Last Saturday, after assessing a mountain of papers for a competition held by Dompet Dhuafa, I asked my friends to accompany me to Buku Kafe and enjoy ice cream and spaghetti. Nothing but to release my stress from a myriad of job. Surprisingly, I can eat spicy food for a week and nothing happens with my stomach. Nice try!

My friend then told me that there would be Dewi “Dee” Lestari Book Signing, my favorite author, at Gramedia Book Store at 3 pm. My interest in Dee’s novels began when I was in Senior High School. I was requested to review ‘Supernova’ for my Bahasa Indonesia task.  Honestly that was one of the difficult novels I had ever read (when I was in high school). There were many scientific terms and I must have also criticize the social-cultural issues. Not too bad, my team was quite successful in presenting the novel for our mid test.

When I sat on the second or third grade, I was also interested in ‘Filosofi Kopi’, another good short story compilation written by Dewi “Dee” Lestari. This was so philosophical. I got the info from my friend that the message within the story said something deep about life. O yeah, not all singers or composers are as successful as Dee. She can do both, a good singer-songwriter, and a brilliant author as well. What makes her novels interesting is that it combines science element, as well as contemporary issues.  Others Dee’s works are Perahu Kertas, Recto Verso, Partikel, I collects them all. I talked to my friend, Raven, when I was at campus.

“I like the way Dee writes because it’s soft and philosophical”

“Ummh..I don’t like Dee because it’s too ‘woman’s perspective’. I read it as a man” I burst into laughter and he recommended me another novel instead. He said, I should read that recommended novel because it talks anything about ‘men’, haha, but I forget the title.

I remember when I was a high school student, many women authors emerged and brought alternative value in Indonesia. Fragrant literature (called “sastra wangi” in Bahasa), a controversial label, began to dominate literature scene. This literature category refers to such young female writers as Ayu Utami, Dewi Lestari, Fira Basuki, and Djenar Maesa Ayu. They came up with alternative way of expression. To tell you the truth, I had read “Nayla”, but not all pages I completed because I couldn’t bear it. Haha. Daaaa*n, it was full of sexual terms, pheeew. I’m not used to reading kind of novels. I see that both Djenar and Ayu are very expressive and outspoken in delivering the messages about ‘sex’ and ‘body’. Generally, the women authors come with the theme on ‘gender’.

I read that the fragrant literature movement began after the New Order downfall. It was actually the third generation of Indonesian Literature, after revival period (1900-1945), revolution period (1945-1965), establishment period (196501998), and liberation period (1998-present) (Yudiono, 2004, They reveal something taboo, and openly explore sex and sexual activity without using metaphor. These women authors think that not only men who can talk about sex and body.  Maggie Tojakin in said:

It was not a one-off, one-woman literary novelty; Ayu was followed by Djenar Maesa Ayu, Fira Basuki, Dewi Lestari and Nova Riyanti Yusuf, among others, all in their late 20s or early 30s at the time. They had their own particular literary styles and explorations but were united in tackling subjects once deemed unfit for female consumption, as well as being young Indonesian women who had grown up in the strictly ordered early years of the New Order and come of age as their generation fought for democracy 

Other said that they emerged because of capitalistic purpose. Everyone likes sex, so they offer that kind of theme to make profit. However, literature can’t be separated by capitalism, right? So this argument is not fully true.

Ok, go back to Dee, I read that Supernova trilogy is a lot less inclined to be lumped in the same group as fragrant literature writers. In my opinion, Dee shows “intelligence side” of women because she tends to put science in her novel and deliver the message in a philosophical way. It’s kind of a struggle too, right? hehe. Basically, Dee, Fira Basuki, Djenar, Ayu produce works, but with different style and theme. It’s just about taste. Everyone has right to write and express him/herself. I can’t deny that this is a democratic country, and the emergence of Sastra Wangi, for some people, is the women’s instrument to struggle. If you don’t agree with this, don’t only protest against it by scolding, write other books to counter it.

I know my writing doesn’t comprehensively talk about fragrant literature because it will be very very long and raise a debate, but I believe that women have  opportunities to give their opinion. However, I know we have other alternative ways to express it in a more respective way (this is my opinion, no offense). After the third period of literature in Indonesia, I see that education theme now strongly attracts public. Andrea Hirata, for example, comes with his ‘Laskar Pelangi’ and it’s really booming! I put my respect for this kind of book. I think we can start from this theme rather than exploring sex and body. So, women, will you follow? (*)