Sun, 25 May 2003

`Gendut' pens restlessness in works

Emmy Fitri and Hygenius Hardoyo, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Shy, yet ingenuous is an apt way to describe journalist-cum- author Herry "Gendut" Janarto.

Gendut -- which means fat or stout in Javanese, as he is affectionately called -- is so sensitive with what is going on around him that he's often "provoked" just by seeing bitter or ironic events.

"Sometimes I feel restless, like there's something disturbing my thoughts. The urge to write is so strong at these moments," said Gendut, a former English teacher.

The youngest of seven siblings, Gendut, graduated from the teacher's training institute IKIP Sanata Dharma in Yogyakarta in 1982. He then worked as an editor at PT Gaya Favorit Press (Femina Group) from 1983 to 1990.

He recently launched his book, entitled Sang Presiden (The President), a collection of his 10 short stories. The fact that the book was reprinted twice in less than two months highlights the success of the book's release.

Sang Presiden is not Gendut's first book. He has written several others, most of which are biographies of celebrities, former government officials or business people.

"For those kinds of books I really write them for the income," Gendut quickly added.

"Some others I write just because I want to build a friendship," he said, referring to his books which are not produced for commercial interests.

The books are Teguh Srimulat, Berpacu dalam Komedi dan Melodi (Teguh Srimulat, Races in Comedy and Melody), Bagito, Trio Pengusaha Tawa (Bagito, the Three Laughing Businessmen), (Indonesia) and Teater Koma, Potret Tragedi dan Komedi Manusia (Teater Koma, Portrait of Human Tragedy and Comedy). It seems that Sang Presiden was launched at just the right moment as people are talking about a direct presidential election and the count down to the general election next year.

But this story was not written with its release date in mind, in fact the idea for this short story in fact came to Gendut out of the blue. Gendut came up with the idea because of a phone call he made to musician Djaduk Ferianto's house and one of his children picked up the phone. The boy said his dad was not home and when Gendut asked for the boy's name, he was surprised when the boy said that he was Presiden.

"I am President," Djaduk's son answered honestly. Gandut remembers that the moment the boy mentioned his name he trembled and felt something strange inside.

"For days and weeks I felt uneasy and restless. I didn't know what to write but I had to pour something out of my head," he said.

Unlike the other nine short stories, Sang Presiden was never published in the media. It went directly to the 2002 Short Stories Competition held by the literature community Lingkaran Komunikasi in Batu, Malang, East Java, and won a prize.

Sang Presiden follows the life of Haryo Sungkono, known as Haryo Timbil, who as a child develops a dream to become the president of the Republic of Indonesia.

Haryo nurtures his impossible dream into old age even though he never come close to realizing his goal. Despite the failure, Haryo does not stop insisting that he wants to be the president, and it is this blind persistence that is the major stumbling block in Haryo's life.

One day, however, he manages to pass on his ideal to his grandson whom he names President.

The short story highlights the futile situation of a human being who is unable to escape his own fate despite his dedication and hard work.

Some people have said that this short story has something to do with politics, but while Gendut acknowledges that it deals with politics he said that it is not political in nature.

Gendut, who admires authors Pramoedya Ananta Toer and Seno Gumira Ajidarma, has a typical writing style which is very down- to-earth and rich in Javanese nuances.

Gendut is very popular among young readers as he is a reporter of Bobo children's magazine. He spends many of his days interviewing child stars and writing reports for children.

Gendut, who has two daughters, admits that mingling with children keeps him happy and feeling young.

In the future, Gendut plans to write a novel. He is looking forward to writing a "serious" novel with non-fictional touches.

"What I want to create is something like Pramoedya's works. I'm really impressed with that man. His works are so rich in data and background. He's such a good archivist. He takes notes on everything happening around him. He picks up things we sometimes just ignore," Gendut said.

Strong research, in-depth knowledge and background can be used to enrich a novel, he stressed.

To enrich his next project Gendut has started to compile interesting news and notes on what the trends are and what's happening around him.