There she was. Sitting on an antique bed with four post and a white transparent curtain that surrounds it. As if sharing a fairytale to her grandchildren, Inggit Garnarsih sat at the edge of her bed opening a story about the ill fate Javanese Queen, Ratu Ningrum Kusuma, the King’s wife who was cast out from the palace with the arrival of Jembawati who teased his husband to make him fall in love with her. Inggit Ganarsih sighed as she recalls the story resembling her own.

This was activist and artist, Happy Salma acting as the late Inggit Ganarsih, the second and most loyal wife of the late first president of Indonesia, Soekarno, warmly known by Inggit as “Koesno.” Her tale retold and interpreted by Adha Imran from the book ‘Kuantar Ke Gerbang’ by Ramadhan K.H.

For two hours we follow the narration and subjective experience of a woman who followed a man of ambition, a man so consumed in the noble pursuit against colonialism that he swayed his personal life with the charm of his words. Soekarno, a man with the brilliance of youth and idealism was not a man without limitation, in fact, his weakness lied in his infidelity and his incapability to remain committed to only one woman.

The bed in the play was symbolic of their relationship, a private place of virtue, a place where secrecy and warmth is honored, but a place where the blazing fire of intimacy can subside with differences.  Despite giving her undying support of making a living for Koesno and herself, while he was shouted the words of independence, at school, at public orations, or at prison, Inggit remained a devoted partner who cared for his needs.

Amid her affliction, she realizes a bitterness she has chosen to live with, “to love is to accept pain,” she exclaims to the words she finally surrenders to. By fighting her anger, her repulsion of loving, of serving a man she has chosen to sacrifice herself for, Inggit rises above each rejection of her limitation by finally saying ‘no’ to the man who wishes to marry again.

Inggit Garnasih, is a tale of love, dignity, and lost. A powerful woman behind a powerful man, who chose to live her life quietly at the brink of history exchanging all the promise of a nation and the wealthy life of a palace to regain her identity at her peaceful abode in Bandung.

Chuck Palahniuk once wrote, “We spend our lives according to stories…being male or female. And we spend our lives looking for evidence – facts and proof – that support our story.” Through Happy Salma, and her intensely built emotions, we have grasped a little part of Inggit’s story that needed to be heard.

20 years I have kept him company wherever he went, there were no words said other than “No” to colonialism and imperialism. If he were able to say those words, why weren’t I able to say those same words to him, even if my body was not destined to conceive and be a mother, does that mean I had no right to say “No”? – Monolog: Inggit Ganarsih

– Athina Ibrahim

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