The Jakarta Post
In her anthology, Monsoon Tiger and Other Stories, writer Rain Chudori shares winding love stories colored with intimacy, loneliness and tears. But at the same time she implies her critics discriminate against women.
Behind a white door, actress Tara Basro sits on a chair while holding a book and reading a short story, 'Smoking with God', that tells the story of a little girl who questions the existence of God when her parents' marriage is on the verge of collapse.
Tara is not the only storyteller in the room. Not far from her, actress Rachel Amanda sits on a different chair and tells a story of a teenage girl who accompanies her mother to look for her missing husband one night.
The title of the story read by Rachel was 'The Dollhouse' and, like 'Smoking with God', it was written by Rain Chudori, a 21-year-old woman who has written more than 40 short stories since she was 14.
On Saturday evening, she released her first book, Monsoon Tiger and Other Stories, in a simple launch ceremony in which Tara, Rachel and other top artists, such as actress Dian Sastrowardoyo and actor Tio Pakusadewo, were invited to be storytellers.
'Almost all characters in my stories are women because I love to write stories about them and their maturing processes,' said Rain, who took seven years to accomplish the book, which comprises eight short stories, including the two already mentioned.
Rain's first story, 'Smoking with God', was first published by The Jakarta Post in 2009 and it impressed its readers, including Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia publishing company editor Christina Udiani.
'When I read it for the first time, I thought that it was a very good literary work. I was surprised after knowing that an underage child wrote it. Although written in English, it is still an Indonesian literature piece,' Christina said of Rain, who was 14 at that time.
After reading Rain's other stories, including 'Monsoon Tiger', on entertainment website Whiteboard Journal in 2013, Christina went to her, saying she would compile her works and publish them in a book because she thought they were simply worth reading.
Christina was impressed by how Rain captured social issues through the perspective of women perspective and beautifully translated them into words and sentences.
In 'Monsoon Tiger', Rain tells of a woman who wholeheartedly takes care of a tiger amid a loneliness that she feels in the relationship with her unfriendly lover. Meanwhile, in 'Beneath the Bougainvilleas', she tells about a women involved in forbidden love.
In the book, Rain mixed true events in the lives of herself, her family and her friends with fictional plots. Therefore, she changed the names of characters, although they actually existed in a real life. She also hid time and place settings.
'Every emotion in this book is real. The things that I consider as fiction are the names of the characters and the chronologies of the stories. My love for them is also real,' she said.
In the book, Rain was not worried about sharing her personal love stories, ranging from her first love to her broken-hearted experiences.
'I fell in love with a lot of men and I broke their hearts a hundred times. I think it is important. Women should break their hearts,' she joked, adding that she had been broken-hearted twice.
Rain wrote such experiences in 'Monsoon Tiger' and 'The Sandcastle', saying that she also included the story of her complicated love with her boyfriend who was twice as old as she was when she was 15. 'There is no standard age to fall in love and to get heart break.'
According to Rain, love is the essence of the book, but what connects all seven stories is women's desire to want and to get something more, which can be a better career, a better boyfriend, a better husband and everything.
'We [women] want to be the best and we want to and should be on top of the world. Every woman is a survivor,' she said.
The book is concerned with women because Rain still witnesses that as of today, they are still the object of discrimination and violent action, such as sexual abuse, street harassment and rape.
When she attended discussions about women's issues, for example, the number of male speakers was often more than that of female speakers, an imbalance that made her think that women's voices were still neglected, even on their own issues, and that male perspectives about them were more dominant.
'It is time to see and understand women from their own perspectives,' she said.
Rain's critical feminist thinking is influenced by her mother, noted writer and Tempo magazine journalist Leila S. Chudori, who tells her that women have to be strong in all dimensions of life and have to get equal rights and opportunities to speak up.
'She [Leila] is the one who teaches me to write, but we have different writing styles,' Rain said, admitting that her love for literature probably came from her family members, including her grandfather, the late veteran journalist and the Post's founder Muhammad Chudori.
She hoped that her book, which brings women's lives into a spotlight, would motivate a lot of women, especially young girls, to reach their dreams.
'If this book can inspire at least one girl, I will be very happy,' said Rain, who is still studying in the film school at Bina Nusantara University.
She said that she was still learning to be a good writer and in the future, she would write funny yet touching personal essays from a mother's perspective.
Rain's first anthology has received kudos from many respected writers, including her idol, Laksmi Pamuntjak.
'Not only does she [Rain] have an ear for the music of language, but she also writes with the nimbleness, maturity and emotional acuity of someone way beyond her years. Packed with wit, irony and wisdom, her stories simply glitter,' Laksmi wrote in a statement.
' Photos by JP/A. Kurniawan Ulung