vrijdag 14 december 2012

Enrico": the Spiritual Playground of Ayu Utami

I am still busy with writing the third volume Catholics in Indonesia. Chapter seven is about theologians, columnists, artists. It ends with a section on Rendra and Ayu Utami. For this I read the book Cerita Cinta Enrico and below you may find my summary and special interest in this very fine book.

In chapter 3 we have already discussed two novels (Saman; Larung) by Ayu Utami. In chapter 6 we mentioned her biography of the first Archbishop of Semarang, Soegijapranata. Still, we want to talk here about another novel by this prominent author, Cerita Cinta Enrico (Enrico’s Love Story, published in 2012). Utami is not less controversial than Rendra was in the 1950s and 1960s  as a ‘Catholic author’. In chapter 3 we also made some remarks about her novel Bilangan Fu as an attack on all kind of Monotheism (besides the other two bad M: Military and Modernity). This is continued in some sense in Cerita Cinta Enrico. In this novel the narrator is Enrico, son of a low to middle level military man from a more or less Muslim family in Madura. He married in Java to a Protestant lady, Syrnie Masmirah, who was from the Muslim stronghold of Kudus. Syrnie’s mother had converted to Protestantism after her Muslim husband had taken a second wife. This conversion had been more or less out of revenge. The couple moved to West Sumatra, Bukittingi where two children were born, first a girl and two years later a boy. The boy is called Enrico after the famous Italian tenor Caruso who really cared for his wife and his mother. After the daughter had died suddenly at young age, Syrnie converted to the Jehovah Witnesses, in fact a forbidden sect in Indonesia and definitely in strong Muslim Minangkabau. Syrnie converted to the Jehovah Witnesses because they talked with so much certainty about the End of the World and a New World. Then she would meet her daughter again. Enrico wanted to study in Java, Bandung, at a technical university. His mother only would let him go, if he converted to the Jehovah Witnesses. So, in order ‘to earn a ticket for Java’ he was baptised by the Witnesses and followed for some the meetings. Enrico was born in 1958. His mother died in 1983 and was buried in a Muslim cemetery, because the father had to arrange this ceremony. But when the father himself died in January 2000 (the novel is quite precise in all these dates), the son Enrico arranged a burial for him at the Christian cemetery:

My father finally was baptised as a Jehovah Witness, long time after my mother had died. This had happened only a few years before he did not wake up again, after he was happy to have seen the beginning of the year 2000. My father had been very cynical about religion. I think that my father was the prototype of a Javanese (although he himself was born in Madura): someone who believes in some supreme power beyond this visible world, something that they often call Lord, who needs no clear definition, already long before the arrival of these import religions. When the import religions practiced their obsessive preaching, my father considered them as just one out of many ways towards goodness. There is no single or exclusive road in this world. There are always many roads. They have a more liberal attitude than many Muslims or Christians, among them my mother. I never saw my father performing the ritual prayers. If I understand my father well, I do not believe that he truly believed in the doctrines of the Jehovah Witnesses. But when he had done this conversion, in order to please my mother, why did he not do so during her lifetime? Strange, I never ask my father about this.[1]

The two first sections of the Enrico-book are about the serial conversion of father and mother. In the third part the further social and spiritual journey of Enrico himself is told. Enrico wants to be free. He does not like to be like the broiler chicken, raised by his mother who earned much money from her farm. He wants to be free. Initially Enrico studied engineering in Bandung, but after some time he decided to become a professional photographer. He had numerous love affairs but did not pursue a permanent and stable relation. However, immediately after the death of his father, at the age of 41, he felt the need of a permanent partner in love and he also soon found a nice and gentle lady, the artist and painter A (the reader easily identifies this woman as Ayo Utami in person, because the final note of the novel is also signed by A). Enrico and A both do not want to have children and do not want to marry. The relation develops for both in a very positive way. They feel free in the presence of the other, even when one of them is talking during the sleep, or wants to masturbate. They talk much about sex. For A sex is not sacred (sacral). ‘I never met a woman who was so down-to-earth about sex. She said that sex is not the same as love, although there is a link between the two … Sex gives us joy, but we can be in a better condition of satisfaction and happiness when we do not need to have sex.’[2] Their talk about sexuality also involves criticism on the (Catholic) Church by A:

I no longer attend church services for various reasons. I am angry about the sermons of the priests who are patriarchal and condescending. And I cannot receive communion, which is the eating of bread that is blessed and considered as the Body of Christ, because I live adulterously and do not feel it as a sin.[3]

This is even developed in a quite intellectual discourse about Saint Augustine as the inventor of original sin and his condemnation of sexuality as wrong in itself. But Augustine is not the only male who has unsound ideas about sex. He found his modern equivalent in Sigmund Freud who defined libido as a dark and negative power in mankind. Nevertheless A wants a marriage in a Catholic church after a relation of eight years, in 2008. She has criticism towards the Indonesian marriage law, because it does not give equal rights to women, but according to Catholic doctrine male and female are equal. Therefore A wants to formally marry Enrico in a Catholic ceremony and this finally happens on 17 August 2011. This event had a relation with the story of the Good Shepherd of the Gospel who was seeking one lost sheep, while leaving the 99 orderly sheep.[4] This is definitely not the pious Catholic novel as is found in the series of stories in the weekly Hidup. Utami is in many ways a sharp critic of the Catholic reality in modern Indonesia. However, she was in that same year also asked to write a biography of the venerated Archbishop Soegijapranata. This shows the flexibility and dynamic, one would say modern characteristic, of the modern Catholics of Indonesia.

[1] Utami 2012b:162.
[2] Utami 2012b:197.
[3] Utami 2012b:200.
[4] Utami 2012b:235.

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