Mon, 25 Dec 2000

A special guest on a special day

By AA Navis

An aged couple enjoyed the Idul Fitri holiday from the verandah of their house, watching the well-dressed and cheerful procession of passers-by. They were celebrating the first day of the Muslim post-fasting festivities, popularly known as Lebaran.

Some people were happily strolling the streets, while many others were riding horse-drawn carts. Some were also in cars which moved slowly through the crowd.

The old couple were sitting comfortably in their rocking chairs. They sat close to each other, separated only by a small Italian-made marble table.

Their traditional wooden home is rather old, ocher in color, and appears to be strangely squeezed between modern houses. But to the people of this small town the sight is common. They know the old couple who live there well: Datuk Bijo Rajo and Jurai Ameh, his wife. But the locals prefer to call the couple by only Inyik and Encik.

When he was young Inyik was known as a fierce nationalist who later became governor of the province. Enjoying his pension, he now lives happily with Encik and two servants who have worked for them for years. Their six children have promising careers and work in other provinces.

Encik is a plump woman with dark skin, while Inyik is rather thin with fair skin. On this blessed holiday -- like other people -- the two wear new clothing. The difference between their clothing from that of others is the style. Of course the two embody an era of the past.

While rocking her chair, Encik talks continuously. She seems to be speaking her mind. While Inyik only speaks to himself.

"On every Idul Fitri I wish all our sons and daughters with their spouses and children would come here, lining one by one to wish us a good Idul Fitri, kiss our hands and ask for forgiveness. I used to shed many tears of happiness at such times. But now, no children care to visit us any more.

"In fact, all of them can afford to come home. The only less privileged among us is Ruski, who lives with his family in the farthest province, Irian Jaya. But the other children could help him with the plane tickets if they wanted to.

"I don't blame myself in this case. I have provided every one of them with a good education. I paid the best Islamic preacher available to give them religious instruction three times a week. The children have become egocentric after obtaining good career positions. Since then, on every Idul Fitri day, I feel my heart is bleeding, worse and worse from year to year. In the past when you were still the governor all the children never missed an opportunity to come home at the right time.

"But lately, one by one, they have started to forget us. Why? It was just the same case with your former staff members. The number of them who came here on Idul Fitri grew smaller from year to year. Such fading respect has become a trend now. The old adage says sparrows only flock the ripe paddies. But I don't think the adage is applicable to our children and their spouses," Encik said.

Inyik responded, but only in his heart. "Once I read an article written by Ki Hajar Dewantara, the noted nationalist and educator, saying Idul Fitri is very special because, on that day, every person, whatever his or her age and social status, greet each other and say 'let's forgive and forget our past mistakes and misdeeds'. There is no reason for inferiority and superiority complexes.

"But now the noble day has become part of a new culture. Only the poor and those of lower social status visit members of the privileged groups of society to ask forgiveness for their obscure sins.

"However, the local authorities do not feel they have a moral obligation to do the same with the public, despite their wrongful acts having been widespread. Many of them seem to have forgotten that the way they got their positions has caused much suffering among the public.

"Worse still, the only obligation they still care to perform at Idul Fitri is to pay the compulsory alms, the amount of which for them means nothing. With their wealth they are able to not only feed one person, but a hundred of them," Inyik said.

Meanwhile, Encik is still speaking to herself. "Ruski is unbendable. He does not want to beg help from anybody, not even from his brothers. But, on the other hand, his brothers will only help him if he asks them for help. Why should they wait for their brother's begging while they know he has been living from hand to mouth? Who has taught them such low morality? Don't they know that I am longing to see all of them here on Idul Fitri? Look at Mael, the wealthiest among them. He has developed a strange lifestyle. On the eve of every Idul Fitri he takes his family on vacation to the United States or Europe or Japan.

"Whose article was it I read many years ago about morality? I have forgotten. Anyway, it said that Prophet Muhammad never asked his followers to hold a big feast on the eve of Idul Fitri, but instead to remember their obligation to give to the poor.

"But the new culture has changed everything. The gathering to glorify God's name has been turned into a public show in a town square, complete with music."


Inyik coughed. To soothe his throat he drank some water and continued with his reflection. "When I was governor I seriously tried to add a modern touch to the local tradition. But as I tried to clean the religious celebrations from negative worldly elements many people started to protest. They included traditional religious preachers, who went as far as issuing a decree to censure me.

"My son Sabir also failed to visit us this year. He said that he had to attend the open house held by his most superior boss, a cabinet minister. According to Sabir if he did not show up at the reception he was afraid that his excellency the minister might feel his absence a dishonor to himself and his family. For me, his father, his excuse is nothing but a cheap campaign to save his job."

