Tag Archives: Laskar Pelangi

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Andrea Hirata 1

My dearest novel readers,

It’s truly an honor for me to imagine that my first novel The Rainbow Troops is in your hands. Along the reading journey, I hope you enjoy the story from my home village, on the very small island of Belitong, in the middle of nowhere, so small in fact, that most of the time it doesn’t even appear on the map. My story is the story of forgotten people and the voice of the voiceless. Anyway, you might be interested in the beauty of childhood, in the neglected 15 years old teacher and her last ten students fighting for education, dignity and invincible enemies, in their purest and innocent dreams and in the bittersweet first love.

Yours sincerely
Andrea Hirata

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Preview – The Rainbow Troops – Chapter 1: Ten New Students

THAT morning , when I was just a boy, I sat on a long bench outside of a school. The branch of an old filicium tree shaded me. My father sat beside me, hugging my shoulders with both of his arms as he nodded and smiled to each parent and child sitting side by side on the bench in front of us.

It was an important day: the first day of elementary school. At the end of those long benches was an open door, and inside was an empty classroom. The door frame was crooked. The entire school, in fact, leaned as if it would collapse at any moment. In the doorway stood two teachers, like hosts welcoming guests to a party. There was an old man with a patient face, Bapak K.A. Harfan Efendy Noor, or Pak Harfan—the school principal—and a young woman wearing a jilbab, or headscarf, Ibu N.A. Muslimah Hafsari, or Bu Mus for short. Like my father, they also were smiling.

Yet Bu Mus’ smile was a forced smile: she was apprehensive. Her face was tense and twitching nervously. She kept counting the number of children sitting on the long benches, so worried that she didn’t even care about the sweat pouring down onto her eyelids. The sweat beading around her nose smudged her powder makeup, streaking her face and making her look like the queen’s servant in Dul Muluk, an ancient play in our village.

“Nine people, just nine people, Pamanda Guru, still short one,” she said anxiously to the principal. Pak Harfan stared at her with an empty look in his eyes.

I too felt anxious. Anxious because of the restless Bu Mus, and because of the sensation of my father’s burden spreading over my entire body. Although he seemed friendly and at ease this morning, his rough arm hanging around my neck gave away his quick heartbeat. I knew he was nervous, and I was aware that it wasn’t easy for a 47-year-old miner with a lot of children and a small salary to send his son to school. It would have been much easier to send me to work as a helper for a Chinese grocery stall owner at the morning market, or to the coast to work as a coolie to help ease the family’s financial burdens. Sending a child to school meant tying oneself to years of costs, and that was no easy matter for our family.

My poor father. I didn’t have the heart to look him in the eye. It would probably be better if I just went home, forgot about school, followed in the footsteps of some of my older brothers and cousins, and became a coolie …

My father wasn’t the only one trembling. The face of each parent showed that they weren’t really sitting on those long benches. Their thoughts, like my father’s, were drifting off to the morning market as they imagined their sons better off as workers. These parents weren’t convinced that their children’s education, which they could only afford up to junior high, would brighten their families’ futures. This morning they were forced to be at this school, either to avoid reproach from government officials for not sending their children to school, or to submit to modern demands to free their children from illiteracy.

I knew all of the parents and children sitting in front of me—except for one small, dirty boy with curly, red hair, trying to wriggle free from his father’s grasp. His father wasn’t wearing shoes and had on cheap, cotton pants. Ididn’t know them.

The rest of them were my good friends. Like Trapani sitting on his mother’s lap, or Kucai sitting next to his father, or Sahara, who earlier had gotten very angry at her mother because she wanted to go into the classroom quickly, or Syahdan, who wasn’t accompanied by anyone. We were neighbors, and we were Belitong-Malays from the poorest community on the island. As for this school, Muhammadiyah Elementary School, it too was the poorest village school in Belitong. There were only three reasons why parents enrolled their children here. The first, Muhammadiyah Elementary didn’t require any fees, and parents could contribute whatever they could afford whenever they could do so. The second, the parents feared that their children had weak character and could easily be led astray by the Devil, so they wanted them to have strong Islamic guidance from a young age. The third, their child wasn’t accepted at any other school.

Bu Mus, who was growing increasingly fretful, stared at the main road, hoping there would still be another new student. Seeing her empty hope scared us. So unlike other elementary schools that were full of happiness when welcoming the students of their newest class, the atmosphere on the first day at Muhammadiyah Elementary School was full of concern, and the most concerned of all were Bu Mus and Pak Harfan.

Those humble teachers were in this nerve-wracking situation because of a warning issued by the School Superintendent from the South Sumatra Department of Education and Culture: If Muhammadiyah Elementary School had fewer than ten new students, then the oldest school in Belitong would be shut down. Therefore Bu Mus and Pak Harfan were worried about being shut down, while the parents were worried about expenses, and we—the nine small children caught in the middle—were worried we may not get to go to school at all.

