When I visited her beautiful house and stayed for days, Dinda let me take a peek at her bookshelves. She told me that when the house was under construction, she had to eliminate most of her book collections. Building a house requires us to plan for what will be there, as she revealed, she has to be selective about the things that need to be there or not. Not only allowing me to freely read, she gave more than 10 books to be taken away home. Her generosity impressed me, and I was looking forward to knowing her bond with reading activity.
But instead of reading, Dinda Jouhana told me about her long history of writing activity. She once worked for local media in Medan, a national media, as well as Los Angeles Times in Jakarta. She decided to leave the office job a year after getting married. She then continued her interest in business, while even released a book Mail in 2013 and held an exhibition for her book launching. With her enthusiasm for travel and photography, Dinda likes to create a yearbook to record her child’s growth. She writes, captures, and even layouts the yearbook by herself. This Mom of Malik who also takes care of a family culinary business in Medan has a keen interest in homeschooling for nurturing his son. Recently she started a clothing business. Warmly met in a cafe in Bandung along with her husband and son, Dinda told me about her relationship with books and her writing activity.
Joining a student press unit (persma) requires a vast quantity of reading, but it seems impossible if someone gets involved in student press with no previous reading habit. What makes you love reading?
It was unintentional that I used to love writing. I had many diaries which I asked my dad for birthday presents. At first, I liked writing. There is a time when we couldn’t really afford to buy books. But my cousins had plenty of books, so I liked to go there for reading. Enid Blyton’s Five Famous (Lima Sekawan) was one of them. There were also books rentals. Gladly, I didn’t really like to play around. My mom should put some efforts to push me going outside. So I stayed at home so often, reading books, writing.
Especially in a time of puberty, teenagers, you would write a diary more often, right?
Yes, It’s like to confide all things around and when I read them now, it seems like “What the heck I was writing about?! Ha-ha-ha…” Writing diary had become my habit. But when I’m grown up, I rarely did it because I had few times to do it. And then, the time for internet and blog began.
In what year you started to use internet and have an e-mail?
In high school, around 1997. At that time, I had a close friend. Actually, she was my English teacher. She was a final year college student of English major doing her thesis. She really inspired me back then. She loved writing too, that’s why we fit so well. Among her students, I was the one who suited her best. When she went to campus’ library I followed her. She had just returned from AIYEP program, we used to go together everywhere. So we went to the library together to access the internet. And she was also passionate about teaching, giving inspiration for young people, contributing actively in Pramuka (Scout) as a coach. She introduced me to internet so that I have an email. I have just known the blog in the 2000s of college period. Maybe it’s when I was already working as a contributor for Tempo. There was a friend named Bobby, from Bandung, a fellow contributor. He kept trying to draw my attention to the so-called blog. What should I write on a blog? “Whatever”, said Bobby.
Have you ever bought books specifically for learning to write? Fiction or non-fiction used as the references.
Not used to, but lately, I do. My first-time experiences at writing were more autodidact. And when I was in Persma, I was studying journalism. It was also for that reason why I joint Persma. I took journalism major, many seniors joint Persma and my networking based there though. So it’s alright to join Persma. About college, it feels so long to be there, doesn’t it? We started to learn feature writing in final years while the first years were only for the basics.
So you got your writing skill accelerated during your time in Persma instead of the college?
Yup, that’s right. Before my friends learned about feature writing on campus, I already got it from Persma.
The most of Persma’s members were from Journalism studies?
No. They mostly were majoring in communication or literature studies. But it has increased diversely from time to time. As an example, the Head General and Chief Editor were students in Faculty of Math and Science. I served as a Head of Business.
Head of Business?
At that time I suggested, we should have a Head of Business. Before we served, there was not. I suggested it because I thought that we should make money. As a Persma’s member, I was considered as a serious-not serious person. I was in a situation where I had also been working for a local media with lifestyle theme. This link worked because I knew some seniors who were involved in Independent Journalists Alliance (AJI), they then created a media, and due to my previous experience in doing research with them, i was invited. Since I had worked for lifestyle media, that spirit was carrying on around my activities in Persma, as seen through such suggestion.
Was that the first hit at Persma back then?
Yes. The themes were heavy, serious, speaking of campus policy, politics. I thought that we had to do some advertisings, be a little bit popular, make student profiles, the language must be fun to get more readers. And while then I was actively involved in some NGOs. The NGOs were dealing with HIV-AIDS. I involved as a peer educator who took part in the training. I was a volunteer at the NGO and expected to educate my friends to be aware of HIV-AIDS. Then I was also a volunteer at an NGO taking care of heritage. For having writing skill, I was recruited. I gave my help for a book project on Medan, old building, history, culture. That’s lifestyle and humanities, not so politics. So it got carried away during my time in Persma. I wrote articles about Medan, its art-scenes, Medan’s young hipsters. The reformation period has passed in the 2000s, so we had a free atmosphere.
How about a desire for buying books?
Of course, as I made my own money, I started to buy books more often.
What was the first book you bought with your own money?
Ow I forget. But I can remember, the book that affected me much is Saman. Ayu Utami. I liked to read translated novels, I rarely followed Indonesian novels and prefer to read the translated or English version instead. But Saman was like mind-blowing. Wow! An Indonesian has done it, she was still young though. It was amazing. It’s like my bible that I read over and over again until it got crumpled. What’s more, Saman won the Jakarta Arts Council Writing Competition back then. Wow, it’s cool!
What has Saman changed? Perception or affirmation? It’s about switching or justifying what you have been thinking of?
More about switching. I was so skeptical towards Indonesian writers, none of their works I wanted to read, except ones of the maestros. Books on sale were not interesting. I read or bought it for my own curiosity. When I read Saman, it’s like I really really really like it. I absolutely loved it. Oh my God, she’s talking about sex, talking about politics, she mixed all kinds of things. Not a story of you and me with a chronological path, Saman was nonlinear narrative anyway.
