Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The Great Indonesian Novel - 2

Continuing the ongoing series with This Earth of Badly-Raised Twilight. Chapter 2 - September 1906

Ho Li Kow put a Dutch record on his Dutch gramophone and took a sip of his Dutch beer.

How perfect life could have been had he but married a Dutch woman, he thought; but here he was - running his family's successful rice-lending business and already in the contention for the "Mr Exploitative Bastard" contest of the Dutch East Indies, to be sure - but married to a native woman.

As if on cue, his beautiful but cruelly mistreated and ignored native wife Raden Roro Royabot tottered painfully into the room.

"You sent for me, husband?" she asked, in the demure tones of one resigned to her terrible fate.

"No I didn't, but the plot exposition clearly demands your presence. And why are you tottering?"

"It is these clogs, lord. I cannot walk properly in them. Please stop making me dress like a Dutch woman."

"And you are bare-headed. I explicitly told you to wear a Dutch cap. And why haven't you borne me a child yet?"

Royabot looked at her clog-shod feet in dismay and confusion.

"I am sorry lord. I did not know the difference, lord. And in any case lord, that gag doesn't work in Javanese. And why would you want children who, after all, will be half-native and therefore disgust you?"

"It is necessary that we have two sons for the sake of contrast - an older evil one who will take after his father and be obsessed with European culture, and a younger, sensitive one who will side with you and through whose eyes we will see the events of the next few decades. And if we don't hurry up, he will be too young to attend the 1928 Youth Congress in Batavia, as Djakarta is currently called, where he would allow readers to see an epochal event in the history of the independence movement through the eyes of a sympathetic character. Now leave!"

As Royabot turned to leave, tears poured from her beautiful native eyes like chopped chilis into gado-gado sauce, to be ground by the pestel of loveless marriage into the stone mortar of European disregard for the feelings of native royalty, blended with the peanuts of political powerlessness and poured uncaringly over the steamed vegetables of cruelly oppressed indigenous cultures, before being tasted yet almost immediately discarded as being too spicy by an overweight British tourist in an overpriced cafe.

She thought longingly of the only man who had ever spoken kind words to her, Min, the simple village goat-carrier.


Far away in the village, Min - the simple village goat-carrier who nursed within him a hopeless passion for Royabot - had put down his last goat of the day when he heard the crash of a badly-driven horse-drawn dokar colliding with a carelessly placed house. He sprang up to help, but already the poor, wizzened old dokar driver was looking in despair at the damage.

"Wah - I am but a poor old man whose hunger and sickness are a crude metaphor for the plight of the peasantry labouring under an uncaring colonial government. And look at my horse - if either of us knew anything about bread, it would put us in mind of a toast-rack because I cannot afford food for it!"

"But Pak" said Min soothingly, "I am but a poor village goat-carrier and know nothing about these things, but surely horses eat grass, and if you were to let the horse graze on the grass growing freely at the side of the road, it would be healthier and stronger; then you could take more passengers in a day and have more money for food for yourself."

"Wah, Min - you are so clever. We should swap places - you can be the dokar driver and I will carry goats as much as I am able. For your cleverness, you deserve this."


Daphne Wayne-Bough said...

When do we get to the bit about Mata Hari?

Gadjo Dilo said...

I cannot read the name "Min" without it being spoken (in my head) in a squeaky voice by Spike Milligan. This makes me also an uncaring colonial bastard, not least because probably none of the Goons' jokes ever worked terribly well in Javanese. (The historical aspect to these chapters is sounding more and more like The Sunday Times' serialisation of "Hitler's Diaries": "Only 4 months to go until the end of the war, hurrah, and then I can start my career in politics...")

Gyppo Byard said...

Dapphers - I will try to get a character to Paris shortly. Unless you're talking about the celebrated Indonesian department store...

Gadjo - 'Min' is a conspicuously villagey-name in Javanese. It's like calling a character "Jethro". As for the history, a lot of serious Indonesian fiction is like this. A follicking, fascinating read if you don't know the historical background; but a stodgy, predictable plod if you do.

Scarlet-Blue said...

You used the phrase To be sure, Is this a subtle hint that the Irish are going to turn up in the next installment?

No Good Boyo said...

"Min... had put down his last goat of the day". All rural novels need a line like that.