a blog by Galuh

a blog by Galuh

On the Road: Feel the Beat!

On the Road: Feel the Beat!

About seven years ago, the time when my life was going around having dates, working, film marathon, and any other luxurious things as the way I spend my time, I was once trying to translate On the Road. It maybe sounds cool, a kinda snobby for doing that to such novel. But in fact, I just have a lot of spare time, no need to work hard, as long as it’s enough for buying foods, cigarettes, and (sometimes) beer . Oh…that golden old time!

Translating English texts is clearly not my expertise and I can say that it’s not relevant to my educational background. Actually, I’ve ever taught English, but it was for the Elementary students. Not to mention my track records in doing Chinese translation that, as far as it can go, practiced in the industrial factories. It’s really not relevant! And then such translation process for fun stopped on the umpteenth page of the first chapter.

On the Road was part of my chit chat with Zen on here and there and all over. Long after, when a film version made by Walter Sellers was released in 2012, I just realized that Buku Banana has got the translation rights for On the Road. Wow, I like it! If I’m not mistaken, Banana’s first book I’ve read was Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. So, in this mid-year, when I heard of rumors that On the Road has been completely translated by Banana, I can’t patiently wait for it.

Such waiting might be disturbing for Mas Risdi from Buku Banana because he has to answer repeatedly to book buyers who ask “Mas, when will the book be dispatched?”, “Mas, when will the book be arrived?.” “Mas, the book has arrived, thank you.” *kiss Uncle Yusi’s hand.

I (re)picked On the Road among around 30 parents who were spending their time reading Quran while waiting for their children to complete the school day. Both are reading activity though, but I’m not pious enough to take part in the Quran reading. Oh, forgive me, Lord. You must know that I read You, mustn’t You? Then I picked Kerouac.

So what’s happened, guys? Reading On the Road seven years ago when I was still single and when I’m now a mom gave me different pearls of wisdom. Gosh, really?! But, it’s a different sensation indeed. The feeling is absolutely distinctive.

The novel On the Road tells about a friendship between Sal Paradise (Jack Kerouac) and his alter-ego: Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) bound after the end of the World War II. I don’t really understand how this kind of friendship of two men grew up. Particularly, they’ve just known each other. How come they’re matched and decide in an instant to have a long journey going in America together. Maybe, and it’s just maybe, they previously known each other through their mutual friend, Carlo Marx (Allen Ginsberg). However, it would be impossible if they know each other via the internet. And maybe it’s about how convincing the way Carlo Marx tells on both of them so that it makes them feel closer to each other. Like nowadays, someone can feel closer to the other living in miles distance away because as the cyber citizens they often read or heard their babbles on each other. At the first meeting, they can easily be connected, just like an electricity that sparks the bromance souls.

For those who consider themselves as “civilized”, this novel will be not appealing at all, or it’s even disgusting. From the beginning to the end, it’s full of young people who were reckless, drunken (alcohol or drug), smoke weed, do free sex and threesome, homosexuals, make a living only for today, and when they have no money, they do stealing and also go to prostitutes.

I’m not summarizing On the Road here, elaborating a synopsis, speaking of On the Road’s influence, giving an insight or advice. It will be so long! Not to mention talking about the Beat generation, it could be a separate post.

What is clear that it’s really different to read On the Road at the time your life is all confused because of your desire to rebel against values at home and any rule that goes with them than to re-read the book amidst all the chaos on your daily basis come since you have the installment and bill, scattered toys, a pile of dirty plates, unironed clothes, the ups and down of motherhood, and the traffic jam that happens every day in the south Bandung. Once, it was romantic to go around Jakarta and other cities on the bus. But now, just take the plane, please!

If the generation that came after the World War I referred as Lost Generation, those that came after the World War II (precisely in America) is called Beat Generation. Beat can be interpreted as a boom, yet in the context of On the Road, Beat refers to Beatnik. It also refers to Beatification, a Catholic term to for one’s purification process after one’s death.

Yup! This novel is written by using materials on the post-World War II generation. I can’t imagine how to travel from one city to another by hitchhiking, catching a ride on bus, truck, personal car and of course, robbing cars. What I can figure out now when I’m reading On the Road in a different circumstance is all about the trucks, trailer truck, oil tanks, and concrete mills along shitty narrow roads in South Bandung. This only can happen by the stupidity of our government: the industrial factories stand beside residence areas.

