Monday, January 26, 2009

On Reading and Forgetting

I was sitting reading a book in a quiet and small bookstore. In the background a slow bossa nova music was playing. There weren’t too many people since it wasn’t the weekends and it was during office hours when most of people were likely to be working instead being in a bookstore in a mall. I picked a spot where I can read while stretching my legs comfortably. It was my perfect kind of ambience to read.

"Israel is just great, don't you think?" I barely finished reading half the book when my solitary state of reading was disturbed. For a moment, I wasn't sure what to respond and whether he raised a question, asking for my opinion, or just exclaiming about the currently-hot Israel-Gaza issue. It took me precisely six seconds before I could answered to him with a rather standard "what do you mean?" reaction, which it was more than enough for him to smile and start a conversation.

Sitting next to me, the man was wearing a black cotton jacket, one that usually wears when riding a motorbike. He was in his late forties, his short hair was all but completely gray and his face, decorated with big oval glasses, was a bit wrinkly yet it shows you a fresh kind of look. A look that if you put a few years more would give you a perfect idea how all happy grandfathers should have looked like.

“Yes, they are great don’t you think? They are now thinking how to rebuild Gaza city after they torn it down with missiles” repeating his first statement and continued on without waiting for my opinion.

He then showed me an article in the newspaper he was just reading about Gaza and gave his opinions. I just nodded along. It was neither the cruelty, inhuman attack from Israel nor the casualties of war that interested me. To be frank, I was quite bored with all the news about what happened in the Middle East. It was everywhere, in television, in magazines, in internet, even in billboards.

Instead of the news, I was very intrigued in how often the man used the word “great” in his sentences. I counted at least 20 “greats” in just a minute. Oddly as it seems it brought the curiosity out of me to think how many things that use the word “great”, The Great Wall of China, Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations, The Great White Shark, Great Gatsby, Alexander the Great, the Great Barrier Reef, the Great Depression.

“Where do you think all that money comes from? For those missiles, to rebuild Gaza. How come Israeli are so wealthy?” he raised another question and this time was waiting for my answer rather anxiously, blowing away my imagination filling the list of “greats”.

“First, probably because they are generally smart. A lot of Nobel laureates are Jews”, I replied to him, trying to give an answer that sounds reasonable enough and less ridiculous.

Before I could continue with another sentence, he took over the conversation by telling his opinion furthermore. About Hamas, Fatah, the Six-Day war, from Yasser Arafat to Ehud Olmert, everything he could think of in related with Jews, Israel and Palestine. Still, none of those interest me deeply. When he saw my straight-faced expression, he soon realized my lack of interest thus changing the subject.

He had been to America. The United States of America. He stayed there for a month with his relatives he told me. “I prefer Indonesia” expressing his impression during his visit. He was talking further about the life in the US and comparing it with the life here in Indonesia and asked me several times,which in every single time I answered with a short response.

I noticed an instrumental Jazz music was playing replacing the bossa nova. I looked at my watch. It was 3.30 pm. The man also checked time and suddenly stood up. He said thank you for the chat, asked for my name and introduce his name before leaving. A very brief and sudden goodbye. I then looked at my half-finished book, took a glance at the remaining pages and decided to finish it another day. I simply lost my mood to read.

I met a friend later on that day. We went together to watch a play in Taman Ismail Marzuki. The play lasted for three long hours. Paying $3 for the ticket was worth every penny, not just because it was long, but it was also entertaining. Midnight was approaching when we stepped out of the theatre.

Driving back home, my friend switched on the radio. Changing the FM channels several times, she finally settled with a news program. The program was reporting on the situation in Washington prior the inauguration of the newly-elected president, Barack Obama. Later that night, Obama would be sworn to be the 44th president of the USA and the first black to be one.

Hearing the news from America, all of a sudden it came back into my mind about the conversation with the man in the bookstore. And the first thing I tried to remember was his name. Giving my full effort to remember the name, I still couldn’t recall it. What I remembered that his name was simple and should be easy to remember. In the end I just couldn’t believe I forgot it.

I then realized all the news about the Gaza sooner than later would be forgotten and replaced with the more high profile news from Washington. The world’s eyes would be back to US after a sojourn journey to the Middle East.

I remember what Milan Kundera, the Czech-born writer, once wrote, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”.

Perhaps I didn’t try hard enough to remember the man’s name as the world, we, didn’t try hard enough about Gaza and eventually calling it a day and forget about it.

Oh well, I will try to remember it again tomorrow.


Rony Zakaria, January 2009

1 comment:

Rlisee said...

Conversations that doesn't interest us are easily forgotten, thus even his name is not memorable. I am totally with you about the whole Middle East conflict thing. It's everywhere. There has been lots of talks about it but nothing really comes out of it. Love your photos though, keep them coming.