The Story of My MemoryOn one quiet day, a woman who was a book rental keeper put down her embroidered cloth and shouted, “Who is it?” Then, she hurriedly devoted her attention to piles of comics that were scattered on a small wooden table. There were various imported comics. Whenever the school holiday season arrived, the comic rental house on the bank of the river would be visited by both children and adults. They spent the time to read and to enjoy the fresh air and the shade of the trees. At that moment, usually, Mrs. Ayun, as the owner of the comic rental house, would be busy serving and tidying up the rental books that were often selected by the renters. I had only gone there a few times with my older sister. Or just to remember, I had visited it several times to rent Kuncung Magazine at that time. At the same time, it had become a common sight that the stationery and book stores in the center of the market would be crowded with school children whose holiday started to end, preparing everything because the school time was arriving.
Under the scorching sun, the congested shopping complex in Sunan Kalijaga Street had tamarind trees, so the road that was made of black asphalt looked pretty shady. The foliage of the tamarind tree fell and flew in the wind, decorating the road surface which at first glance looked like a tapestry motif. The shops lined the street, facing each other. Beside the wall of a store, there was a small building of a book rental. This place was the only book rental in Rangkasbitung when I was in the elementary school about 1989. Beside the book rental, there was a sandy road towards the bank of the Ciujung River. The village around it was populous and crowded. The houses were high. The area behind this settlement became the eretan (raft) crossing from Lebak Sambel Village to Lebak Pasar Village. So, do not be surprised if it looked crowded by people passing to and from the market.
The afternoon scenery around the comic rental house was the activities of children from various neighborhoods. They sat on their favorite bench under the ficus tree overlooking the river. From there, usually the view of eretan appearing and disappearing was seen, obstructed by the tree trunks on the bank of the river. For a child, the book rental place was quite far from the bank of the river. Its position was closer to the side of the road than to the riverbank. At that time, I, who was still seven years old, for the first time was invited by my older sister to a place of pile of books that provided various kinds of books, from novels, magazines to comics. All young people in Rangkasbitung who liked to rent books knew Mrs. Ayun. As the owner, Mrs. Ayun did not hesitate to suggest what to read. At that time, I only chose one favorite magazine, Si Kuncung, which cost a hundred rupiah for three days. That was apparently the atmosphere when the comic rental house was still there. This increased awareness of how a book determined its environment although the influence was small on the riverside community at that time. I mean, the life of people who lived on the river bank at that time did not become the scapegoat of local government on the damage situation of Ciujung River now.
Stumbling along the footpath towards the book and comic rental house from Lebak Picung to Lebak Pasar, crossing the river on the eretan, setting foot on the grass which wet with dew to get across the village, it was hard for me to understand or simply recalling why the comic rental house could no longer exist in Rangkasbitung. At that time, I did not know how it crossed her mind to establish a book rental. Looking back a few decades, the bank of the Ciujung River was crowded by the eretans that went back and forth, children played without being haunted by their parents’ worries. Rows of houses mixed with coconut trees lined lengthwise on the bank of the Ciujung River. From a distance, the footpaths in each village looked like the earthworm’s trails, becoming the barrier between the settlements and the river. There was a disagreed distance between citizens and government at that time, according to H. Halimi, one of the elder residents in Kebon Kelapa. All of it purely relied on individual awareness. In the past, in the comic rental house area, the distance between the houses and the river was quite far because in some places the contour of the land was quite steep. Shady trees grew automatically. But now the trees have turned into crowded settlements that are prone to erosion. It was the same with the comic rental house which was located far enough from the main road and the bank of the Ciujung River. Meanwhile now the stores which were previously the comic rental place and the settlements are very close to the river bank. The settlements along the river bank almost merge with the river. Each time the floods come, the event of floating houses and the river degradation often occur.
The expansion of settlements on the bank of the Ciujung River becomes one source of problems for local goverment so that finally all settlements will be relocated to the eastern part of the city. A populous residential area brings out people’s habit which is neglecting the attention to the riverbank environment. Residents throw anything into the river which is not considered valuable. The river is used as a giant grinder of household and industrial waste. On the other hand, they depend on the river so much. The impact will not be felt in a short time for the citizens. Environmentalists term the issue of the bank of the Ciujung River as the thing which is like a snowball, an issue that is allowed to roll, forming a big complicated problem. The life of residents on the riverbank becomes ironic and unpleasant for the current generation. The whole rhythm of life becomes increasingly fast. A new life pattern appears. Small industries and settlements appear, forming the river’s appearance looks increasingly dirty. The residential area on the riverbank develops as a bedroom and a place to produce merchandise for the citizens of Rangkasbitung. More and more people move there, followed by the lower middle class people who build new buildings with the irony behind the houses, the cliffs on the riverbank are filled with garbage and household waste flows downstream. Let’s say that the bank of the river has been becoming the only place for residents of Rangkasbitung to survive until now, just like when I explored the riverbank by eretan towards the former comic rental house. I saw children playing and people who were using the water from the river on the bank of the Ciujung River. The shady trees that had grown automatically did not exist anymore. The trees had turned into crowded settlements on the riverbank which was prone to erosion. It was the same with the comic rental house that had been out of sight. The stores which had been previously a comic rental place and the settlements were very close to the river bank. The distance was getting smaller because every time there was flood the land was always eroded by the water from the river.
