It happened so fast, I still think that this is a dream. This afternoon (September 19th), around 5 pm, a text message from my brother came in: “Uwak Rum had a stroke attack. Looks bad. Tonight the doctors are going to perform surgery on him.” Uwak Rum is how we called Rumhardjono, mom’s brother, our uncle. He once suffered a mild stroke and was hospitalized for a few days. There is also this problem with his kidney, but despite that he still driving his car himself (I also heard that occasionally my cousins drove him around, but that’s not so often). Whereas the last stroke attack was mild, this time it happened so hard and fast. Several minutes later another text message from my brother came in: “It’s hopeless, they’re giving him a ventilator. Maybe tomorrow they’re going to test the brain stem.” Mom’s message came in a few minutes later, “Uwak Rum suffered a stroke and this time it’s worse than the last time. Pray for the best!” I can’t believe it that my favorite uncle is going to die, so I asked whether he’s going to be all right although I know the answer already. “It’s hopeless. The surgery is canceled because he is in a comma. Just pray that he will get the best place in the afterlife.”
I was sitting in front of the desk of my office, just came back from a colloquia. People said that for a split second before you die, all your memories will flash before your very eyes. What I’m experiencing is, my thought drifted to the past, remembering all those minutes I spend with Uwak Rum, who has thought me a lot in life.
My thought drifted back to 2002, several months after the Bali bombing, when mom declared that we will have a family vacation to Bali, in solidarity to the Balinese whose tourism industry was dwindling because people were afraid to go there. Uwak Rum, who is unmarried and doesn’t had any children, tag along. In a dinner in restaurant, he taught me how to drink wine. “Hold the glass like this. Don’t gulp it but swallow it a little. Taste it like this. Always have a toast before drinking it for the first time, it’s not polite if you don’t do it. Hey you people, stop looking! I’m teaching him how to get drunk properly!” I was 21 at that time and had well past the minimum drinking age (which is 18 years old). “Red wine should be drunk alongside beef, white wine alongside fish. Don’t interchange them.” Several days later, he treat me to a Balinese pork steak. “Sana pesan kalau berani (Just order them if you have the courage),” he said. I did and we finished it with beers.
I started to browse through my archive of negatives and try to remember whether I ever took his photo. I remember that I once took his picture around September 2005, but I don’t want to accept the fact that it was the only picture of him that I ever took. Rummaging to all three bundels of archives, I confirmed that the picture above are the his only picture I ever took. It’s a medium format that I started to use the few weeks before.
The occasion when I took that picture is not really clear to me, but it is the same Uwak Rum that I known for so long. I took it in my parents’ house. He occasionally visited my parents just to talk with mom or has a discussion with dad, speaked with me when I happened to be at my parent’s place, had dinner, and then leave. Before he got a stroke and even long before that, before I left Jakarta to Bandung to pursue my study, before I reach that minimum drinking age, Uwak Rum always took me to the best eating holes around Jakarta. As a man who enjoys a good meal and a good wine, Uwak Rum knows all.
Uwak Rum has taught me not only how to get drunk or where is the best eating holes in Jakarta, but also lots of other things. His encyclopedic knowledge on almost anything always amazed me. Mom once told me that during his youth, Uwak Rum was insomniac and he used to spend those sleepless times reading dictionaries! I can never beat him on any discussion or heated debate. He use his encyclopedic knowledge to good use during his days in Kompas, one of the foremost newspaper in Indonesia. He worked there well until his retirement. From this interaction with him, I learned to become a cultured person. I want to become like Uwak Rum who knows everything and won every debate with devastating arguments and commands of knowledges from afar. The most important thing that he showed me is agnosticism. When I were in elementary school I used to go to his place very often because he has a computer that were very advance at that time, which I used it to play Sid Meier’s Civilization 1 (which he used the computer to play 688 Attack Sub). I noticed that during the fasting month of Ramadhan, Uwak Rum is not fasting. My cousin said that he got a peptic ulcer, but I was thinking that his belief were just different “with the rest of us.” It turns out that I was right because much later on he often discussed his worldview with the rest of us, and much later on mom told me that she doesn’t want me “to become like Uwak Rum.” And thus, that little episode in 2002 when he challenged me to order pork steak, which is forbidden according to Islamic law, is just a question mark on what I believe in, which I answered according to my belief. I’m just glad that I’m not totally alone in the family. I always knew that Uwak Rum isn’t convinced that religion has a monopoly on morality.
