Seno Writes Soccer, Seno Menulis Sepakbola
Seno Gumira Ajidarma (born 1957, Boston), one of Indonesia’s most prominent authors, has contributed to the discourse on soccer in Indonesia through the means of short stories, journalism and academic writings. These writings reflect his trajectory as a writer and also the professions and jobs that he acquires. The earliest of Seno’s writings on soccer that I have found are his two short stories: “Kematian Seorang Pemain Sepakbola” (Death of a Footballer, 1988) and “Sukab Menggiring Bola” (Sukab Dribbles the Ball, 1996). The former is in the collection, Manusia Kamar (Room Person, Jakarta: Haji Masagung) and the latter is in Negeri Kabut (Fog Lands, Jakarta: Grasindo).
“Death of a Footballer” tells the story of Sobrat, the striker of a team that is on the brink of winning the Indonesian domestic league title. Sobrat has been transformed from a hopeless and untalented youth, into the team’s and competition’s leading goal scorer. His mother discouraged him from playing soccer; and his coaches ordered him to find other jobs rather than waste his time at soccer. Eventually they would give in, owing to his persistence, and let him train with the team on the condition that he would do other jobs such as the cleaning of the club rooms, as well as the massaging of the other players after training. Although supposedly Jonggring Salaka’s third-in-line goal keeper, he is finally deployed in attack after injuries to the other strikers. This turns out well, and, he seems to be fulfilling his wish of ‘glorifying the name of his country’. He is idealistic about the meaning of sport: it should not be corrupted by money. And indeed, he turns down overtures to engage in match-fixing. Sobrat meditates in the centre of the pitch at Senayan stadium and imagines the goals he scores. His 17th goal for the season, which he scores in the last minuted of added time, seals the team’s fate as that year’s champions and his fate as the league’s top scorer. But, it is also at that moment which he dies, instantly. Spectators think he has fainted, overcome with emotion: but no he is dead and the coach is crying. No one can explain his death.
“Sukab Dribbles the Ball” takes the discourse of soccer into a more fantastic and literary realm. The character of Sukab is a recurring feature of Seno’s stories, and, in this story, once again he is a figure of whimsy, reflection and gentle resistance. Sukab embodies a desire towards artistry and play. In contrast to the aforementioned Sobrat’s goal scoring and league-title-winning feats, Sukab, on the other hand, is a soccer-player as artist. Sukab dribbles the ball throughout cities, jungles, amongst the ruins of civilisation, deserts, across seas in search of the greatest goal keeper so that he can score the greatest goal of all-time. As he dribbles from town to town, city to city, each city confronts him with their best team as a means of honouring his skills. He dribbles past them all. His dribbling-journey attracts crowds and the media; a helicopter follows him and broadcasts his adventure live. His journey comes to an end when he reaches the North Pole, and in his white uniform, becomes disguised against the backdrop of the great white-expanse. He kicks the ball into the last remaining goal: the gaping hole in the Ozone Layer.
These two short stories are typical of Seno’s style: they are elaborations of everyday life in Indonesia. The two characters – Sobrat and Sukab (perhaps they are interchangeable) – are whimsical losers who perform something great, spectacular and admirable and are lauded by those around them. Yet, they have no interest in their glory and the adulation they receive. Both stories offer little in the way of conflict and provide only indeterminate conclusions. Through these two brief stories, Seno asserts the importance of the play, aesthetics and critical possibilities of soccer.
Soccer pitch, Yogyakarta, photo by Onyenho