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Suparto: Charting Surabaya history

Indra Harsaputra, The Jakarta Post, Surabaya

Over three hours passed as Suparto Brata talked about the history of Surabaya and the genesis of some of his novels at his residence in Rungkut, south of the East Java provincial capital

Listening to the stories of the Javanese novelist and recipient of the 2001 Rancage Sundanese literary award, the hours seemed more like minutes.

"I'm a native of Surabaya who saw what Surabaya was like in the period of struggle against colonialism," said Suparto, whose name was included in the Five Thousand Personalities of the World published by the American Biographical Institute in 1998.

Suparto Brata was born on Feb. 27, 1931, in Surabaya's Simpang Hospital, which is now the Surabaya Plaza shopping center. He spends much of his time these days writing, reading and telling stories, only sleeping for about five hours a day.

"Fortunately, I'm in good health thanks to keeping active in my old age," he said. Despite his doctor's advice to get more rest, Suparto, who retired in 1988 from Surabaya's municipal public relations office, continues to work.

To stay healthy, he limits his cigarettes to just one a day. "I was not a smoker until I started associated with artists. I had to smoke or I'd be considered less masculine."

The book The Doomsday Conspiracy by Sidney Sheldon lay on a nearby table with the corner of one of its pages folded down. This is just one of the hundreds of novels in his room-cum-study.
There are also neatly arranged old books, a computer and printer, besides various detective stories like The Lodger by Belloc Lowndes, The Egyptian Cross Mystery by Ellery Queen and While the Patient Slept by Eberhart.

"These books accompany me every day and inspire me to write," said the widower, whose Meurudu/Aceh-born wife, Siti Ariyati, died in June 2002. Among his old books are novels left behind by the Dutch in Surabaya, who had to leave during the Japanese occupation. He bought them at the city's flea market.

One of his books, Saputangan Gambar Naga (Dragon-adorned handkerchief), has the history of Surabaya's founding as its background. On May 31 in 1293, Raden Wijaya, the ruler of the kingdom of Majapahit, defeated the Tar-Tar invaders.

The book Free Surabaya by W. Meelhuijsen, a Dutch writer who lived in Malang in 1928, also inspires Suparto. He said books were a source of knowledge, but many young people did not like to read.

He said if more people read, the country's human resources would be enhanced. "Sadly, only a small portion of the younger generation is fond of reading. No wonder we are so far behind other nations."

Since 1958, Suparto Brata has written 117 novels and stories. They include Kremil, about the struggles of a prostitute, Trem, a love story, Gadis Tangsi, Saputangan Gambar Naga, Tak Ada Nasi Lain (No other rice), Si Gadis Datang (Here comes the girl), Pethite Nyai Blorong, Asmarani and November Abang (Red November).

He also has written several articles about Surabaya, including The Birth of Surabaya, The Battle of November 10, 1945, East Java Press History, The History of Brawijaya Military Commanders, Oh, Surabaya and Surabaya, My Hometown.

Some of his fiction, articles and analyses have been carried in newspapers such as Kompas, Suara Rakyat, Penjebar Semangat, Surabaya Post and Indonesia Raya, and magazines such as Aneka, Vista and Mimbar Indonesia. His writings have been bound together in a book.

Besides Surabaya, the other prominent subject of his writing is the lives of women. "Many people say I'm a feminist writer, but the fact is that I've mostly written about the firm attitude of women in facing a hard life."

Such tales were inspired by his mother, Raden Ajeng Jembrawati.
"While many women are independent, a great number of others remain vulnerable," concluded Suparto, reaching for the novel by Sidney Sheldon to continue reading where he left off.

Dari The Jakart


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