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Fragments of a Journey

A Fistful of Life

Fragments by Jose de Koster, Blog 1

Fragments of a Journey

A fistful of life

Blog 1

www.fragments byjosedekoster.com

Welcome to my blog.

My name is Liz and I am the wife of the late Jose de Koster, artist and writer,former resident of the beautiful Blue Mountains, west of Sydney in Australia. Following his death, his autobiography was published, a beautiful book featuring not just the story of his remarkable life but alsoa selection of his many poems as well as images of his artwork. Extracts from the book can be seen on the website shown above. Please take a visit and if you like what you see, tick the "like" box and/or leave a comment.

The purpose of this blog is to publish, not just the extracts but the text of the book in its entirety in instalments. happy reading.

 

Introduction

“Write, son. Even if only one line a day, keep the flow going. Just as a river needs water otherwise it becomes a dry bed, so too does the brain need the stimulation of a word, a thought, a line, action. Energy and action.”

Thus spoke my mother, hoping I would become a journalist. As a boy, I would watch those hard-bitten journalists in B-grade American movies, Dan Durea cigarettes hanging out of the corners of their mouths, alternately witty and sardonic or jaded, cynical and melancholy. I did not want to be like that. I dreamed of quiet rooms and sitting at a big, polished mahogany desk waiting for the fires of inspiration to stir me into a feverish tapping of the typewriter key- board. She was right, of course – every day, just write something. So I have kept a diary for years, sometimes extremely prosaic, at other times a lovely flash of life.

One line a day, each new one reflecting life as it was and now is, in my skull, full of images and living dreams, some shattered, some floating on the Blue Danube of Strauss (now playing on the radio in the year 2005) each line following another.

My fingers pound the keys of the typewriter, each letter a fragment of a word of a tale that is love. Love, Life! The two words are one and the same.

To live is to love and it is love that nourishes life. My aged head is filled with the words of countless authors who have inspired me but four speak to my soul above all and it is to these four that I write my epistle. My story is to them and for them. The first is Pablo Neruda, my favourite poet of all time. For many years, I have talked to him and listened to his voice through my mouth as the poetry I read of his, fills my being with the true moment of recognition, the recognition of the echo of my soul. I hope his spirit is joined by the other three whose poetry has sustained me for years. The first is Marina Tsvetaeva, the tragic Russian poet who took her own life in order to halt the searing pain called Stalin. She is the female counterpart of my soul. The second is Osip Mandelstam who froze to death in the Gulags of the Siberian wastelands and the third is Anna Akhmatova who, like the others, was subjected to the torment of the nightmare that was Stalin. I wish to keep them all alive as long as I live.

I live in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Today it is cold, the frost has died and turned into water – soggy earth underfoot. A landscape which I had set out beforehand in sketches and in the mind, is now becoming a painting, oils dripping off the brush and the mind, like a sentry on duty, allows no other movement than what it orders. I prefer to be in this slightly colder climate as the heat saps my energy and at seventy odd years of age, energy is to be preserved even more than before, when the lithe young body recklessly aban- doned caution. At the same time, I do not feel old. My mind has not caught up with my body and is full of the vitality and exuberance of youth, suddenly aware of its age only when I see the reflection of myself in a mirror or shop win- dow and am startled to see the old man that I am. Born in 1929 is, nowadays, a past so far removed that it feels like a fantasy or story to be told.

Sometimes, small extracts of the past arrive on the screen of memory and I see garden parties, my father playing tennis, soccer, flirting with the ladies, his giggles causing a heaving of fluttering hearts whilst my mother’s wise eyes hooded over, storing all she saw. As a child, small and fragile but temperamental as well, I would hang back in the shadows and watch. And always feel alone.

My mother, an indomitable woman of aristocratic bearing, one of six children, was born in Blitar, approximately 70 kilometres from Malang where I spent some of my youth, on the island of Java in what is now Indonesia but which at the time of her birth, was known as The Netherlands East Indies. Her father boasted an empire on the island of Java, establishing a series of plantations, growing rice and sugar; an empire he won and lost twice thanks to the volcano, Gunning Kelud, which wiped out his plantation. But he was a wild fighter. “No rotten mountain can get me on my knees,” he shouted, as he started afresh, aided by his brother and nephews brought over from the old country. He was adored and idolised by his wife and family and especially by my mother and my older brother, Ed, who resembled him in both features and temperament and was consequently favoured by him. He was not keen on me as, instead of the rosy cheeks, forthright eyes and fearless nature of my brother, I was dark of skin, quiet, and therefore moody in his opinion, and easily in- timidated. The feeling was mutual but did not worry me as I was adored and loved by his wife, my grandmother. In contrast to her husband, who was a huge man, towering over her, she was a tiny woman with the charm of a coquette, constantly smiling with her small, Asian eyes which she inherited from her half French, half Vietnamese mother. The family were all musically inclined – plantation life creating that necessity – and were adept with ukuleles, guitars, violins and piano. My mother showed great proficiency in piano and became a concert pianist performing throughout Europe.

 

 

 


 

Fragments by Jose de Koster, Blog 9

Fragments of a Journey

A Fistful of Life

www.fragmentsbyjosedekoster.com

Blog 9

Hi Everyone. In this blog, instead of carrying on with the story, I have decided to include, instead,  some of the poems that are to be found in the book and which do not, and will nt, feature in episodes of the autobiography because they are not integral to the story but are included in a separate section, entitled "Particles". I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have

Che

When Che was alive, the people

wore berets and smoked thin cigars,

shouted and looked sombre,

smiling only when the word, 'revolution'

spoke its name.

 

The berets are back in cupboards

or thrown out. Cigars are more expensive

and even this ones have lost their flavour.

The look of deep thought smiles no longer.

Revolution now, could mean Khomeini or Pol Pot

 

Che, you died not only

in a shabby little room in a Bolivian Police station

but also, Che, inside the heart of the memory.

Alas....

 

 

Osip Mandelstam*

Tired bones thrown into a grave with other bones

is not the end... for each night at ten,

I lay you out, sleepy hands and dead feet

the skull awake on a slab of gold

and dresses in the fineries of your long gone poverty

with God's finger on your forehead.

And from the voice of Akhmatova

(the last sound of a Tartar princess)

I borrow a sound, a word, a drop of honey

and I wrap your defleshed body in that word

gently, my brother. Then

I fill the grave with you

and wave my fists at the white sky

and sing my songs of remembrance.

Remembering for you

of what I cannot articulate – yet do know within my soul

and curse for you, the gigantic death-dream of Stalin,

silence the knocking fist on your door

and return to the womb

the essence of that evil

which threw tired bones into a grave full of other bones.

Or shall I simply lay you out at ten?

Forever.Oh, Osip, sing on.

*Osip Mandelstam was a Russian poet who was imprisoned by Stalin and sent to a guag in Siberia where he died from cold and deprivation

 

Dissident

High above the roofs of Moscow

an eagle hangs silent

its claws ready to shatter the human soul

flung wide like a scream across the minds of men.

Down below, a man stands trial,

sits before a wall of grim, forbidding faces

in a cold, sinister room of a grey, squat building oozing menace.

Hissing, snake-sissing sounds are uttered.

“Dissident!” it sizzles

The man's face, like a vault with its door shut tight

 

betrays itself momentarily as the macabre accusations

pound into his brain.

Soon, his name will become a blade of grass

somewhere on a steppe in in far-white Siberia.

His bones will yield pain back to earth

and his eyes will fill a flower.

“Shcharansky, Shcharanskyyyyy” will cry the wind

as it blows through the trees

and falls dead against the closed heart of Soviet thought.

Somewhere in a forest

a hand points up from under the sod.

It is Galanskov fingering our guilt

 

Remember this,

A poet dies only when

no-one reads him anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fragments by Jose de Koster, Blog 8

Fragments of a Journey

A Fistful of Life

www.fragmentsbyjosedekoster.com

Blog 8

Many apologies to the followers of my blog for not having written earier. It has bee a long time since blogs but unforeseen circumstances have got in the way. here is the next instalments. Happy reading. If you like what you read, please tick the 'like' box and better still, send a comment.

Chapter3

Occupation


 

A convoy of tanks,

Kempeitai and razzia,

father imprisoned.

 

 

Early one morning, my brother, Ed came running into my room, yelling, “Listen! Can you hear them? This is a different sound. Different from the Yanks, different from the Dutch. These are Japanese planes.They're here.”

For quite some time, conversation amongst adults consisted of discussion of war, initially the war far away in Europe. With tyres screeching on the soft asphalt, the truck skidded to a sharp halt, stirring sleeping birds in the midday heat. A soldier in KNIL (Royal Netherlands East Indies army, a military force maintained in the colony) uniform jumped out of the truck and began running albeit rather slowly and seemingly exhaustedly, towards the kampong road.Before he reached the kampong, he discarded his uniform so by the time he entered, he was dressed only in his kattock (underpants).The reason for his peculiar behaviour became clear the following day when sounds of clanging up the road in Sophia Street heralded the arrival of tanks turning into Wilhemina Street and coming to a shuddering halt. White flags with a red ball mounted to the tanks, flew in the breeze, soldiers in yellow-green uniforms appeared on either side of the tanks, shouting in a guttural language never heard before in our quiet cul de sac. As they lined the street, we stood silently watching our new rulers. My first impression of the Japanese army filled me with a sense of eeriness – strange guttural sounds, eyes that could not be seen under their caps from which, at the back, hung flaps of cloth in the style of Foreign Legion caps as worn by Beau Geste in the movies I had watched. However, there was no Digby Geste here to help his more famous brother, Beau, no soft voice of Gary Cooper – instead, a convoy of conquerors dressed in foreign colours with foreign voices, officers with samurai swords hanging at their sides, so very different from the previous military occupants in our town.The day those little round tanks came rumbling into sight, men in yellowish uniforms filling the turrets, others marching behind, that day innocence was strangled in me. Suddenly I knew that life has teeth and the teeth are those of death.

Fragment : The Madurese

Fixed bayonets entering with a shout so ferocious

it made my blood crawl when in the park

a Madurese was bayonetted to death

because he had laughed.

Three steps forward and jab. Shout at the jab.

Blood-grimaced face but not a sound out of his dying Madurese mouth.

Died with the pride of his being intact.

********

 

In the preceding few months, we were invaded by British, Australian and American soldiers who had lined the streets, had slept in and under trucks to escape the unfamiliar heat, had occasionally scuffled with each other to kill the tension and boredom. Many households in the neighbourhood had taken these soldiers, especially those who were older and weary-looking, extending their hospitality by providing food and shelter. They had been sent to protect the Dutch colonials from a possible invasion by the Japanese. Having failed miserably in that regard, they were then sent off to Singapore. Looking back, it now seems to me that they were warriors of a long gone era when a sort of innocence still hung along the tree-lined streets.

Slowly, days changed the tone of our lives. I remember sitting on the bank of the river at the back of our village and down below, musing how everything was changing except for the river. It continued to flow, never stopping for a second, constant and steadfast even while humanity was changing colour. New order, harsh times! This thirteen year old boy was suddenly filled with a new kind of fear, an alien instinctive fear such as, I imagine, that felt by animals knowing they are observed by predators yet not knowing where the hunger that stalks them lives. Is this the beginning of understanding war?

We watched men being dragged behind horses and trucks struggling to keep alive, allied soldiers caught in the mountains surrounding us; we saw, behind our house on Rampal, a New Zealand sapper dragged behind a horse, his shirt ripped to smithereens, his body a bloodied mess; we observed men tied to trees used for bayonet practice. And not a sound issued from my lips, only silent screams and and a shrinking gut. Again, for the second time, I became aware of the horror of death.

The first time occurred many years previously when a Chinese kelontong (peddlar) fell into a tiger trap set by my grandfather to kill a rogue tiger which terrorised the area. For a brief instant he must have felt the same fear before screaming in pain as the bamboo spears pierced his body in a dozen different places. When the screams died down and we approached the hole, we saw, in the black velvet of the night, the vague outline of a twitching body which, they presumed, was the body of a tiger in its death throes. It was not until a light was produced and shone on the dead man draped with his goods that our mistake was realised. I was about ten or eleven, experiencing death for the first time. Here was a man, I thought, going about his business, probably never giving a thought about life or death until suddenly, the earth opened up under him and he fell in, gored to death by what must have seemed to his, innumerable bamboo spears. Never again, would he go about selling his cloth. That same moment, the fear of death crept through me, squeezing my innards hard and stabbing, stabbing my chest, a wild pain silencing the scream running through my body. That day was probably also the death of my childhood and the innocence of youth.

