Excerpt from “Pulang”

Bimo Nugroho

dioramaMy childhood home. A house filled with tension and disappointment. I never wanted to go back there again. But that is where my mother was, still silently serving the man she calls her husband. A home in the Tebet area of Jakarta where the man took her with the risk that she would chose to take me there as well.

When Mother married Bapak Prakosa—whom I will never call “father”—I knew that my life would change. Even though my father, my real bapak, Nugroho Dewantoro, had disappeared from our lives long before, this didn’t mean that I had to accept this man in my life. In our lives.

Bapak Prakosa was not an evil man, though his career in the military was not a profession that one would automatically find pleasing. But he also wasn’t a person who gladly accepted the burden that the woman he married brought with her. Bapak Prakosa viewed raising me as a unwanted duty but something he had to do for the beautiful woman he had taken from my father. It was a risk he had to take. (more…)

Excerpt from “Pulang, a Novel”


9999--ekalaya (1)There was something about my father and Indonesia I had always wanted to understand. Not just a matter of the country’s blood-filled history and the problems that affected the lives of Indonesian political exiles who had to roam the world in search of a country willing to receive them. There was something that made my father extra sensitive to rejection. I became aware of this, bit by bit, because of his obsession with the story of Ekalaya, which he often told to me.

Up until when I was ten years old, there had always been a ritual my parents and I went through in early summer. Each year, we would fall in love again with the Parisian sky which, at that time. seemed close enough for us to touch. The sun in late May is a friendly creature, not the angry monster it becomes at the height of summer in June.

Ayah and Maman would take me to Domaine National de Saint-Cloud, the large park on the outskirts of Paris. For our personal comfort as we waited to watch the films being shown there—cinéma en plein air—we’d bring with us knapsacks filled with blankets and books and a hamper of food and canned beverages. As Ayah and Maman had begun this tradition when I was just a baby, these outings became something I expectantly awaited each year. It was some years before I realized that this custom had evolved not simply because of the pleasure we found in watching film retrospectives in the open air, but because the it cost my parents nothing at all.



Leila S.Chudori


Today is the best day to meet You

Jakarta doesn’t have chrysanthemums. But I will search for them to the ends of the earth, so that Mother can close her eyes in peace.

Mother always used to say that she knew what would happen when she died. My older sister Nina would sob uncontrollably (maybe even howl); my older brother Arya would chant the Surah Yasin from the Qur’an with a calm voice while trying to hold back his tears. I would be doing all the pragmatic things those busy mourning don’t think about: reporting to the local authorities, organizing the burial plot, finding the prayer robes, organizing the food and bottles of mineral water for the guests, and finding pieces of batik cloth. And last but not least, the most important of all – something Mother never failed to mention—for sure I would be out scratching around for Mother’s favorite flowers, which are difficult to find in Indonesia: white chrysanthemums. She never mentioned jasmine, or roses, red or white. It had to be white chrysanthemums. (more…)

From New York to Legian

Leila S.Chudori


Legian, October 16, 2002

Bali was a place of silence, a place of despair. The sea was still; the waves had ceased rolling. The sky was black; the sand was mute. The moon was hiding its sullen face. A cluster of stars, hitherto loyal in their brightening up of the night sky, now took it upon themselves to visit the wounded. All the energy on the island was focused on the candles that had been lit by grieving hearts. Utara Bayu tried to talk to them all: the sea, the waves, the sand, the moon, the stars, and the sky. But he felt that the sand he was walking on was coarse and unwelcoming, so different from its normal friendly, accepting nature. The universe had come to a standstill and it was as if all the clocks on Bali had stopped ticking. This was Day Four after the bombs had exploded in the middle of the night. Utara knew that those bombs had, in an instant, stopped the clocks.

After walking for an hour, Utara stood at the water’s edge waiting for his colleagues to return to the hotel. They had all worked non-stop for the last three days, reporting from the Legian area and from Sanglah hospital, interviewing dozens of victims and police, and helping the teams of volunteers who were patiently and painstakingly looking for the human remains that were still strewn around the Sari Club and Paddy’s Bar. At one point they heard screams when somebody found a body part dangling from a tree branch; someone else discovered a corpse, relatively intact but burnt beyond recognition. For three days and three nights Utara heard nothing but a Bob Marley song “Three Little Birds,” sung by a group of volunteers working near the police cordon. Over and over they sang it, as if they were trying to convince themselves that those two deadly bombs would not make them surrender to evil. Utara’s stomach was churning, reminding him that he, along with his colleagues, had not eaten for some time, because they had had to focus on sending their reports back to their magazine Tera in Jakarta. A few minutes later he heard the roar of the three rented motorbikes carrying Andara, Monty, Yosrizal, Andini, Rianti, and the photographer Randi. (more…)

A Red Book and Carbolic Acid

By: Leila S.Chudori


“It’s sour,” said Suwarto, putting down his glass of orange juice. Marwan was away in a world of his own. He was gazing at the wall, transfixed by the swarms of ants scurrying back to their nests laden with crumbs of bread. He imagined them accumulating all the food and then enjoying a communal meal, the spoils divided equally among them all.