The book rental place in Rangkasbitung does not exist anymore. Buying books is quite a difficult thing in Rangkasbitung, let alone a book rental, especially after digital books are more easily accessed on the internet that people are reluctant to make a book rental or book selling business. The situation would be different if in one city there are many places selling books, surely the city is more advanced because there is a stimulant. But I also doubt it that if there were many book stores they would be able to provide the improvement for the next generation because as far as I know, we are lazy. Now, if there is any, it was limited to the bookstore for stationery needs only. In recent years, Rabinsa supermarket has opened a bookstore but books that are sold are very limited and are mostly dominated by theme of religion.
In the past, eretan was often used by the neighbor residents of Lebak Pasar Village to visit the comic house which had ever moved twice around the bank of the river. The comic house became a good story for the life on the bank of the Ciujung River, also for us and other Rangkasbitung’s people who had ever visited the comic house when it was still there around the 1990s. Children always played on the bank of the river every morning and afternoon because there was a large area for playing. Meanwhile, some other residents relaxed or used the water resource below. There were also many residents who dared to sit on the bank of the river just to breathe the fresh air. When I was a child, I often took shelter under the shade of a tree to hide from the sun, looking for coolness and fun on the river bank while reading a rental book. The shady trees produce more oxygen when the scorching heat came. The riverbank became the only place that could provide a long breath of fresh air.
I tried to find a more detailed information about the establishment and the loss of the comic house that had been located on the bank of Ciujung River. Ida Farida, 78 years old, one of Mrs. Ayun’s daughters who was still alive, talked what she had known about the establishment of the comic and book rental at her home in Depok. Her speech was sometimes random and emotional.
The Story of Mrs. Ida’s MemoryWhat can be expected from a woman when she has a husband who is lazy to work? The life inside and outside the marriage is certainly full of joy and sorrow. I know that all men believe that they have pride. When a child sees her mother work very hard, then I would understand if that child is eventually furious.
“If you successfully make a business, I’ll get naked in front of the house,” so my mother said.
The great frustration then came. Those words made my father decide to work in Batavia (Jakarta). A year later, father quit working and returned to Rangkasbitung. Towards the end of the Dutch occupation in Lebak, father set up a small business. Father made a photo studio business called Bantam (Banten). This business had survived until 1999 before finally being sold to someone else. My good mother had ‘a thousand ideas’ to make her children happy and to survive. When one business failed, then mother would make an idea of another business that was not less good than the previous idea.
An educated mother who has thoroughness, perseverance and patience would become a role model for her children. In fact, I was often amazed at that time. If there was a question about the impression of Rangkasbitung in the past, then I would answer: “beautiful”. I try to be honest about what I’ve ever experienced though digging memories of the past, for most people, is very difficult. I feel just the opposite. I am absolutely able to remember the events of the past of course it is not the memory of important events, but ordinary events of everyday life. After my parents got divorced, my mother’s life was a mess. She decided to move to Tangerang. There, her life did not get better so she returned home to Rangkasbitung. Finally, she decided to make a comic and book rental business in Chinatown. She started the business around the 1950s. She got the novels and comics from Senen Market, Jakarta. So, when shopping, she had to take the Rangkasbitung-Senen Market train. She brought novels and comics such as Don Quixote, Copinho, Tarzan, Rip Kirby and others. I did not know how she knew the foreign comics very well. I thought it might be from my grandfather, because as a Digulist, a movement partisan who was exiled to Digul, generally they liked to read. Maybe it influenced my mother’s habit.
The novel and comic rental was in the Chinatown. From the direction of Lebak Picung bridge then turn left, you would get there. Every resident of Rangkasbitung at that time knew the Chinatown. That village had been there since the earlier times. In my day, it was better known as Baba Beck area, the only small village that had a school and a church. At that school, I had ever learned Dutch. All the respectable young women in Rangkasbitung had studied there. At that time, the religious differences were not an interaction obstacle among teenagers because the Bethel Church there became a place to learn languages and science for anyone who wanted to. I never used even only one Dutch word. So, I just remember a little.
