Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, August 23, 2010

"Her" by Titus Basino-An Indonesian Short Story

"Her" by Titis Basino (2001, 5 pages, translated from Indonesian by Florence Lamoureux)

A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on one the the blogs I admire, Novroz' Favorite Things indicating that Novroz was going to do a series of special posts on her blog honoring Indonesia's day of independence from colonial domination, celebrated on August 17.   I then somehow decided to Google "independence day world wide" and found a whole list of days and countries.    I noticed also that the independence day of  Malaysia will be observed at the end of August.    I wanted to honor these two South East Asia countries-both just a few hours from my home in Manila by posting on some short stories by Indonesia writers and then Malaysian.    I think I will do a total of five posts on Indonesian short stories.   I have decided to do separate posts on each writer so as to give a bit more change to spotlight the writers and also to allow a Google search  on some of these not yet well know writers to find at least my post.

Titis Basino was born in 1939 in Magalang Indonesia.    She graduated from the University of Indonesia in 1962.     She began to publish short stories in 1963 but family and other obligations limited her writing time up until 1997 since which time she has been very prolific.   She is a Professor at the University of Indonesia according to the latest information I have.    She has won several international awards for her stories.    She writes on a diverse range of topics but is best known for her writings concerning the role of women in modern Indonesia.

We have all read many books, seen movies heard stories about adultery, betrayal in marriage and the shame it can bring.    The central character of "Her" is a distinguished woman, widely respected in her community and a leader in civic organizations.    She and her husband have ten children.    She tries very hard to be a good wife in all ways and everything in the story says she was.    Then one day her husband begins to come home less frequently.

Just like that I let him leave. I listened to the steadily fading sound of his car as he drove away. The motor grew fainter and fainter until it was finally drowned out by the children’s voices. At moments like that I felt that he accepted the freedom I had given him with too obvious relief.
For a while now he could live without demands from his fussy children and his immature wife. I knew his routine so well. As he came to the bend in the road past our house he would look back at the ten children lined up in front of the door. He would wave at them, but no one would wave back. They well knew that their father was not going to his office, but rather to another home, one where someone else would welcome him with that special warmth a wife reserves for greeting her husband.
The car disappeared into the distance and still the children continued to stare up the road. They seemed mesmerized, waiting there on the chance that he might turn back. I wished there were some way to make them forget these scenes more quickly.
Anyone can see he is having an affair.   However I was shocked when I realized he was courting a second wife as is permitted by law and to which little if any social stigma attaches to the man.   This does not lessen the pain of his wife and in fact to me it seems to make it worse.   The wife does not understand why her husband  must do this.   Her husband remarries and her pride is shattered but for the sake of her children she cannot break down.   She does tell them their father will be home less and have less money for them.   Only to herself does she express her pain.

Each time he left I felt a terrible loneliness. It was almost as though I had a wound that left no scar. I tried not let my health deteriorate, however. There was no question about what would become of the children if I were to die. They would be taken to their father’s other wife. It was for this reason that I was careful to disguise my emotions and maintain the harmony in our home—a home without my husband. Whether or not the children understood this sacrifice I’ll never know; they were too young to express such thoughts. I simply went about life swallowing my pride with my rice.

I feel a need to share the woman's final pleadings with her husband not to remarry:

The evening of my husband’s second marriage I tried to reason with him. His voice sounded so strange that I could hardly recognize it. It was as though he were a child again.
"So you married her?"
"Yes, why not?"
"Couldn’t you have stopped short of marriage? You already have one wife. I can deal with all your needs, can’t I?"
"Are you sure of that?"
"Aren’t I enough to make you happy? I’ve already given you children, an organized household, home-cooked meals, immaculate clothes, a warm and ready welcome for you and all your friends. All you’ve ever wanted I’ve given you before you’ve had to ask twice. Think about it." I droned on in my maternal tone while he remained silent, giving no response at all. "Aren’t you embarrassed in front of the children?"
"Of course, you’re right, but do I have to thank you for all these things? I don’t expect you to understand because you can’t look beyond the tremendous effort you’ve put into this marriage, which nevertheless has failed. I’m not satisfied with this life any longer. I’m tired of waiting for you to take an interest in something, like a club or anything outside of this family. Surely you must be aware that I’ve been encouraging you to do this for some time. I used to ask you to join me in some activity away from home, but you always laughed at my attempts. You seem to forget that when I fell in love with you, you were an involved and interesting woman."
"Is that the only reason you’ve taken another wife?"
"No, there are other reasons, but I don’t feel that I must itemize them for you. They would be much too painful for you to hear." 

One day the wife is scheduled to go to an event where she will become chairperson over a large public service organization.   She finds to her horror that the current chairmen is the second wife and that she will be calling her to to podium.   They have never met or seen each other before.  

Please Madame, come to the rostrum." I heard a gentle voice and looked up into a lovely young face.
"Do you mean me?" I asked.
"Yes," was all she answered.
Somewhat reluctantly I made my way to the speaker’s platform to the accompaniment of applause. "Why do they applaud me?" I wondered. Possibly this rather impressive reception was a joke or possibly it was praise for her graciousness in handing over the chairpersonship of the meeting to me.
Nevertheless, the applause had a special meaning for me. It was like a rousing chorus in recognition of all the agony and sacrifice I had suffered in the name of respectability. It seemed to say that my rejection deserved to be acknowledged and now I was being vindicated by the very one who had been the cause of my misery. I appreciated her where I had once feared her. Had I met her earlier I would have been impressed with her cunning at capturing a husband; now I was impressed with the graceful manner in which she protected her rival’s feelings.
Everything had turned out for the best. I was now much more content when he went to her, because I was convinced that she was no less dedicated to making him happy than I was. She also had a right to a husband, even though fate had decreed that he also be mine.

Please at least read the last paragraph above and ponder if you could be this wise and forgiving.  This is a powerful story that I think Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield would have discussed for hours.   I will read more of  Titis Basino's  work in the future

I invite others to join in here if they can-just leave a comment

"Her" can be read  online HERE

Mel u


JoV said...

Poignant and well written. A common sad stories among the natives of Indonesia and Malaysia. I have heard many of this incidents on first hand account, but to read it again in a short story is heart wrenching.

Eileen said...

Thanks for the link. I'll take a look and get back to you. I've never read Indonesian literature before.

Suko said...

I have never read Indonesian literature either. It sounds as if women had no rights whatsoever. Hopefully, things have gotten better for Indonesian women over the years.

Mel u said...

JoV-thank you very much for sharing your knowledge on this

E L Fay-this is also my first reading of Indonesian Lit-I do hope you will read the story and comment when you can

Suko-sadly this and "On The Road to Heaven" are stories written in and about affluent 20th century women-this is not a thing of the past, I fear

Novroz said...

As an Indonesian woman, I have to clarify this a little, especially to Suko :)

What happened in this story does happen to some woman but it is all depend on the woman itself. Everyone has the right to say no...but some woman decided to quit their job when they got married and there's nothing they can do when their husband remarried.

However, for women who kept their job...remarried means divorce because they can support her and her children's life.

Tho Islam allows men to marry another woman, it is only allowed if the man able to be fair and gets full blessing from his wife. There are women like that, one of my friends is one of them, she will allow her husband to marry again. I am not like her, I won't let my husband (if I finally have a husband) to marry another woman. It all come down to the women.

Eileen said...

Just finished reading it. I find it interesting that she did everything expected of a wife - maintained the household, raised the children, etc - and yet he criticized her for apparently not having a life outside the home. Total, unfair catch-22.

Mel u said...

Novroz-thanks so much for explaining a bit more to us

E L Fay-a very good point and so glad you read the story