Encik said that when her husband was a governor he too got angry at his staff who failed to be punctual at his open house reception, let alone if they failed to show up at all. "Yesterday, we received a telegram from Melani, our daughter, saying that she and her husband would not be able to spend the holiday with their parents because her husband is still on his tour of Europe."

Inyik told himself that he had to admit that, during the five years of his governorship, he had failed to change the old mentality. "Now I myself look like being out of date.

"But Kiai Marzuk, the traditional religious scholar, has told me that if I wanted to be an exemplary peoples' leader I should follow the prophet's example. After successfully conducting his mission over 23 years, Muhammad passed away as a poor old man. He left some small things behind but ordered his companions to distribute them among the poor, or give them to the social welfare.

"Marzuk also said that God Almighty ended the prophet's mission when he was 63 years of age. It shows that after that age, human beings are -- mentally and physically -- too old to carry a heavy and noble responsibility. The lesson for us here is: how can a senile leader lead a nation or a community?"

Due to this profound contemplation, Inyik suddenly found it very hard to breathe. To relieve the burden the old man put his head on the back of his chair. It helped a bit, and a moment later he tried to stand up.

"I feel very tired. I want to lie down, Jurai," he said to his wife. Inyik made a great effort to walk to the bedroom by himself.

"Me too," said Encik. "I also feel this Idul Fitri is dragging along too slowly. If our children were here with us the day would not be as short."

Encik continued talking to herself. "I think I have successfully educated my children to be good and helpful to anybody, but at this old age I have to see each of them go his or her own way. I can't imagine what will happen after my death. They might go against each other, who knows?"


Encik's chair rocked more and more slowly before it stopped. As it came to its final movement the old woman saw in her imagination several cars, all bright blue in color, entering the compound of her house. The next scene made her rejoice. All of the people who came from the vehicles were her family members, including her in-laws.

Each of them in turn bowed to kiss her cheeks and hands. Encik was so happy that tears streamed down her cheeks. She expressed her gratitude to God, the Compassionate and Merciful. "How glorious and wonderful this Idul Fitri is," she whispered to herself. "Even if this is only a dream. My final dream."

While Inyik was lying on the bed which he only used for afternoon naps, he was immersed in his own daydream. He said to himself that he had wished to hold his governorship much longer because, he said, there had been nobody to replace him. All of them were too young and incapable, despite their better educations. They lack courage and a sense of social responsibility, he said.

While Inyik was deep in thought, a man suddenly entered his room without saying a word. Although shocked by the intrusion Inyik said nothing. And neither was he surprised by intruder's conduct, who took a seat just beside the old man's bed.

"In fact I had no plan to come here until I heard your grumbling." The intruder's words were a great insult for Inyik, who had never grumbled in his life.

The intruder continued: "You and your people are of the same mentality."

"The older you get, the more arrogant you become. You should learn from history that, when Prophet Muhammad passed away, only half of the Arabian peninsula population had embraced Islam. But the caliphs who ruled the Islamic state after him expanded their reign until it encompassed the vast region between Spain and the south Asian continent. So don't try to act against the law of the universe."

"The law of the Universe, what is that?"

"That is the cosmic order, or what God has designated."

Inyik was silent about what the intruder had said. He seemed to be at a loss to understand what he meant. What he had experienced was that old age had made him feeble-minded and slow in action. Had he started to become ignorant also?

"How old am I now? Just 70 years but I feel everything is very slow with me," he told himself. And he asked the intruder: "What is the purpose of your visit?"

"There is an old adage among your people 'anybody can go away and there is always a new person to replace him or her'. You seem to have forgotten it."

Inyik felt that the intruder was behaving like an unwanted professor. That is an insult, he thought. He was about to explode but was too weak to make an emotional response. So he changed the topic of the conversation. "Are you here to greet me for Idul Fitri?"

"I have business with your wife."

"What has happened with her."

"Her rocking chair has stopped for good."

Inyik kept silent before he could digest the intruder's words. After a moment he was sure that the intruder was the Angel of Death. He remembered that the cycle of human life rotates between birth, survival and death. Pantarei, says an old Greek proverb. Everything flows.

"Now my time has come," he said.

"Oh no, no," said the intruder. "Not yet."

"In that case, I hope that the rest of my life will not disturb anybody."

"No, you'll disturb nobody because you don't have any power now," said the intruder, leaving the room.

Inyik was left alone with his frailty. From the television set in the next room he overheard a program where Muslims glorified the name of Allah.

-- Translated by TIS

(From Derabat, Kompas selected

short stories, 1999)