Radio

An amateur translation for a story originally in Indonesian. Yeah, I usually translate things from English to Indonesian, not the other way around. I guess it’s time for something different.

This is a chapter from the novel Ayah (en: Father) by Andrea Hirata. The chapter itself, titled simply Radio, is short and only has subtle connections to the preceding chapters. (So subtle in fact that I’m not even sure when this part takes place). It’s entertaining, at least, and I hope I do it justice in English.

Radio

by Andrea Hirata

As far as Amiru knew, his father, Amirza, had never followed the public tendency of men in the village to hang out in the coffee shack. He can say this with confidence, even though you might not consider him knowledgeable. He’s just a boy, ten years old, fifth grade.

During the day, Amirza was a labourer in a factory for Quality Slippers, while the nights he spent weaving fishnets under the dim light of an oil lantern, listening to the radio. He had a wife, three kids, a radio, and to keep them afloat he worked in a slipper factory by day and made fishnets by night. So his life revolved, day after day, year after year.

Foreign words and strange melodies from faraway lands ebbed and flowed from his ancient radio. Its casing was long gone. Its strings of cables were strewn around the dusty pipes as if they had a mind of their own, but, magically, it could still make a sound, sometimes even music, sometimes even the words of people talking.

Above the button with the word fine tuning there were the shining letters PHIL. The faded trace of the letters LIP next to it indicated that the radio had been through a long and arduous life. The top of its bent antenna was wired with copper, connected to the back of the house, to the wire frames that made the duck’s pen. Obviously, it was meant to clear up the airwaves. How the duck’s pen can be an extension to a radio antenna is part of Amirza’s epic adventures with his radio, this time entrenching another player: an amateur Malay man called Syarif the Needy.

If you can call it technology, then that radio is the first and only technology in that electricity-deprived house. If you can call it entertainment, that radio is the only form of entertainment for Amirza’s entire family. If you can call it wealth, it’s the most precious belonging in that luckless house. And if you can call it culture, then Amirza is a devout follower of the radio culture.

The radio was respectfully placed on top of the glass cabinet. Pardon the gesture, everything that is made of glass is considered a sign of wealth in this village. Never you mind that the glass was made of plastic. The cabinet and the radio was placed, with much consideration, at the edge of the living room, just so that it wouldn’t be the the victim of rain and the hole on the unpainted steel ceiling. The radio rested on a table cloth weaved with traditional Malay motifs, made with love by Amirza’s wife. Next to it was placed a plastic vase, inside of which were five roses, also made of plastic. Even Mister Philip himself would be moved by the sight of these adornments.

Every night, Amirza sat on his rattan chair next to the radio. He would hang the start point of his fishnet on a nail on the wall, he would light up his lantern, and then he’d turn the radio on.

After putting his younger sisters, Amirta, five years old and Amirna, three years old, to sleep with his bedtime stories, Amiru would, through a gap on their wooden wall, took a peek at his father. He was always glad to see the smiles forming on his father’s lips as he listened to the strange, wonderful songs from the radio. There was nothing that Amiru wanted more than seeing his father’s smiles.

His father’s favourite shows were lectures on Islam, radio plays, songs from Malay shores, and, never you forget, news about Lady Diana. No one knows how it started, but everyone in the village,  be they old, young, women, men, everyone was obsessed with Lady Diana. This trait, Amiru’s father had caught on. If either the Indonesian national radio or the local radio even as much as reference the name Lady Diana, Amiru would quickly raised the volume.

Lady Diana is an international hero who will always be there to help the poor, they said. If ever there were news about Lady Diana visiting some impoverished village in whatever forgotten corner of the world, they put their ears close to the radio or gathered around the community television: a black and white Sanyo, fourteen inches, right on the backyard of the village’s centre. When lady Diana showed up on the screen, they would all stand up and inch closer to the television. Every one of them would want to have a closer look of the Lady.

The next day there would be nothing else to say at schools, at the government offices, at the markets, at coffee shacks, but Lady Diana. Those who didn’t see her would regret it, would slam their hats on the tables.

“Sucks to be you,” their mates would say.

The talk would only dissipate after days had passed. The people of the village hoped that someday, Lady Diana would be willing to visit their poor little village. Someone talked of writing a letter to the president, asking him to invite the Lady to Indonesia. After visiting the state palace, maybe she’ll be interested to take a gander at their village too.

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