[My short story as published in The Jakarta Post, March 26, 2000]
The classroom was already silent. The mid-semester test was due to start in a few moments.
“You should stop writing by six o’clock, three hours from now,” the lecturer said. “I expect you to work on your own. Cheating will be severely punished,” he continued, with a forbidding look around the room.
Beuva scanned the questions to find the easiest problem to work on first. “Damn!” He was taken aback. He could not do any of them. “Am I this stupid?” he asked.
Over the last two nights he had slept a total of eight hours, thanks to the power of endless cups of coffee, just to prepare for this subject. But it had all been for nothing.
“It’s outrageous!” he murmured, glancing at the lecturer with contempt. “This jerk came only for the first three weeks of supposedly eight weeks of lectures. Then, suddenly, he appears with these absurd questions!”
He recalled the painful nights he had spent studying the lecture material on the subject.
“I assume that you can work independently and maturely. You’re no longer high school students who need everything spoon-fed,” the lecturer had said as he handed out the list of textbooks for the students to study on their own. He was not seen for the next five weeks.
“Oh God, help me, how can I do it?” Suddenly Beuva realized that he also had an article to submit to his editor in the evening. He had put aside the article in order to prepare for this goddamn test; now he would have to work like crazy to finish it on time.
“I should go home and do it rather than sitting idly here doing nothing. But, hell, students aren’t allowed to leave this early!”
He decided to write the article during test time. Fed up with the lecturer’s terrible attitude, he was suddenly inspired to write an article on the unethical practices he encountered in the university.
He had been assigned to write the article on a different topic, but this time he would change it and simultaneously channel his frustration and concern about the quality of the university.
He began with a rather sarcastic question:
Shouldn’t we celebrate “family-oriented” KKN* as practiced in Indonesia as Asian values’ moral victory over the rather individualistic Western lifestyle? Beuva finished his first paragraph while sneering at the lecturer.
Granted, in relation to KKN, (damn, to tell you the truth, this is really disgusting!) no country in the world is immune to this contagion. But let’s face the fact that our country suffers the most chronic strain of all.
In our country, this blight is so contagious that citizens everywhere are infected. It is more threatening than AIDS or even the deadly Ebola virus because it not only attacks the immune system, but also the purest consciences of sons and daughters of our beloved motherland.”
Beuva suddenly stopped writing. A whisper disturbed his concentration.
“What’s the answer for number two? Hurry!”
“Number two?” Beuva handed over the paper he was writing on.
“Thanks buddy!” His friend took the paper with a grin. “Oh damn!”; he immediately realized that he almost attracted the attention of the whole class.
When he felt there was an all clear, the friend gave the piece of paper back. “Man, this is a test room,” he whispered, “write your answers, not an article!”
“Who cares?” Beuva said as he continued finishing his work.
The comment a bureaucrat once made to young students at their indoctrination sessions, normally held during their first days at university, might explain this phenomenon: “Believe in a realistic Idealism, not in an ideal Idealism.”
What did he mean?
We live in a pragmatic and competitive world where our species’ struggle for everyday survival is controlled by the law of natural selection. We know that the stronger and the cleverer we are, the greater our chance of not becoming extinct from this planet. However, we humans have something that sets us apart from other creatures. We rightly call it humanity, and here is what Idealism is all about. The realistic Idealism tries to reconcile both humanity and our survival instinct and adopts what I call “evolutionary or progressive adaptation”.
The ideal Idealism refuses to acknowledge the need for survival instincts and ignores the existence of voracious predators.
“Not too bad!” Beuva murmured as he took a breather for his next inspiration.
Next question: how can we deal with this spreading, rotten pandemic and, more importantly, how can we begin the healing process?
I believe, there are only two answers and it is up to us to decide: REVOLUTION or e-v-o-l-u-t-i-o-n!
If we choose the revolu …
“What are you writing about?!” the lecturer said out of the blue, shocking Beuva with his baritone voice.
“Oh, it’s usual stuff, sir.”
“You should not use this classroom as a base for your subversive revolutionary movement!”
“It’s my right, sir, guaranteed by the constitution of this republic!” Beuva exclaimed, thinking that there would be no alternative but to confront the lecturer, whatever the consequences.
“Yes, sir! But don’t start on government property, OK?!” screamed the lecturer.
The classroom, which was previously quiet and calm — except for the muffled whispers from the swapping of test solutions — was now in confusion. All attention was paid to the two men at the back of the room. “You’d better leave, son,” the older man hoarsely whispered as he pointed to the exit door.
“No worries,” Beuva retorted. “I’d leave right now. But I’m afraid this denial of my freedom of expression is a grossly unfair act!! What do you think comrades?” he said, turning to his allies for support.
His friends, who had surrounded them, nodded in unison. One of them shouted, “This is an academic platform, mister!”. He was apparently fed up with the lecturer because this was his third year to repeat the subject.
