John Fish B.Sc.Publishers of Tenby in Wales (UK)
ROWSE LITERARY AGENCY DEAR DEWA by Paul Read
ROWSE LITERARY AGENCY
e-mail: Paul Read
Synopsis ‘Dear Dewa’ is a letter written in the form of a book to a father’s son detailing the trials and tribulations of being married to a schizophrenic mother and is an apology for the father’s eventual desertion of his family. It is set in Indonesia, in particular in Yogyakarta, Jakarta and Surabaya. Prologue
‘Dear Dewa’ is a letter written in the form of a book to a father’s son detailing the trials and tribulations of being married to a schizophrenic mother and is an apology for the father’s eventual desertion of his family. It is set in Indonesia, in particular in Yogyakarta, Jakarta and Surabaya.
I hope that you will take the time to read this book. -- you, after all, are the one of its main characters. It is your history: if it were not for you, I would not be writing it. As the chronicler of your history, I will try to be as objective as possible -- as difficult as this may be with your mother suffering as she is from her affliction. I hope my tale might clear up some of the misconceptions you have about me, your father, some of the lies (doubtlessly spread by your mother, lurking as she has been in the web of her psychosis / incipient schizophrenia), and any delusions, neuroses, twitches or any thing else untoward that you may have acquired along the way because of your upbringing and your mother’s behavior.
While we’re about it, I’ll mention some things that may help you with your school work, especially your social sciences.
Some sex and a little violence are intrinsic in your history and I hope you won’t be too offended if I detail them. They are, after all, part of your parents’ history and, let’s face it, if it were not for the sex, you wouldn’t be around. At all. Where were you before you were?
And the violence! Well your father’s left eye, for example, is still impaired from the time she flung a high-heeled shoe which caught him a beauty and damaged the cornea and whatever ocular part lies there-under. Now and again a strange black shape appears in his vision and he looks around for a mosquito or an ant before he recognizes the imprint of a heel. Sometimes though it is an ant or mosquito so it’s all quite confusing. Then your mother swims to the surface of his consciousness like ink in glycerine.
The emotional violence? Well, I guess it will affect you and father as long as you both shall live. But don’t hate your father, Dewa, or bear him any ill will – it was not his fault as I hope this Account will prove. And after you have read the Account, don’t blame your mother who protected you with all the maternal instinct of a wolverine.
I do not for a minute wish you to think you were an unwanted child. Not at all! It’s just that your conception was, well, rather a surprise -- so much so that when your father learned of the impending event of your birth, he fled in panic from his losmen, and went into deep cover at Krakal Beach down on the coast of South Java where he met the Devil among others. But that’s jumping the gun somewhat. A losmen, by the way is a sort of Indonesian boarding house – a home-stay. ‘Losmen’ sounds as if it should be plural but it isn’t. I’ll get on with your story.
The main thing you have to realize is that you are you, you are Dewa, and nothing can change the fact of your birth or the circumstances of your upbringing. You must not bear any grudge against your father for escaping from the hell your mother made; nor should you think any less of your mother – it was only a matter of cerebral chemistry that turned her into the deluded, psychotic vixen she turned out to be.
So read on, dear boy! And remember that the thorns do not distract from the beauty of the rose. Or that Indonesians have six or seven names for rice. Never mind. Just do it!
Sample Chapter Chapter One
I’d like to begin this narrative a couple of months before your conception which, for the record, took place on a badly carved, dark-wooded, kapok-mattressed bed in the losmen ‘Hadiah Utama’ which was, and as far as I know still is, situated on a large thoroughfare in southern Yogyakarta. The bed had a thin but clean white sheet, and a kapok mattress and pillow. Kapok is fine if you’ve been used to sleeping on the floor. Personally, inner-spring beds were more Cosmo’s cup of tea.
Yogyakarta is not to be confused with Jakarta. The latter is the capital of Indonesia and lies in the north-west of the island of Java. The former is a student city in the southern part of the island, and it has lots of arts and crafts, cafes for tourists and lots of touristy things to do. Yogyakarta is safer than Jakarta, and it has a lot less rats, mosquitoes and crime and it’s altogether a much jollier place to live in or to visit.
