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Saini KM: West Java's literary maestro

Written by eastern writer on Tuesday, October 14, 2008

From childhood to his present age of 70, Saini KM has remained a modest figure despite his accomplishments.

Born in small Gending hamlet, Kota Kulon village, in the West Java town of Sumedang, Saini has contributed significantly to the country's literary world, especially in West Java.

His modest personality and appreciation for his juniors has won him the admiration and respect of many.

"We should have mutual respect, including respect for each other's professions. And we should be serious in life with occasional humor," Saini said with a smile.

The prolific writer of poems, essays, plays and non-fiction works for 50 years has acted as mentor for more than a dozen younger poets like Acep Zamzam Noor, Beni Setia, Juniarso Ridwan, Deden Abdul Azis, Nirwan Dewanto and many more.

Saini can be likened to Umbu Landu Parangi, a literary guru of noted writers like Emha Ainun Nadjib, Linus Suryadi Ag., Imam Budhi Santoso, Warih Wiratsana, Oka Rusmini and Wayan Sunarta.

Those that know him well would say that he gives the impression of a serious man that never tells jokes.

"As far as I know, pak Saini has never cracked a joke, but he gets teased a lot," said Yusef Mudiyana, a theater director and actor from Bandung, West Java.

A local poet and cultural journalist, Ahda Imran, recounted his own, personal experience with the prolific writer.

Ahda said his poem had once been published in a Bandung paper under Saini's care, something that made him proud.

One day, Ahda came across an old man browsing in a Bandung bookstore and confidently advised the stranger which works were worth reading, and pointing out Saini's work. The elderly man just smiled, nodding now and then.

Only several months later did Ahda come to realize that the man was Saini himself.

"I was really embarrassed when I found out it was pak Saini. He could have revealed his identity, but perhaps its his style, making people laugh while at the same time feeling ill at ease," Ahda said.

He later bumped into Saini at Bandung's Indonesian Arts College when looking for information on theater reference books. He mentioned he needed certain Sundanese and Javanese books.

Saini said with his typical smile; "You can't get those books in Indonesia, let alone the Sundanese and Javanese ones, as they are kept in The Hague, Holland."

When he was a student himself, Saini had a keen interest in literature, prompting him to study in the English language and literature department of the Bandung teacher's training institute.

His studies nurtured his greater passion for literature and theater, and prompted him to set up a theater department at the Indonesian Academy of Choreography in Bandung.

In 1963, Saini published his first play, Pangeran Geusan Ulun (Prince Geusan Ulun), followed by a poetry collection, Nyanyian Tanah Air (Songs of the Motherland) in 1969.

For the theater, Saini wrote dramas like Siapa Bilang Saya Godot (Who Says I'm Godot, 1977), Panji Koming (1984), Madegel (1984) and Dunia Orang-Orang Mati (The Dead's World, 1986).

Madegel was staged in Japan in 1987, while his Ken Arok and Sepuluh Orang Utusan (Ken Aron and the Ten Envoys) was translated into German.

His works have also won many competitions. In 1973, his work Pangeran Sunten Jaya (Prince Sunten Jaya) won a Jakarta Art Council (DKJ) contest, followed by further DKJ competition victories for his piece Ben Go Tun in 1977, Egon in 1978, Serikat Kacamata Hitam (Dark Glasses Union) in 1981 and Sang Prabu (The King).

For 20 years, during the period 1976-1996, Saini was entrusted with a poetry column, called "Pertemuan Kecil" (Small Gathering), which was printed in a Bandung publication.

Through the column, Saini scrutinized and analyzed the works of West Java's emerging generation of poets.

Through its existence, the poetry column helped produce noted poets in the country, with Saini acting as their mentor.

"Actually I made no significant contribution to literature and culture," Saidi said modestly.

"The preservation of culture is the responsibility of all citizens, including experts, government officials and religious leaders, not only artists."

After Saini was appointment the Education and Culture Ministry's director of culture in 1996, he gave up the column to focus on his busy work schedule.

Saini said he believed writing poetry was a matter of emotion and opportunity rather than bad or good literary expression.

"One who starts writing poems may not produce good works, but he or she should have the opportunity for literary revelation to ensure better compositions in the future," he said. [JP]

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