We welcome 2018 by bringing a little dismay and anxiety. This year, the election of the regional head will be held in numerous areas, followed by the presidential election in the following year. Hey! It gonna be the two year-marathon that drains your energy. Not even a month we already smell the political atmosphere is getting hot. Can we just pass over this elite affair? But who do we think we are if we’re not the crumbs of rengginang (Indonesian sticky rice cracker) that fall out along the longest coastline. We have no power, we can only hold ourselves back to be careful when throwing out our comments and to not easily blow our stacks.
The problem is that macro decisions will affect policies taken in the microenvironment. Who else if not us, the rengginang crumbs who would get affected? How can we ignore it while the 2013 curriculum gives troublesome to parents and school? Let alone E-ID card project corrupted by Pak RT (Neighborhood Head) has made us out of our heads, and so many other problems.
I hope religion is no longer used as a tool for political interests like in 2014. Yeah, you wish! Is it okay to pray for it, isn’t it? Who the hell wants to clash with each other until we all get divided? Let the glasses you bump be broken into pieces but not your love and humanity. Yeah!
Talking about religion, Feby Indirani responds to the situation by writing many short stories that she compiled in a collection book, Bukan Perawan Maria (BPM/Not a Virgin Mary). The book speaks of religion in a very relaxed tone. Feby invites readers and the public to relax. For her, Religious Relaxation is the spirit. If reading religious themes usually makes the forehead wrinkled and gives people hard-feeling, it doesn’t with this book. Just take things slow. All stories are short which you can finish it in some mouthfuls. You won’t get too full, but just full.
How long did you take to write and publish Bukan Perawan Maria? When was it started?
The writing process begins in the month of Ramadhan in 2016. I committed myself to write one short story every week, which was finally completed as a manuscript for about 6 months (January 2017). After that were the editing process, publishers hunting, cover selection. It included the idea of making an exhibition. As of May 2017, the book started to be pre-ordered. In June 2017, books have been circulated in the hands of readers, but the launching and exhibition were held then on July 15 (until July 25, 2017).
What do you want to convey and campaign by launching Bukan Perawan Maria?
When the stories have been collected, I started thinking of in what theme I can summarize all of them so that it can be communicated easily to the public. Then I searched for a brief terminology that adequately represented what I had aspired to. I want to make the readers more relaxed while embracing their religion, empathize with different people, laugh at their own selves. Then I told Hikmat Darmawan from Pabrikultur, which from the beginning has followed the writing process of the short stories. Hikmat with his agility then summarized the idea as “Religious Relaxation”.
Furthermore, the concept continues to roll on as a process of interaction with Pabrikultur’s team who later produced the art exhibition. Later on, the idea of initiating the Religious Relaxation Training came up. I invited Ferlita Sari, an experienced psychologist, coach, trainer to create an established training module since she’s an expert at it.
So, Relaxation is Religion or Relax, it’s just religion! become the tagline as well as the title of the movement, consisting of 3 elements: literature, art, training.
Why is it important?
I think the religious situation in Indonesia today is experiencing tension compared to previous years. But it doesn’t mean we’ve been having no religious issues. It’s just that everything has multiplied since the presidential election and also the election of the regional head (the worst in history). Actually, the desire to write about Islam has been much longer before the elections. It turned out the book was completely written and published in a good timing, fine-tuning.
Why do you write specifically about Islam?
As a writer, I’ve ever had some kind of agitation to find out what my ‘root’ really is. Born in Jakarta, my father is Sundanese, my mother is a mix of Minang-Batak-Sunda. No predominant root and tradition in me. I’m not a Betawi even though born and live in Jakarta. That’s why I used to question as well about what and how we interpret Jakarta which is a melting pot for various ethnicities in Indonesia, the great urban and village, the tacky and cool at the same time, that once made us proud but then gave us an all-out disappointment. It’s still difficult for me to understand Jakarta. I am Indonesian, but what does it mean and how do we define Indonesia which is also so diverse and still in process? I feel like I oscillate in the context of interpreting identity. Then at one point, I realized that there is one tradition and value that I always live with (so close that I did not notice in the beginning), and that is Islam. I was born and raised in a family who very strongly hold Islamic values, we live only a few meters from the mosque where we went for praying together, madrasah schools, Qur’an reading, and other activities. I was involved in Muslim organizations which is something common in my family. I’ve also represented Indonesia in the Australia-Indonesia Muslim Exchange Program, and so on. So Islam is something that can not be separated from the values and traditions I live by.
