The National Monument (Monas) is always such a mess. For many years, the government is trying to kick hawkers out of the area to make it more civilised, and it has been a constant battle of will – a cat and mouse game – that almost grow stale in the memories of many Jakartans. But on one delightful Saturday afternoon, Jakartans are finally treated like we should’ve been – to enjoy Monas like the place deserves. And… we have the perfect companion for that moment.
Pak Raden (literally Indonesian for Mister Sir) always holds a soft spot in my heart. As one of my childhood heroes, Raden (Sir) Suyadi is the creator of famous 1970’s to early 1990’s famous puppet show called Sandiwara Boneka Si Unyil (Unyil’s Puppet Show). Suyadi himself always appears in public as his alter ego, Pak Raden, a character he made as part of the show.
After Unyil ended, Pak Raden also disappeared from the public. Few years back, he resurfaced, suing the government-owned television channel for not paying him copyrights for his works. It was a bitter feud, with him on the losing side. He re-appeared every now and then, with helps from NGOs and production houses, giving public storytelling performances.
This Saturday is like that. Pak Raden wants to reconnect with his Unyil Generations by giving a performance in Monas. Lo and behold! The Unyil Generations actually come with their children in tow, sharing the enjoyment of listening to Pak Raden’s fairy tales.
He sits on a chair – complete with his costume; Javanese traditional outfit, thick eyebrows, and impressive mustache – playing a wooden puppet. His breath wheezes, but his voice is still loud mimicking many different sounds. He takes out several well-known puppets such as Grandma (above), Mei Lan, and the famous Unyil. But the story itself is about Mei Lan who runs away from home because she doesn’t want to help Grandma washing dishes. She then gets lost in a deep, scary woods.
Ever a Hans Christian Andersen’s fan, Pak Raden’s stories always has moral lessons in them. Sometimes they’re too childish if you’re way above 12 years old. But his charm and charisma are always polarizing. You’ll end up sitting down like a good child, paying attention to his gestures and expressions.
What breaks my heart is the condition of the puppets. The paints are fading, the clothes are dirty, and there are tiny chips on the wood. Almost every Indonesian knows that Mr. Suyadi is not living in an idyllic condition because he never received royalty from the government. He does everything he could to preserve his creations, but sometimes, time is hard to fight against.
But of course, like Mei Lan who finally gets herself out of the wood with the help of a fairy who teaches her a magic song (and the audience also sing along), the afternoon finishes with delight. Pak Raden actually gives one more performance, though. Telling a short story about a Sultan who tries to find happiness and finds it in acts of friendships.
He tells the story whilst drawing sketches on a whiteboard. I forgot to mention that Pak Raden is also a sketch artist. He actually took his master degree in France (1961-1964), studying arts and animation.
After he finishes his drawing and story, he sits on his wheelchair and enjoys tribute from young artists and performers. The performances could be polished a bit here and there. But what most important is that Pak Raden realizes that he is still in touch with current generations. Kids and kid at hearts everywhere always love good storytelling, regardless the development of technologies. And younger generations realize that there is a maestro they will always remember.
As dusk sets upon Monas, Pak Raden waves good bye to his fans, both new and old. Saying how happy he is being able to do his favourite thing. Telling stories to people.