Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

01 Jun 2012

(Short Story) Langit Makin Mendung (The Darkening Sky) by: Kipandijikusmin

(Reaction) From on High by: Antonio Conejos

Darkening Sky is an Indonesian political satire - it mocks the absurdities by which human decisions are made as well as the contradictions and hypocrisies we choose to live our lives by. This tongue in cheek commentary can at first be seen in heaven and gains it fullest definition once the omnipotent observers begin to observe Indonesia in earnest.

Heaven is, to not put too fine a point on it, heavenly, as Allah points out In truth, there is more than enough happiness, plentiful and full to overflowing. But Muhammad is restless and intends to find out why not more of his people are entering paradise. Naturally he goes on a fact finding mission, and this is where the satire begins; even heaven has its bureaucracy.

This bureaucracy is as tedious as any human creation. Thus Muhammad's mission must first be approved and the necessary permits issued. Moreover, Allah himself says that the reason for the dwindling number of Muslims in heaven is, Their souls are said to reek of Nasakom. (Nasakom was an acronym by former Indonesian President Sukarno. Darkening Sky is really a not so subtle indictment of the Sukarno era.)

Finally, no fact finding mission can get off on the proper foot without some minor dignitary spouting meaningless platitudes on its relevance. In Langit Makin Mendung Adam fills this role perfectly, giving the speech before Muhammad leaves, He said that the fact-finding mission of Muhammad s.a.w. would mark a new epoch in the history of mankind. Great was the hope that a deep understanding would soon be woven between the inhabitants of heaven and earth.

The satire continues as Muhammad descends from heaven. The tendency of governments to double speak, ie. to speak in euphemisms and half-lies, is prominently seen in the Soviet response to the destruction by collission of Sputnik, There is a minor communications problem...

Once Muhammed arrives on Earth the chief subject of the satire comes into focus: Indonesia. Darkening Sky is quite explicit in lambasting and criticizing the Sukarno regime. Indonesian society is afflicted with by dubious polotical slogans, such as nasakom. So insiduous is nasakom that the angel Gabriel pronounces it a false prophet which is leading the people astry.

Darkening Sky goes on to describe scheming government officials, toady professionals attempting to win favor with the President, social degredation and moral malaise. There are the usual coverups, An evening newspaper, Warta-Bhakti, wrote that in Bangkok a thousand people had died of flu, but about the Jakarta flu, the Minister of Health said nothing. and pretensions They [guests at a presidential party] belched, stinking of alcohol, and the kyais uttered automatically the requisite 'praise be to God.'

There's not much else to say about Darkening Sky, what you see is what you get. The story though ends on a bitter sweet, even frustrated tone. The conclusion offers sentiments which are easily relatble to any people who have tired of demagouges and incompetent leaders:

Nevertheless, the people were not surprised or angry. It was as if it were only normal for a President to lie and say whatever he pleased./ On the average, Indonesians are indeed forgiving and good-hearted. The Leader's lies and mistakes get an open-minded response. Their hearts are like the sun; however cloudy the skies are growing, its rays still seek to touch the earth.

Review:

The tongue in cheek nature of Darkening Sky makes for an enjoyable and amusing read. However it is very much a product of its time, the Sukarno dictatorship, and many of the allusions to various government officials and historical events are lost on the average modern reader (ie. me). As such, it doesn't age as well as Animal Farm, which is a purely allegorical satire.

Animal Farm may have parodied Stalin and Lenin and Trotsky but since it choose its setting to be a farm, and animals as its stand-in for people, the themes of hypocrisy and absurdity (eg. some are more equal than others) are more easily understood without having to refer to historical allusions or events outside the story.

I was disappointed as well that Darkening Sky drops its supernatural personas at the end. Indeed, Muhammad and the angel Gabriel just fade away with nary a protest, its as if even heaven must yield the stage to Sukarno and his cronies. This is unfortunate as having the Prophet Muhammad and the angel Gabriel as principal characters was an interesting device on the part of the author. He certainly made good use of these characters early on in the story, only to have them fade away to irrelevance at the end.

An english translation of Langit Makin Mendung, which is the copy I read as well, can be found here.

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