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Rendra: He Dared to Go Against the Tide

Anand Krishna*

My first and last meeting with Rendra took place not long after the
Jakarta Post carried an exclusive on the great poet on 12/11/2005. I
was then invited by a friend to talk on national integration and
Pancasila, the state ideology.

Rendra was seated with others in the audience, and listened to me

attentively. After I finished my talk, our host introduced us. Rendra
was very informal, Bung, meaning brother, You are going
against the tide. Nobody cares about Pancasila. No more. What can
you do?

I said, Sir, I learnt the art from you. I meant the art of going
against the tide.

He remained silent for a while, and then nodded, Yes, yes, yes, we
have to go on. Isnt it?

We discussed many things, and I could feel his restlessness. At the

same time, he was also surprisingly hopeful. What a man! He was a
perfect blend of tragic poet and dynamic activist, restless and yet

I was truly impressed.

Here was a man who dared to go against the tide. He lived life on his
own terms. He was not ashamed of his lust and passion, at the same
time he did not stop at that. He was clearly trying to transcend
them, When I hear people talking about my possessions, I tell them
that I am but only a trustee.

In the next few lines, he lists out all his possessions, the movable
and the immovable, and then wonders: But, why have I been
entrusted with all these things? What should I do with them? Why do
I grieve when something that has been entrusted to me is taken
back by the rightful owner?

Willibrordus Surendra Broto Rendra, popularly known as W. S.

Rendra, born Christian, in Surakarta (Central Java), on November 7,
1935 died Muslim, in Depok (West Java), on August 6, 2009 but
lived as human as he could.

When I heard about his death from an artist friend, I sighed, One
more loss. Two days earlier, we had lost Mbah Surip, another
great artist and a humble human, a down-to-earth person. He came
to one of our functions, uninvited, and told me, I know I was not
invited, but I had to come. Hahahahaa.. I wanted to be part of this
event. Hahahahaaha. I want to be part of all events where our
integration and cultural values are celebrated,
hahahahahahahaaaa. He laughed more and talked less.

Alas, Mbah Surip and now Mas Rendra. But, then I remembered the
poets lines: Why do I grieve when something that has been
entrusted to me is taken back by the rightful owner?

I can almost hear Mas Rendra reciting the ensuing lines: Why do I
complain when something entrusted to me is taken back? Why do I
consider it as calamity? Why do I call it a test?

Rendra was a poet, a genius at that, but more than a poet, he was a
man of integrity. He was a man of courage. In his interview with The
Jakarta Post in 2005, he was very clear on so many burning issues at
the time, which, unfortunately, remain unresolved to this date.

Rendra complained about our government system, which in his

opinion was a continuation of the Dutch colonial system: Through
poems I criticize development that does not benefit the people and
that ignores social and cultural issues.

It is normal for a colonial ruler to ignore those aspects, but after

independence we have to work on the social and cultural aspects.

When a nation forgets its social and cultural values, moral

decadence cannot be avoided. Rendra was very much aware of this:
I must enlighten the people. Anytime there is moral decadence,
poets have to react.

If there is natural devastation, poets have to react. If there is failure

in the government, many poets say that it is not their business. I do
not agree. Here, it is not Rendra, the poet, but Rendra, the activist

During President Soehartos governance, Rendra was often

threatened and detained for expressing such thoughts through his
poems and dramas. But, he was not shaken. He did not stop. He
continued to work. Rendra did not go with the flow. He went against
the flow. He swam against the tide. Not easy, but he did it.

Asked about his support for Nurmahmudi from the Prosperous Justice
Party (PKS) as the mayor of Depok, his answer was very straight
forward: (I) support Nurmahmudi, not because I am a member of
PKS. It is impossible for me to join PKS. For me, PKS is a party with
an unclear platform.. PKS has no policy that supports the people.
When people are evicted and forced to move from their home and
they get no legal protection, PKS does not offer help. When there is
unemployment, the political parties including PKS do not respond.

It was not only PKS, Rendra was actually critical about all political
parties. He regretted that not a single political party reacted to the
increase in the salary of peoples representatives, while many
people still lived under the poverty line.

His stand on Nurmahmudi was also very clear: I do not know his
caliber yet. We need to watch closely.

Honorable, Mr. Nurmahmudi, the Mayor of Depok, and his reputation

for cancelling church building permit. Mas Rendra, do please
continue to watch him closely.

Rendra was very much concerned about the rights of minority

groups: there was a Christian family who was expelled from their
house for organizing a prayer (meeting). Here, I often organize
prayers at home peacefully. Does it mean that a Muslim is allowed
to organize a prayer and others are not allowed?

Mas Rendra, soon we will be celebrating our national day, albeit

without you, and without Mbah Surip this year. We will miss you.
But, as we hoist the national flag, we shall remember your words:
There is a hope. It is not because of the quality of the government
or the political parties. It is because the young generation has
started to understand social knowledge, psychology, linguistics and
anthropology. There is hope.

Yes, our only hope is the Youth of Indonesia. Arise, Awake, and
Dedicate yourself to the service of Motherland. Indonesia Jaya, Long
Live Indonesia!

Spiritual Activist, writer of more than 130 books (

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