At that point, I wanted and indeed needed to write more about Islam. I wish it could be part of the social responsibility to raise more things about living Islam in Indonesia which if we want to be honest, not always in a positive way and fair to the minority, even long before the Jakarta governor election was held a while ago. But few people dare to speak up due because they’re afraid to ignite conflict with the majority. Meanwhile, I am part of the majority group, and this should be my responsibility as well.
Because I’m a writer, my role is telling a story, a narrative. Short stories are not the medium I used often before. Bukan Perawan Maria is my first short story collection. I want to speak through literature, I believe this is an effective medium for growing empathy. Literature can reveal truths that may be difficult to accept as the facts, but at the same time, it’s open to many interpretations and unlimited imagination.
Aside from publisher, with whom you collaborate with to support the campaign for Bukan Perawan Maria?
Not only with Pabrikultur as the publisher, Bukan Perawan Maria is supported by the Jakarta Arts Council, especially its chairman, Mas Irawan Karseno (exhibition held in Taman Ismail Marzuki. Many individuals who have similar concerns about our current situation of religious tension also participate though not all of them are willing to have their name open to the public. There are some figures like Goenawan Mohamad, Inayah Wahid who from the beginning became the first reader of this manuscript and provided support in one way or another. Minister of Religion Lukman Hakim Syaifuddin and his wife Trisna Willy came to give a speech at one of the events during the exhibition. A number of artists came to be involved in interpreting the BPM’s stories in various forms: video mapping, mural painting, embroidery, woodcuts, installation, which produced a visual commentary exhibition with the same title, Bukan Perawan Maria. Currently, there is a team working on short films based on the stories in this book. They have given support for the stories and theme “Relax It’s Just Religion” to continue rolling on. Moreover, in the latest printed book, I include an invitation to collaborate with artists and creative workers interested in working together and providing new interpretations of the stories in BPM. Some readers also took the initiative personally to become a reseller and promote BPM to their network, to be bought and read by as many friends as possible they have. All these supports are not only touching for me as an initiator but also give me hope and optimism that we can work together to realize Indonesia with its peaceful and relaxed religious life.
Do you have a mission for Bukan Perawan Maria to be translated into a foreign language in order to grasp a wider audience? When will it be realized?
Yes, I always think it’s important for literature that stories from Indonesia can be enjoyed by international readers and make contribution-however small-to the world literary landscape. Moreover, Indonesia is known as the country with the largest Muslim population, and after the election a short while ago they’re considered to be increasingly conservative. Hopefully, BPM can present different voice, where Islamic stories from predominantly Islamic countries can be interesting, funny, and universally enjoyed as well. Currently, the translation is in the process of re-reading and editing. Hopefully, it can be published at the beginning of 2018.
Bukan Perawan Maria is not published by a major publisher, how is the sales and result target so far?
This is the tough one. Especially at the beginning, I should be really up to send books too. From upstream to downstream, I got involved in everything. So far, in the terms of a book that marketed in the major bookstores, it’s quite joyful. Sales indeed mean a struggle for an indie publisher.
How was the public appreciation to this book?
The response was encouraging, but here is the challenge of selling an indie book. Since news coverage for BPM is quite a lot in various mainstream media and social media accounts, many people have heard about it at least the title and theme. But then they don’t know where to look for it. Where to buy? People often ask, “I have searched in Gramedia, but why it’s not available?” Then I must answer to them one by one.
Who’s the editor? It’s not listed in the book. And how does the editing process work related to the process of editing-writing in which the role of editor increasingly shifted “only” as a proof-reader?
The BPM’s editor and owner of Pabrikultur, Mas Hikmat Darmawan was quite dialectical since the beginning of the editing process. The roles of the editor here included choosing the title, arranging the sequence of stories in the book, and taking part in the discussion to formulate the theme of Religious Relaxation and the concept of the book and on how to introduce it to the public. I think it’s a real editorial function, so he serves not only as the proofreader like what mostly happened today. Proofreader is important as well, and BPM has none, that’s why there are lots of typos in the first edition, but it’s getting better in the last edition.
Would you mind talking about the method of Religious Relaxation Training?
In brief, the method is about 30% lecturing, 30% group discussion, the rest are games, exercises, role-playing. Well, the further details are on our psychologist and trainer, namely Ferlita Sari.
Glad to know BPM has expanded its campaigns to other fields. For me, the short stories in BPM are easy to read, light, handy (each short story can be completed in a short time so it is a perfect choice for my leisure time). It’s not intricate and touches important aspects of our social life. Good luck with the translation process!
Thanks. Hopefully, the campaign keeps rolling on and more people will come to support it growing in their own way.