Kamis, 07 April 2011

Interview With SGA

Sebelumnya saya pernah cerita mengenai kesempatan saya mewawancarai Seno Gumira Ajidharma, penulis.
Berikut hasilnya, yang juga dipublish di Jakarta Globe.

Silahkan menyimak.

Fighting Words From Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s new novel, “Nagabumi,” not only entertains readers with great action sequences that characterize martial arts adventure stories, but also questions religious, political and sexual issues, as well as Indonesian history.

A prolific author, Ajidarma has written scores of short story collections and novels, winning awards such as the 1997 Southeast Asian Writers Award for his anthology “Dilarang Menyanyi di Kamar Mandi” (“Don’t Sing in the Bathroom”) as well as the 1997 Anugerah Sastra prize for “Negeri Kabut” (“Country of Mist”).

Ajidarma spoke with the Jakarta Globe about his new book, the state of Indonesian literature and his approach to writing.

What prompted you to write ‘Nagabumi’?

Actually I’ve wanted to write the story since I saw the few kung-fu movies that show more than just fighting scenes and stories of vengeance — movies like “Hero” and “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.” They inspired me to write a story that was not only action-packed but highly artistic as well.

Could you describe your creative process in the writing of ‘Nagabumi’?

“Nagabumi” is set in a historical period that has never been explored by other writers. Researching this book felt like re-examining Indonesian history for me.

What did you learn from re-examining Indonesian history?

One of the novel’s strengths is its portrayal of the ancient society during the time the Borobudur temple was constructed. When we speak about Borobudur we shouldn’t limit our discussion to the culture and history of Java Island, but also of Sumatra, even other countries where Buddhism originated, like India and all the way up to China. And when we touch on China, we’re bound to talk about the Silk Road, and at this point we’d be talking about the entire world. In short Borobudur belongs not just to the Indonesians, but to the world as well.

I also found that at the same time as when Borobudur was built, there was a highly cosmopolitan city in Sumatra called Barus. The city had people from Arabia, Persia and India among its residents. The inscription on the tablet left in the city said their king or ruler did not inherit the throne, but was elected by the people. This shows that in eighth or ninth century there was a democratic city in Sumatra.

Speaking about democracy in Indonesia, we know that despite its development, book banning still happens in the country. What’s your opinion on this?

This shows that we still need to fight against small-mindedness and stupidity. It is petty to ban books, because we actually shouldn’t be afraid of a book. So what if the content of the book is wrong? Just publish it. The truth will come out eventually. But book banning is also stupid because in today’s age of multimedia it is impossible to outlaw a book. Even if you can burn them, it’s impossible stop the distribution of e-books and soft copies.

You once said that when journalism is silenced, literature will speak. Is this still relevant in the era of freedom today?

While the banning of publications by the government no longer happens, the problem now rests with the media business itself. Editors used to reject an article on the basis of its potential threat to state stability. Now they ask whether the article has any commercial value.

Is this commercial consideration the reason why literary books don’t sell?

Some believe that a literary work’s marketability depends on its approachability. I myself don’t believe that literary works are supposed to be obvious. The problem is that some authors think that an accessible work equals poor quality and cannot be classified as literary, so pieces that shun communication are born and they are confusing. You’re welcome to create this kind of book, but don’t be angry when it doesn’t sell.

I use different approaches with my own writing. When I write for a teenage audience, I use simpler language. When I want my story to get a social criticism across, I use clear language so as to be fully understood. But I write some pieces for purely aesthetic, if surreal, reasons, like “Sepotong Senja Untuk Pacarku” [“A Slice of Dusk for My Sweetheart”]. And yet many readers said they like it though they did not understand the story, since they found my description of the beauty of sunset to be mesmeric.

What does writing mean to you?

Writing is more than a job or profession. For me, writing is like breathing.


Nagabumi tells the story of a powerful 100-year-old martial arts warrior, famous for once killing 100 men in a single night. Living in seclusion in his declining years, he is pulled out of his peaceful retirement by a sudden attack.

The martial arts hero, known as Pendekar Tanpa Nama [the Unnamed Warrior], wants to know who among the students, teachers and relatives of his numerous fallen enemies is waging a war of vengeance on him. His curiosity is further piqued by a contest declared among fighters to kill the Unnamed Warrior. His quest to find his opponent is told through a series of flashbacks as he looks back over his colorful life.

Set in 871 AD, the book brings to light the construction of Borobudur Temple with attention paid to the reliefs on the walls. Woven into the story are snippets of Buddhism, delivered as poems that are dazzling in both their language and poignant relevance to modern times.

In this way, Ajidarma manages to avoid the cliche of the standard returning hero plot, instilling his work with reflections on religion, power and humanity, even the relationships between men and women. Ajidarma argues, for instance, that the Kama Sutra teaches more than just sex, but also respect for women.

A martial arts adventure story is nothing without titanic throwdowns, and Ajidarma’s command for vivid, graphic language makes his action scenes leap from the pages. Highlights include when the Unnamed Warrior takes on a series of opponents one-by-one in the dark, and later when he is locked in intense mental combat for several pages.

The 800-page book is the first installment of a saga, the epic scale of which not even Ajidarma himself can predict.

Following in the footsteps of authors renowned for writing similar oeuvre, like SH Mintaredja with “Sabukinten,” and Arswendon Atmowiloto’s “Senopati Pamungkas,” “Nagabumi” might be just the answer to the hankering for great martial arts novels set in Indonesia.

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