People from all over Indonesia flock to Jakarta because they think its streets are paved with gold and they are going to make their fortune there. Most of them don’t and end up turning to crime and other nefarious practices to earn a crust. The people in Yogyakarta on the other hand are mainly students or artists, although that is not to say that some of them do not turn to nefarious practices to earn their livings. If you get my drift.
Cosmo’s room was situated at the back of the losmen, had a wardrobe, a dressing table, and a chair with one leg slightly smaller than the others; all the furniture was made from the same dark, badly-carved wood as the bed. There was a small window high on the rear wall through which occasionally floated the squeals of some small animal being slaughtered by the neighbors, either for dietary or for religious reasons -- Cosmo was never able to ascertain which. A small bathroom was attached and, in one corner of it, there stood a square blue, tiled tub full of water, and a scoop to throw it over himself. The water, that is. Not the tub.
The room cost just slightly more than a dollar a night. (All prices quoted are in American dollars at an exchange rate in the early 90s of around Rp2,400 to $1. They were the days!!!) Oh, the room also had a fan which must have had a clapped-out main-bearing because it made random whirring-grinding noises but after a while was nevertheless none too intrusive, and performed its function efficiently while still abiding by the laws of chaos.
Cosmo first set eyes on your mother one Tuesday morning around eleven o’clock in the forenoon in a tailor’s shop in Jalan Parangtritis, the road which runs from southern Yogya down to the south coast of Java and to the village of the same name. (Jalan, as you probably know, means street or road.) The shop was quite a successful affair and was run by a young Indian chap, Jagjit, who was wont to arise not too much before the forenoon and spend some time drinking black coffee to recover from the previous evening’s imbibitions. His wife opened the premises around nine o’clock and looked after things until Jagjit could struggle out of his pit. And sometimes she tended to the shop in the afternoons and evenings as well, depending on her husband’s alcoholic predilections.
Jagjit was a good-looking, swarthy-ish young Indian chap in his early thirties. He was a bit of a snappy dresser too (as befitted a man of his sartorial station and calling) but his eyes were pouched and tended to crows’ feet at the corner, and there was an incongruous white patch of hair at the back of his head.
The object of Cosmo’s visit to the shop of Jagjit the tailor was two-fold: (1) to order a shirt and (2) to hear any gossip. The shirt he had in mind was nothing too outrageous, just a light cotton, beige, long-sleeved number. Your father was always conservative in dress and only became outrageous after a quaff or three of white or red arak. More about arak later. Sometimes tourists get carried away with the holiday spirit and wear outfits they would otherwise not be seen dead in. They return home with a bag full of clothes they will never wear again, and which will be used only as rags to wash to car or for some other mundane purpose.
When Cosmo entered the shop, Jagjit was, true to form, sitting behind his desk, stubble-faced and red-eyed, holding his head in his hands and gently moaning to himself. Jagjit’s nocturnal and (increasingly more often diurnal) forays into the monde alcoholique had already taken their toll both of his body and his business. (If the word alcoholique is not French, then I apologize. Although it may be.)
Despite his condition, the whole scene looked very professional and tailor-like – the teak desk, the rolls of brightly colored material lining the wall behind him, the batik, ready-made clothes hung in racks on one side, and some wicker knickknacks from Kalimantan on the other. A scent of candlewood incense in the air, and a touch of brass in the decorations. Nothing was overdone, just enough for the tourist-travelers to be content that the goods were in their price range, and they would be making a quality purchase.
Jagjit glanced up as Cosmo entered and muttered something in thick, Indo-Bengali tones.
‘Hard night then?’ Cosmo asked unnecessarily.
Jagjit cleared his throat and called for his servant to bring two cups of coffee. It was some moments before he had enough energy to speak again. And when he did, it was the same old tale full of self-pity, apologies for his drinking, how he didn’t love his wife and how he loved his children, and what was he going to do because it was all becoming too stressful?
Jagjit’s problem had evolved into a vicious circle: he was drinking because he felt guilty about drinking. The original problem which he began drinking to forget had now been forgotten and relegated to the subconscious and replaced by the guilt of his drinking which he drank to forget, especially when his subconscious problem surfaced again. He had achieved a goodly degree of success at this and was in the process of becoming a Master.
Personally, Cosmo thought Jagjit was gay and was refusing to admit it. His marriage had been arranged, his life ordained by his parents who had no idea of his sexual predilections, and probably would have had heart attacks if they had.