The residents of our street mostly kept to themselves except when they gathered outside our house to listen to my mother playing the piano but we children continued to play together, often cowboys and Indians but the manner of the game changed. Our boisterousness and yells of “Bang-bang” whilst pointing toy or makeshift guns were no longer. We no longer pointed, even with our fingers and the word “bang-bang” was quietly spoken. After all, one never knew if the japanese were watching. At first, we did not notice the slow thinning out of our members. Firstly the British and other foreigner we then the Indisch and Totoks (those born in the Indies and those who came from Holland respectively) then the odd Indo (mixed blood) until only we, my mother and brothers were left.

 

Fragments by Jose de Koster, Blog 7

Fragments of a Journey

A Fisful of Life

www.fragmentsbyjosedekoster.com

Blog 7

Hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and a new year which began with promises of good things to come - comfort for bereaved people, peace of mind for the unhappy and the anxious, good fortune for those that need it. Here is the next instalment of the autobiography

In Malang, my father's place of work was confined to the four walls of a room instead of the wide spaces of the plantation that he so loved. I remember going to visit him in his office, an airy spacious room in the middle of which was an enormous, dark-brown mahogany two-sided desk on which sat several rows of pencils, all equally sharp-pointed, brought to that sharpness by the old Malay, the maintenance man whose job it was to ensure all pencils sharpened. His appearance remains vivid in my memory – thin, dark-brown chiselled face, long,elegant fingers, a pitji on his skull, the headdress preferred by the first president of Indonesia, bapak Karno (President Soekarno). At my new school, our pencils would also be sharpened by just such a man. He would take from us, the proffered pencils and without a word, began his business, placing each finished pencil on the ground in front of him, the pointed end facing the student. We did not pick them up until they were all finished then he would look into our eyes and react to our facial expressions. My tight, dark looks elicited a wide, spreading smile from him.

Fragment 1.

Someone sent me a postcard a few days ago. The postcard tells the story of a building, white, Dutch Empire style, heavy and solid like the burgers of Holland. On this postcard, however, were none of the trees that had stood there when Joost was a child. In particular, there was one tree to the right of the structure which wound itself around the building. It was in this tree that the child Joost would hide on one of its massive branches lying in its bough, snug and comfortable as any bed, perfect for observing the world and day-dreaming.

He would watch his father's window through which he could see him sitting at his immaculate desk with, on the right hand side, lay seven pencils with seven sharp points, which were sharpened seven times a day. Why seven, he wondered. Was it a mystical number? (Many years later in life, he had watched a Hollywood film called “The Seven Samurai” and the image of those pencils, sitting side by side like soldiers at the ready, returned to him).

One day, he saw a tall, white-haired, broad-shouldered man standing in front of his father. The man was speaking and my father appeared angry, tapping and gesticulating with one of the pencils, the sharp point directed toward the speaker. The boy slid down the tree, ran into the building through the side door, up the wide staircase and stood outside his father's door, the better to hear the conversation. He had only been there a few moments when suddenly the door was flung open throwing him backwards onto the floor. Both men bent down to pick him up and whilst their voices were solicitous, he could see in their eyes and faces, the ferocity of their silent conversation.

When the man left, the father guided Joost roughly to his office, pushed him into a chair and sat on a seat next to him. Through the window, Joost could see the tree he had recently vacated.

“Now listen to me! I do not want you to come to this office ever again. You understand? Never! Why are you crying?”

Joost could not answer. He was choking on his words, a consequence of crying, of shame, of embarrassment and fear. He sensed his father's eyes boring into him and for quite some time , neither spoke, both immobile, holding their respective positions.father and son and the mystery which is in between. Joost was a thin boy, supple and athletic with a dreamer's silence writ on his face. His father was a dark-haired, six-footer with a large nose and small eyes which he would squint to hide his thoughts. The boy never really understood him, his motives, his movements.They never held any long conversations, never did anything together, never confided in each other. The father held his own consultations at all times: he was simply the tuan basar (the boss)

“I was watching you and the man, pap, and I got worried”
“Watching us. What do you mean watching us? From where? Are you spying on me?”

“No, pap.I sometimes sit in that tree, that big one. I just sit there, that's all and I saw you. I am not spying, just looking. I like sitting there. It is my home away from home, my dream home.”

“Well, just let me catch you their again! I do not want to be spied on, you hear me?” Joost left the room quietly although in his heart, he raged. God is a bastard, he thought. Much of his comprehension of the world, of its people and of himself was explained with reference to that beloved God, instilled into his being by his devoutly Catholic mother. But already within the boy's heart, rebellion had taken root for, try as he might, he could not reconcile this mysterious, aloof and remote Being with the loving Father of his mother's God. Was not God perhaps, the beautiful music his mother played on her large Bechstein grand piano - Mozart's Piano Concerto,No21,K467,in particular the second movement, or the same movement of Beethoven's Piano Concerto, No5. It was then, he would hear the sound of God-like majesty and connect with the Supreme Being.He was in the music of his mother. Only a few years later, he totally forsook the religion of his mother. Out of deference to her, not wishing to disappoint her, he maintained the outward observances until the time of their internment.

He lied to her about his confessions. For quite some time, he would recite, in the confessional, a rehearsed litany of sins which he had supposedly committed. One day, quite exasperated by the behaviour of her two eldest sons, she ordered them to church for confession. It was wartime and the priest, a Javanese, had been a replacement for the Dutch priest who had been arrested and interned by the Japanese. (His finely chiselled face still hangs on the portrait wall of his memory.) Joost entered the confessional and began his usual and hitherto accepted patter but was cut short by the priest.

“Stop this rubbish. Go outside, think about your sins and come back after the next person,” he ordered.

Joost walked out, surprising his brother,Ed, who had been flirting with a girl and not expecting him to make such a fast exit. Ed entered the confessional whilst he sat in the pew alongside, trying to concoct different lies which he could parrot off on re- entering that silent cubicle which always seemed hostile to him, this home of righteousness that, in his opinion, was a device for hiding the truth. He knelt down and again, began his routine. He suddenly stopped, sick of this stupidity which was supposed to cleanse him but never did, his soul and heart melding with a dispiriting defeat.

“ Where does this start, child? When?” asked the priest, this time in a much gentler tone.

“ I have nothing to confess because I did nothing. Just lived. I am here because my mother gets hurt if I don't come.”

Deep silence – grave-like in mystery. After what seemed like a long time, the silence was broken,

“Leave. Come back when you remember God.”
He left, feeling nothing inside him, emptied out. It took until he was lying in camp one of those terrible days dying from dysentery, waiting for the flood of shit that had left him d
aily to end his life that he was reborn. Lying on his thin mattress, debating which would come first, liberation or death, he was overcome with the same spiritual emptiness he felt on the day that chiselled face told him to leave, he felt a sudden surge of exhilaration. He realised that he was in the presence of truth...and that truth was that he had never believed in the ritual of Catholicism.

 

 

Fragments by Jose de Koster, Blog 6

Fragments of a journey

A Fistful of Life

www.fragmentsbyjosedekoster.com

Blog 6

Merry Christmas and a hapy New Year. Hope you all have an absolutely lovely Christmas day with friends and loved ones and may 2019 bring much joy, good health, peace and contentment. Here is the nexy instalment of  Fragments...

 

Chapter 2

Malang

Saidja and Rawi,

Chopin and homecoming.

A house, a car, a bird.

 

 

 

My father's new job necessitated a shift from my beloved Medan in Sumatra to Malang on the island of Java. As our ship shuddered its way to Tanjung Priok on Java, I remember my mother telling me with great happiness that we were emigrating to her homeland. She had been born in Blitar in the province of Kediri and we were destined to go to Malang, a city which held fragments of her life inside its walls. I remember the murderous heat when we arrived in Batavia (present day Jakarta ) but very little about the train trip to Malang. Later, we would make a reverse trip on the same train only this time, the wagons would be closed to all light as we trundled onto Semarang and our new prison (internment camp) during the Japanese occupation. Ach! Malang!The last memory of a youth spent rich in joy and wild with the rising sperm in my body.

At the train station we caught a taxi which took us to a hotel named The Hotel Splendid situated near a bridge which spanned a river. There we occupied a small unit at the back of building which afforded us privacy and self-containment of family life. It was here our first little grey angora cat joined us. Bomber was his name, a little grey bundle of fluff which was to become the terror of all future animals in our future homes. For such a small undle, he had huge claws and so we named him after the Brown Bomber, Joe Louis, the boxer and our favourite sportsman – two-fisted Joe, lithe and fast with bombs in each hand, the fighter who fought almost continuously, it seemed. We would tune in to the radio to listen to the blow-by-blow descriptions of the fights provided by commentators of our Bomber proving victorious against other greats such as Billy Conn, Max Schmeling, Tony Calento.

We soon moved to a rented house in Werilang Street, a long snake-like street where later, I would drag, with others, the iron artillery cart loaded with drums of food for the kitchen of the internment camp where we were imprisoned and where, once, we organised a foot-race in those early months when we still had energy to run before the hardships of the camp took their toll on our bodies. Behind our house was the Mulo School, later to become the dreaded headquarters of the Kempetai (Japanese military/secret police).

Next door to us, lived the ex-colonel Geertsema Beckering, a hero of some battles fought against insurgents in Atjeh. He was a towering man, who must have cut an imposing figure to most people but for us children, whilst we regarded him with affection, he was a source of amusement together with his wife, he being so tall and she a tiny woman almost half his size so that when they were standing together, the contrast was comical. Every year at Easter, they would hide eggs in their garden, chocolate and painted natural eggs, for the children of the neighbourhood to find and gleefully take home.

Our third - and last home – was a house at the other end of town in Verlengde Sophia street, a street of older houses and marvellous lanes, tree-loaded and tree-lined. My father had purchased the house and had placed it in my mother's name, a gift and token of his love for his love. It was in a short cul de sac and to my mind then, when I initially wandered through its empty rooms, a very large house.It comprised four rooms in the main house and alongside it, a pavilion with rooms for guests and behind them, a long, open corridor from which opened out six rooms, stretching in length to the wall surrounding our property, a wall topped with cemented broken glass in order to deter thieves. The garden, in comparison to the property in Medan was comparatively small. It was a square piece of land on which, to one side, stood a well and behind it, the bathing facilities for the servants, two concrete tubs filled with water which was thrown over the bather by using a gagong (bucket). This section was enclosed to afford privacy with entry and egress through a door in the middle.Behind it, stood a huge stood a huge klengkleng tree in which we boys would sit in our platform house, eating the sweet fruit produced by the tree, a fruit closely related to the rambutan. A little further way, stood a two-roomed villa with a trellis verandah in the front over which wild bougainvillia climbed and scrambled,shading those people who sat there. On the other side of the house was a garage of sorts, not much more than a carport basically, with a door leading into a small annexe where we stored our bikes mainly. Behind that was a sandpit where our games with cars and soldiers were played to the full. We also had quite a few fruit trees: a djeruk bali ( a type of huge orange), a series of pawpaw trees, avocado, the klengkleng and a tjerme with its terribly sour star fruit which was good for pickling.

In her new house, my mother went searching for servants to replace the ones left behind in Medan. To her delight, she found her childhood babu (nanny), Saidja who became our cook. She was generally a jolly woman but given at times, to tempestuous moods and then, it was better to stay out of her way – unless it was my mother, the sight of which reignited the maternal and protective instincts of the old babu over her little charge. Saidja had looked after the children of my grandparents and especially my mother when the tiny grandma was otherwise occupied. My grandmother was a tiny charming woman whose mother had died giving birth to her but whose spirit and image lived within her daughter. She (my great grandmother) was of French-Vietnamese extraction, a tiny woman who married a towering German By the name of Pabst, now both buried next to each otherin the cemetery at Tuban, a small township on the coast above Surabaya,. Saidja also had a very soft spot for my older brother, Ed as he closely resembled my grandfather by whom she was employed. In addition to Saidja, my mother employed a tani ( gardener) who had had been a gardener for my grandfather. These two, old friends from her childhood, made my mother extremely happy. From the kampong situated at the end of our dead end street, she hired Rawai who cleaned the house together with her new djongos (man servant) whose name has escaped me. Rawai also became our babu. We also had a cuci (washerwoman)who would wash our clothes, sheets etc at the well. She would bash the clothes on the concrete edge of the well again and again and when she considered them clean enough, she would use a washing board to finish off the job.

