Sun, 22 Oct 2000

I'm a certified pessimist -- it's safer'

Earlier this month, poet, librettist, essayist and former editor-in-chief of Tempo weekly magazine, Goenawan Mohamad, was in Australia for the Indonesia Update Conference in Canberra and to attend various talks and interviews in Melbourne. At the Melbourne studio of SBS radio, after several interviews concerning the current political situation in Indonesia, The Jakarta Post's contributor Dewi Anggraeni took the opportunity to ask him about matters closer to his heart and psyche.

What do you like in life?

Maybe freedom. Freedom and friends.

What comes first, freedom or friends?

Without freedom I cannot have friends. There would only be false friends. With freedom you can have genuine friends because you don't have to be scared to reach other people and you are not inhibited.

Do you have both now?

Yes. I have freedom - sort of, and real friends.

What do you still hope for now?

For myself, a good death.

What makes you very angry?

Hatred. Hatred of other people who are different ethnically, culturally or religiously. And bigotry, and full-fledged prejudice toward other people.

If you were stranded on a remote island and could have only one thing, what would it be?

A good book to read.

If you could choose a person to be with before you die, who would it be?

I would not like to have anybody around when I die. It might be sad for him or her and I don't want anybody to be sad because of me. So when I die I would like to be alone. Unless of course the person is my executioner.

When you were young, did you know you were going to be what you are now?

I didn't consciously plan my future. But I've always wanted to be a writer, and yeah, I did become a writer. A kind of writer.

So you have fulfilled your ambitions?

Yes, sort of. I don't have that many personal ambitions.

If you could have a certain luxury, what would you ask for?

I'd ask that I be given the ability to save a lot of people in Indonesia, not necessarily as a president but as somebody who is in the position to do that.

If you were given unlimited powers tomorrow, what would you do?

Several things. Firstly, to get control of the Army and make them behave like a professional institution; secondly, to do something with the economy, with the law, to get rid of corruption, put a number of people in jail, for example, (former information minister) Harmoko, (former coordinating minister of economy, finance and industry) Ginandjar (Kartasasmita), (former industry and trade minister) Rahadi Ramelan, the (former president) Soeharto family, and the rest; thirdly, do a lot of writing at the same time.

Is there a specific type of women you like?

I don't like women only. I like men too.

Do you regard yourself as an optimist or a pessimist?

I'm a certified pessimist. It is much safer to be a pessimist. When you are wrong, you are happy. When you are right, you are not taken by surprise.

Are you attracted to pessimists or optimists in friendships?

I don't know if my friends are optimists or pessimists. I guess I need both. Probably I have better rapport with pessimists. But I need optimists too, otherwise I would have committed suicide a long time ago.

However, to commit suicide you need courage and I don't have it, yet.

What is your next project?

I am planning a piece with (composer) Tony Prabowo. He is going to write a choral musical piece, using the Universitas Parahayangan choir. Tony asked me to write the libretto, so I'm going to write about Tan Malaka.

Now that we've done Kali and The King's Witch, our next project is a piece on Tan Malaka. We haven't decided on the title yet.