[obituary ] Pramoedya’s Journey
30, Apr 2006 15:04
Up until his death, it always seemed that Pram, who composed about 50 books which have been translated into over 41 languages, decidedly did not trod the well-beaten path. A few days earlier, this father of nine with 16 grandchildren fell down in his expansive home in Waringin Jaya village, Bojong Gede, Bogor, about 50 kilometers to the south of Jakarta. He was taken to St. Carolus Hospital in Central Jakarta.
However, as anyone close to him knew, Pram has never liked hospitals. “I am tired of being treated in hospitals,” he said, two years ago. At that time, in addition to heart trouble and diabetes, he began experiencing kidney problems. Pram believed more in his home remedy: a constant intake of garlic.
Born in Blora, Central Java, on February 6, 1925, it was as if this oldest of nine siblings was destined to become a writer. From his father, Moh. Toer, a nationalist and teacher, Pram was introduced to the world of books. At the age of 8, he was already reading newspapers in Dutch, Malay, and Javanese. “My parents had a library which was quite large for a small town,” said Pram one time.
According to his own admission, Pramoedya began writing while still at the Boedi Oetomo Elementary School in Blora. However, his first short story, Kemana, was first printed in Pantjaraja magazine in 1947. In the same year, his first novel, Krandji-Bekasi Djatuh, was also published. It is easy to guess from the title: Pram was involved in the struggle for independence. He served as a liaison officer in the Siliwangi Division.
Pram was detained by the Dutch from 1947-1949. He was held in a prison in Bukit Duri, Jakarta, and did time at Onrust Island in the Kepulauan Seribu or “Thousand Islands.” It was during this period that he wrote a collection of short stories entitled Pertjikan Revolusi and the novel Perburuan—which later won the Balai Pustaka Award. After getting out of prison, Pram wrote Mereka Jang Dilumpuhkan, Tjerita dari Blora (which won the National Culture Deliberation Body Award in 1952-1953), and Bukan Pasar Malam.
Since then, Pramoedya Ananta Toer has been noted among Indonesia’s most prominent literary figures. In 1953, upon the invitation of the Sticusa, the Indonesia-Netherlands Cultural Cooperation Body, he set up residence in Holland together with his wife, Maemunah Thamrin. However, the coming years would be a tumultuous, relentless time in Pram’s life.
At their 1st National Congress in Solo, Central Java, in 1959, Pramoedya Ananta Toer announced he was joining the People’s Cultural Institute (Lekra). Pram then administered the Lentera cultural room at the Bintang Timur daily newspaper in Jakarta, which was across from the signatories of the Cultural Manifesto.
Political unrest in 1965 deeply impacted upon Pram and his family. His home was robbed, his library despoiled and burned, and he himself was arrested, and in 1969 was cast away to Buru Island, Maluku. Here he once again proved that he was indeed born to be a writer.
On used paper which was bound into a notebook, he began writing without any references, relying only on his memory. He also composed a sort of comic book about the entry of the Hindu Hinayana religion to Java, entitled Oroh Sanagara. Who knows where this work ended up.
These handwritten books circulated from cell to cell, read together by the inmates under oil lamps after long and tiring work. Many inmates, youths from Java’s remote regions, first heard the name Pramoedya Ananta Toer at Buru Island.
After the arrival of General Sumitro, Commander of the Restoration of Security & Order Operation Command, to Buru Island in 1973, Pramoedya was moved from Unit III to the Command Headquarters, where he was given a typewriter. It was then he began composing the first part of his tetralogy which would later become famous, Bumi Manusia.
After being released in December 1979, Pram was unstoppable. Together with publisher Hasta Mitra, Pram published numerous titles, even though all of them were banned by the Suharto administration. After the reformasi period began, there was no longer any obstacle to publish his books, and Pramoedya received a number of international awards. His name repeatedly came up as a nominee for the Nobel Prize for Literature, the author’s highest achievement at this level.
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