Oops! I’m blaming on the government! Hey, do it while you can. By the way, except the part about robbing cars, I see that the online taxi and ridesharing are in the same spirit to the hitchhiking in the Kerouac’s era. How visionary these young people of 1950s were.

Kerouac took a journey with Cassady and his friends for about five years before he finally wrote On the Road in only three weeks! You can imagine how an uncut piece of paper along 36 meter with word by word dives down on it unrelentingly, unless it’s the time for sleeping, eating and perhaps, going to the toilet. What kind of spontaneity did he possess? To write non-stop all day and night accompanied by the cigarettes and cups of coffee. I guess there was only cigarettes and coffee, and please believe it. If you don’t, you’re free to read another review.

The draft of his novel was not accepted by the publisher at once and was rejected due to a taste of spontaneity in its language. You must have known what is meant by spontaneity? A peck of mockeries and curses. It’s because of the dirty words, On the Road that was written in April 1951 could be finally published in 1957 by Viking Press. Six years. A very long waiting.

Although it took a long time, why Kerouac and his fellows who read this novel can be so confident in the novel’s quality? It means that they are objective and it’s not solely a friendship that gave lip service to their friends’ work.

And, hey, they’re not wrong. As the book was launched, it was brought into discussions everywhere. Not a short-lived trend, it keeps being talked many years ahead since its release. Even Kerouac got stressed. Why was that? Is it because he became popular? Aye, despite the fact that it was a bestselling and has spurred the spirit of young people, not all people seconded that for certain. There were also numerous scathing criticism and sharp comments. Truman Capote even joked, “it’s not writing (On the Road), it’s typing.”Horrific!

Kerouac has been welcome to the press but then felt disappointed so many times for being misunderstood. All people focused on Dean’s fiery spirit and got affected. Kerouac was even ordained to be the agent behind a changing taste among young people in the post-On the Road times. That was attributed to Dean, a character serving as Kerouac’s alter ego (Sal Paradise). He admitted himself very conservative or even spiritualist. If he’s not spiritual, he wouldn’t make his life busy with a journey to search self-identity and have sympathy to a selfish hedonist Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty). That’s Kerouac’s pledoi.

One thing that remains while reading On the Road is Dora. I feel like I want to ask to be accompanied by Dora every time I read this book. Dora, please open the map of USA! Sal and Dean travel back and forth from East to West, West to East, North to South, then back to North from South. For those who have not traveled to America like me perhaps could be lost in following Sal and Dean, that’s why we need Dora and her map. It’s something easy to find out how long the distance between New York and San Fransisco, or Denver and Mexico, but a journey is not about where it starts and where it ends.

It’s the same feeling by the time we finished reading On the Road: Why should it come to an end? 

Speaking of travel writing, a novel “Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas” would relate the context of the chaos in Indonesian Swansea region. However, On the Road remains significant. What makes it significant? Just check out your jeans in your closet. Don’t forget to open holy books. Is it a lot or a few of the verses talking about journeys? Otherwise here is my simplification that the religion is a travel record (pilgrim). Referring to Islam, our duty on Earth is being a khalifah (pilgrim), so in this way: Go to the road! Hajj!

And yes, Kerouac met Neal Cassady, William Burrough, and Allen Ginsberg in Columbia University. Cool, huh? He entered the university with a scholarship from GI Bill for his devotion to the state in the World War II. GI Bill is a scholarship allowance designed by President Roosevelt for the veterans of WWII. I think it’s a good idea to dream of sending my kids to Columbia University. Ain’t Kerouac and Cincha Laura from the same almamater?

So, this being parents be like. Once, On the Road was imagined to be my trip along Java Islands with a boyfriend. And now it becomes, “would be great if my children study in Columbia”. Let’s save for the fund 😀

Anyway, grab On the Road at Buku Banana and feel the beat!



Title: Di Jalanan (Onthe Road)

Translation Right: Buku Banana Publisher

Translator: Noor Cholis

Editor: Yusi Avianto Pareanom

436 pages

June 2017



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