And it goes smoothly?
Yes. Stuff like email, letter thereof, it really represented the era. So I started to search for any other similar book to this.
How about non-fiction books?
I like reading novels, fictions stories since it ignites our imagination. I’m not really into the non-fiction. It’s too serious for me, unless for doing the assignment, for a job. In my opinion, reading non-fiction is for doing the job. As I worked as journalist, so I needed to read nonfiction books to search for references. I enjoyed a few, but reading nonfictions mostly was part of the job. It was my paradigm at that time.
We both have experiences with books rental, have you ever not returned the book you rented or borrowed?
Nope! I’m an obedient person. I used to return the book on time.
Yup. I really love books, I just wanted that those books must be read by other too. Prior to our graduation from school, we’re even asked to donate books, weren’t we? As I remember, I picked my favorite book. I forget which it was, but it’s really my favorite, that’s one I donate.
Is this habit started when you were in college? Giving books to the others.
It is, because when I like a book, I will ask other people to read it too. Ha-ha-ha…
So for all the mixed-feelings of buying, renting, borrowing or returning and even sincerely giving, or granting books to other people, it feels just easy for you, right?
True! I believe that the good works must be read by lots of people around. And I know how hard it is to find a book, or that it is expensive, so it’s alright.
It’s incredibly lovely anyway. Okay, having journalism background, being passionate about reading and writing, so what do you benefit from such things above towards your role as a housewife?
A lot! I even collect non-fiction books more, particularly on parenting, children, psychological development, and business. So my paradigm has now changed. Wanting to build a house, I look for books on architecture, design. Being a parent means, you know, you have to be critical. I have been considering myself as an open-minded person, who will take an every new thing skeptically, not take it for granted, look for other references. Maybe people wondered why I read so many parenting books, overly theoritical? I do not think so. We find dialectics interchange through reading, we futher read other references and then observe our own children. Okay, I do a lot of reading, but I’m not theoritical though. It’s part of taking references. None is absolutely right when it comes about being a parent. One suits me well doesn’t mean that so it does to the others.
How to grow children’s interest in books?
I love this question! Ha-ha-ha… As we love reading, we should expect our children do the same. At the beginning, when Malik was still a baby, I provided him with many books. Yet, it didn’t work effectively. I used to read books for Malik, but he didn’t get it. Long and classic stories, Puss in the Boots or whatsoever, loads of letters, it just didn’t work for Malik. The first books I bought for him remains unused until now since it didn’t draw his attention. What I did after then was trying to adjust the books to Malik’s development. As an example, when Malik was initially interested in drawing, he didn’t comprehend any story yet. So, I bought the books with pictures and censory play. It would be read over and over again.
For how long?
Above a month, it was. Every time I gave him a new book, he kept asking for the previous one. It was like “huh okay, I don’t need to buy a new book anymore”. Well when he has started to understand, I bought the books and kept them. I introduce one book per month. It keeps repeating. Even in this way Malik still wanted another book. He read the new book at a glance and asked to replace it with another book. He eventually became more active, wanted to read more. For example last year I browsed a lot for children’s books and I bought 6-7 books, then I saved them all. I did not give them all at once to Malik. Now it becomes more frequent, a book for a week. Malik knows each book he owns.
Is reading session at night before sleeping?
Mostly at night. Sometimes at day, but before going to sleep we must read books. I do not know whether this way is right or not, but I told him to sleep with, “Let’s go to the bed soon, or you can not read any book.” Or, “we will only read one book anyway.” Then he replied “well, I will go to the bed soon, but we’ll read two or three books, please?”
So there is always any book in your room, isn’t there?
Yes, I keep his books next to the bed.
No matter how naturally parents follow their children grow, there must be a sort of expectation on what should be obtained by children both socially and personally. For Dinda and Papin, should Malik be able to read the Quran one day?
Yes, indeed. He should of course. In the matter of religion I’m honestly more loose than my husband. I’m more into logic education. But we have a deal on religion, what we can do now is setting examples. For example, his father reads Al Quran, his father and mother do praying. It’s more about us showing him how to love other people, plants, animals, respect parents, polite to everyone. If it’s a matter of ritual, then we can wait. We argued on this. “Well, at what age he will able to perform shalah (Islamic prayer)? Seven?” “Of course, he should be able to perform shalah at seven.” But well, no need to teach it to him now. It will be taught seriously at the age of 5 or 6 years. Still, we can make a prayer from now on. For me, the Quran is about Arabic, surely we like to introduce language to Malik. So we can introduce him to Arabic through prayers. We just set him to listen to, without asking him to memorize, no way. So he was not forced to memorize. Malik has memorized Al Fatihah since we often play it to him. Every Friday I often listen to murottal (Quran recitation) from mobile phone before sleeping. Before going to bed, we usually say a prayer, Al Fatihah, Al Ikhlash, I pronounce it, then he gradually takes it into his memory. The point is that we must make prayers in any way. “Thank God, today Malik is happy, or thank God Malik has done this and that”. It doesn’t matter. So this way Malik started to recognize numbers and letters, we never told him to memorize. Once he gets it through his own seeing-hearing experience, we make a test. It’s more fun for him! “Oh, I discover this (letter or number)!”
Do you think that books can divert his attention from the absence oh his dad on a daily basis?
I don’t think so. It hasn’t reached such level. Since he was born, we routinely live apart, so he got used to such arrangement. There are many things to do, not only about books. We must play together, take a walk, and book is one of them. Surely it’s not like I miss someone and then I’m given a book. If you miss someone, make a call, ha-ha-ha.