Writer Eddri Sumitra, or better known as E.S. Ito, has a certain longing for the past.
The 31-year-old man dropped out of his accounting studies at the University of Indonesia to twist historical facts and turn them into Indiana Jones-like adventure novels, complete with action, suspense and his own philosophy.
In his first novel Negara Kelima (2005), he tried to convince us that Indonesia is the lost Atlantis, while in his second book Rahasia Meede (2007), he mused about the secret treasure that the Dutch trading empire VOC kept in the country.
“Writing has nothing to do with imagination, but memory,” he said.
He used to write his own version of reality in his private website itonesia.com, currently suspended after his post speculating about the runaway story of politician Muhammad Nazaruddin.
Among his famous twists in the virtual word is his version of Malin Kundang, a local legend from West Sumatra. Unlike the original story that says Malin Kundang is an ungrateful son who is cursed to stone by his mother, Ito portrays Malin as a successful sailor who brings his mother and his entire family to reside in Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia to avoid spiteful natives of Padang. It supports the fact that the ancestors of the Malaysian state came from West Sumatra, although, of course, no recorded facts said it has anything to do with the legend.
His obsession with history began when he was a child in Kamang, a village located 12 kilometers away from Bukittinggi, West Sumatra. Being the youngest of three, his two elder sisters spoiled him with books from when he was still elementary school age.
His oldest sister, then a librarian in an Islamic school, often brought books from the school for him. Tafsir Al Azhar, a Koran interpretation written by Muslim cleric and author Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah (also known as Buya Hamka), was among his first encounters with books. Young Ito fascinated by how Hamka gave logic to the Koran.
His second-older sister presented him an English version of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when he was in junior high school.
“I am always curious about history — deadly curious — because there are always missing lines. If we put them in fiction we would not have to suffer that much,” he said.
His first dream was to become a serviceman, leading him to join Taruna Nusantara high school in Magelang, Central Java. The military school was once provided for free for grade-A students.
Ito strayed from his dream while he was in his final year. He realized that his physical conditions would only bring him along as an average soldier.
“I am only 166-centimeter high and left-handed. It would be hard for me to lead a troop and use weapons,” he said.
He found it difficult to let go of his childhood dream that he had became clueless of what he wanted in life until after graduation. He chose to follow the steps of his sister by majoring in accounting, which did not work well for him.
Although Ito feels blessed about where he is now, he regrets quitting his undergraduate studies because it was “an eternal wound” for his parents.
While finishing his third novel about the opium trade in the early 20th century, he wrote a movie script for Republik Twitter, which is based on his close observation on the country’s political campaigning activities. The script was inspired by his other blog post titled “Mama Tweeps” about the Twitter addiction in the country.
Ito said he knows many people from political consulting firms. In the movie premier, they joked about his description of their office as a warnet (Internet cafe).
The movie, which in the end was never meant to be a political movie and chose to be a romantic comedy, Ito called “a compromise” with local movie buffs that prefer light stories.
He is also writing script for 9 Reasons, a movie about first president Sukarno and his wives. He does not mind changing it to make it work for the first president’s children.
But Ito never compromises with his novels, the very reason that has him finishing the third novel.
To perfectly describe the opium story, he has traveled to India and the US only to be overwhelmed with the results of his findings while temporarily failing to weave the main plot of the story.
“I want to finish it. It means everything for me now.”
Perhaps, it is time for him to quit dwelling on history and start to dream, like all writers do.