Am I allowed to use the word ‘gay’ any more when referring to a homosexual? I can’t remember, for the life of me. It’s sort of like Negroes and retarded children and chairmen – all the sorts of words that we knew what they meant before some doubtlessly well-meaning people changed everything into confusion. Are we next going to change our abdomens into abdopersons?
Anyway, back to Jagjit. Altogether it was a bit of a worry because he was just pissing his money up against a wall, and he would go bankrupt and end up half crazy a couple of years later. But now and again he disclosed some information Cosmo found useful, such as who Jagjit had been with, or who he had seen, or who was doing what and with which and to whom, or some other rumor or scandal. Cosmo made notes and stored them for further use. ‘Why did he do this?’ you may ask. And the truth is that I have not the faintest idea. You’ll have to ask him yourself, Dewa, when and if you ever meet him again.
Now, Cosmo was just sipping the coffee, trying to keep the sweat out of his eyes and keeping a weather ear out to Jagjit’s tale of woe when SHE walked in and went through to the back of the shop. SHE who was to become your mother and Cosmo’s wife (in that order. Sorry, you bastard). SHE who was even then suffering from incipient psychosis bordering on schizophrenia.
But Cosmo knew naught of this. All he saw was a young lady with longish legs, wavy, shoulder-length hair (black of course), all the bumps in the right places, a flat nose (which is more often than not the case in Indonesia), and an air of disdain about her, as if she was performing some act that was beneath her dignity (which is often the case in Indonesia).
And she was wearing a suit. That is to say a top and a skirt made from the same flowery, gold-patterned material. You may consider her attire unremarkable, Dewa, but let me remind you that Yogya is a university town and most of the young women there wear the university uniform – blue jeans, a long-sleeved blouse or a tee-shirt, sneakers, and their hair is usually tied back in pony tails which may nor may not cascade from the opening in the back of a baseball cap. They try so hard at being individualistic that they all end up being the same.
Your mother was different (how different Cosmo did not know until later) and he remarked on the fact to Jagjit.
‘Who was that?’ he asked, his intonation rising to a fair degree to show his interest.
‘What?’ Jagjit evenly intoned in reply, his brain still trying to sort out the events of the previous evening, their chronology and their veracity.
‘Her. The young lady who just went by.’
Jagjit had been so engulfed in his shroud of guilt that he had failed to notice the young woman’s entrance. But when Cosmo described her to him, he said that her name was Lia, that she was a peddler of phones, faxes, computers and that sort of thing. Well, not a peddler per se. She sort of did the selling on a commission basis and received back a small percentage for the goods she managed to sell. It wasn’t much money but enough to keep body and soul together.
Cosmo noted this down mentally and filed it away for future use, as was his wont. He stayed another ten minutes, finished the coffee and went about his business.
Cosmo’s favorite occupation at that time was objective observation, that is watching and seeing, but to make no judgment about what he saw. I don’t want to go into the reasons for this but let’s just say that at that time your father was into some heavy-duty philosophy (or so he thought) and he had enough money to allow him to continue thus. This is the sort of thing money should be used for: the expansion of reason, not the acquisition of a new car, or a new set of kitchen cabinets or golf clubs. All cars, after all, are the same in a traffic jam.
Your father’s favorite spot was a small restaurant on the corner of Jalan Prawirotaman and Jalan Parangtritis where he could sit for a while over a pineapple pancake and several cups of tea and simply watch the world go by: gaggles of motorbikes belching blue petrol smoke, girls sitting side-saddle on them, time-torn and much welded buses belching black diesel smoke and fearing naught, white bullocks hunch-backed and hauling, krupuk sellers with wares piled high on bicycles, becaks looking like wrought iron armchairs on wheels, touts, guides, hookers, beggars, businessmen, baddies and bandits. You could see a fair selection of humanity in about ten minutes, and have a snack and a cuppa to boot..
He was on his second cup of tea when the chap sat down opposite him.
‘Mind if I sit down?’ the chap asked in American accents. He had sat down before this question was completed so it was really of no consequence if Cosmo had minded or not. All the same, Cosmo did mind because he considered that it would have been polite for the American to have asked properly in the first place.
The American was a large-girthed chap, reminiscent of the Michelin Man -- a small head on which was perched a red cap with the badge of some American football team or other, and from under which blond hair strayed out, a boyish face, a huge chest and gut, and short legs that were out of proportion to the rest of him.
