A memoir-type story about my own experience as a freelance journalist covering the abortive communist coup attempt in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sept 30, 1965.
Then the president called his favorite aide, Marine Colonel Bambang Widjanarko. He had to shout again as the aide was some distance away from him. “Bambang, let Tommy sit on my chair and Grace on Ibu’s chair. Ibu and I will be sitting here,” he instructed the colonel speaking in East Javanese dialect. Soekarno and Hartini sat on ordinary seats in the middle of the row half-way between the first row and the last one at the back, about ten rows behind their special seats he ordered me and Grace to sit on.
Colonel Widjanarko ushered me and Grace to the president’s and first lady’s chairs. We were flanked on our right and left by members of the diplomatic corps and some cabinet ministers. There were only a few ministers. They must have been Soekarno’s staunchest political supporters as most of the cabinet members had quickly aligned themselves with General Suharto, the rising new leader of the country. “Tommy, enjoy the show with Grace, OK?” the President shouted at me again to the bewilderment of the ministers and foreign diplomats. I replied, in a muffled voice so as not to attract the dignitaries’ attention, “Yes, Sir.”
The ludruk, a traditional comedy show from East Java, was to be performed by soldiers from East Java’s Brawijaya military division. These soldiers and their officers were reportedly supporting Soekarno in the escalating power struggle with General Suharto who got strong backing from most of the military.
Both Grace and I felt uncomfortable sitting on those special chairs. We both didn’t understand the dialog but had to pretend we enjoyed the show so as not to offend our hosts. Every time the audience laughed – and Soekarno laughed the loudest – we also laughed out of courtesy. Surely something funny must have been spoken in the dialog. My mind was busy trying to figure out how we’d be able to beat the curfew so the driver would be able to return the car to my Japanese friend on time as I promised him.
Grace and I kept whispering to each other and glancing left and right to see the expressions on the faces of the ministers and the foreign diplomats. Apparently they had also been stealing furtive glances at us both. They must have been wondering who on earth we were, sitting there playing president and first lady at the instruction of the real president of the Republic of Indonesia. Soekarno himself shouted at us a few times following his clearly audible laughs, “Are you enjoying yourselves, Tommy, Grace?” Each time he did that, I mumbled a “yes Sir.”
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