This was the home in which my mother felt most at ease, where days would be spent organising her household and playing her beloved piano, where here, she could give her memories free reign and where she could re-establish herself. Prior to her marriage to my father ( her second marriage ) she had been a concert pianist,touring the European continent with her performances. She had been a pupil of Alfred Cortot, renowned French pianist whose special interests were the Romantic composers, in particular, Chopin and Schumann, with the consequence that these were my mother's preferred composers as well. Her dream of re-establishing her professional musicianship was, to a degree, realised in Malang where she secured a weekly radio spot playing Chopin on the NIROM (Nederlandsch-Indiessch Radio-omroepmaarschappij), accompanied by Dan Koletz and his orchestra. She continued playing and discussing Chopin's life and music on her weekly spot right until the time of the Japanese occupation when the station was shut down. Her love of Chopin was passed on to me and he became my favourite as well. Often in my younger days, I would imagine playing his music and he, looking down would smile at me. smiling at me.

Because I possessed slim, long fingers, (pianist's fingers, she claimed) she determined that I too should become a pianist and began the task of teaching me – to no avail. Despite my imaginings, the reality of the pianoforte bored me with its repetitions of scales, its study of theory and the banality of my first pieces. I was hopeless and did not enjoy it. My hands yearned to paint, to write poetry. (my slim, long fingers, in later life, served me in becoming an artist). She had more success with my younger brother, Guus, who throughout his adult life, forged a sideline career as a jazz pianist, playing in restaurants and clubs.

I see you seated in the cool of the piano room

Body swaying, fingers dancing on the ivory keys

outside, passing people pause, dream of the past,the future

street vendors set up shop and sell their wares

in silence, listening to the Chopin magic.

I always listened somewhere alone.

Fragments by Jose de Koster, Blog 5

Fragments of a Journey

A Fistful of Life

www.fragmentsbyjosedekoster.com

Blog 5

A day of flooding rains, catastrophic fires and fierce windstorms. Hello Australia

A perfect day for staing indoors and reading the next instalment. Enjoy!

The house I remember best is the third house in the Laboratorium Weg which was opposite a deer park. It had a long circular drive which went past the house and onto the pendopo on the side (a pavilion-like structure supported by columns open on all sides affording cool shelter from the sun and protection from the rain.) in which sat rattan chairs and table where my parents would relax or entertain.The drive was lined with huge, old tjemarahs with massive roots spreading in all directions. Here, I would play with my men, clay figures I had made myself or little tin soldiers given to me by my family or their friends. They did not fight the great battles with cannons that other children created in their games. Mine wandered like ghosts through forests, speaking to the animals and living in peace.

The back garden was enormous and housed a chicken coop to the side and behind the house the kaki lima (pavement) led to the kitchen and the servants' living quarters. At the back of their area was a hedge and behind that stood a well in front of the servants' bathroom. It was in that hedge that I hid my valuables – cars, soldiers, marbles etc – till one day, I discovered that they had all disappeared, gone forever. I moped about the house for many a day after that, mourning their loss, lying often under the tiger skin in my mother's piano room, searching for comfort and the tiger's strength. Geese roamed free in the garden and scared not only visitors but often us kids and the servants themselves. We often saw miyawaks, huge lizards, some growing to two metres in length. They would roam the back yard trying to steal the chickens but were usually thwarted in their attempts as the geese scared them out of the yard. Miyawaks did not scare us. We would often swim in the river which ran at the back of the house with them. Only once did I feel intimidated. I had inadvertently got very close to one and did not notice it until the stench of his skin alerted me to its presence. I stopped and we both stared at each other, his beady eyes directing thoughts into my head. I slowly backed away and after some considerable distance, I turned and walked away quickly, my imagination running haywire with all sorts of improbable occurrences but nothing happened. The miyawak stood there unmoving. Miyawaks kill prey and are also scavengers, preferring to eat cadavers after they have well and truly rotted.I once found a dead dog, an alsatian, in the reeds lining the back of the jungle patch behind our house. The reptiles had hidden it there to work into edible bits. My brother, Ed and I used to watch them from the tree house he had built in the bough of a tree by the river. We would look down and see them cavorting in the muddy waters, dragging food – dead chooks, cats, dogs etc) - into their bamboo homes where it was left and eaten only when necessary. No gorging here. From our vantage point, we would look down on the kampong and observe people going about their daily business. We would watch women go to the river and do their washing by hitting the clothes on the beautiful river stones, huge boulders spewed out many, many centuries ago by either Sibayak or Sinabung, the twin mountains just beyond the edge of Medan.

Plantation life for me was a long day and night filled with joyous moments and love. Apart from my parents, the two people whom I loved most and who exerted the most influence were the aforementioned Tani and my nurse, Musinem. Tani would calm my fears by explaining them away while Musinem would soothe them away, by holding me close to her bosom, murmuring soft words of love. Her arms were like medicine, curing me of fear, of sadness, healing my childhood pains from the many scrapes in which I often found myself. Life consisted of us kids playing in huge gardens in groups or alone amongst the massive trees and watching out for semut appi, little red ants which would climb one's legs and sting a million bites a second. I hated those little bastards. Big ants – they could be spotted – but these little firebrands haunted me because they were unseen until they were felt. My early days were spent playing in the sand with little home-made toys and marbles. which, in my imagination, were transformed into soldiers of massive armies which roamed in my silent head. In our house I was a quiet child. My mother described me to everyone as “still waters”.

“ He never draws attention to himself – says nothing but just watches you” she would tell people. I was her “worry child” she would often proclaim.

My mother was a very large woman. I do not remember her ever being thin except for years later when the war had signalled its end and I staggered to the women's internment camp and saw her framed in a door, a skeleton weighing only 28 kilograms. When she saw me, she held out her arms, her dark eyes brimming with love and joyously, I ran into them. We didn't speak, just clung to each other whilst behind her, stood my younger brother who had managed to get to her earlier. (He and I had been in a camp about an hour's walk distance and only with the end of the war could we stagger to each other. ) But I digress! She was large and solidly beautiful and I still, to this day, some fifty years later, am embraced by the warmth of her being. She had moulded her family of five into a solid unit who knew everything about each other and who had fierce loyalties towards each other.

First School

Sitting at the deathbed of my older brother, Ed, his body ravaged by the cancer eating away at him, we reminisced about the long distant past and chortled about the antics of youth, and in particular, of one little five year old boy standing on his bed and pissing on the floor beside it. Comical in retrospect, it was less so at the time of the event as it was the first act of defiance by a deeply unhappy boy who could not understand why his world of love, security and his beloved jungle was so suddenly wrested from him. It was decided when I turned eight I should begin my academic education. Because of the isolation of the plantation, I was sent to join my brother at a boarding school run by the Jesuit Brothers in Berastagi (Brastagi in our old memory). It was here that the innate silence within me flourished. Now however, it was a silence born out of anger, a defence of the mind and the soul. It was here too, that the first seeds of rebellion were planted and gave sprout. I disliked the uniform, disliked the dinners and especially disliked the teacher who sat next to me at the head of the table. So many time, his ruler would come crashing over my fingers, those fingers so thin but which I instinctively already knew would become the implements that would tell the world, through my art, about my soul. Whack! The ruler descended whilst he lectured me on how to eat.

“You chew your food! Do not swallow until it has been chewed many, many times!” he would thunder.
And another whack for good measure. There were times I defied him by glaring arrogantly ( his word) at him, saying nothing. At those times, I would be banished to a table where I sat alone or with other malcontents (as it was put), the naughty people's table where at times, I forced to wear a pointed dunce's hat which he had fashioned for me, scarring my dignity beyond repair. “EAT!” he thundered and my secret heart told me to remember. That cap is imprinted on my memory as a symbol of misery. Later on, when, in the cinema, I saw KKK clansmen riding over the silver screen pursuing my heroes, my dislike for uniform grew and well before I knew the ethos of the KKK, I disliked them because of their uniform. Uniform clothing, uniform behaviour, uniform (and usually dogmatic) beliefs.

My parents would occasionally would send small parcels of food, little treats for my brother and me. These were placed in the kitchen's refrigerator, sometimes doled out to us but just as often not at all as they had somehow “disappeared”. My eyes turn in to the screen of memory seeing two boys, one five, one eight, sneaking out at night, raiding the fridge ( later it was padlocked) for our treats before they disappeared and eating in silence the delicious toentoengan cakes our cook had made.
Often, and hence the padlock, I suppose, we would be caught and thus copped many a caning.

The hollowness of my little boy's heart, the overwhelming misery of homesickness and my brother's refusal to act on my suggestion that we run away together gave birth to my first acts of rebellion and resistance – firstly, to piss on the floor each night, refuse to clean it up and cop the consequent caning and when that failed to cause my parents to take me home then refusing to eat (yes, Mum,your stories about Gandhi found root in me) which landed me in the school infirmary, weakened and with damaged kidneys. I remember the shrill screech of the teacher in charge of the infirmary screaming hysterically that “godverdomme” (a Dutch swear word) this had to stop and smacking me in a bid to make me eat. Silent warrior I was – no tears, no words, just a stance. Like Luther, I could not recant. Our parents were finally notified when I was in hospital and the male native nurse there told my mother in Javanese that this child should go home. “ Doroh, diya sakkit attibuat ibu-bapak.” My mother simply took me in her arms and said, “It is over now. We are going home.” My father, rather perplexed by that sudden decision, angrily demanded to know what would happen to the children's education now. My mother quietly and calmly told him that she would resume teaching the children and that they would go to school when he retired and shifted to the city.

Defiant Ed and his little brother, awakened by the life returned into the two, came home, sharing

our so-longed-for homecoming with a little baby brother, Guus, now a blond child running on his short legs. The laughter and joy so penetrated the jungle that somewhere a tiger spoke “Harimauuuuuau”. No more getting beaten, no more uniform. (To this day, no uniform has ever attracted me. I detest the stamp it puts on you. ) My heart was ready to burst with happiness at once again

I still have the maps of the plantation of the Deli My. Nowadays it is simply incorporated into Medan as suburbs and somehow I do not feel attracted to going back to revisit the place. Millions of people noisily crowding the streets where once inhabited silence.

Our homecoming, so joyful for me, extracted a heavy price from my father. He was forced to move closer to civilization so we three children could attend day school. To that end, he applied for a transfer to head office and secured a job in an administrative capacity, leaving behind his beloved jungle. His heart must have contracted with anger and loneliness for he was happy only amongst the tobacco and the huge sky which spoke of freedom. The longing for that life in the plantation stayed with my father till the day he died.

 

 

 

 

Fragments by Jose de Koster, Blog 4

Fragments of a Journey

A Fistful of Life

www.fragmentsbyjosedekoster.com

Blog4

Many, many apologies to the readers following this blog for the enormous interval between this and the last one. I have been overseas  for the last eight weeks with a new tablet from which I was unable, whether because of my ignorance or the machine playing up, to access the contents of m desktop (with the exception of email and facebook. Hence the delay. Because of such a long absence, I will include in this blog, more than I usually do. Happy reading!

My maternal grandfather was the opposite to me, known as “the tiger killer of Java”. He would make traps, deep holes dug deep with bamboo stakes,pointing upwards into which a bit of goat meat was lowered, the smell of which would lure the hungry tiger to fall in and be impaled by the bamboo spears.
    Tani later exerted the same calming influence when my younger brother, Guus, and I spotted two pythons in a
longparrit, a deep trench built to allow the water to escape in those heavy tropical rains. Filled with fear, we ran screaming back into the house and were caught in the arms of Tani who carried us back to where the snakes were and showed us that they were sleeping and not to be feared. “ When you sleep, who fears you? No-one should. It is the same with them,” he explained. Later, when we shifted our domicile to the city Medan, I asked my father why he had brought two python skins to hang on the wall of his study.
    “Well,” he answered, “those were the two that scared you and Guus on the plantation. Remember?”
    I did indeed and to this day, feel weirdly guilty for having allowed my fear to kill those two. The tiger skin in my mother's piano room, it too, asked me to explain. Often I would get under it and pretend to be a tiger, trying to scare my brother. He did not
scarehowever, merely kicked the skin and I would roll out from under.
     Another sound which stays with me to
thisday, is the haunting, wild cry of the siamang, (gibbon) which makes its sound by pursing its mouth into a funnel. Often, it caught me unawares and with fear, I would run straight into the tani's waiting arms and onto his shoulders where safety was assured.
    On the same plantation where the pythons scared us
,Toentoengan plantation,we had a swimming pool. It was actually a small river which had been blocked off at some fifty metres intervals, roughly concreted with a few steps leading into it. My mother went in one day and almost immediately let out a scream and bolted out. We soon saw the reason for her dismay. A small crocodile, was silently shifting through the waters, weaving this way and that, thoroughly enjoying itself. We never swam there again.
     During that early period, I remember we had two dogs,
dobermans named Tommy and Moppie – black, swift fires of anger, although in our presence, they were simply pussycats. The servants feared them despite the dogs sleeping in their quarters. One day, Tommy, who was a crazy fighter, engaged in a duel with a wild pig on the road in front of our house, a road which was no more than a clearing cut through the jungle some years previously and which saw only the occasional car and a few slow-moving grobaks scattering loose gravel. His guts hung half out of his body yet he tenaciously clung to the throat of the screaming pig until it died. Poor Tommy survived that fight. We had him stitched up by a dukun who swore all the time that no-one should have a dog which fought like a 'setan' (devil). The pig became dinner, thin slices of wild pig dried on the roof of the servants' quarters in preparation for dengeng, a delicacy which still makes my mouth water and is one of those yearnings which runs in the blood of the exile. Tommy's escape from an almost certain death on that occasion proved to be only a brief postponement.
       One weekend, (it must have been a weekend because my father was home and away from the plantation), Tommy had gone missing early in the morning. My father and a small posse which included my older brother and me, went looking for him in the jungle, calling his name continuously. As we descended a slippery path into a kampong (village settlement), we heard barking, ferocious yet carrying within that ferocity, the hint of whining. We found Tommy, tied to a post, almost hidden amongst a cluster of small bamboo houses. There he was minus a leg, black tar smeared over where once a leg had been ( to stop the bleeding, no doubt). The Bataks were dog eaters - in Balige dog meat was sold openly in the markets – and poor Tommy was stolen and destined to be eaten, piece by piece. We hurriedly untied him and made our way through the jungle back to our house.  Poor Tommy, however, weakened and perhaps infected by the amputation, did not survive the journey. I remember blood slowly trickling from his mouth, his eyes rolling backwards, his body convulsing – and then nothing, just total stillness. I had witnessed my first death, the departing of the soul. I burst into a torrent of tears, tears not of pity or love, but of pure and total rage, anger at the God who could allow this to happen, anger at us humans who claimed an intelligence superior to animal intelligence but yet nearly always betrayed ourselves.
    I cannot remember what happened to Moppie nor to her brood of puppies which roamed yelping in
theback yard. One day, they were all gone and the memory for the reasons of their disappearance did not store them, just the black spots of sound.