One particular ant was struggling with a big piece of bread. A few of those coming behind him stopped to help, and in an instant the piece of bread was divided into four. Marwan was impressed by their initiative.

“What is it?” said Suwarto, sensing Marwan’s captivation. Marwan didn’t reply. He merely squinted in concentration as he observed the antics of the tiny insects. This was a sure sign that he was miles away, absorbed in his own thoughts. Suwarto bit his lip. He was annoyed, but he didn’t want to disturb Marwan. In fifteen minutes he had to be in the darkroom, finishing off some photographs for the next issue of the magazine. Finally, clearing his throat, he looked meaningfully at his watch. For added effect, he pushed his chair back noisily—a sound that usually grated on Marwan’s nerves. It worked. Marwan glared at him.“Just come around to my place tonight. Go and do your pictures now,” said Marwan shortly, sensing Suwarto’s agitation.

“But if…”

Marwan didn’t hear. He was back in the world of the ants. (more…)

Excerpt From Pulang, a Novel

Leila S.Chudori


On Sabang Street, Jakarta, April 1968

Night had fallen, without complaint, without pretext. Like a black net enclosing the city; like ink from a monster squid spreading across Jakarta’s entire landscape—the color of my uncertain future.

In the dark room, I knew not the sun, the moon, or even my wristwatch. But the darkness that enveloped this room was imbrued with the scent of chemicals and anxiety.

Three years ago, the Nusantara News Office where I worked, had been cleansed of lice and germs like myself. The army was the disinfectant. We, the lice and the germs, had been eradicated from the face of the earth, with no trace left. Yet, somehow, this particular louse was eking out a living at Tjahaya Photographic Studio  in central Jakarta on the corner of Jalan Sabang.

I switched on the red light to check the negatives hanging on the drying-line over my head.

It was just after 6 p.m. because I could hear the soft sound of the muezzin drifting in through the room through the door grate, summoning the faithful for evening prayer. I imagined the atmosphere on Jalan Sabang outside: the quarrelsome cackling of motorized pedicabs; the huffing and puffing of slow-moving opelets searching for passengers; the creaking of human-driven pedicabs in need of an oil job; the cring-cring sound of hand bells on bicycles as their riders wove their way through the busy intersection; and the cries of the bread seller. (more…)

Prayer Beads

Leila S.Chudori

I look for you
Among the c.h.r.y.s.a.n.t.h.e.m.u.m.s

9999--3 Tasbih bapak x

Every time she passed the house, Nadira would concoct a new scenario in her head. Maybe the house belonged to a rich businessman, or to a lawyer who defended the mafia. Or to a corrupt government official. One thing was certain, whoever owned it was not what you would call a humble person, so fond were they of conspicuously displaying their wealth and their power. The house was on a street corner in the Jakarta suburb of Bintaro, and Nadira would make a point of going past it every time she paid a weekend visit to her father, who lived nearby. That usually meant asking the taxi driver to stop for five or ten minutes, sometimes even suggesting he have a cigarette while she gazed at the huge ostentatious house through the open window of the car. It stood out in Bintaro, where the other houses were pretty much built to the same design. On the whole, housing in the Bintaro complex resembled rows of matchboxes devoid of any individuality. By contrast, this house stood haughtily on a huge tract of land, its four stories supported by massive columns. If you were to describe the temperament of the house it would be this: proud, colossal, capable of swallowing a human being. And then there were the cars, fierce-looking machines posing in front of the house, not hidden away in the extensive garage. The thing that intrigued Nadira most was the statue of a man who looked like Napoleon, except that its face was clearly that of the owner of the house: a Javanese man in his fifties sporting a thin moustache.

Flanking the statue of this Javanese Napoleon were two statues of Cupid. In addition—and this was Nadira’s favorite bit—there were seven statues of women, all of them gazing admiringly at Napoleon. Nadira imagined one of them whispering, beseeching Lord Napoleon to grace her with a scrap of affection. Nadira could easily have asked the owner of the cigarette stall on the corner about the owner of the house, but she didn’t; she preferred inventing imaginary scenarios of her own. After this weekly ritual was over, Nadira would return to reality, to the taxi that was waiting for her, and they would plunge back into the chaotic ocean that was Jakarta traffic. (more…)