Mevlevi Dervishes, 1887

Being a five years old have always been a unique experience for everyone. When I was in this state, I have a lot of habits that made people raise their eyebrows. To be honest, I always remember how people judged me as ‘boy who has a lot of weird habits’. That includes talking to myself; have an excessive, annoying amount of questions regarding to god; ‘reading’ people’s palm just to say something that I actually forgot now, counting ceramics as I walked in a public pavement, etc.

Among other things, one that I remember vividly is about how I whirled, spun my body as fast as I can, until I lose my awareness. I used to do this, especially in a wide, spacious area where I could spinning myself without disturbing any living things. That, by some people, was categorized as a weird habit too.

Well, it might be considered as a ‘weird habit’ since I brought them with me until I sat in 5th grade. That means I was a ten years old when I stopped doing that routine. You’re not a little kid anymore when you sit in 5th grade. You might be still a little kid for everyone else older than you, especially your parents, of course. But your very self began to think that somehow, you’re growing too fast for you to handle. That you’re changing and no one could stop that. I felt it when I was a ten years old. Strongly.

I always did my spin routine with my eyes closed, yet my head were pointing up. Sometimes I opened my eyes – usually when I spun at the open space – just to savor the color of the sky and how it turned like you were making a mixture of colors. It was always beautiful. The most magical thing when it comes to spinning my body, was how weird yet wonderful I feel about it. It was liberating, relieving, and most importantly; ecstatic.

Yes, I’ve always been ecstatically aware whenever I spun my body like crazy. Or maybe I’m not aware? Maybe I’m not in my conscious when I did that, I don’t know. The only thing that I’m sure of, is how weird yet amazing that is too let your body spin as fast as you can. It felt like you’re being raised from the ground. You were thinking that you fly.

And that, is apparently what our fellow Mystics were practicing. You might identify Mystics by more popular adjective: Sufi. Since these Mystics are somehow having their special approach to find god, hence their rituals are unique and different. Not all Mystics are practicing and doing this whirling routine, but some of them, particularly Turkish and Persian Mystics are devoting themselves into this ritual. Dated back from 13 century AD, this beautiful ceremony was a part of Jallaludin Rumi’s teaching. A famous, notable Persian Mystic himself, Rumi is a brilliant person whom vital teaching is about loving god, which also means, loving yourself.

To love god you need to set yourself free. But to set yourself free, doesn’t require you to ‘leave’ your body entirely. You just need to take it to another level. You need to raise your spirit so you could experience any magical feelings that you might savor. To whirl, is only one from so many methods.

Now, this Mystics might did a lot of illogical things, too weird for us to comprehend. But I think these guys are honest with their love of god. They do what they think would suffice to feel any wonderful, loving feeling that for some of us are just beyond imagination.

How many of you are feeling ecstatic when you pray? I myself never felt it.

Now, how many of you are feeling ecstatic when you play some music, when you sang, when you dance, when you paint?

When you spin?

We have a lot of methods when it comes to getting closer to our god. Rituals are things to be considered, although some of us are believe that they’re an obligatory. Those ‘vital’, ‘necessary’ rituals might be are as important as they called it to be, but don’t you think that it would be interesting for us to consider another methods to love our god?

No, I’m not asking you to spin your body in public out of nowhere nor context. No. I was trying to remind ourselves about how honest we used to be when we were a kid, and how hard our environment had became to our spirit and imagination. We literally killed ourself, once we put that ‘essential’ rituals into a mathematical value involving sins and virtues.We start losing everything important and gaining some cruel, primitive, uncivilized perspectives about our own religion, and our god as well.

Next time when I want to remember my god, I’ll savor myself into anything beautiful that comes in my way. That ‘weird habits’. The sound of a beautiful song; the joy when I fell asleep on a very comforting bed; an exploding, delightful feeling when you’re happy and all you want is hugging every single people that you meet; an awesome, amazing mixture of the skies with its blowing wind when you spin like a crazy five years old kid…



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.


Morte di Giulio Cesare by Vicenzo Camuccini

Rome did not need a Caesar.

I am referring to the one and only Gaius Julius Caesar. The dictator has a strong influence and changed the history of the world. Without him Rome would not be the same. Thanks to him, the empire expanded their territory and supremacy across Western Europe, Asia, and North Africa on 50 BC. Rome was the greatest empire in the world at that time.

