Sunday, May 1, 2011

In memory of my grandmother

Our beloved grandmother (we called her Mbah Putri), R.A. Soekartini Soemoadiparto-Soemantri (1925-2005) was born in Kediri, East Java. She grew up in an educated environment. Her father, R.M. Soemani Soemoadiparto was a principal in a Dutch Colonial school, while her mother, B.R.A. Siti Soerachjem Poedjokoesoemo was a spiritualist and a descendant of Mangkunegaran aristocratic family of Solo.

Grandma (right) with her children, parents, and maid (1959)

As a scholar’s daughter, grandma completed her educational years at HBS (Dutch Colonial education system, equivalent to high school) before she was engaged by my grandpa, Ir. Hadis Soemantri. During her younger years, my grandma got a very strong influence on Javanese spirituality by her mother. Once my grandma told me that her mother routinely performed tirakat and tapa (some kind of Javanese asceticism ritual) on a particular day in the Javanese calendar. The exceptional esoteric training which my grandma’s mother – or we called her Mbah Bengawan – had gained, made her mastered some esoteric knowledge which was called kasekten by the Javanese. My grandma recalled “She did a very stringent tirakat. Somehow, she could survive several days without eating anything. Usually, every Jumat Kliwon or Selasa Pahing night, she slept on the edge of the well at the backyard of our house in Kediri,” The strenuous tradition was handed down to my grandma. I still can remember, when I was still a kid, my grandma occasionally performed a meditation in a particular room full of kemenyan smoke (frankincense) and sesajen (offerings).


Mbah Putri, her cousin, Mbah Bengawan (1981)

Grandma & My aunty, on the way to the sacred cemetery (1981)

Doing ritual over an ancestral grave (1981)

Even though she had a very traditional way of thinking, my grandma was very flexible in mixing with Westerners. Among others, this was caused by my grandpa who often held parties or gatherings which included his Western friends. Also, they regularly travel abroad which made my grandma spoke English and Dutch fluently other than Bahasa Indonesia and Javanese (and a little bit Sundanese).

Grandma (sitting in the middle) at a function, housewarming (1960)

However, my grandma’s expectation of traditional and aristocratic life sometimes didn’t fit with the reality. My grandma who was strictly obedient to my grandpa, was shocked when seeing the lifestyle of my mother who is a feminist and a rationalist. In the early years of my parents’ marriage, my grandma was very cynical to my mom. This might be caused by my mother who rejected the traditional ritual of “husband steps on an egg and wife washes his feet afterwards” during their wedding ceremony. My mom once said, “If he stepped on the egg, he should wash his feet himself. Why should I doing that?”

Nevertheless, my grandma lived a life full of manners, sometimes in an exaggerating aristocratic way. One of my cousins told me, “Mbah Putri created her own little kraton in her house. She was surrounded by many helpers, maids, drivers, who was always doing things at her service” As a compensation, she surrendered herself at my grandpa’s command. She symbolized a typical of Javanese wife in ideal, while in other hand, her aristocratic manners laid in attitudes rather than material things. “She lived a very modest life. Her opulence laid in the way she restrained herself from luxury, while she always chose the best things when it came to the family matters,” said R.A.S. Moerdijani Soemoadiparto, her sister.

Grandma and my aunty, still 3 year-old (1960)

Can you guess which one is my dad? He's on the left

My grandma was always painstakingly supporting her children’s life, primarily during the times when my grandpa went overseas. She never complained nor grumbled. Some things that I still remember, she was a good chef and always wore kebaya, at anywhere and anytime. She never cut her hair (Her hair was hung down to her foot. She usually made a natural hairdo – sanggul – with that long hair), until she was attacked by several strokes on 1997 which made her half-paralized.

Mbah Putri, circa 2000


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