Being a man who enjoyed a good meal (before stroke took that joy from him), he always gave me money with a message, “jangan dipakai beli buku ya, ini buat jajan. Kalau mau beli buku minta sama ayahmu.” (don’t spend it on books okay, this is for your meals. If you want to buy books, go ask your dad) He keeps doing that even when I left for The Netherlands, when he sent me off at the airport. He gave me several euros and said, “ini buat jajan yah.” (this is for your meals, okay) The last thing he said to me was, “mulai sekarang semuanya diurus sendiri yah!” (From now on, take care of your own problems, okay)
I went to the scanning room to scan the only negative of Wak Rum. While waiting for the scanning to finish, I started to think that some 10 000 km from me, my uncle is dying. If he dies, then this is the first time that somebody close to me dies. And I can’t even see him alive for the last time! I took the train back home still thinking about the implication of this, when another text message came in. I don’t have the courage to see it, “don’t die!” I said to myself, but my brother who watched him in the hospital confirm it. “Uwak Rum has passed away…” He even called me to said it. “Call mom later on,” he said. But mom called me several seconds later, crying, and the sad news was recited again. “Mom, do you need me to be there?” “No. Just do your things there.”
Several months before, when I was already in The Netherlands, Uwak Rum texted me. “Hey, Ninok Leksono (his colleague from Kompas) said that there is a good Indonesian restaurant in Leiden, called Iboe Tjilik, have you been there?” Yes, I found it and later reported back to him that the owner is still relative to Ninok Leksono’s wife and the owner said that Ninok never came there. So I said, “maybe Ninok’s recommendation is subjective and not based on his personal experience,” to which Uwak Rum replied, “But did you know that Ninok has already divorced his wife?” Yes of course I know that! (why did he had to say that?) But that’s not the thing. What amazed me is that despite the stroke and his inability to enjoy mutton or any other good food that he used to eat, he is still able to find a good restaurant at some 10 000 km from him! And yes, again he was right. Iboe Tjilik serves good food.
I still cannot believe that the good man who taught me everything has passed away. He planned to move to my parents’ house and leave his place that’s actually his and mom’s parents’ house. I was glad to hear that he’ll move. We’ll have long, lengthy discussions till midnight, and we’ll create a “blok kafir” (infidel’s bloc) inside the house (maybe dad will be interested to join in)! 😀 Mom has confirmed that Uwak Rum will sell their parents’ house and will finally move to mom’s, but when I asked him he said that it’s just a “wacana” (discussion) and not a real plan. The “wacana” never came into fruition. He had lived in that place for almost his entire life and maybe he’s already thinking to die there.
During the writing of this some-kind-of-an-obituary, I kept rereading all my text message and dug my memories to confirm that it is Uwak Rum who had passed away and nobody else. And yes, it is. Uwak Rum has passed away. In the end, I’m glad that I still saw him before I left, and that he tag along with my parents to send me off. Yes mom, Uwak Rum receives the best place in our memories. His last words before I head to the departure gate is still clear to me like it was yesterday. “Mulai sekarang, semua diurus sendiri yah!”
Addendum: Some anecdotes on Wak Rum
- A long time ago when Wak Rum was still a reporter in Kompas, he was assigned to cover a badminton event (I forget which championship and where). He sat in one edge of the field and took notes as well as took photographs for the reportage. For some reason that I forgot, he had to leave the field but the match had not finished yet. He then asked for a colleague (presumably also from Kompas) to take his camera and took pictures for him. And thus Wak Rum left the field and went somewhere. The following day, he submit his reportage and his pictures to his editor. The boss said, “Okay let’s see your reportage here. The reportage was written by RH, no problem here (RH was Wak Rum’s initial in Kompas. Strange it is, but for a long time Kompas never printed the name of their reporters on their reportage. Only initials. They only changed it until a few years ago). And the photo is also by RH. Good. Hey wait, what did RH doing in this photo??? (lha ini RH ngapain di sini???)” Somehow the colleague accidentally put Wak Rum in the frame of the photo that was supposed to be taken by Wak Rum. An explanation was made, I forget what his argument was, and Wak Rum managed to escape 😀
- This is a classic one. We all know about Monumen Yogya Kembali, the monument that was build as a glorification of Soeharto’s role in the General Assault of March 1st, 1949 (Serangan Umum 1 Maret). The monument was build as a “commemoration” of Soeharto’s “initiative” in occupying Yogya for 6 hours before retreating back. This attack had a huge political impact as a show of force of the Indonesian army to the international world, denying the Dutch’s claim that the Republic of Indonesia was just mere rebels without any power whatsoever. Upon seeing this monument, Indonesia’s foremost diplomat during those revolutionary times, Mohamad Roem, commented to Wak Rum (so he said), “Hey Rum, look at that monument. Soeharto returned Yogya to us for just a mere 6 hours and he got a monument this big. I returned Yogya to us forever, how big do you think my monument should be?” Every Indonesians would know that Mohamad Roem is the leader of the Indonesian delegates in the Roem-Royen Agreement which one of the main point is the returning of the Republic Indonesia’s government to Yogyakarta. I once heard that Wak Rum was only quoting somebody, but everybody thought that Wak Rum heard it directly from Mohamad Roem.
Other articles on Wak Rum:
Black and white photo taken by myself, color photo by Pepih Nugraha.