My mother had still been opening the comic rental business in 1980. Her second husband, who was younger than my mother, was the cause of family finances getting worse. At that time, there was no option to settle. It was impossible to return to Bantam Photo Studio, to the lazy man. There were no children born from her new husband’s family who could improve their descent’s history. Mother eventually moved to a house in Lebak Picung and reopened the comic and book rental. It was a village that was located along the bank of the river towards Pandeglang. Once, she was asked to move from the roadside by the Local Government, because her house was too close to the main road. So, my mother built a house below, near the railroad bridge of Rangkasbitung-Bayah. That area was famous for the presence of a Chinese noodle seller. Her name was Mbok Kartun. In the past, residents were allowed to build houses on the bank of the river. Mother had been living there for a very long time. The settlements near the bridge below were very crowded. I, who experienced living in downtown Rangkasbitung, on Pahlawan Street, saw that Lebak Picung village was similar to Mexico in the 1930s where the residents’ life was unclear and prone to civil war. They had a sense of high fanatic, but their life was unclear. The lifestyle was different from other villages in Rangkasbitung. In one village of which all residents were related the riot often happened. It was different from the area of Pahlawan Street’s residents whose lives were individual and majority of them were respectable. My mother had been surviving to rent out the novels and comics in Lebak Picung for a long time, until the 1990s.
In the past, when the Dutch ruled Lebak, a sado (traditional horse-drawn buggy) was the main vehicle of Rangkasbitung. The habit of the residents of Rangkasbitung reflected their city’s character. At that time, many houses had a courtyard and every morning people liked to read the newspaper wherever they were. My mother had already had a large collection of books at that time. Usually a worker who became a rich official was called Embah. I often played with the Nam-Nam fruit in front of the house of Dr. Adjidarmo. I tied the fruit and took it from outside the fence. Until one day, I was chased by the house caretaker and was pelted with gravel while he was shouting, “Hey! Still young and already stealing!” I ran as fast as I could towards my house. Actually, I was so shocked getting shouted at that I threw away the fruit and flower in an instant. I still remember my childhood memory about the condition of Rangkasbitung, also the habit of looking for fish and haremis (a type of clam that lived in the river) when Ciujung River was dry and turned into a land in the dry season. Other memory that was no less enjoyable for me was when Sunday arrived. After reading the comic, I would go to buy fruit riding my bicycle to Pandeglang. I forget the name of the fruit, but clearly remember its shape. It was like a breadfruit which when was peeled, the seed looked like a Japanese theater mask. I used to pierce the seed with bamboo then stick the bamboo into the ground on the bank of the Ciujung River and play it as if it was a wayang golek (wooden doll puppet). If the fruit still exists now, I am sure no one will ever know that there is a secret in it.
When the Japanese came to Rangkasbitung, there was only one railroad bridge in Ciujung. The railroad was integrated with the track for pedestrians. At that time, that bridge became the center of a battle between the Dutch and the Japanese. When the Japanese ruled Lebak, one day there was an insurgent from Lebak who was slashed by a bayonet because he did not want to submit to the Japanese government. Both his arms and legs were dismembered, the upper body was the only part he still had with him. He groaned while asking for a drink. That insurgent rolled over to get close to a Japanese soldier. His mouth opened, facing upward, asking for water to drink, while that Japanese soldier kicked him instead to the Ciujung River. A resident who rebelled against the colonials was usually called a ‘Village Hero’. After the tragic death and being brutally killed in Ciujung River, the next day the village hero became a ghost.
The event of Ciujung River was made as a place of the slaughter of the Dutch soldiers by the Japanese. It was vague and unclear to be remembered because I was still four or five years old. Moreover, at the time the Dutch occupation happened, that place had often become the killing place of the native insurgents. At that time, I was with my mother who evacuated to Pasir Jati. That event had occurred before mother started the book rental business beside the Bethel Church. The late Misbach Yusa Biran (Mrs. Ida Farida’s eldest brother) just lived for a short time in Rangkasbitung. He had ever not come home for days. According to his friend, Misbach fought against the Dutch and when he came home, his body was full of mud that we, his family, had difficulty to recognize him. My mother cried uncontrollably. She told him to clean himself. Apparently, he came home bringing several grenades which immediately made everyone in our family panic because we were afraid that they would explode. Meanwhile, Misbach stayed quiet and said that he would go again. Obviously, my family did not allow him to go. In Rangkasbitung, he only had a few friends. He preferred to be alone, carrying my father’s photo camera. He was often late to eat at home. Usually, the food menu was divided in two, for parents and grown children (half corn, half rice), and for small children (only rice).
From the Dutch to the Japanese occupation, whenever the execution for Village Hero was done in Ciujung River, the person would quickly be known as a ghost. There were already many names for the ghost from that event. However, I do not remember because I was not interested in ghost. The Japanese was a more ruthless occupier than the Dutch because there was some news about the execution of the insurgents, such as about an isurgent whose hands and legs were tied and then the tap water was dropped over his forehead until it was perforated. The Japanese occupation was less than three years in Rangkasbitung, yet their cruelty left a mark and made me sick when told.
***I’d better return to the comic rental story that I also heard from Mrs. Ida. The place had existed since around the 1950s, during the second invasion of the Dutch until they left Rangkasbitung. The ups and downs of this business remained consistent even though it moved several times. Until late 1990s, this business still survived. But since the owner was already old, the number of books continued to decrease and she had no successor, this comic rental went bankrupt in 1997. Time has passed. The beautiful scenery along the Sunan Kali Jaga Street has also changed into the complex market scenery. Mrs.Ayun’s famous book rental in Rangkasbitung is only a memory now.