donderdag 26 juni 2014

Ayu Utami, Maya

In her series Bilangan Fu now the third additional volume has appeared after the main book. Maya (published in Jakarta: Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia, December 2013, 249 pages, 42 chapters). The novel connects the main figures of the Saman Series (the priest Wisanggeni who has a love affair with the married woman Yasmin, the medical student and journalist Larung) with the central characters of the Bilangan Fu series, especially the spiritual leader Suhubudi and his centre near Yogyakarta. Parang Jati, the mysterious son (12 fingers, parents unclear) plays an important role.
The main story is that Yasmin with her daughter Samantha comes to the compound of Suhubudi with letters from Saman that must be given to Saman's father. She asks the help of Suhubudi to fulfill this mission, but in fact not much is done with these letters (that were sent from Amerika to IND, first understood as India and so they took two years before they arrived in Jakarta, also because JK was interpreted as Jammu-Kashmir, and not Jakarta). An important story line is about the precious  stone that was found by Parang Jati and later given to Saman. Suhubudi gives advice to Yasmin but suddenly has to leave for Jakarta to give a consultation to President, who on 21 May 1998 will resign as president. - A sideline in the book is the theatre group of disabled people who perform a wayang play of the Ramayana story in the compound of Suhubudi. There is another guest in the compound, the Indian Pak Vinod who organizes an international Ramayana festival in Chennai and wants to invite the disabled people (among them Maya who plays Sita).
The micro-level of the story is embedded in the larger history of modern Indonesia, with impressions about the way Soeharto took over the rule of Sukarno, his good start but many cruelties and opression of civil liberties, ending in his abdication in chapter 41.
Another background that plays an important role are aspects of Javanese spiritual and cultural lore: much about Semar (not like Rama and Sita who died, not like the prophets who died, still alive like the Holy Spirit, our inspiration, p. 178).

I give here some highlights, in line with my special interest and preparation for (another) article on her work. A first article, to be published in Wacana, journal of Faculty of Humanities, UI Jakarta concentrated on the novels. My second will deal more with  the columns and other writings, but also with the central themes of Modernity, Monotheism and Military: the three evils that are the enemies of all her writings.

Yasmin is not really spiritual: Ia tak begitu tahu apa itu spiritualitas. Baginya cukuplah ia punya agama; semua orang normal fi Indonesia berlangganan agama: she has no good or deep feeling for spiritual things. It is enough for her to be registered in a formal religion, like most Indonesians. (p. 15)

Jesus Christ is mentioned is someone who did not discriminate lepers (and other physically disabled people), p. 64-6. In line with Christ also Yasmin 'decided to love these miserable creatures'. In chapter 22 theology of liberation is discussed as the best approach to both society and spiritual elements of life.

There is not much about sex in this book. Chapter 26 gives a portrait of the psychology of Yasmin and her husband Lukas. He is an academic and a government official. She is a lawyer: they felt guilty having sex before marriage and therefore they married too quick, without proper preparation. Recently Lukas became more critical of the government and this turn to leftist ideas (in 1996, only two years before the fall of Soeharto) he became somewhat leftist: this also improved their relation.
The first chapter gives a dream of Yasmin where she imagines the priest Wisanggeni/Saman first in the ceremony of ordination to priesthood, but later at another place, where he is naked, looks like Jesus on the cross, but also attractive and they have sex. There is further not so much about sex in this novel. In one of the last chapters it is described how Yasmin has more interest in personal psychological contact and not so much in sex anymore.

Chapter 24 concentrates on Wisanggeni as a student of theology: at that time he was 'so busy with ordination for priesthood' terlalu sibuk ditahbiskan), and therefore he had no interest in social and political affairs and did not protest against injustice.

Page 197 presents the early Muslim missionaries in 16th century Java as orang berjubah men with cassocks, white long robes. There is much about traditional Javanese lore, quite often a Catholic milieu, but very little about Islam or Muslims. Chapter 34 is very interesting in the defense of  spirits dwelling in rocks, trees, mountains, rivers. Yasmin regrets that she did not learn to respect the spirits of nature and that she is not able to make an offering, sesajen.

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