Fragment : A dichotomy of faiths.    I was brought up in my mother's faith. She was  Roman Catholic and deeply devout unlike my father who had no interest in his Lutheran background. While the dogma and rituals of Catholicism were pounded into me as a child, they did not carry the same weight as the mystical, superstitious spiritualism of my babu, Musinem. Even my mother, born and raised in the atmosphere of her babu's influence, incorporated it into her being. We children feared less the wrath of an angry Catholic God than the appearance of the mommohs, invisible ancestral spirits whose presence can be felt and may come to do good or wreak destruction and havoc and whose presence we had to fight. Everywhere they lurk and target especially women and children, both of whom wallow in their deep mystery.The East was, and probably still is, awash with the fear of mommohs.
    At one time in my childhood, I was sick with fever.  My mother was singing Nina Bobo, a lullaby every child in the East knows, a song left over from Portuguese business dealings on these coasts. I remember my sudden scream. It cut itself out of my mouth, made my lips vibrate and the
sweatpour out of my body. My mother held me tight against herself and Musinem gently caressed my forehead. I had seen a mommoh with the eyes of my grandfather in his skull. He had haunted me for years previously and after my illness until one night, Ed, my brother hit the mommoh with a weapon, a huge wooden stick which he bashed against the wall.He let the mommoh have it again and again even though the only result appeared to be a crack in the wall over the bed.But then, mommohs are invisible at the best of times. We found a dead gecko under the bed, flat and very visible but didn't want to admit what we both thought for fear of mocking the spirits and incurring vengeance, that we had killed a mommoh.
When my screaming did not subside
,Musinem, still caressing me, yelled, “Setan pergi” (Satan, go away) then she disappeared, coming back shortly with the saviour of all children when the devil wanders through their soul, chicken broth.When I woke up the next day, still extremely tired and feverish,I knew, nevertheless, that my slim fight with death had been won by the three of us.The next day, Musinem came to my bedside, laid a hand on my forehead and suddeny all the devils left. Just like that. Fever stilled, headache gone, eyes clear – just like that ,hand on head. My mother told me that she herself laid her hand on my head to calm me down whenever I was angry.  “All was gone. No anger. It is the sign of the Lord,” she explained. Not till later did I query this. How come, I asked my mother  did Musinem who is Muslim have the same Lord as she did in achieving the same result with her hand on my head. She replied,”Your head is the seat of the Lord, your Lord.It is where your Lord and I or Musinem meet. Do you understand?”
Despite my mother's fervent Catholicism, as a child of the East, she also embraced, if perhaps subconsciously, the mysticism and magic of the East and listening to her, I discovered her God changed face many times, absorbing elements of her gurus, people like
Ghandi, Krishnamurti,
Gurdjev, Madame Blavatski, Jesus and especially, her father, Sam.
Musinem and my mother both had forceful eyes. Musinem had brown eyes with yellow flecks like a tiger, soft and gentle when she was with us, brooding and dangerous like a tiger on the prowl when she thought we needed protecting. My mother had black, imperious eyes, eyes that still frightened even in Ruysdaelstraat in Holland where she returned after the war, her body racked and ruined after the camp.She would sit in her chair like a queen on her throne, waiting.
    My maternal grandmother, living in the Western civilisation of Den Bosch after the war, that tiny woman who could be as coquettish as any French mademoiselle, flirting her way into your eyes, heart and soul, carried with her the echoes of her past.”You are
amonyet (a monkey), like those who dance and frolic near tombstones,” she said to me, pinching my bottom.When I asked my mother what she had meant about me being a monkey dancing near tombstones, my mother replied that it meant I had soul that my inner being dared to show itself. She told me not to be perturbed.
    My grandmother was never old. She just died
.Musinem disappeared from my life suddenly after we came back from a holiday in Holland. She is still here, however, has been all along, in my heart, in one of the many chambers in which love hides.

 


 

Fragments by Jose de Koster, Blog 3

Fragments of a Journey

A Fistful of Life

www.fragmentsbyjosedekoster.com

Blog 3

After a delay of a week and with any apologies, here is the third instalment of Fragments ofa Journey, A Fistful of Life by Jose de Koster.

happy reading. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Liz

Medan

Birth, green jungle, storm. Plantation life, animals, Musinem, momohs.

Such a long time ago! My God, time presses on without mercy. My ex- cursion into the daylight came on the 29th January, 1929 in the city of Medan, to where my mother travelled from her isolated plantation, Belawan Estate, to facilitate my birth. Medan was, at that time, a small city, a provincial town really – neat streets, dokars, a few cars and naturally, the grobak (a cart dragged through the street by oxen) which stood out so noticeably because of its slow progress through the street and its noise, created by the roll- ing of the wooden wheels, gedebuk-gedebuk, its sound vibrating in one’s ears. I still hear and see them in the far memory, stored for the duration of my life. Medan! My mother almost did not survive my entry into the world, a world I was very reluctant to face as I was a month overdue. Nevertheless, the course of nature could not be protracted indefinitely and after a long and painful labour, Jose, more commonly to be known as Joost or Joosje, was born. After my birth, my parents brought back their little baby brother for Ed, an older sibling, into the deep green jungle, where, in a clearing, our house defied the said jungle like a fortress. Those houses stood solid and alone, even those constructed from wood and bamboo; open houses, allowing the cool air to circulate. Kerees, lowered to keep out the harsh sun, would also shield the occupants from any prying eyes.

I was born when my parents were on the Belawan plantation but my first eight years saw us shift several times. My father, being a good administrator and organiser, of people and generally, was a valuable employee and so we were shifted to wherever a plantation needed growth, solidifying, re-organising or building up of morale amongst the workers. Some of the places we lived in were the Deli Tua, Toentoengan and Belawan estates, I still remember the silence and the feeling of safety even despite the prolonged absences of my father. He was a planter, manager of a tobacco plantation owned by the Deli Maatschappij. His working day began with the rising sun at 6 o’clock in the morning and continued through to the dying sun at six in the evening. Six to six – a daily routine – walking to the office and the sheds hung with tobacco leaves on racks and then walking home.

My father loved that life, so different from the one he left behind. He was a Dutchman, born in Amsterdam, the city which, for him, was a place of constant conflict with his bickering family, a place of small spaces and small minds, close and constricted. He longed for escape and decided to seek space, freedom and adventure in the Nederlands East Indies (as it was known then). My earliest, fondest and most frequent memory of him at that time was him coming home from the plantation and with a laugh, slinging me onto his shoul- ders and exploring the perimeters of our house looking out into the jungle. Many, many years later, sitting at my father’s deathbed in Goes, Netherlands, as my brother, Guus and I watched the last bubble of life cease growing and hanging on his nether lip, I felt his shoulders under me and for the last time, my father lifted me high to the heavens.

I do not remember the days and routines of our daily life other than the stories told to me later on, when the baby had become a child. The first memory that I do recall is that of one late afternoon. The day had suddenly turned dark and an ominous thunderclap heralded the arrival of a tropical storm. Within seconds, a cacophony of sounds invaded the serenity of our day. Hard-driving sheets of rain lashed the roof causing it to shudder and groan, crashing of nearby timber unable to sustain the weight of the streaming heav- ens creating a river on the lawn outside and all the while the continuous peals of thunder followed immediately by the cracking of lightning so loud that it seemed to split the sky. I was in my playpen, and suddenly, startled by a particu- larly loud thunderclap, inadvertently swallowed a safety pin which I had been sucking. I began screaming. My mother and Musinem, my babu (nanny) flew to my side simultaneously, lifting me up, soothing me with their cuddles, first one then the other. I was blessed with being doubly loved as were many children in the colonies, with having two or even more mothers, our birth mother and our babu. The mystery of my screams was solved, when in my faeces sometime shortly afterwards, a safety pin was discovered, closed no doubt. That, I do not remember. What I simply remember is my scream, the sudden attention and the sound of the thunder rolling over and through the jungle surrounding us, a jungle full of sound – screeching monkeys, howling siamangs, the roaring and purring of roaming tigers and the chattering of birds galore, each with its own call. To this day, I feel very much akin to that long gone origin of man where we too were simply animals and not the greed-invested mob we are today. The jungle established itself in me, all its mysteries hidden in my skin. All three sons were born on the plantations so the silence of the Sumatran jungle which surrounded our houses would be the main factor in our lives. We watched it as it watched us and its denizens – whether feared or not, were my brothers and sisters. So now and then, one of those sounds out of my primeval age will rip- ple through my skin and I feel strong and whole. The tiger and the orang-utan especially, speak to me and I to them.

 
 
 

 

Fragments by Jose de Koster, Blog 2

Fragments of a Journey

A Fistful of Life

www.fragmentsbyjosedekoster.com

Blog 2

Second instalment of autobigraphy of the late Jose de Koster, artist and writer

She also wrote articles and poems for the newspapers –papers such as the Deli Courant, Locomotive, Java Bode. Towards the end of her life she began her autobiography which she intended to write in three parts but that dream was thwarted by her early death. Part one entitled “Eva” did come into being and my brothers and I each have a copy together with some short stories.

She was a storyteller supreme.When she spoke, people listened. Every- thing was a story to be remembered even if only telling the babu cuci (woman who laundered our clothes) to wash that day, mainly the sheets, it became a cantata. When, whoever listened to her tales about her father, laughter shot into the sky through the jungle green – for he was a character. My little dark being cradled in the sound of her tales, my dark eyes fixed on her, my love overwhelming for her and lonely for her love and pride in me, for while I did feel her love, I also felt her concern for herworry childas she called me. I felt somehow uworthy of her love for this child that seemed a problem.

My father, one of ten children, came from a family entirely different in temperament, steady, sturdy, dry citizens of the Low Countries, dark-haired and, although stiffly formal, were given to much giggling, unlike my mother’s family who would burst into uproarious laughter. My favourite of the siblings was Eddy who was vivacious and had fun in life. During World War 11, as a Japanese prisoner of war, he was transferred to Japan by ship but never arrived there as the ship was sunk off the Sumatran coast. His ability to swim kept him alive only to be beset by the horrors of the concentration camp at Pekanbaru working on that useless railway that had never been used, a track as notorious as the Burma track, stretches of rail under which dead bodies reminded you of the truth. The fates that looked kindly on him during this period of time abandoned him a little later. He died young as a result of a motor bike crash in his thirties or forties.

 

Adagio

Long ago, Sumatran jungle green embraced my birth – and green-cloth is still my colour.
Living here in the Blue Mountains which drapes mist deep inside our smiles like a veil,
hides my old house,
fits my anxieties like a glove
on the hand which holds my soul.

I remember deep, dark green echoes of tiger and simian where I was born,
a pain to my pianist mother.

