. Stop Being the Person You Look Up To

Although some people manage to deal well with the awareness that apparently their parents are not saints who are always kind or teachers who are always right, most of them still have to undergo that painful phase of settling down.

There are, of course, certain qualities that we will always associate with our fathers and mothers: we would never get over the fact that they spend most of their life taking care of us, sacrificing things we could not imagine, and how they would be the first people crying if something bad happens to us. It does not mean, however, that they have to remain the very individuals we look up to for guidance.

As soon as you get to that point, remember to forgive yourself:
remind him/her that it is completely natural and okay to let them off the chart. We both know that they have their own special shelf in our mind—one that is exclusive for the very people who let us be who we are today.

3. Rely on You for Certain Things

My favorite part of growing up, though, is how I get to take the ‘parent’ role every once in a while. It feels awesome partly because I get to help the very individuals whose help I always rely on for so long, and partly because I just enjoy having control over other human beings. HAHAHA. (Kidding. Or not.)

Anyway, I see the switch in parent-child relationship as a beautiful irony: we are, at the end of the day, made for one another—at first we were born to make their days and them to take care of us. Later as adults, we get to take care of them and they will be there to make our days. I would say that one of the luckiest people are those who have enough time to be the parent to their parents—it is indeed a privilege out of which we should make the most of.

4. Still Want the Best for You

On top of that, my friend, pray know that they will forever want the best things to happen to you. Yes, they now have bigger expectations and often-time these requests could be bothersome (like how Indonesian parents ask “When are you getting married?” instead of the more relevant questions like “Are you happy?”), but real parents would not push you off the cliff for their own sake.

All and all, growing up is a bizarre thing. I told you once that we are physically still the same person—seeing with the same eyes and talking with the same mouth—but inside, we are almost a different person every day. But this strange process also hides a fulfilling answer to some of life’s mysteries: it reveals the dynamics to which parents and children interact not only in a linear fashion (that we would later have children of our own), but also a cyclical one, where we will eventually play the role of ‘parents’ to our own parents.

It is a very simple and yet wonderful concept, don’t you think?