“Son of a bitch!” The lecturer was beside himself with rage. “Your fate is lying here.” He clenched his fist and thumped it on the table, as if to test his strength. “I could make you pass or fail; that’s my academic right, you idiots!” He roared with laughter.
Beuva and friends followed him, purring like tickled lions.
“Yep, he is absolutely right! Our fate is in his hands. So we shouldn’t oppose our lecturer, should we? Isn’t he a ‘hero without medals’?”
The students began to grovel to the lecturer. They were massaging his arms, fanning and flattering him and, believe it or not, kissing his backside.
“Pooeeh!!” Beuva disgustedly spat at the lecturer’s face. “To hell with your academic rights that you sell for the price of chicken shit!”
He was so emotionally drained. Two nights without adequate sleep, the pressure to submit the article and, on top of this, his disappointment with the lecturer’s irresponsible academic attitude had robbed him of his energy and mental capacity.
Students in Beuva’s university were in turmoil. They found pamphlets almost everywhere — on noticeboards, in classrooms, corridors, the campus streets and even in the toilets (apparently the guy who distributed them answered a call of nature but did not forget to place some of the pamphlets in the restroom).
The message was the same: an invitation to fight the appalling scourge of KKN in the university.
Then the most popular newspaper in the city printed an expose.
The article revealed the university’s commercialization of lecture notes, grades and theses, unveiling the abuse of government funding and academic activities by the faculty and staff for their private business interests and projects.
It also reported widespread nepotism.
The university board immediately held an emergency meeting. “We have been humiliated!” they wailed and unanimously voted on a highly confidential resolution.
As the days passed by, the students became divided.
Half supported the facts contained in the newspaper’s coverage because they realized the practices were endemic in their university and believed that the malignancy must be eradicated.
On the other hand, the other half believed their institution should be defended from humiliating outside criticism. “When else can we show our allegiance to our university if it’s not now?” they reasoned. The pro-media students immediately wanted to find the author of the pamphlets and the headlined article to lead their long-suppressed demonstration.
However, the other students were also marching toward the house of the writer determined, in their own words, “to exterminate him from the planet”.
The two groups eventually met at his residence. The tension built up as each group strived to be the first to the house. They broke down the front door, only to find a dead body lying face down on the floor.
Mysteriously, the impossible happened. The weather changed quickly, suddenly becoming cold. Above the roof, vultures hovered; the house was filled with the stench of unburied corpses.
Later, just as an eclipse occurred, dogs howled in the distance. A chill wind hissed through the fissures in the wooden wall to add a dreadful eeriness to the cold, enough to make everybody’s hair stand on end. It began to rain.
Slowly, the state of agitation reverted to calm. Both sides held each others arms in forced and superficial peace. They ought to be willing to make peace, or else the Angel of Death would also pay them a visit.
On the wall, a thumb-tacked note began to disintegrate in the wet and the wind. Deftly, one of the students reached out and saved it. He gently read it; it was the deceased’s last thoughts. The moment was crystallized into silence by the poignant expressions:
When corruption and injustice are so rampant, what can we do? Search and search some more. Where are you hiding, oh, heavenly Integrity and Justice?
We are trapped when our search reveals nothing because here we are, alone, crossing this endless hellish desert.
Finally we rest at the blessed oasis of our heart that keeps asking, “Have you found Integrity and Justice?”
Once again, we resume our quest and the spirit whispers to our heart: “Be careful, my Precious, because Integrity and Justice are the beloved children of the gods.”
Integrity and Justice are suddenly claimed to be exclusive and no longer become a treasure worthy of search, they are trampled on and become valueless in the face of self-justification and self-gratification.
What shall we do? What shall we do, for this nightmarish quest disheartens us?
We have to resume our journey, alone in the middle of this barren desert.
A torrential downpour raged outside.
The next day, the most popular newspaper in the city published an obituary:
With profound sorrow, we convey the sad news of the death of our beloved young colleague, Beuva Thyrrinkh. He was found dead in his house yesterday by two groups of students.
Although the police are still investigating this incident, evidence strongly suggests that external factors contributed to this mysterious tragedy. May justice prevail.
He leaves behind many, many courageous and inspiring articles and headlines as his legacy for all of us. Lest we forget his lonely voice that cried for Integrity and Justice to be upheld. May this also inspire us to follow the path he has painfully trodden.
We, the editor and journalists, will always lovingly remember him for hi sfine work, courage and determination. He surely will always inspire us and be in our hearts. May he rest in peace!
(To all the Indonesian students who have taken to the streets, even losing their lives in order to bring changes to our country: may you reap a fine harvest from the seeds you have sown!)
*KKN (korupsi, kolusi dan nepotisme): the acronym for corruption, collusion and nepotism, which has become part of general usage.