Nevertheless, Caesar was betrayed. Stabbed by a knife 23 times by his own followers, he met his death.

What happened when a country raised a supreme controller? A leaders or dictator? What was going on when an institution has a person who can not and will not accept a questions? I believe every one wants a leader. Someone who has an authority and could do something mandatory.

Yet, people tend to hate their leader. They might say they love the ‘dictator’, but it is only on the surface. They are going to put smile on their faces, while they curse the tyrant with hatred. A mask will put whenever he was around.

I hate hypocrisy. I hate pretension. But what I hate most is the fact that I am so good at pretending. Hence, I am a hypocrite who hates one.

A grandeur empire, large by its name, majestic by its history, has its emperor. I am the one whose tongue going to lick them, whose face is going to put the best smile ever, whose heart is always be disturbed.

Rome might not need Caesar. He was stabbed until he met his maker. It was ironic, because as the death of Caesar, Rome is not going to be the same ever again. There comes the day of another Caesars. Rome turned to be an Empire for good, for they killed their ‘democracy’ eras.

I also do not need any Caesars. Yet I do not have any courage to stab them.

‘Cah Bagus’

My grandmother passed away last Wednesday.

When she was alive, I always love her. During her last years, she forgot a lot. She forgot almost everything, including her own children. But there was a time when she remembers, when she recognize my mother’s eyes, when she smiles every time she sees me. She used to rubs my hair and said, ‘good boy.’ Cah bagus…

She is the most amazing family member of mine, and I’m not exaggerating. Let me tell you a little bit of her story.

My grandmother never knew ‘love’, as the concept like we understood right now. She said it to me. When she was sixteen years old her older sister, Supini, dies at birth. Supini’s son, Sukirwan, ended up motherless. My grandmother love his only nephew very much, she took Supini’s side and marry her brother in law Girin – Supini’s husband – so Sukirwan would be hers.

‘I didn’t love your grandfather at that time. I love your uncle Sukirwan very much, I think it was the best for him.’ she said to me.

‘For me to marry him at sixteen years old, was weird. But at the end, I think I love your grandfather as well.’

From her marriage with my grandfather Giren, came four children. One of  them is my mother.

My grandfather passed away about 27 years ago, and my grandmother live her life regularly. I knew that her heart was crushed when her sisters left her alone in this world, one by one. My grandmother is the last of her generation in my family. It took so much of her life, sometimes she said to me that she doesn’t belong here anymore.

But I knew, deep down in her very heart, she loves her life. She might not pretentious, nor ambitious, but she keeps her hope. Her eyes would sparkling with joy every time she sees me, my brother and sister. On her last years, with her memory problems, she will asked me the same questions almost everyday.

‘You are big now.’

‘Where’s your brother? Your sister? Are they okay?’

‘How can you get so thin?’

It is weird that I missed her questions at these times. When she finally gone, her presence somehow still here. Her slender figure is not in her room anymore. Her voice, singing in Javanese, cannot be heard. I go downstairs and she might not be there, but somehow I was ready to answer her questions.

‘Yes, mbah. I am 25 now’

‘They are okay, mbah. They are in their room’

‘I used to be on diet, that’s why I’m thinner now, mbah

But she is not there anymore. Her room is empty, her bed is tidy.

I miss her. I know that it was the best for her, to leave all of us when we are ready. We are ready to let her go. I am ready. I should be.

I will always love you, grandma. I might not be the best person, except for you. I always be your good boy. Your cah bagus

For my beloved Grandmother: Supijah Giren

Tak ada daun yang sama


Life is hard. But why is that so? I’m not saying that my life had been hell. In fact, I could say that I’ve been blessed with a lot of things, and it had been more perfect because I feel that I actually realize that. A lot of people in this world are very lucky, but they just didn’t realize it. Not that I was saying that every people should or must be grateful, because not all people are realize that they should feel grateful.

Anyway, it just weird when you actually recognize how people have different feelings and reactions when it comes to a lot of things. Sure, we know that people are meant to be different. It was something that we accept as a fact, period. The question is not about is it true that people are supposed to be different, but it is more about are we actually accept that people are different? We already knew the fact, but are we actually realize that fact?