Slow is the meaning of life.

2006

Fragments by Jose de Koster, Blog 1

Fragments of a Journey

A fistful of life

Blog 1

www.fragments byjosedekoster.com

Welcome to my blog.

My name is Liz and I am the wife of the late Jose de Koster, artist and writer,former resident of the beautiful Blue Mountains, west of Sydney in Australia. Following his death, his autobiography was published, a beautiful book featuring not just the story of his remarkable life but alsoa selection of his many poems as well as images of his artwork. Extracts from the book can be seen on the website shown above. Please take a visit and if you like what you see, tick the "like" box and/or leave a comment.

The purpose of this blog is to publish, not just the extracts but the text of the book in its entirety in instalments. happy reading.

 

Introduction

“Write, son. Even if only one line a day, keep the flow going. Just as a river needs water otherwise it becomes a dry bed, so too does the brain need the stimulation of a word, a thought, a line, action. Energy and action.”

Thus spoke my mother, hoping I would become a journalist. As a boy, I would watch those hard-bitten journalists in B-grade American movies, Dan Durea cigarettes hanging out of the corners of their mouths, alternately witty and sardonic or jaded, cynical and melancholy. I did not want to be like that. I dreamed of quiet rooms and sitting at a big, polished mahogany desk waiting for the fires of inspiration to stir me into a feverish tapping of the typewriter key- board. She was right, of course – every day, just write something. So I have kept a diary for years, sometimes extremely prosaic, at other times a lovely flash of life.

One line a day, each new one reflecting life as it was and now is, in my skull, full of images and living dreams, some shattered, some floating on the Blue Danube of Strauss (now playing on the radio in the year 2005) each line following another.

My fingers pound the keys of the typewriter, each letter a fragment of a word of a tale that is love. Love, Life! The two words are one and the same.

To live is to love and it is love that nourishes life. My aged head is filled with the words of countless authors who have inspired me but four speak to my soul above all and it is to these four that I write my epistle. My story is to them and for them. The first is Pablo Neruda, my favourite poet of all time. For many years, I have talked to him and listened to his voice through my mouth as the poetry I read of his, fills my being with the true moment of recognition, the recognition of the echo of my soul. I hope his spirit is joined by the other three whose poetry has sustained me for years. The first is Marina Tsvetaeva, the tragic Russian poet who took her own life in order to halt the searing pain called Stalin. She is the female counterpart of my soul. The second is Osip Mandelstam who froze to death in the Gulags of the Siberian wastelands and the third is Anna Akhmatova who, like the others, was subjected to the torment of the nightmare that was Stalin. I wish to keep them all alive as long as I live.

I live in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Today it is cold, the frost has died and turned into water – soggy earth underfoot. A landscape which I had set out beforehand in sketches and in the mind, is now becoming a painting, oils dripping off the brush and the mind, like a sentry on duty, allows no other movement than what it orders. I prefer to be in this slightly colder climate as the heat saps my energy and at seventy odd years of age, energy is to be preserved even more than before, when the lithe young body recklessly aban- doned caution. At the same time, I do not feel old. My mind has not caught up with my body and is full of the vitality and exuberance of youth, suddenly aware of its age only when I see the reflection of myself in a mirror or shop win- dow and am startled to see the old man that I am. Born in 1929 is, nowadays, a past so far removed that it feels like a fantasy or story to be told.

Sometimes, small extracts of the past arrive on the screen of memory and I see garden parties, my father playing tennis, soccer, flirting with the ladies, his giggles causing a heaving of fluttering hearts whilst my mother’s wise eyes hooded over, storing all she saw. As a child, small and fragile but temperamental as well, I would hang back in the shadows and watch. And always feel alone.

My mother, an indomitable woman of aristocratic bearing, one of six children, was born in Blitar, approximately 70 kilometres from Malang where I spent some of my youth, on the island of Java in what is now Indonesia but which at the time of her birth, was known as The Netherlands East Indies. Her father boasted an empire on the island of Java, establishing a series of plantations, growing rice and sugar; an empire he won and lost twice thanks to the volcano, Gunning Kelud, which wiped out his plantation. But he was a wild fighter. “No rotten mountain can get me on my knees,” he shouted, as he started afresh, aided by his brother and nephews brought over from the old country. He was adored and idolised by his wife and family and especially by my mother and my older brother, Ed, who resembled him in both features and temperament and was consequently favoured by him. He was not keen on me as, instead of the rosy cheeks, forthright eyes and fearless nature of my brother, I was dark of skin, quiet, and therefore moody in his opinion, and easily in- timidated. The feeling was mutual but did not worry me as I was adored and loved by his wife, my grandmother. In contrast to her husband, who was a huge man, towering over her, she was a tiny woman with the charm of a coquette, constantly smiling with her small, Asian eyes which she inherited from her half French, half Vietnamese mother. The family were all musically inclined – plantation life creating that necessity – and were adept with ukuleles, guitars, violins and piano. My mother showed great proficiency in piano and became a concert pianist performing throughout Europe.

 

 

 


 

Fragments by Jose de Koster, Blog 9

Fragments of a Journey

A Fistful of Life

www.fragmentsbyjosedekoster.com

Blog 9

Hi Everyone. In this blog, instead of carrying on with the story, I have decided to include, instead,  some of the poems that are to be found in the book and which do not, and will nt, feature in episodes of the autobiography because they are not integral to the story but are included in a separate section, entitled "Particles". I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have

Che

When Che was alive, the people

wore berets and smoked thin cigars,

shouted and looked sombre,

smiling only when the word, 'revolution'

spoke its name.

 

The berets are back in cupboards

or thrown out. Cigars are more expensive

and even this ones have lost their flavour.

The look of deep thought smiles no longer.

Revolution now, could mean Khomeini or Pol Pot

 

Che, you died not only

in a shabby little room in a Bolivian Police station

but also, Che, inside the heart of the memory.

Alas....

 

 

Osip Mandelstam*

Tired bones thrown into a grave with other bones

is not the end... for each night at ten,

I lay you out, sleepy hands and dead feet

the skull awake on a slab of gold

and dresses in the fineries of your long gone poverty

with God's finger on your forehead.

And from the voice of Akhmatova

(the last sound of a Tartar princess)

I borrow a sound, a word, a drop of honey

and I wrap your defleshed body in that word

gently, my brother. Then

I fill the grave with you

and wave my fists at the white sky

and sing my songs of remembrance.

Remembering for you

of what I cannot articulate – yet do know within my soul

and curse for you, the gigantic death-dream of Stalin,

silence the knocking fist on your door

and return to the womb

the essence of that evil

which threw tired bones into a grave full of other bones.

Or shall I simply lay you out at ten?

Forever.Oh, Osip, sing on.

*Osip Mandelstam was a Russian poet who was imprisoned by Stalin and sent to a guag in Siberia where he died from cold and deprivation

 

Dissident

High above the roofs of Moscow

an eagle hangs silent

its claws ready to shatter the human soul

flung wide like a scream across the minds of men.

Down below, a man stands trial,

sits before a wall of grim, forbidding faces

in a cold, sinister room of a grey, squat building oozing menace.

Hissing, snake-sissing sounds are uttered.

“Dissident!” it sizzles

The man's face, like a vault with its door shut tight

 

betrays itself momentarily as the macabre accusations

pound into his brain.

Soon, his name will become a blade of grass

somewhere on a steppe in in far-white Siberia.

His bones will yield pain back to earth

and his eyes will fill a flower.

“Shcharansky, Shcharanskyyyyy” will cry the wind

as it blows through the trees

and falls dead against the closed heart of Soviet thought.

Somewhere in a forest

a hand points up from under the sod.

It is Galanskov fingering our guilt

 

Remember this,

A poet dies only when

no-one reads him anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fragments by Jose de Koster, Blog 8

Fragments of a Journey

A Fistful of Life

www.fragmentsbyjosedekoster.com

Blog 8

Many apologies to the followers of my blog for not having written earier. It has bee a long time since blogs but unforeseen circumstances have got in the way. here is the next instalments. Happy reading. If you like what you read, please tick the 'like' box and better still, send a comment.

Chapter3

Occupation


 

A convoy of tanks,

Kempeitai and razzia,

father imprisoned.

 

 

Early one morning, my brother, Ed came running into my room, yelling, “Listen! Can you hear them? This is a different sound. Different from the Yanks, different from the Dutch. These are Japanese planes.They're here.”

For quite some time, conversation amongst adults consisted of discussion of war, initially the war far away in Europe. With tyres screeching on the soft asphalt, the truck skidded to a sharp halt, stirring sleeping birds in the midday heat. A soldier in KNIL (Royal Netherlands East Indies army, a military force maintained in the colony) uniform jumped out of the truck and began running albeit rather slowly and seemingly exhaustedly, towards the kampong road.Before he reached the kampong, he discarded his uniform so by the time he entered, he was dressed only in his kattock (underpants).The reason for his peculiar behaviour became clear the following day when sounds of clanging up the road in Sophia Street heralded the arrival of tanks turning into Wilhemina Street and coming to a shuddering halt. White flags with a red ball mounted to the tanks, flew in the breeze, soldiers in yellow-green uniforms appeared on either side of the tanks, shouting in a guttural language never heard before in our quiet cul de sac. As they lined the street, we stood silently watching our new rulers. My first impression of the Japanese army filled me with a sense of eeriness – strange guttural sounds, eyes that could not be seen under their caps from which, at the back, hung flaps of cloth in the style of Foreign Legion caps as worn by Beau Geste in the movies I had watched. However, there was no Digby Geste here to help his more famous brother, Beau, no soft voice of Gary Cooper – instead, a convoy of conquerors dressed in foreign colours with foreign voices, officers with samurai swords hanging at their sides, so very different from the previous military occupants in our town.The day those little round tanks came rumbling into sight, men in yellowish uniforms filling the turrets, others marching behind, that day innocence was strangled in me. Suddenly I knew that life has teeth and the teeth are those of death.

Fragment : The Madurese

Fixed bayonets entering with a shout so ferocious

it made my blood crawl when in the park

a Madurese was bayonetted to death

because he had laughed.

Three steps forward and jab. Shout at the jab.

Blood-grimaced face but not a sound out of his dying Madurese mouth.

Died with the pride of his being intact.

********

 

In the preceding few months, we were invaded by British, Australian and American soldiers who had lined the streets, had slept in and under trucks to escape the unfamiliar heat, had occasionally scuffled with each other to kill the tension and boredom. Many households in the neighbourhood had taken these soldiers, especially those who were older and weary-looking, extending their hospitality by providing food and shelter. They had been sent to protect the Dutch colonials from a possible invasion by the Japanese. Having failed miserably in that regard, they were then sent off to Singapore. Looking back, it now seems to me that they were warriors of a long gone era when a sort of innocence still hung along the tree-lined streets.

Slowly, days changed the tone of our lives. I remember sitting on the bank of the river at the back of our village and down below, musing how everything was changing except for the river. It continued to flow, never stopping for a second, constant and steadfast even while humanity was changing colour. New order, harsh times! This thirteen year old boy was suddenly filled with a new kind of fear, an alien instinctive fear such as, I imagine, that felt by animals knowing they are observed by predators yet not knowing where the hunger that stalks them lives. Is this the beginning of understanding war?

We watched men being dragged behind horses and trucks struggling to keep alive, allied soldiers caught in the mountains surrounding us; we saw, behind our house on Rampal, a New Zealand sapper dragged behind a horse, his shirt ripped to smithereens, his body a bloodied mess; we observed men tied to trees used for bayonet practice. And not a sound issued from my lips, only silent screams and and a shrinking gut. Again, for the second time, I became aware of the horror of death.

The first time occurred many years previously when a Chinese kelontong (peddlar) fell into a tiger trap set by my grandfather to kill a rogue tiger which terrorised the area. For a brief instant he must have felt the same fear before screaming in pain as the bamboo spears pierced his body in a dozen different places. When the screams died down and we approached the hole, we saw, in the black velvet of the night, the vague outline of a twitching body which, they presumed, was the body of a tiger in its death throes. It was not until a light was produced and shone on the dead man draped with his goods that our mistake was realised. I was about ten or eleven, experiencing death for the first time. Here was a man, I thought, going about his business, probably never giving a thought about life or death until suddenly, the earth opened up under him and he fell in, gored to death by what must have seemed to his, innumerable bamboo spears. Never again, would he go about selling his cloth. That same moment, the fear of death crept through me, squeezing my innards hard and stabbing, stabbing my chest, a wild pain silencing the scream running through my body. That day was probably also the death of my childhood and the innocence of youth.

