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Jakarta Post

Toeti Heraty: For love of writing and Indonesian people

  • Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, December 14, 2015   /  04:15 pm
Toeti Heraty: For love of writing and Indonesian people


Toeti Heraty uses her maiden name as a pen name, but in the academic world as on her diploma she is known as Toeti Heraty Noerhadi '€“ after her husband Eddy Noerhadi, a biologist at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB).

After she took over her father'€™s intellectual property-rights firm Biro Oktroi Roosseno as the first child in the family, she added Roosseno to her name for reasons related to paperwork and later truncated her husband'€™s name to keep it short.

'€œIt'€™s funny that there is an entry about me under Roosseno in the Indonesian Encyclopedia, and another one under Noerhadi. I'€™m not sure if there is one under my own name,'€ she said in a recent interview at her residence, Cemara 6 Gallery Museum in Central Jakarta.

There is also a third entry, as a matter of fact.

Born in Bandung, West Java, on Nov. 27, 1933, Toeti'€™s father was the former public works, transportation and economics minister at different times under the administration of former president Sukarno.

Her advanced studies in psychology and philosophy gave power to her words when she poured out her thoughts about women she knew that were blinded by love '€” one sentence for each she wrote on loose sheets of paper.

'€œWhen compiled, the thoughts made a poem, which I later sent to [culture and literature journal] Horizon and got it published,'€ Toeti recalled of her first foray into the literary world back in 1966. And the rest ['€¦] is herstory.

On her recent 82nd birthday, Toeti released Encounters, a selection of her work up until 2009, translated into English by John H. McGlynn for this year'€™s Frankfurt Book Fair.

She also recently released Tentang Manusia Indonesia dsb (About Indonesian Humanity, etc.), a compilation of her saved and new writings, all reflecting years of observation, research and study.

'€œI have an issue with the initial title of the book because it had been used by [journalist and writer] Mochtar Lubis. While he explored the negative sides of Indonesian humanity in Manusia Indonesia, I considered my book a counterbalance.'€

She was also inspired by Elizabeth Pisani'€™s Indonesia, etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation released last year.

'€œI guess exploring the Indonesian human being is improbable as well,'€ added Toeti.

She started the book with descriptions of 19 Indonesian philosophers, 15 of whom were included in the 1984 edition of the French catalogue of world philosophers, Dictionnaire des Philosophes.

Toeti said she was promised that the four names from her list that were omitted from the catalogue would be included after 50 years. Unfortunately, none of them appeared in the 2009 edition either.

'€œThese philosophers represent Indonesian humanity, which, I conclude, has a sharp sense of spirituality that enable us to embrace religion while at the same time practicing mysticism.'€

The list of philosophers started with Javanese thinker Mpu Kanwa who lived back in the 11th century. The list included founding president Sukarno and Javanese noble lady Kartini, the national heroine of women'€™s emancipation.

In another part of the book, Toeti thoroughly examines letters written by Kartini from the book Habis Gelap Terbitlah Terang (Light after Dark) and the memories of German teenager Anne Frank from the book titled The Diary of a Young Girl.

She slices through their thoughts and their backgrounds to find out how they fit into Erik Erikson'€™s stages of psychosocial development.

Kartini, who pioneered education for village women, was put in confinement from the age of 12, prior to her arranged marriage, while Anne Frank was at about the same age when her family hid in an attic to escape Hitler'€™s concentration camps.

'€œThey were both in their adolescence when they started writing '€“ the age of self-discovery. It'€™s still amazing that they could set their future goals and embrace their ambition of achieving them under the condition that they were.'€

She also included in the book her earlier presentations on one century of Indonesian female writers, from Kartini to the current Sastrawangi era, all of whom are connected by their concerns about social and political conditions during their time and a section on the '€œpoetry war'€ in which she analyzes the works of those supporting the candidates in the 2014 presidential election.

A part of the book is dedicated to her family'€™s quest to unravel the mystery shrouding the death of an ancestor during the war between Javanese Prince Diponegoro and Dutch colonial rulers in the 1800s.

'€œWith information I obtained from Oxford historian Peter Carey, our family finally got the answer to the haunting question of whether our ancestor was an accomplice to the Dutch or not.'€

And in the last part of the book, Toeti talks about death, not surprisingly, in a scientific way. She draws on her studies in near-death experiences, her theories about life and death, her dreams and hopes and assorted popular beliefs about life after death to reach her own conclusions about that unavoidable event.

'€œDeath is a mystery, but it reminds us that we were born as I and die as I. Being alone in facing a mystery is nothing to be afraid of, or to dedicate too much thought to.'€

She also quotes a Zen-Buddhism poem on death and dedicates it to her best friend, human rights advocate Adnan Buyung Nasution, who passed away in September.

'€œI come alone/I die alone/And in between/Day and night I am alone'€, she wrote.

Although death is not a foe, Toeti has made only a seven-year plan for living, until the youngest of her eight grandchildren turns 21.

'€œI just want to feel that moment once again,'€ said Toeti.

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