By : Anand Krishna on

My first and last meeting with W.S. Rendra took place not long after The
Jakarta Post carried an exclusive interview on the great poet on Nov. 12,
2005. I was then invited by a friend to talk about national integration and
Pancasila, the state ideology.

Rendra was seated with others in the audience, and listened to me
attentively. After I finished my talk, our host introduced us. Rendra was
very informal, "Bung," meaning "brother", "You are going against the tide.
Nobody cares about Pancasila anymore. What can you do?"

I said, "I learnt the art *of going against the norm* from you."

He remained silent for a while, and then nodded, "Yes, yes, yes, we have to
go on. Don't we?"

We discussed many things, and I could feel his restlessness. At the same
time, he was also surprisingly hopeful. What a man! He was a perfect blend
of tragic poet and dynamic activist, restless and yet hopeful.

I was truly impressed.

Here was a man who dared to go against the tide. He lived life on his own
terms. He was not ashamed of his lust and passion, at the same time he did
not stop at that. He was clearly trying to transcend them.

"When I hear people talking about my possessions, I tell them that I am but
only a trustee."

In the next few lines, he lists out all his possessions, the movable and the

"But, why have I been entrusted with all these things? What should I do with
them? Why do I grieve when something that has been entrusted to me is taken
back by the rightful owner?"

Rendra, who was born a Christian in Surakarta (Central Java), on Nov. 7,
1935, died a Muslim in Depok (West Java), on Aug. 6, 2009. He lived to be as
human as possible.

When I heard about his death from a friend, I sighed. "One more loss."

Two days earlier, we had lost Mbah Surip, another great artist and a humble
man, a down-to-earth person.

Alas, Mbah Surip and now Mas Rendra. But, then I remembered the poet's

"Why do I grieve when something that has been entrusted to me is taken back
by the rightful owner?"

I can almost hear Mas Rendra reciting the next lines in that verse. "Why do
I consider it a calamity? Why do I call it a test?"

Rendra was a poet, a genius at that, but more than a poet, he was a man of
integrity. He was a man of courage.

Rendra complained about our system of government, which he believed was a
continuation of the Dutch colonial system. "Through poems I criticize
development that does not benefit the people and that ignores social and
cultural issues.

"It is normal for a colonial ruler to ignore those aspects, but after
independence we have to work on the social and cultural aspects."

One of Rendra's core beliefs was that when a nation forgets its social and
cultural values, moral decadence cannot be avoided.

"I must enlighten the people. Anytime there is moral decadence, poets have
to react.

"If there is natural devastation, poets have to react. If there is failure
in the government, many poets say that it is not their business. I do not

Here it is not Rendra the poet speaking, but Rendra the activist.

During President Soeharto's governance, Rendra was often threatened and
detained for expressing his thoughts on the government through his poems and
dramas. Undeterred, he continued promoting his beliefs through his work,
despite the hardship.

When Rendra was asked about his support for Nurmahmudi, the Major of Depok
and a member of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), he said:

"*I* support Nurmahmudi not because I am a member of PKS. It is impossible
for me to join PKS. For me, PKS is a party with an unclear platform."

PKS was not the only political party targeted by Rendra, who constantly
lamented that not a single party had reacted to an increase in politicians'
salaries when the majority of Indonesians live below the poverty line.

Nurmahmudi was notorious for canceling a building permit for a church that
was to be built in Depok. I am not sure whether Rendra ever raised this
issue with the Depok mayor.

Rendra was very much concerned about the rights of minority groups.

"There was a Christian family who was expelled from their house for
organizing a prayer *meeting*. I often organize prayers at home peacefully.
Does it mean that a Muslim is allowed to organize a prayer and others are
not allowed?" he asked.

Mas Rendra, soon we will be celebrating our national day, albeit without
you, and without Mbah Surip this year. We will miss you. But as we hoist the
national flag, we shall remember your words.

"There is a hope. It is not because of the quality of the government or the
political parties. It is because the young generation have started to
understand social knowledge, psychology, linguistics and anthropology. There
is hope."

*The writer is a spiritual activist and author of more than 130 books (*

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