Fri, 10 Jan 2003

Jose Rizal and his love of books

Yusuf Susilo Hartono, Contributor, Jakarta

Do you wish to buy used books on Indonesian literature and culture at very affordable prices? Then go to the Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) Art Center in Cikini, Central Jakarta.

Right on the corner of Graha Bhakti Budaya Hall, near a tree which is nicknamed the "Raden Saleh Tree", is a bookshop called Galeri Buku Bengkel Deklamasi Jakarta. The bookshop's name, which literally means the Jakarta Poetry Workshop Book Gallery, might sound a little different than usual, but that's because it belongs to poet Jose Rizal Manua, who is also renowned as a film and theater actor, as well as a director.

The idea to set up the bookshop came in 1988, but his dream finally came true in 1996 with then-Jakarta governor Surjadi Soedirdja's blessing.

"When I went to the United States with Mas Rendra and his group, which took part in the first New York Fair, I saw many shops there selling used books. Then I remembered TIM and how it has plenty of shops but no used books shop. That's how I came up with the idea of setting up this bookshop," recalled Jose, who considers Rendra, the famous contemporary dramatist, playwright and poet as his mentor.

Despite his love of books, Jose has no idea exactly how many used books he has placed in the shop, which is open almost all day long.

"One thing for sure, it must be thousands of books. I've never counted them. I also have many books at home that I've never bothered to count, either. If you drop by my house, you may not find any space to sit, since my books are scattered about almost everywhere. And besides at my house, I have books at my mother's house and even at my mother-in-law's," he said.

With his trademark shoulder-length hair, Jose started collecting used books in 1970. He even once bought three suitcases of used books when he was on a visit to the U.S., and every time he goes shopping for used books at Senen Market in Central Jakarta, he might need two or three bajaj (three-wheeled motorized vehicle) to bring his purchases home. At his house, the books are then sorted out -- he'll keep the rare and important books himself, and take the rest to his shop.

His private collection not only holds books on literature, but also on economics and medicine.

"With these books, I want to develop my children's interest in reading. But so far, only two of my five kids love reading. I still hope that with a variety of books, I can accommodate all of my kids' interests," he said, who usually places good books on his children's beds with hopes that the children will be tempted to open them.

Lately, he has been thinking about what might happen to the books that he's collected for over 30 years when he's gone. He doesn't want to end up like other people whose book collections were simply sold to used books traders when they passed away.

"Once I got two bajaj full of books from the late writer Ras Siregar. Another time, I got books from the late Wiratmo Sukito, the initiator of the Cultural Manifesto during Bung Karno's era. I needed a bajaj to take the books home. Of course, I took with me those that were still good and important," Jose said.

His love of books can be traced back to his childhood, and is a kind of "compensation" for what he lacked. Back then, Jose had no books of his own.

Jose was born in Padang, West Sumatra on Sept. 14, 1954. When he was four years old, his parents moved to Kalimantan, where he met children of various ethnic groups. He picked up the Javanese language and borrowed books like Musang Berjanggut (The Bearded Civet) by Taguan Hardjo from his new Javanese friends. Around the time of the fall of Soekarno in 1965, his family moved to Jakarta.

Apart from books, young Jose was also very passionate about art, which was realized in the 1960s when Jakarta was under the guidance of governor Ali Sadikin, and various facilities, including TIM, were built. It was here in the capital that Jose developed his artistic talents, at the Jakarta Art Institute, where he now teaches.

In 1970, he started a career in theater, joining Rendra's Bengkel Theater Group and Putu Wijaya's Teater Mandiri. In 1982, he founded and directed Teater Adinda, and won acclaim at the Jakarta Theater Festival. Continuing in the theatrical path, he set up the Teater Tanah Air and Bengkel Deklamasi Jakarta in 1986. Always generous with his knowledge of the arts, he traveled all over Indonesia and Malaysia in 1990, entertaining various audiences with his readings of humorous poems.

With an initial career in theater, it was almost destined that film would also be on his agenda. Jose has so far taken roles in several film productions such as Oeroeg, a Dutch-Indonesian joint production, and in Puisi Tak Terkuburkan (The Unburied Poem) by noted director Garin Nugroho. He has also starred in many made- for-TV films.

Known among the theater and arts community as Jose Rizal Manua, the name Manua was given to him by Rendra, who named Jose after a prehistoric animal, but Jose himself is unsure of its significance.

Jose explained that he has dedicated himself to all things in his life according to his principle, to contemplate like mountain and to move like water, similar to Rendra's personal philosophy to exist and to flow.

In his creative process, Jose is often forced to think how his message can be conveyed to the community, and in such a manner as to be accepted. In answering this dilemma, he was led towards the artistic merits of comedy and humor. Jose is known for his readings of humorous poetry and for directing and starring in comic plays. As water may return to its source, he recently staged the comedy Musang Berjanggut at the Gedung Kesenian Jakarta for two nights, which later screened on RCTI. For this play, he recruited actors and actresses who are familiar to, and loved by, drama-goers and TV viewers alike.

For Jose, television plays important role in the development of theater here in Indonesia. If a television station buys a theatrical production for airing, the money will cover production costs and the salaries of the crew and actors. Moreover, people who cannot go to watch a drama performance can still catch the show on TV.

"In a way, a play must meet the dramatic standards as put forth by TV. This is all right by me, as theatrical performances are now just for fun," he said, then stopped, realizing that Rendra, his friend and mentor, might not accept this idea.