The residents of our street mostly kept to themselves except when they gathered outside our house to listen to my mother playing the piano but we children continued to play together, often cowboys and Indians but the manner of the game changed. Our boisterousness and yells of “Bang-bang” whilst pointing toy or makeshift guns were no longer. We no longer pointed, even with our fingers and the word “bang-bang” was quietly spoken. After all, one never knew if the japanese were watching. At first, we did not notice the slow thinning out of our members. Firstly the British and other foreigner we then the Indisch and Totoks (those born in the Indies and those who came from Holland respectively) then the odd Indo (mixed blood) until only we, my mother and brothers were left.

 

Fragments by Jose de Koster, Blog 7

Fragments of a Journey

A Fisful of Life

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Blog 7

Hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and a new year which began with promises of good things to come - comfort for bereaved people, peace of mind for the unhappy and the anxious, good fortune for those that need it. Here is the next instalment of the autobiography

In Malang, my father's place of work was confined to the four walls of a room instead of the wide spaces of the plantation that he so loved. I remember going to visit him in his office, an airy spacious room in the middle of which was an enormous, dark-brown mahogany two-sided desk on which sat several rows of pencils, all equally sharp-pointed, brought to that sharpness by the old Malay, the maintenance man whose job it was to ensure all pencils sharpened. His appearance remains vivid in my memory – thin, dark-brown chiselled face, long,elegant fingers, a pitji on his skull, the headdress preferred by the first president of Indonesia, bapak Karno (President Soekarno). At my new school, our pencils would also be sharpened by just such a man. He would take from us, the proffered pencils and without a word, began his business, placing each finished pencil on the ground in front of him, the pointed end facing the student. We did not pick them up until they were all finished then he would look into our eyes and react to our facial expressions. My tight, dark looks elicited a wide, spreading smile from him.

Fragment 1.

Someone sent me a postcard a few days ago. The postcard tells the story of a building, white, Dutch Empire style, heavy and solid like the burgers of Holland. On this postcard, however, were none of the trees that had stood there when Joost was a child. In particular, there was one tree to the right of the structure which wound itself around the building. It was in this tree that the child Joost would hide on one of its massive branches lying in its bough, snug and comfortable as any bed, perfect for observing the world and day-dreaming.

He would watch his father's window through which he could see him sitting at his immaculate desk with, on the right hand side, lay seven pencils with seven sharp points, which were sharpened seven times a day. Why seven, he wondered. Was it a mystical number? (Many years later in life, he had watched a Hollywood film called “The Seven Samurai” and the image of those pencils, sitting side by side like soldiers at the ready, returned to him).

One day, he saw a tall, white-haired, broad-shouldered man standing in front of his father. The man was speaking and my father appeared angry, tapping and gesticulating with one of the pencils, the sharp point directed toward the speaker. The boy slid down the tree, ran into the building through the side door, up the wide staircase and stood outside his father's door, the better to hear the conversation. He had only been there a few moments when suddenly the door was flung open throwing him backwards onto the floor. Both men bent down to pick him up and whilst their voices were solicitous, he could see in their eyes and faces, the ferocity of their silent conversation.

When the man left, the father guided Joost roughly to his office, pushed him into a chair and sat on a seat next to him. Through the window, Joost could see the tree he had recently vacated.

“Now listen to me! I do not want you to come to this office ever again. You understand? Never! Why are you crying?”

Joost could not answer. He was choking on his words, a consequence of crying, of shame, of embarrassment and fear. He sensed his father's eyes boring into him and for quite some time , neither spoke, both immobile, holding their respective positions.father and son and the mystery which is in between. Joost was a thin boy, supple and athletic with a dreamer's silence writ on his face. His father was a dark-haired, six-footer with a large nose and small eyes which he would squint to hide his thoughts. The boy never really understood him, his motives, his movements.They never held any long conversations, never did anything together, never confided in each other. The father held his own consultations at all times: he was simply the tuan basar (the boss)

“I was watching you and the man, pap, and I got worried”
“Watching us. What do you mean watching us? From where? Are you spying on me?”

“No, pap.I sometimes sit in that tree, that big one. I just sit there, that's all and I saw you. I am not spying, just looking. I like sitting there. It is my home away from home, my dream home.”

“Well, just let me catch you their again! I do not want to be spied on, you hear me?” Joost left the room quietly although in his heart, he raged. God is a bastard, he thought. Much of his comprehension of the world, of its people and of himself was explained with reference to that beloved God, instilled into his being by his devoutly Catholic mother. But already within the boy's heart, rebellion had taken root for, try as he might, he could not reconcile this mysterious, aloof and remote Being with the loving Father of his mother's God. Was not God perhaps, the beautiful music his mother played on her large Bechstein grand piano - Mozart's Piano Concerto,No21,K467,in particular the second movement, or the same movement of Beethoven's Piano Concerto, No5. It was then, he would hear the sound of God-like majesty and connect with the Supreme Being.He was in the music of his mother. Only a few years later, he totally forsook the religion of his mother. Out of deference to her, not wishing to disappoint her, he maintained the outward observances until the time of their internment.

He lied to her about his confessions. For quite some time, he would recite, in the confessional, a rehearsed litany of sins which he had supposedly committed. One day, quite exasperated by the behaviour of her two eldest sons, she ordered them to church for confession. It was wartime and the priest, a Javanese, had been a replacement for the Dutch priest who had been arrested and interned by the Japanese. (His finely chiselled face still hangs on the portrait wall of his memory.) Joost entered the confessional and began his usual and hitherto accepted patter but was cut short by the priest.

“Stop this rubbish. Go outside, think about your sins and come back after the next person,” he ordered.

Joost walked out, surprising his brother,Ed, who had been flirting with a girl and not expecting him to make such a fast exit. Ed entered the confessional whilst he sat in the pew alongside, trying to concoct different lies which he could parrot off on re- entering that silent cubicle which always seemed hostile to him, this home of righteousness that, in his opinion, was a device for hiding the truth. He knelt down and again, began his routine. He suddenly stopped, sick of this stupidity which was supposed to cleanse him but never did, his soul and heart melding with a dispiriting defeat.

“ Where does this start, child? When?” asked the priest, this time in a much gentler tone.

“ I have nothing to confess because I did nothing. Just lived. I am here because my mother gets hurt if I don't come.”

Deep silence – grave-like in mystery. After what seemed like a long time, the silence was broken,

“Leave. Come back when you remember God.”
He left, feeling nothing inside him, emptied out. It took until he was lying in camp one of those terrible days dying from dysentery, waiting for the flood of shit that had left him d
aily to end his life that he was reborn. Lying on his thin mattress, debating which would come first, liberation or death, he was overcome with the same spiritual emptiness he felt on the day that chiselled face told him to leave, he felt a sudden surge of exhilaration. He realised that he was in the presence of truth...and that truth was that he had never believed in the ritual of Catholicism.

 

 

Fragments by Jose de Koster, Blog 6

Fragments of a journey

A Fistful of Life

www.fragmentsbyjosedekoster.com

Blog 6

Merry Christmas and a hapy New Year. Hope you all have an absolutely lovely Christmas day with friends and loved ones and may 2019 bring much joy, good health, peace and contentment. Here is the nexy instalment of  Fragments...

 

Chapter 2

Malang

Saidja and Rawi,

Chopin and homecoming.

A house, a car, a bird.

 

 

 

My father's new job necessitated a shift from my beloved Medan in Sumatra to Malang on the island of Java. As our ship shuddered its way to Tanjung Priok on Java, I remember my mother telling me with great happiness that we were emigrating to her homeland. She had been born in Blitar in the province of Kediri and we were destined to go to Malang, a city which held fragments of her life inside its walls. I remember the murderous heat when we arrived in Batavia (present day Jakarta ) but very little about the train trip to Malang. Later, we would make a reverse trip on the same train only this time, the wagons would be closed to all light as we trundled onto Semarang and our new prison (internment camp) during the Japanese occupation. Ach! Malang!The last memory of a youth spent rich in joy and wild with the rising sperm in my body.

At the train station we caught a taxi which took us to a hotel named The Hotel Splendid situated near a bridge which spanned a river. There we occupied a small unit at the back of building which afforded us privacy and self-containment of family life. It was here our first little grey angora cat joined us. Bomber was his name, a little grey bundle of fluff which was to become the terror of all future animals in our future homes. For such a small undle, he had huge claws and so we named him after the Brown Bomber, Joe Louis, the boxer and our favourite sportsman – two-fisted Joe, lithe and fast with bombs in each hand, the fighter who fought almost continuously, it seemed. We would tune in to the radio to listen to the blow-by-blow descriptions of the fights provided by commentators of our Bomber proving victorious against other greats such as Billy Conn, Max Schmeling, Tony Calento.

We soon moved to a rented house in Werilang Street, a long snake-like street where later, I would drag, with others, the iron artillery cart loaded with drums of food for the kitchen of the internment camp where we were imprisoned and where, once, we organised a foot-race in those early months when we still had energy to run before the hardships of the camp took their toll on our bodies. Behind our house was the Mulo School, later to become the dreaded headquarters of the Kempetai (Japanese military/secret police).

Next door to us, lived the ex-colonel Geertsema Beckering, a hero of some battles fought against insurgents in Atjeh. He was a towering man, who must have cut an imposing figure to most people but for us children, whilst we regarded him with affection, he was a source of amusement together with his wife, he being so tall and she a tiny woman almost half his size so that when they were standing together, the contrast was comical. Every year at Easter, they would hide eggs in their garden, chocolate and painted natural eggs, for the children of the neighbourhood to find and gleefully take home.

Our third - and last home – was a house at the other end of town in Verlengde Sophia street, a street of older houses and marvellous lanes, tree-loaded and tree-lined. My father had purchased the house and had placed it in my mother's name, a gift and token of his love for his love. It was in a short cul de sac and to my mind then, when I initially wandered through its empty rooms, a very large house.It comprised four rooms in the main house and alongside it, a pavilion with rooms for guests and behind them, a long, open corridor from which opened out six rooms, stretching in length to the wall surrounding our property, a wall topped with cemented broken glass in order to deter thieves. The garden, in comparison to the property in Medan was comparatively small. It was a square piece of land on which, to one side, stood a well and behind it, the bathing facilities for the servants, two concrete tubs filled with water which was thrown over the bather by using a gagong (bucket). This section was enclosed to afford privacy with entry and egress through a door in the middle.Behind it, stood a huge stood a huge klengkleng tree in which we boys would sit in our platform house, eating the sweet fruit produced by the tree, a fruit closely related to the rambutan. A little further way, stood a two-roomed villa with a trellis verandah in the front over which wild bougainvillia climbed and scrambled,shading those people who sat there. On the other side of the house was a garage of sorts, not much more than a carport basically, with a door leading into a small annexe where we stored our bikes mainly. Behind that was a sandpit where our games with cars and soldiers were played to the full. We also had quite a few fruit trees: a djeruk bali ( a type of huge orange), a series of pawpaw trees, avocado, the klengkleng and a tjerme with its terribly sour star fruit which was good for pickling.

In her new house, my mother went searching for servants to replace the ones left behind in Medan. To her delight, she found her childhood babu (nanny), Saidja who became our cook. She was generally a jolly woman but given at times, to tempestuous moods and then, it was better to stay out of her way – unless it was my mother, the sight of which reignited the maternal and protective instincts of the old babu over her little charge. Saidja had looked after the children of my grandparents and especially my mother when the tiny grandma was otherwise occupied. My grandmother was a tiny charming woman whose mother had died giving birth to her but whose spirit and image lived within her daughter. She (my great grandmother) was of French-Vietnamese extraction, a tiny woman who married a towering German By the name of Pabst, now both buried next to each otherin the cemetery at Tuban, a small township on the coast above Surabaya,. Saidja also had a very soft spot for my older brother, Ed as he closely resembled my grandfather by whom she was employed. In addition to Saidja, my mother employed a tani ( gardener) who had had been a gardener for my grandfather. These two, old friends from her childhood, made my mother extremely happy. From the kampong situated at the end of our dead end street, she hired Rawai who cleaned the house together with her new djongos (man servant) whose name has escaped me. Rawai also became our babu. We also had a cuci (washerwoman)who would wash our clothes, sheets etc at the well. She would bash the clothes on the concrete edge of the well again and again and when she considered them clean enough, she would use a washing board to finish off the job.