Last year Muhammadiyah Elementary School only had eleven students. Pak Harfan was pessimistic that they would meet the target of ten this year, so he secretly prepared a school-closing speech. The fact that he only needed one more student would make this speech even more painful to give.

“We will wait until eleven o’clock,” Pak Harfan said to Bu Mus and the already hopeless parents. The atmosphere was silent.

Bu Mus’ face was puffy from holding back tears. I understood how she felt, because her hope to teach was as great as our hope to go to school. Today was Bu Mus’ first day as a teacher, a moment she had been dreaming of for a very long time. She had just graduated the week before from Sekolah Kepandaian Putri (Vocational Girls’ School), a junior high school in the capital of the regency, Tanjong Pandan. She was only fifteen years old. Sadly, her fiery spirit to be a teacher was about to be doused by a bitter reality—the threat of her school closing because they were short by just one student.

Bu Mus stood like a statue under the bell, staring out at the wide schoolyard and the main road. No one appeared. The sun rose higher to meet the middle of the day. Waiting for one more student was like trying to catch the wind.

In the meantime, the parents probably took the shortage of one student as a sign for their children—it would be better if they sent them to work. The other children and I felt heartbroken: heartbroken to face our disadvantaged parents, heartbroken to witness the final moments before the old school closed on the very day we were supposed to start, and heartbroken to know that our strong desire to study would be crushed just because we were lacking one student. Our heads hung low.

It was five till eleven. Bu Mus could no longer hide her dejection. Her big dreams for this poor school were about to fall apart before they could even take off, and thirty-two faithful years of Pak Harfan’s unrewarded service were about to come to a close on this tragic morning.

“Just nine people Pamanda Guru,” Bu Mus uttered shakily once again. She had already reached the point where she wasn’t thinking clearly, repeating the same thing everyone already knew. Her voice was grave, normal for someone with a sinking heart.

Finally, time was up. It was already five after eleven and the total number of students still did not equal ten. My overwhelming enthusiasm for school dwindled away. I took my father’s arms off of my shoulders. Sahara sobbed in her mother’s embrace because she really wanted to go to Muhammadiyah Elementary School. She wore socks and shoes, a jilbab, a blouse, and she also had books, a water bottle and a backpack—all were new.

Pak Harfan went up to the parents and greeted them one by one. It was devastating. The parents patted him on the back to console him, and Bu Mus’ eyes glistened as they filled to the brim with tears. Pak Harfan stood in front of the parents. He looked devastated as he prepared to give his final speech. However, when he went to utter his first words, ‘Assalamu’­alaikum, Peace be upon you’, Trapani yelled and pointed to the edge of the schoolyard, startling everyone.

“Harun!”

Immediately, we all turned to look, and off in the distance was a tall, skinny boy, clumsily headed our way. His clothes and hairstyle were very neat. He wore a longsleeved white shirt tucked into his shorts. His knees knocked together when he moved, forming an x as his body wobbled along. A plump, middle-aged woman was trying with great difficulty to hold onto him. That boy was Harun, a funny boy and a good friend of ours. He was already 15 years old, the same age as Bu Mus, but was a bit behind mentally. He was extremely happy and moving quickly, half running, as if he couldn’t wait to get to us. He paid no attention to his mother, who stumbled after him, trying to hold onto his hand. They were both nearly out of breath when they arrived in front of Pak Harfan.

“Bapak Guru,” said his mother, gasping for breath.

“Please accept Harun. The Special Needs School is all theway on Bangka Island. We don’t have the money to send him there.”

Harun folded his arms over his chest, beaming happily.

His mother continued.

“And more importantly, it’s better that he’s here at this school rather than at home, where he just chases my chicks around.”

Harun smiled widely, showing his long, yellow teeth. Pak Harfan was smiling too. He looked over to Bu Mus and shrugged his shoulders.

“It makes ten,” he said.

Harun had saved us! We clapped and cheered. Sahara, who couldn’t sit any longer, stood up straight to fix the folds on her jilbab and firmly threw on her backpack. Bu Mus blushed. The young teacher’s tears subsided, and she wiped the sweat from her powder-smudged face.

Note from Angie Kilbane – The Rainbow Troops Translator

I first heard the name “Laskar Pelangi” in September 2008. All of a sudden it was everywhere: the book, the song, the movie. The first book of Andrea Hirata’s life-inspired quartet, Laskar Pelangi has taken Indonesia by storm since its release in 2005, selling a record number of copies. Its popularity remains unsurpassed. In 2008, it was adapted to film, and in that medium it has earned awards and gained recognition worldwide.

