Sun, 23 Jun 2002

Sujiwo Tejo: Sense from a 'crazy' puppeteer

Lie Hua, Contributor, Jakarta

Dalang Edan (Crazy Puppeteer); By Ki H. Sujiwo Tejo; Aksara Karunia, 2002; xxi + 488 pp; Rp 50,000

Sujiwo Tejo is well-known to fans of shadow puppet performances. A young puppet master, he shares with the public his understanding of contemporary events in Indonesia as viewed through his eyes as a puppeteer.

The world of the shadow puppet play is an invented cosmos in which our real world is reflected. Through this reflection, we can see ourselves better. It is a mirror of our own lives, and at the same time an instrument to enhance our spiritual well-being.

Sujiwo Tejo attempts to look through the looking-glass of shadow puppetry at contemporary events in this country. Positioning himself as a puppeteer, he can easily comment on events that form the mosaic of contemporary Indonesian society in the same way that a shadow puppet master plays the puppets and comments on events involving the characters represented by these puppets.

Just like watching the performance of a shadow puppet play, in which you will be spiritually purified and enhanced after experiencing something like the catharsis of Western plays, reading this book opens your eyes wider about yourself and your society.

We seem to see ourselves stark naked before the spotlight of our puppet master, Sujiwo Tejo, and realize our shortcomings as individuals who make up Indonesian society today.

Sujiwo exposes our blatant human hypocrisy, and the examples of cravenness that fill our lives. We have political leaders that act more like animals than human beings. We have a lot of beings with human faces but who commit bestial acts. For example, you will be punished for killing legally protected animals. However, this punishment is imposed on you not because animals have legal rights, but because killing these animals will disturb the ecosystem and human beings will suffer from the impact.

While we uphold democracy and believe that all are equal, we have simply shifted from acknowledging the authority of a king to that of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) as the holder of people's sovereignty, or the president, or still, the ruling political party.

Democracy, according to Sujiwo, remains second best, in the absence of the best. He also gives another example of how officials at the religious affairs office are more interested in money rather than legalizing a matrimony. It is ironical that corruption prevails not only in an office dealing with mundane affairs but also in one taking care of religious affairs. This is a clear example of human hypocrisy.

Another lucid example of human hypocrisy is given when he comments on how the public can be captivated by inanities, and are therefore fond of talking about the high fees demanded by top artists and world-class soccer players.

Reports about a particular actress and her fat pay packet or a soccer player who has been transferred from one club to another for a staggering amount of money will spread quickly as interesting gossip. We feast on such tantalizing tidbits of worthless information, yet news of legislators' demands in a certain regency in East Java for a rise in their salary from Rp 2.3 million to Rp 4 million in December 2002 caused enormous controversy.

We easily sympathize with new university graduates going from one office to another for a job. We praise them for their perseverance. However, we seemed to have lost this sympathy when former minister of justice Muladi persisted in his efforts to get the position of chief justice. We do not consider his effort a manifestation of his perseverance. We have our double standards, although we may not realize it because of our perception of public dedication in the case of Muladi.

When touching on former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid and his alleged involvement in the abuse of funds belonging to the State Logistics Agency (Bulog), Sujiwo says that it is only out of hypocrisy that the public does not want to acknowledge that a president needs a lot of money to handle things. And, especially in the case of Gus Dur, he needed money to face his enemies, who, owing to their past corruption, had more money than the president.

The book is interesting to read because Sujiwo's comments, as a puppeteer, on contemporary events in Indonesia are also given in the context of philosophical enlightenment through easily digested examples. His language is lively although he introduces a number of new words to enrich the vocabulary of the Indonesian language. Luckily, a glossary for them is also provided.

It must be said that the book reads like James Joyce's Ulysses, as the flow of thought moves freely from beginning to end.