This was the home in which my mother felt most at ease, where days would be spent organising her household and playing her beloved piano, where here, she could give her memories free reign and where she could re-establish herself. Prior to her marriage to my father ( her second marriage ) she had been a concert pianist,touring the European continent with her performances. She had been a pupil of Alfred Cortot, renowned French pianist whose special interests were the Romantic composers, in particular, Chopin and Schumann, with the consequence that these were my mother's preferred composers as well. Her dream of re-establishing her professional musicianship was, to a degree, realised in Malang where she secured a weekly radio spot playing Chopin on the NIROM (Nederlandsch-Indiessch Radio-omroepmaarschappij), accompanied by Dan Koletz and his orchestra. She continued playing and discussing Chopin's life and music on her weekly spot right until the time of the Japanese occupation when the station was shut down. Her love of Chopin was passed on to me and he became my favourite as well. Often in my younger days, I would imagine playing his music and he, looking down would smile at me. smiling at me.

Because I possessed slim, long fingers, (pianist's fingers, she claimed) she determined that I too should become a pianist and began the task of teaching me – to no avail. Despite my imaginings, the reality of the pianoforte bored me with its repetitions of scales, its study of theory and the banality of my first pieces. I was hopeless and did not enjoy it. My hands yearned to paint, to write poetry. (my slim, long fingers, in later life, served me in becoming an artist). She had more success with my younger brother, Guus, who throughout his adult life, forged a sideline career as a jazz pianist, playing in restaurants and clubs.

I see you seated in the cool of the piano room

Body swaying, fingers dancing on the ivory keys

outside, passing people pause, dream of the past,the future

street vendors set up shop and sell their wares

in silence, listening to the Chopin magic.

I always listened somewhere alone.

Fragments by Jose de Koster, Blog 5

Fragments of a Journey

A Fistful of Life

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Blog 5

A day of flooding rains, catastrophic fires and fierce windstorms. Hello Australia

A perfect day for staing indoors and reading the next instalment. Enjoy!

The house I remember best is the third house in the Laboratorium Weg which was opposite a deer park. It had a long circular drive which went past the house and onto the pendopo on the side (a pavilion-like structure supported by columns open on all sides affording cool shelter from the sun and protection from the rain.) in which sat rattan chairs and table where my parents would relax or entertain.The drive was lined with huge, old tjemarahs with massive roots spreading in all directions. Here, I would play with my men, clay figures I had made myself or little tin soldiers given to me by my family or their friends. They did not fight the great battles with cannons that other children created in their games. Mine wandered like ghosts through forests, speaking to the animals and living in peace.

The back garden was enormous and housed a chicken coop to the side and behind the house the kaki lima (pavement) led to the kitchen and the servants' living quarters. At the back of their area was a hedge and behind that stood a well in front of the servants' bathroom. It was in that hedge that I hid my valuables – cars, soldiers, marbles etc – till one day, I discovered that they had all disappeared, gone forever. I moped about the house for many a day after that, mourning their loss, lying often under the tiger skin in my mother's piano room, searching for comfort and the tiger's strength. Geese roamed free in the garden and scared not only visitors but often us kids and the servants themselves. We often saw miyawaks, huge lizards, some growing to two metres in length. They would roam the back yard trying to steal the chickens but were usually thwarted in their attempts as the geese scared them out of the yard. Miyawaks did not scare us. We would often swim in the river which ran at the back of the house with them. Only once did I feel intimidated. I had inadvertently got very close to one and did not notice it until the stench of his skin alerted me to its presence. I stopped and we both stared at each other, his beady eyes directing thoughts into my head. I slowly backed away and after some considerable distance, I turned and walked away quickly, my imagination running haywire with all sorts of improbable occurrences but nothing happened. The miyawak stood there unmoving. Miyawaks kill prey and are also scavengers, preferring to eat cadavers after they have well and truly rotted.I once found a dead dog, an alsatian, in the reeds lining the back of the jungle patch behind our house. The reptiles had hidden it there to work into edible bits. My brother, Ed and I used to watch them from the tree house he had built in the bough of a tree by the river. We would look down and see them cavorting in the muddy waters, dragging food – dead chooks, cats, dogs etc) - into their bamboo homes where it was left and eaten only when necessary. No gorging here. From our vantage point, we would look down on the kampong and observe people going about their daily business. We would watch women go to the river and do their washing by hitting the clothes on the beautiful river stones, huge boulders spewed out many, many centuries ago by either Sibayak or Sinabung, the twin mountains just beyond the edge of Medan.

Plantation life for me was a long day and night filled with joyous moments and love. Apart from my parents, the two people whom I loved most and who exerted the most influence were the aforementioned Tani and my nurse, Musinem. Tani would calm my fears by explaining them away while Musinem would soothe them away, by holding me close to her bosom, murmuring soft words of love. Her arms were like medicine, curing me of fear, of sadness, healing my childhood pains from the many scrapes in which I often found myself. Life consisted of us kids playing in huge gardens in groups or alone amongst the massive trees and watching out for semut appi, little red ants which would climb one's legs and sting a million bites a second. I hated those little bastards. Big ants – they could be spotted – but these little firebrands haunted me because they were unseen until they were felt. My early days were spent playing in the sand with little home-made toys and marbles. which, in my imagination, were transformed into soldiers of massive armies which roamed in my silent head. In our house I was a quiet child. My mother described me to everyone as “still waters”.

“ He never draws attention to himself – says nothing but just watches you” she would tell people. I was her “worry child” she would often proclaim.

My mother was a very large woman. I do not remember her ever being thin except for years later when the war had signalled its end and I staggered to the women's internment camp and saw her framed in a door, a skeleton weighing only 28 kilograms. When she saw me, she held out her arms, her dark eyes brimming with love and joyously, I ran into them. We didn't speak, just clung to each other whilst behind her, stood my younger brother who had managed to get to her earlier. (He and I had been in a camp about an hour's walk distance and only with the end of the war could we stagger to each other. ) But I digress! She was large and solidly beautiful and I still, to this day, some fifty years later, am embraced by the warmth of her being. She had moulded her family of five into a solid unit who knew everything about each other and who had fierce loyalties towards each other.

First School

Sitting at the deathbed of my older brother, Ed, his body ravaged by the cancer eating away at him, we reminisced about the long distant past and chortled about the antics of youth, and in particular, of one little five year old boy standing on his bed and pissing on the floor beside it. Comical in retrospect, it was less so at the time of the event as it was the first act of defiance by a deeply unhappy boy who could not understand why his world of love, security and his beloved jungle was so suddenly wrested from him. It was decided when I turned eight I should begin my academic education. Because of the isolation of the plantation, I was sent to join my brother at a boarding school run by the Jesuit Brothers in Berastagi (Brastagi in our old memory). It was here that the innate silence within me flourished. Now however, it was a silence born out of anger, a defence of the mind and the soul. It was here too, that the first seeds of rebellion were planted and gave sprout. I disliked the uniform, disliked the dinners and especially disliked the teacher who sat next to me at the head of the table. So many time, his ruler would come crashing over my fingers, those fingers so thin but which I instinctively already knew would become the implements that would tell the world, through my art, about my soul. Whack! The ruler descended whilst he lectured me on how to eat.

“You chew your food! Do not swallow until it has been chewed many, many times!” he would thunder.
And another whack for good measure. There were times I defied him by glaring arrogantly ( his word) at him, saying nothing. At those times, I would be banished to a table where I sat alone or with other malcontents (as it was put), the naughty people's table where at times, I forced to wear a pointed dunce's hat which he had fashioned for me, scarring my dignity beyond repair. “EAT!” he thundered and my secret heart told me to remember. That cap is imprinted on my memory as a symbol of misery. Later on, when, in the cinema, I saw KKK clansmen riding over the silver screen pursuing my heroes, my dislike for uniform grew and well before I knew the ethos of the KKK, I disliked them because of their uniform. Uniform clothing, uniform behaviour, uniform (and usually dogmatic) beliefs.

My parents would occasionally would send small parcels of food, little treats for my brother and me. These were placed in the kitchen's refrigerator, sometimes doled out to us but just as often not at all as they had somehow “disappeared”. My eyes turn in to the screen of memory seeing two boys, one five, one eight, sneaking out at night, raiding the fridge ( later it was padlocked) for our treats before they disappeared and eating in silence the delicious toentoengan cakes our cook had made.
Often, and hence the padlock, I suppose, we would be caught and thus copped many a caning.

The hollowness of my little boy's heart, the overwhelming misery of homesickness and my brother's refusal to act on my suggestion that we run away together gave birth to my first acts of rebellion and resistance – firstly, to piss on the floor each night, refuse to clean it up and cop the consequent caning and when that failed to cause my parents to take me home then refusing to eat (yes, Mum,your stories about Gandhi found root in me) which landed me in the school infirmary, weakened and with damaged kidneys. I remember the shrill screech of the teacher in charge of the infirmary screaming hysterically that “godverdomme” (a Dutch swear word) this had to stop and smacking me in a bid to make me eat. Silent warrior I was – no tears, no words, just a stance. Like Luther, I could not recant. Our parents were finally notified when I was in hospital and the male native nurse there told my mother in Javanese that this child should go home. “ Doroh, diya sakkit attibuat ibu-bapak.” My mother simply took me in her arms and said, “It is over now. We are going home.” My father, rather perplexed by that sudden decision, angrily demanded to know what would happen to the children's education now. My mother quietly and calmly told him that she would resume teaching the children and that they would go to school when he retired and shifted to the city.

Defiant Ed and his little brother, awakened by the life returned into the two, came home, sharing

our so-longed-for homecoming with a little baby brother, Guus, now a blond child running on his short legs. The laughter and joy so penetrated the jungle that somewhere a tiger spoke “Harimauuuuuau”. No more getting beaten, no more uniform. (To this day, no uniform has ever attracted me. I detest the stamp it puts on you. ) My heart was ready to burst with happiness at once again

I still have the maps of the plantation of the Deli My. Nowadays it is simply incorporated into Medan as suburbs and somehow I do not feel attracted to going back to revisit the place. Millions of people noisily crowding the streets where once inhabited silence.

Our homecoming, so joyful for me, extracted a heavy price from my father. He was forced to move closer to civilization so we three children could attend day school. To that end, he applied for a transfer to head office and secured a job in an administrative capacity, leaving behind his beloved jungle. His heart must have contracted with anger and loneliness for he was happy only amongst the tobacco and the huge sky which spoke of freedom. The longing for that life in the plantation stayed with my father till the day he died.

 

 

 

 

Fragments by Jose de Koster, Blog 4

Fragments of a Journey

A Fistful of Life

www.fragmentsbyjosedekoster.com

Blog4

Many, many apologies to the readers following this blog for the enormous interval between this and the last one. I have been overseas  for the last eight weeks with a new tablet from which I was unable, whether because of my ignorance or the machine playing up, to access the contents of m desktop (with the exception of email and facebook. Hence the delay. Because of such a long absence, I will include in this blog, more than I usually do. Happy reading!

My maternal grandfather was the opposite to me, known as “the tiger killer of Java”. He would make traps, deep holes dug deep with bamboo stakes,pointing upwards into which a bit of goat meat was lowered, the smell of which would lure the hungry tiger to fall in and be impaled by the bamboo spears.
    Tani later exerted the same calming influence when my younger brother, Guus, and I spotted two pythons in a
longparrit, a deep trench built to allow the water to escape in those heavy tropical rains. Filled with fear, we ran screaming back into the house and were caught in the arms of Tani who carried us back to where the snakes were and showed us that they were sleeping and not to be feared. “ When you sleep, who fears you? No-one should. It is the same with them,” he explained. Later, when we shifted our domicile to the city Medan, I asked my father why he had brought two python skins to hang on the wall of his study.
    “Well,” he answered, “those were the two that scared you and Guus on the plantation. Remember?”
    I did indeed and to this day, feel weirdly guilty for having allowed my fear to kill those two. The tiger skin in my mother's piano room, it too, asked me to explain. Often I would get under it and pretend to be a tiger, trying to scare my brother. He did not
scarehowever, merely kicked the skin and I would roll out from under.
     Another sound which stays with me to
thisday, is the haunting, wild cry of the siamang, (gibbon) which makes its sound by pursing its mouth into a funnel. Often, it caught me unawares and with fear, I would run straight into the tani's waiting arms and onto his shoulders where safety was assured.
    On the same plantation where the pythons scared us
,Toentoengan plantation,we had a swimming pool. It was actually a small river which had been blocked off at some fifty metres intervals, roughly concreted with a few steps leading into it. My mother went in one day and almost immediately let out a scream and bolted out. We soon saw the reason for her dismay. A small crocodile, was silently shifting through the waters, weaving this way and that, thoroughly enjoying itself. We never swam there again.
     During that early period, I remember we had two dogs,
dobermans named Tommy and Moppie – black, swift fires of anger, although in our presence, they were simply pussycats. The servants feared them despite the dogs sleeping in their quarters. One day, Tommy, who was a crazy fighter, engaged in a duel with a wild pig on the road in front of our house, a road which was no more than a clearing cut through the jungle some years previously and which saw only the occasional car and a few slow-moving grobaks scattering loose gravel. His guts hung half out of his body yet he tenaciously clung to the throat of the screaming pig until it died. Poor Tommy survived that fight. We had him stitched up by a dukun who swore all the time that no-one should have a dog which fought like a 'setan' (devil). The pig became dinner, thin slices of wild pig dried on the roof of the servants' quarters in preparation for dengeng, a delicacy which still makes my mouth water and is one of those yearnings which runs in the blood of the exile. Tommy's escape from an almost certain death on that occasion proved to be only a brief postponement.
       One weekend, (it must have been a weekend because my father was home and away from the plantation), Tommy had gone missing early in the morning. My father and a small posse which included my older brother and me, went looking for him in the jungle, calling his name continuously. As we descended a slippery path into a kampong (village settlement), we heard barking, ferocious yet carrying within that ferocity, the hint of whining. We found Tommy, tied to a post, almost hidden amongst a cluster of small bamboo houses. There he was minus a leg, black tar smeared over where once a leg had been ( to stop the bleeding, no doubt). The Bataks were dog eaters - in Balige dog meat was sold openly in the markets – and poor Tommy was stolen and destined to be eaten, piece by piece. We hurriedly untied him and made our way through the jungle back to our house.  Poor Tommy, however, weakened and perhaps infected by the amputation, did not survive the journey. I remember blood slowly trickling from his mouth, his eyes rolling backwards, his body convulsing – and then nothing, just total stillness. I had witnessed my first death, the departing of the soul. I burst into a torrent of tears, tears not of pity or love, but of pure and total rage, anger at the God who could allow this to happen, anger at us humans who claimed an intelligence superior to animal intelligence but yet nearly always betrayed ourselves.
    I cannot remember what happened to Moppie nor to her brood of puppies which roamed yelping in
theback yard. One day, they were all gone and the memory for the reasons of their disappearance did not store them, just the black spots of sound.