He did not take off his cap when he sat down which always signaled to Cosmo a lack of basic manners. Now this should have been a warning to Cosmo, but he put the incongruous behavior down to foreign customs which were perfectly acceptable to other people in other climes.
‘Hank,’ he said, offering a paw. Grinning. ‘Yeah, I know it rhymes with ‘Yank’ and I guess that’s what people call me. But I don’t give a damn. I am what I am, and I do what I do!’
That was one thing about your father, Dewa. He was a good listener. People usually talked to him because he did not spread their gossip. They trusted him, and because of their trust he came to learn some of their secrets. I must admit that Cosmo did spread a little gossip but they bait, as it were, to gain larger morsels of gossip. I hope you understand.
So Cosmo soon discovered that Hank was in the ivory trade, well not in the ivory trade really, not ivory from elephants because that was banned, but old ivory from walrus and mammoth tusks that he found in secret places in Alaska – mysterious places wherein lurked grizzly bears and other dangers. But places where treasures like old ivory could be found on the newly-thawed banks, or in the shallow waters. He collected the pieces and freighted them to Indonesia where they could be carved a lot cheaper than at home. So he said. And it was legal whereas elephant ivory was not.
‘Damn! Do a little business here and there. Antiques too. Got a wife and kid here so I gotta do my best. Come round sometime and meet the folks.’
Hank called the waitress and ordered a hamburger which he ate with relish, and then he ordered another, imparting all the while more pieces of information.
Cosmo noticed that when Hank spoke, he did so with his eyes averted as if to attest to a submissive, unpretentious personality. Later though, Cosmo realized it was because Hank could never look anyone in the eye. Especially when he was playing his game. He was, after all, a cheat, a liar and a thief. A conman.
‘Yup, come round and meet Yanti and Daisy sometime. Daisy’s the little one. One and a half. Eighteen months. Cute? You have to see. Damn! I’ve left my money at home. Jee, I’m sorry. Look, I can meet you here later and pay you back. Sorry.’
Despite the meat, two hamburgers were no skin off Cosmo’s nose, and he said ‘of course, no trouble’ and Hank the Yank wandered to the curb, mounted a small motorbike on which he looked absurdly large, and puttered off into the into the blue haze of traffic.
In those days, Dewa, the early nineties, Yogyakarta was not all that well known. You see Suharto was happy for tourists to visit the island of Bali and indeed he managed to get some prime property there himself (as well as anywhere else that had the vaguest possibility of making him money). But he did not want every Tom, Dick and Harry wandering through his country meeting with ordinary people. It would have been too easy for new ideas to spread – ideas of a democratic country, of a nation free from corruption. So he let all the tourists have their Bali Hai where they could drink themselves stupid, take their drugs and generally act in ways frowned upon throughout the rest of the country. Suharto had control of the media, television, radio, newspapers – anything that could be used to influence thought, and he did not want some do-gooder smart arse suggesting to workers that their pay was not high enough, that they should have health insurance, or, heaven forbid, that they should form a union.
In retrospect, Cosmo believed that it was modern technology that was the watershed – especially the proliferation of satellite dishes which allowed some of the population to see both what was happening outside their country, and, more importantly, inside. It’s usually the middle classes that make trouble, don’t forget that, Dewa, and in this case, it was the middle classes who were able to afford satellite dishes, and who were buying computers connected to the Internet which allowed communications that could not be tapped or steamed open.
So Yogyakarta remained relatively undiscovered – a city for students and artists, a relaxing place to live and soak in the magic and mysteries of the Javanese culture. I apologize if this sounds like a tourist brochure.
You see Dewa, your father, Cosmo, was at that time d’un certain âge, trying to work out for himself what life was all about. (d’un certain âge. This is a phrase borrowed from French. It doesn’t mean I’m trying to be pretentious, but the phrase conveys an idea in fewer words than that it would otherwise take to explain. Most people of a vaguely literary nature will understand what I mean.)
Cosmo had suffered a divorce which, although completed without acrimony from either party, had nonetheless rocked him back on his haunches rather more than somewhat. The severance had left him with a small amount of money and an unlimited amount of time, so he thought he would wander the world for a little while and see what there was to see, learn what there was to be learned.
Circumstances without the scope of this book led him to Yogyakarta where we have already begun the tale of your genesis.