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Wiji Thukul's daughter heals tragedy with poetry

Bambang Muryanto

The Jakarta Post

Yogyakarta  /  Thu, June 21, 2018  /  09:09 am
Wiji Thukul's daughter heals tragedy with poetry

A revolutionary’s child: Fitri Nganthi Wani, the eldest daughter of legendary poet Wiji Thukul, reads out a poem at her book launch in Yogyakarta. (JP/Bambang Muryanto)

At twilight on June 8 in Yogyakarta, Wani read out her poem titled Puisi untuk Ibu dan Adik (A Poem for My Mother and Little Brother), a 20-line message to her mother and younger brother to move on after her father went missing in 1998.

Wani appeared at the launch of her poetry collection entitled Kau Berhasil Menjadi Peluru (You’ve Made It as a Bullet) in Yogyakarta on June 8. The new collection is the sequel to her anthology, Selepas Bapakku Hilang (After My Father was Gone), that was published in 2009.

Puisi untuk Ibu dan Adik is one of 52 poems in the anthology, selected from around 270 written by Wani from 2010 to this year.

“I feel very happy because I didn’t expect my poems to come out in print again,” said Wani.

The book launch was enlivened by a musical show by younger brother Fajar Merah and friend Bagus Dwi Danto as well as a poetry reading by actors Gunawan Maryanto and Annisa Hertami.

“I’m pleased that my sister has written another poetry collection,” Fajar said.

The Kau Berhasil Jadi Peluru poetry collection is Wani’s testimony that her father was a bullet that hit its target and toppled the New Order regime. But her father might not be aware that the bullet also mentally scarred his own family.

Gunawan noted that Wani’s deep respect for her mother, who was hurting because her husband was missing, showed in her poems.

“Through poetry, Wani deeply admires and respects her mother’s fortitude by surviving without a spouse who was forcibly grabbed from her family,” said Gunawan.

The launch also featured a discussion between Wani and the youth who bought her books. They also wanted to find out more about the legendary Wiji.

“I write to maintain my sanity [...] It all started from the trauma caused by my father’s disappearance,” Wani said during the discussion.

Wiji was a labor activist and poet whose works triggered the spirits of the oppressed against the dictatorial New Order regime.

One of Wiji’s most famous poems that is still relevant today is Peringatan(Warning), which ends with the line “hanya ada satu kata: lawan!” (There’s only one word: resist!).

Wiji was among dozens of pro-democracy activists believed to have been kidnapped by the state on the eve of the May 1998 uprising that toppled the then-dictator Soeharto and his New Order regime.

Twenty years have elapsed and the government has not yet been able to answer what happened to all the activists who disappeared.

“The absence of our father gave rise to many problems,” Wani said.

Wiji’s uncertain fate worsened the condition of his family living in Surakarta, Central Java.

Wani, her brother and their mother, Dyah Sujirah or Mbak Sipon, were psychologically overburdened. In Konspirasi Waktu (Conspiracy of Time), Wani describes their situation in the last four lines, Bapak pergi, Ibu jatuh, Adik jatuh, Aku jatuh (Father is gone, Mother falls, Brother falls, I fall).

As therapy, Wani, who felt her father’s tender loving care until she was eight, once consulted a psychiatrist, took various medications and related her experience to other people.

However, all the attempts failed to relieve her distress until finally she found a “lover” to make her happy — poetry.

Wani has chosen to reach a compromise with her past by writing poetry, which makes her feel relieved and sleep well, thus enabling her to focus on important matters.

For her, the writing therapy also has a special benefit as it leaves a permanent track. She can be introspective when reading her own verses and inspire others who read her works.

Just as her name suggests, Wani, which means brave, now has the courage to face her life with wisdom.

Reading Kau Berhasil Jadi Peluru is like watching a film depicting the distressed life of Wani, her mother and brother. She appeals to those reading her book to feel grateful for what they have, especially parents.

“If you find your parents annoying, it’s in fact a way for them to show how much they love their children,” Wani said.

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