If we understand that fact, why is it so hard when we saw and savored things that doesn’t make sense on us? When we experienced something that we thought stupid and unnecessary, we tend to make a judge toward it, and we did that easily. Well, to judge is easier than to try to understand. To say that something is wrong is easier than to think about why is it wrong? What is wrong, anyway?

My father used to say, that we live in the world where God created something more complex than we could ever imagine or think of.

“Look at that tree, Galih.” One day, he talked to me when we passed a one small tree. I forget the place, but I remember about that tree vaguely. It was glowing with its green leaves all over its branches, sparkling when the sun light it gently.

“Look at that tree. It contains hundreds, or maybe thousands leaves. And no one is actually similar than each other. Each is unique, each is different.”

I stunned when he said that to me. He was right. We couldn’t count all the leaves in the world, but we would know for sure that they must be different from each other.

“Marvelous isn’t it? How God created things? It was Him there. He is so many, yet He is only One.”

It is marvelous, indeed. And it was shocking to me as well, how that tree and its leaves reminds me about differences and complexities in our lives. It doesn’t mean that we need to tolerate every single thing that happened. It just, we need to understand and realize – before we make a false judgment or silly actions – that there are differences. No one is actually in an exact similar condition from each other.

Life is hard on some people. It might not be that hard on you, or on me. Maybe its actually hard on everybody. We won’t know for sure. I haven’t answered my previous question about why is life seems to be harder for some people.

I am different than you are, and I realize that. Well, at least I’m trying to. We might try to deny the sun, the ground, and the water. We might deny everything. But yet here we are.

“It’s Not A Four-Wheel Drive”


A Jeep and A Honda Civic
A Jeep and A Honda Civic

It was a sunny Sunday, and I was hanging around with my family at the coffee shop, at our favorite mall. My mom was talking to my dad about cars and anything related to it.

“It’s a four wheel drive car, and I like the design.” said my mom. I guess they were talking about what kind of car that they saw on the street earlier.

“Well, it’s a banci car. It’s a two-wheel drive, it just looks like four-wheel.”

Something in that conversation bugs me. There’s something wrong about that conversation, but I just don’t know how to put it into sense. In case you don’t know, banci is Bahasa Indonesia for sissy. It refers to a person, especially a male, who acted like a girl and have an effeminate character. 

When we see that word in the context of conversation like my parents used before, what would we get?

A four-wheel drive car is a car whose transmission system provides power directly to all its four wheels. So instead of having two of its four wheels moved, it’s using four of them. What happened if a four wheel drive car called banci? What my father – and a lot of people – meant when he said that is: The four-wheel drive car which not functioned like it appear to be. It’s not a four-wheel drive, it only looks like one. I fact, it’s two wheel drive.

The question is, why do they (the car) called banci? Is it because banci can’t perform some function they suppose to have? Or maybe because banci have the manipulative appearance? Because some people believe that they act and perform unequaled with their nature? What?

I’m not defending Banci here, but it’s just funny when we catch people using a sexist words on their conversation a lot. I used to put some gender or sexist connotation in conversation as well, it feels funny, hilarious, and sometimes cool to put them that way, but is it right?

“Hey, I could tell that it’s a girl or it’s a boy when I see their work. Look at this one. It’s must be a girl.”


“Look at her hand writing and her drawing. It’s neat and tidy. It must be a she.”

What if it turn out to be a boy’s work?

“It’s okay to be messy or naughty, you’re a boy.”

What happen if I was a girl? Could I be messy or naughty as well?

I don’t want to be a person who complain about everything, a person who keep telling everyone that everything in this world are wrong, an annoying man who are keep criticizing. But it just bugged me when something doesn’t feels right. That banci word in that conversation was not supposed to be there. It just degrading.

Is it true that all about gender have to be a state where female and male are something that different from one to the other? Are woman and man supposed to be different? If they have to be different, what kind of differences that they supposed to have (despite they biological order)?

Since when that to be a girl is to be neat and tidy, and to be a boy is to be messy and dirty? Maybe the paradigm was builded up when a bunch or girls and boys were acting in a very identical manner from time to time on the history of humanity, but they must be someone who against that manner, who against the so called nature. Are they different? What is different?