As both a story and a literary work, Laskar Pelangi is priceless — so admired that men have proposed to women using this book in place of a ring. It contains a unique, new way of telling a story. Set on the Indonesian island of Belitong, Laskar Pelangi conveys a sad tale with laughter and lightheartedness. It tells of oppressed people protesting in admirably good humor, without swearing, without violence, without a divisive political movement, and without anyone to take up their cause. The vicissitudes of growing up are depicted brilliantly; the reader will be touched by an absurd yet pure first love, and one can’t help but smile at the innocence of the children as they earnestly plan their futures. Above all, Laskar Pelangi tackles serious issues, such as the right to education and corporate exploitation, while framing them within the tale of a beautiful childhood journey and friendship.

Having been deeply affected by the Belitong I encountered in the book, I had to go there. So my friend Kate and I planned a Christmas trip to Belitong—and by planned, I mean bought tickets and left the rest up to fate. We happened to stay with Andrea Hirata’s brother, Pak Diding, and his family while we were there. We fell in love with Belitong: the people, the landscape, the culture. It felt like a home away from home. A few months later, Andrea asked me to review two drafts of translations for the book. I gave him my opinion, and he eventually asked me if I would translate it. As a student of literature at Universitas Indonesia at the time, I was both delighted and intimidated by this offer. I accepted, and we began the translation at the end of March 2008.

Translating this masterpiece was no easy task. It took seven months. I worked on it at home, in taxis, at cafés, on airplanes, in airports and during lunch at school. I worked on it on Java, Bali, Sumatera and Belitong; in Singapore, America, Malaysia and South Korea. This translation has seen its fair share of places. Some parts were easier than others, and I had a lot of help along the way.

One thing that was very important and difficult to master was conveying the correct emotion in English in the same way Andrea conveyed it in the Indonesian version. Along with trying to tap into universal emotions, the overall construction of irony in the book was one of the biggest challenges in taking on this translation, as was trying to figure out how we wanted to translate the words “Laskar Pelangi.” The film has had a number of international debuts, and in those debuts they used “Rainbow Troops,” we decided to stick with that for consistency. I am not crazy about the phrase in English and have already heard many criticisms of it, and for those reasons, after the phrase Laskar Pelangi is used in the book and defined in English, the Indonesian phrase is used for the duration.

Cultural translation and its attendant quandaries—knowing when to explain something and when to just leave it as is—were our constant concern. One of our goals in translating Laskar Pelangi into English is to share it with the world—not just Southeast Asian Studies libraries and classes. In the hope that Laskar Pelangi will appeal to a wider audience, we decided to stay away from glossaries and footnotes.

Another goal in translating Laskar Pelangi was to provide Indonesian students of English with a study reference written by someone from their own country. Indonesian students are often given assignments with English novels—what better inspiration and motivation for them than a book by one of their countrymen about their country.

The epic journey that is Laskar Pelangi, the character of the book itself and the central theme of education (from any angle: the way people value their existence, in the community, amongst each other) all contribute to making this book a universally touching experience. Education is a basic human right, and all over the world there are children and teachers who are still struggling to secure this right. I recently had a discussion with a teacher in Central Java who sometimes loses junior high students due to their need to work. Not unlike Bu Mus and Pak Harfan, he makes less than $25 USD/month, and often goes above and beyond his teaching duties, making house calls to check up on students who have been absent more than three days in a row. For reasons of poverty, marriage, lack of teachers, lack of students, not to mention natural and social disasters, many children do not have access to education. Laskar Pelangi is a product of and a medium for the inspiration to overcome these circumstances. This is one of the reasons the book has been so popular in Indonesia.

I am honored to have had the opportunity to translate this book. Many people have helped me, and this is part where I write my elongated Thank Yous. I would like to thank Andrea Hirata for entrusting me with translating his masterpiece. Andrea himself has had a very active role in the translation. We have had many ups and downs while working on this project, and it would not be anywhere near as good as it is without him. I recruited some very intelligent friends to help with the project. My editors, Emily Hanna Mayock and John Colombo, have spent countless hours reviewing the work. Their input and corrections have been invaluable. Jewel Aldea has been kind enough to be the final proofreader (aside from Andrea), and her contributions have really given the translation a polished finish.

I hope everyone loves this story as much as I do. Selamat membaca.

Angie Kilbane – Jakarta, October 4th, 2009

More about Andrea Hirata – Commitment to Education and Literature

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Andrea Hirata has created Indonesia’s first literary museum in his home village on Belitong Island, the birthplace of The Rainbow Troops story.  Driven by his commitment to education and literature, this nonprofit institution is also designed as a learning center, providing free workshops and learning especially for the poor students.

Please visit  museumkataandreahirata.blogspot.com