Fragment : A dichotomy of faiths.    I was brought up in my mother's faith. She was  Roman Catholic and deeply devout unlike my father who had no interest in his Lutheran background. While the dogma and rituals of Catholicism were pounded into me as a child, they did not carry the same weight as the mystical, superstitious spiritualism of my babu, Musinem. Even my mother, born and raised in the atmosphere of her babu's influence, incorporated it into her being. We children feared less the wrath of an angry Catholic God than the appearance of the mommohs, invisible ancestral spirits whose presence can be felt and may come to do good or wreak destruction and havoc and whose presence we had to fight. Everywhere they lurk and target especially women and children, both of whom wallow in their deep mystery.The East was, and probably still is, awash with the fear of mommohs.
    At one time in my childhood, I was sick with fever.  My mother was singing Nina Bobo, a lullaby every child in the East knows, a song left over from Portuguese business dealings on these coasts. I remember my sudden scream. It cut itself out of my mouth, made my lips vibrate and the
sweatpour out of my body. My mother held me tight against herself and Musinem gently caressed my forehead. I had seen a mommoh with the eyes of my grandfather in his skull. He had haunted me for years previously and after my illness until one night, Ed, my brother hit the mommoh with a weapon, a huge wooden stick which he bashed against the wall.He let the mommoh have it again and again even though the only result appeared to be a crack in the wall over the bed.But then, mommohs are invisible at the best of times. We found a dead gecko under the bed, flat and very visible but didn't want to admit what we both thought for fear of mocking the spirits and incurring vengeance, that we had killed a mommoh.
When my screaming did not subside
,Musinem, still caressing me, yelled, “Setan pergi” (Satan, go away) then she disappeared, coming back shortly with the saviour of all children when the devil wanders through their soul, chicken broth.When I woke up the next day, still extremely tired and feverish,I knew, nevertheless, that my slim fight with death had been won by the three of us.The next day, Musinem came to my bedside, laid a hand on my forehead and suddeny all the devils left. Just like that. Fever stilled, headache gone, eyes clear – just like that ,hand on head. My mother told me that she herself laid her hand on my head to calm me down whenever I was angry.  “All was gone. No anger. It is the sign of the Lord,” she explained. Not till later did I query this. How come, I asked my mother  did Musinem who is Muslim have the same Lord as she did in achieving the same result with her hand on my head. She replied,”Your head is the seat of the Lord, your Lord.It is where your Lord and I or Musinem meet. Do you understand?”
Despite my mother's fervent Catholicism, as a child of the East, she also embraced, if perhaps subconsciously, the mysticism and magic of the East and listening to her, I discovered her God changed face many times, absorbing elements of her gurus, people like
Ghandi, Krishnamurti,
Gurdjev, Madame Blavatski, Jesus and especially, her father, Sam.
Musinem and my mother both had forceful eyes. Musinem had brown eyes with yellow flecks like a tiger, soft and gentle when she was with us, brooding and dangerous like a tiger on the prowl when she thought we needed protecting. My mother had black, imperious eyes, eyes that still frightened even in Ruysdaelstraat in Holland where she returned after the war, her body racked and ruined after the camp.She would sit in her chair like a queen on her throne, waiting.
    My maternal grandmother, living in the Western civilisation of Den Bosch after the war, that tiny woman who could be as coquettish as any French mademoiselle, flirting her way into your eyes, heart and soul, carried with her the echoes of her past.”You are
amonyet (a monkey), like those who dance and frolic near tombstones,” she said to me, pinching my bottom.When I asked my mother what she had meant about me being a monkey dancing near tombstones, my mother replied that it meant I had soul that my inner being dared to show itself. She told me not to be perturbed.
    My grandmother was never old. She just died
.Musinem disappeared from my life suddenly after we came back from a holiday in Holland. She is still here, however, has been all along, in my heart, in one of the many chambers in which love hides.

 


 

Fragments by Jose de Koster, Blog 3

Fragments of a Journey

A Fistful of Life

www.fragmentsbyjosedekoster.com

Blog 3

After a delay of a week and with any apologies, here is the third instalment of Fragments ofa Journey, A Fistful of Life by Jose de Koster.

happy reading. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Liz

Medan

Birth, green jungle, storm. Plantation life, animals, Musinem, momohs.

Such a long time ago! My God, time presses on without mercy. My ex- cursion into the daylight came on the 29th January, 1929 in the city of Medan, to where my mother travelled from her isolated plantation, Belawan Estate, to facilitate my birth. Medan was, at that time, a small city, a provincial town really – neat streets, dokars, a few cars and naturally, the grobak (a cart dragged through the street by oxen) which stood out so noticeably because of its slow progress through the street and its noise, created by the roll- ing of the wooden wheels, gedebuk-gedebuk, its sound vibrating in one’s ears. I still hear and see them in the far memory, stored for the duration of my life. Medan! My mother almost did not survive my entry into the world, a world I was very reluctant to face as I was a month overdue. Nevertheless, the course of nature could not be protracted indefinitely and after a long and painful labour, Jose, more commonly to be known as Joost or Joosje, was born. After my birth, my parents brought back their little baby brother for Ed, an older sibling, into the deep green jungle, where, in a clearing, our house defied the said jungle like a fortress. Those houses stood solid and alone, even those constructed from wood and bamboo; open houses, allowing the cool air to circulate. Kerees, lowered to keep out the harsh sun, would also shield the occupants from any prying eyes.

I was born when my parents were on the Belawan plantation but my first eight years saw us shift several times. My father, being a good administrator and organiser, of people and generally, was a valuable employee and so we were shifted to wherever a plantation needed growth, solidifying, re-organising or building up of morale amongst the workers. Some of the places we lived in were the Deli Tua, Toentoengan and Belawan estates, I still remember the silence and the feeling of safety even despite the prolonged absences of my father. He was a planter, manager of a tobacco plantation owned by the Deli Maatschappij. His working day began with the rising sun at 6 o’clock in the morning and continued through to the dying sun at six in the evening. Six to six – a daily routine – walking to the office and the sheds hung with tobacco leaves on racks and then walking home.

My father loved that life, so different from the one he left behind. He was a Dutchman, born in Amsterdam, the city which, for him, was a place of constant conflict with his bickering family, a place of small spaces and small minds, close and constricted. He longed for escape and decided to seek space, freedom and adventure in the Nederlands East Indies (as it was known then). My earliest, fondest and most frequent memory of him at that time was him coming home from the plantation and with a laugh, slinging me onto his shoul- ders and exploring the perimeters of our house looking out into the jungle. Many, many years later, sitting at my father’s deathbed in Goes, Netherlands, as my brother, Guus and I watched the last bubble of life cease growing and hanging on his nether lip, I felt his shoulders under me and for the last time, my father lifted me high to the heavens.

I do not remember the days and routines of our daily life other than the stories told to me later on, when the baby had become a child. The first memory that I do recall is that of one late afternoon. The day had suddenly turned dark and an ominous thunderclap heralded the arrival of a tropical storm. Within seconds, a cacophony of sounds invaded the serenity of our day. Hard-driving sheets of rain lashed the roof causing it to shudder and groan, crashing of nearby timber unable to sustain the weight of the streaming heav- ens creating a river on the lawn outside and all the while the continuous peals of thunder followed immediately by the cracking of lightning so loud that it seemed to split the sky. I was in my playpen, and suddenly, startled by a particu- larly loud thunderclap, inadvertently swallowed a safety pin which I had been sucking. I began screaming. My mother and Musinem, my babu (nanny) flew to my side simultaneously, lifting me up, soothing me with their cuddles, first one then the other. I was blessed with being doubly loved as were many children in the colonies, with having two or even more mothers, our birth mother and our babu. The mystery of my screams was solved, when in my faeces sometime shortly afterwards, a safety pin was discovered, closed no doubt. That, I do not remember. What I simply remember is my scream, the sudden attention and the sound of the thunder rolling over and through the jungle surrounding us, a jungle full of sound – screeching monkeys, howling siamangs, the roaring and purring of roaming tigers and the chattering of birds galore, each with its own call. To this day, I feel very much akin to that long gone origin of man where we too were simply animals and not the greed-invested mob we are today. The jungle established itself in me, all its mysteries hidden in my skin. All three sons were born on the plantations so the silence of the Sumatran jungle which surrounded our houses would be the main factor in our lives. We watched it as it watched us and its denizens – whether feared or not, were my brothers and sisters. So now and then, one of those sounds out of my primeval age will rip- ple through my skin and I feel strong and whole. The tiger and the orang-utan especially, speak to me and I to them.

 
 
 

 

Fragments by Jose de Koster, Blog 2

Fragments of a Journey

A Fistful of Life

www.fragmentsbyjosedekoster.com

Blog 2

Second instalment of autobigraphy of the late Jose de Koster, artist and writer

She also wrote articles and poems for the newspapers –papers such as the Deli Courant, Locomotive, Java Bode. Towards the end of her life she began her autobiography which she intended to write in three parts but that dream was thwarted by her early death. Part one entitled “Eva” did come into being and my brothers and I each have a copy together with some short stories.

She was a storyteller supreme.When she spoke, people listened. Every- thing was a story to be remembered even if only telling the babu cuci (woman who laundered our clothes) to wash that day, mainly the sheets, it became a cantata. When, whoever listened to her tales about her father, laughter shot into the sky through the jungle green – for he was a character. My little dark being cradled in the sound of her tales, my dark eyes fixed on her, my love overwhelming for her and lonely for her love and pride in me, for while I did feel her love, I also felt her concern for herworry childas she called me. I felt somehow uworthy of her love for this child that seemed a problem.

My father, one of ten children, came from a family entirely different in temperament, steady, sturdy, dry citizens of the Low Countries, dark-haired and, although stiffly formal, were given to much giggling, unlike my mother’s family who would burst into uproarious laughter. My favourite of the siblings was Eddy who was vivacious and had fun in life. During World War 11, as a Japanese prisoner of war, he was transferred to Japan by ship but never arrived there as the ship was sunk off the Sumatran coast. His ability to swim kept him alive only to be beset by the horrors of the concentration camp at Pekanbaru working on that useless railway that had never been used, a track as notorious as the Burma track, stretches of rail under which dead bodies reminded you of the truth. The fates that looked kindly on him during this period of time abandoned him a little later. He died young as a result of a motor bike crash in his thirties or forties.

 

Adagio

Long ago, Sumatran jungle green embraced my birth – and green-cloth is still my colour.
Living here in the Blue Mountains which drapes mist deep inside our smiles like a veil,
hides my old house,
fits my anxieties like a glove
on the hand which holds my soul.

I remember deep, dark green echoes of tiger and simian where I was born,
a pain to my pianist mother.

Slow is the meaning of life.

2006

fragments of a Journey, A Fistful of Life

Jose de Koster

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