Tue, 23 May 2000

Ilham Malayu's poetry a line to sanity

By Amir Sidharta

JAKARTA (JP): Imagine yourself having to live in the confines of a prison for longer than you had lived already? Would you go crazy?

In 1984, Ilham Malayu was sentenced to 33 years and four months imprisonment by the Thai government for drug trafficking. At the time, he was 27 years of age. He was lucky to have enough creativity and knowledge to be able to write poetry.

He maintained his sanity by writing poems, a selection of which were read by celebrities at the Gedung Kesenian (the Jakarta Playhouse) last Tuesday.

Loneliness, the yearning for tender loving care, the sweetness of memories, the inconceivable length and constraint of his confinement and the uncertainty of the future are the most prominent themes in Ilham's poetry.

Niniek L. Karim elegantly initiated the poetry reading with a prologue about how Ilham came to write his poems. The first poem was read by Desy Ratnasari, who appeared in a Japanese kimono. She read the poem In Your Eyes I See Love like a young girl who was falling in love. Perhaps that is what she was feeling.

Each reader brought their own characters to their performances, and this made the poetry reading colorful and interesting. Jajang C. Noer's appearance was particularly tantalizing; she seemed to be in tune with the poems. She has known Ilham for quite some time, and, like Ilham, she is familiar with Paris' cultural scene. She therefore dynamically read two of Ilham's "Paris" poems, Peut-etre and Ashkan Blues.

With Edith Piaf's Milord overheard in the background, Jajang read Ashkan Blues. At the end of the poem, she sang and danced, like an Edith Piaf, in a wraparound batik.

Rap artist Iwa K., in the style of a rapper from the East Bronx, read D.C.A.T.S.W, and People, and offered a distinct color to the poetry reading.

Young star Ade Fitria Sechan, known as the presenter of the Asia Bagus talent-spotting television program, also made quite an impression, particularly when she read Spider's Ballad. From a squatting position, she shifted her arms and legs left and right, mimicking the movements of a spider.

Jay Subiyakto, who was the artistic director of this program, also read a number of poems. First he appeared in front of a black board, and like a mad poet, he scribbled down the last words of each line of the poem And So and So as he read them: "I rise, I fly, I come."

Then at the end of the poem, he left the stage with the black board, revealing what was written on its reverse: "I go." Those are the last words of the poem. Jay not only designed the stage elegantly, he also had a witty sense of humor about him as well as a characteristic stage presence.

Oppie Andaresta initially appeared with her guitar, and she turned the poem Whisper to Him Gently into a ballad. Later, she read the poem Gelombang (Waves) while performing an Indian dance, as if moving to the waves.

Debra Yatim, dressed in a long orange cloth embroidered with green filament, appeared like a character from The Arabian Nights. She read Ilham lightly, dancing like a bee. Her performance was more animated than those of journalist and ex- television anchorman Jason Tedjasukmana and photographer Ferry Ardianto, who were too serious.

However, one poem Ferry Ardianto read was particularly noteworthy. Entitled Kama IV, the poem was dedicated to Ilham's son, who was only five years old when he was sentenced to prison.

During the reading, photographs of Kama playing and smiling were projected onto the screen in the middle of the stage. These touching images immediately reminded the viewers of Ilham's emotions at that time, living all alone and far in terms of distance and time from his beloved son.

The readings ended with the poem Setelah Penjara (After Prison) which was read by Ilham himself, supported by Iwa K's rapping. Iwa said the word setelah over and over again. The substance of the poem was Ilham's question from the very start: Is there life after prison? And, if there is, what is life after prison?

Fortunately Ilham did not serve the full length of his sentence. In 1999, he obtained a royal pardon from King Bhumibol Aduljadeh for good conduct and in April of the same year returned to his homeland. How he would spend his life after prison became a real question.

At least now there are these poems that he can share with us. Perhaps he can become a example for people tempted by drugs. "Hopefully," said Niniek L. Karim, closing the poetry reading.

The funds raised by the event will be distributed by Yayasan Aura Kinasih, the organizers, to foundations dedicated to the alleviation of problems related to drug abuse.