I can feel sorrow in the air.

Can you feel it? It was a gloomy feeling, surrounding you and your environment. I tried to called it a ‘melancholy feeling’, for the words might be easier to us to comprehend. Although, it might be more than that. You’re not melancholic all the time. It was a state that come and go, depends on what is happening with you. Huzun, on the other hand, is something that you and other people feeling about a place, space or anything. Huzun is special because it is communal.

The word Huzun is Turkish. Derived from an Arabic word: Huzn, – which has a similar meaning: sorrow – it had been used by Orhan Pamuk to describe his beloved city Istanbul. Istanbul, Pamuk said, was once a center of the earth, the brightest star in Europe, the most beautiful ‘crescent’ of all, the most sophisticated city with a stunning civilization.

The Ottoman Empire used to rule Turkey and its colony, after they took it from their fellow Greece empire, Byzantium. Istanbul is Ottoman’s, and so do the entire Turkey. The Ottoman times is the days when Istanbul reached its supremacy, economically and culturally.

500 years since Sultan Mehmed II, whom they called the Conqueror, established Bosphorus as a place for Turkey, the empire was converted into republic. Everything had changed, from the intricate and beautiful form of calligraphy (changed into latin alphabet), to other things like the prohibition of harem and Darvishes.

According to Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul had lost its beauty and uniqueness ever since the republic era comes. It was still ‘unique’ for foreigners, of course. But there’s something missing. Something had been taken, and it changed everything. Can you imagine yourself, walking in a city full of an ancient buildings, grandeur architecture. You’re walking in the work of art. Yet, they reflect sadness and poor. Istanbul in Pamuk’s childhood time (c. 1970) is a city that is confused with its own identity. The era of Ottoman Empire has gone, now they’re living their modern times. Too bad, the so called ‘modern’ turned out to be another hard challenge.

So that’s it, the Huzun. The communal sadness everyone felt in Istanbul. Huzun formed a sorrow everywhere, anywhere. A constant melancholy every people feel in a ruined ancient city.

Weirdly, I feel it too.

I’m not an Istanbul citizen. I live in Jakarta, the city I used to call ‘a bloody town’. If you are familiar with Jakarta, physically and spiritually, there might not be any chance that you would address this city as ‘beautiful’, or ‘once was beautiful’. Jakarta is, well, Jakarta.

But it was something unusually beautiful about this city. So many little things that make you smile, laugh, think, or wonder. A beautiful sunset, a clear blue sky on an unexpected season, a breeze of summer wind between humidity, a children smiling and laughing when they flew their kites, a very bright afternoon sunlight that fallen through a train’s window. We can easily find a poetic moment in the middle of polluted air.

Maybe, just maybe, I love Jakarta so much it hurts me to see this city fallen apart. Maybe, unlike Pamuk’s huzun to Istanbul, my sorrow and sadness is not communal. But I believe that it can’t be only me, and so it isn’t melancholy. There’s a hidden huzun in this bloody town.


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