Actually, this post are not going to discuss nor answer the previous question. I just want to imply the fact that we use to speak and act ignorantly about this issue. I don’t think that it’s right when people set the standards about how the certain sex should act or behave.

But what if it is something that should be fixed? What if this condition is actually matter and important? The answer still looks vague to me.

All I could suggest for us are to stop offend or put standard on some gender, and people. It requires a hard work to eliminate such habit in our lives. To not degrade or make a fool of someone is harder than it sounds. I myself have to be more careful to choose my words. Sometimes we just didn’t recognize when we said one, but to be aware of it are more than enough for now.

If you have a chance to describe a certain car, in spite of saying “banci”, you could use “it’s not a four-wheel drive”. It might be longer, but it sounds nicer.

His Darkest Hour

Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1925-2006)
Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1925-2006)

Every Indonesian must read these books.

You  must have known Pramoedya Ananta Toer. He was, in my opinion, one of the best writer in the world. I’m not exaggerating here, and I do think everyone should read his works. Well, I think everyone should try to.

This is why I think the guy is a genius.

When I was a little kid, I already know that my country – Indonesia – is a country that had been colonized by the Dutch about three and a half centuries. I knew it from the history school books, and I have a sympathetic feeling for my beloved Indonesia. But that is it. It just a sympathy. Not that I say that being sympathetic is wrong, but it’s not enough. We are living in a country that already free from colonization. Some of us are never experiencing how is it feel to be a slave in your own land (and thanks to God that we didn’t experience it), but do you think that we still care?

The last question lead us to the reason why I think Pramoedya is a genius.

It was him who made me realized how the world blinded us all, how the so called democracy and freedom made us to be ignorant and careless. Please do not take it wrong, for I do think that democracy and freedom are everything that people needs in this modern times. But it turned out that I – and the majority of generation who were born in 1970-2000 – are forgetting the fact that our nation used to live in a very, very, difficult times and it is part of our job to fix it.

Pramoedya made it simple with his books, Kuartet Pulau Buru (The Pulau Buru Quartet).

The Pulau Buru Quartet are a Tetralogy, a work that made up four distinct books. The Earth of Mankind, Child of All Nations, Footsteps, and Glass House. They are recognized as the most powerful works of literature in the 20th century.

The Pulau Buru Quartet told us about a boy whose name is Minke (Raden Mas Tirto Adi Suryo), who struggled in the time when the Dutch still grabs her unlimited power over Indonesia (whose name was The Dutch Indies at that time) circa 19th century. Minke is a Javanese boy, a descendant of Javanese aristocrat, thus make him an aristocrat as well. This aristocrat status that Minke held, make him familiar with the Dutch education and lifestyle. Familiar he is with the Dutch education, makes him depressed and confused whenever he faces his own people, the Javanese.

Pramoedya describes Minke’s journey and thinking in the most beautiful way possible. Minke is the Javanese who must face the bitter and cruel form of colonialism, while he still see and experience the Javanese culture (which in Pramoedya’s mind, already loses almost everything). The Javanese were already meet their dusk when the modern ideas finally reached Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). It was their dark ages, their darkest hour. It is surprising – well, maybe shocking – when we read the Tetralogy and realize how deep our civilization had fallen.

Pramoedya wake us up in his simple, humble way. His books, including Pulau Buru Quartet, were banned in the New Order Era (1968-1998). Some people had an argument that his books are very provocative and Left. Therefore his books should not be read with Indonesian. Well, such argument is nonsense, since his books are very enlighten and will boost your nationalism to its highest peak. I don’t know the reason why his books should be banned. It’s a relieve that the Reformation Era were allowing the publisher to distribute his works, and we could read and discuss his ideas again.

Pramoedya wrote Pulau Buru Quartet when the New Order Government were sending him to Buru Island. He was imprisoned without trial process, thus made him an exile for 10 years (1969-1979). It was in these darkest hour that Pramodeya tried to write Pulau Buru Quartet. Although the government forbid him to write, he chose the oral way to tell his stories, memorize it, and then write it later secretly.  His effort and dedication is amazing, and it is him who opened my eyes to see what actually happened with my people, what went wrong.

Every Indonesian should read his books, and we will fix and build together what had been broken and scattered all over places.