My Good Friend Aristides

My Good Friend Aristides


by Tamalia Alisjahbana

SHNet – I cannot recall when exactly I first met Aristides Katoppo but I know that it was in his office at Suara Pembaruan, and we got on well together immediately. I know it was before I returned to Indonesia from England which was in 1995 for I remember when I was in Singapore on my way back I received a phone call from Tides and Mimis asking me to go to the VIP room when I arrived at Cengkareng Airport to see them before they flew to off for Tides bypass operation abroad in Australia. I remember that I cried when I spoke to them on the phone because my parents and my fiancé had just died and I remember crying into the phone, “Tides may not die! I just cannot loose anymore people…” Fortunately, to the great relief of Tides’ many, many friends and relatives he made it safely through the operation and it is now nearly twenty-five years later as we prepare to celebrate his eightieth birthday.

Tides as everyone calls him – has a fine, very intellectual mind but also a feeling heart and the child spirit in him is very strong. It makes him interested in the world and everyone in it and ready to play and enjoy with whatever life throws at him. He is also a very positive person and extremely kind. Solving problems, bringing down the temperature of tense situations and making peace between warring parties are his forte. These are all qualities that I respect, admire and truly enjoy in a person. I remember how once Tides came back from a meeting with either the FPI or the Laskar Jihad – I cannot quite remember – and was telling me how he managed to cool things down. There were several religious groups present and apparently the Buddhists and the Christians were at a loss as to how to deal with such an aggressive group. Tides said that he talked about nature and preserving the environment and then he talked about planting trees. The FPI or Laskar Jihad apparently cooled down and listened to the joys of nature – for if there is one thing that Tides is passionate about (and there are many – believe me) it is nature. Finally, when he finished they said that although they would not be participating in tree planting they would not be doing anything to stop Tides and others from doing such good work. It may have been a small step but he had brought the temperature down and made people think of something good and begin talking to each other.

Tamalia Alisjahbana (Ist)

A tense atmosphere had turned into an amicable one.

I think that Tides is slightly more of a feeling person whereas I am a little more of an analytical person, so sometimes this makes for arguments. Usually, Tides is quite patient and like the gentleman that he is – allows me have the last word but some months ago when I asked him a question as he was explaining something to me, he became quite upset and said that I did not hear him. It was quite unlike him to become upset so after questioning him a little he told me, “Why do you always have to analyse everything? Don’t always listen only with your mind; listen also with your heart and your spirit. It is only then that you will be able to experience synchronicity and the depths of things. All around us nature and the world are trying to tell us secrets and important things but we do not hear.” It was as though he was trying to impart an important lesson that he was seeing me fail to grasp, and he was finally losing patience with me.

Nevertheless, he continued “My mother was a Christian woman of deep faith but my grandfather had still followed the old beliefs of our ancestors. My mother told me that we could no longer follow these ways but that there were some things that we needed to keep and one of these was reading the signs in nature and the world around us. She would make me look at nature for these signs and show me how to read them.”

“What sort of signs, Tides?”

“Well if a bird flew in a certain direction across my path before I headed out to school she would tell me to wait a while, that it was a warning to be careful.”

Tides told me that as a child he lived out in the jungle with his parents and there were many snakes around but he still played in nature and slowly learnt to understand it and respect it and that this frequently kept him safe. Tides was with the famous Soe Hok Gie, when he died of poisonous gas inhalation in the mountains and he attributes a great portion of his own survival at the time with the fact that his instincts and understanding of the signs in nature took over and helped him escape the same fate. The rest was of course, God’s will.

When I was still a journalist with the BBC in London the British government invited Tides to Britain to write and they helped organize interviews with anyone he might choose. He asked me, “Whom should I ask to interview, Tamalia?”

“Sir Laurence van der Post. No one is able to interview him and he was involved in our struggle for independence. He was a prisoner-of-war in Java and later stayed behind and helped the nationalists although he was sent by the British government – oh and ask if you can bring along a fellow journalist.”

In due course the British government helped set up an interview with Sir Laurence and I was allowed to come along and interview him too. As we stood outside the steps of Sir Laurence flat, I said to Tides, “You know we should really ask Sir Laurence to write a book about his experiences in Indonesia. He knew all the nationalists and he helped them…”

“Yes, Tamalia. Let’s ask him. That’s a good idea…”

At that moment Sir Laurence opened the door and the first thing that he said to us was, “Have you ever heard of synchronicity?”

We both laughed, “But of course…”

Sir Laurence then told us, “You know I wrote the report for the whole British mission in Indonesia after the War but because it was so critical of the Dutch the British government would not allow the public to read it for 50 years. Now the 50 years are over and I have just written a book about it and my experiences in Indonesia from 1945 to 1947. For 50 years no Indonesian journalist has ever asked to interview me and now the book is finished and immediately two Indonesian journalists ask to interview me.”

The name of the book was The Admiral’s Baby and a year later Sir Laurence passed away. In Jakarta Tides and I together with the British Embassy organized a selamatan for Sir Laurence at the house where he stayed during his time in Java – at the time it was the house of the Deputy Chief of Mission of the British Embassy (next to the American Ambassador’s residence). Many of the freedom fighters of 1945 attended and spoke about him.

As I have mentioned Tides mother also was a woman of great faith and I believe that it was her example that helped to create his own faith. I witnessed this when two of his sons died within a close period. I do not think that there can be any worse fate than for a parent to have to bury their own child and to have to do this twice is unthinkable. After the death of his sons I could see that Tides was grieving deeply and I wondered how on earth one could comfort someone who has lost two sons. I cannot think of any words that would make any difference and I was truly worried that this grief would affect Tides health. Then one day Tides came to tell me about a vision that he had when he was scattering his second son’s ashes into the sea. “I had prayed to God for solace and just as his ashes were about to be scattered I suddenly had a vision in broad day light of two dolphins filled with joy laughing and jumping and playing with each other just as my two boys used to – and then I knew that it was a message for me that they were together and that they were very happy together – and so I should not grieve for them…”

Aristides Katoppo (Ist)

After that vision I could really see the healing effect that it had on Tides’ soul and I was deeply moved and greatly relieved that it had given his grief the key to healing. God had heard his prayer for solace. Before ending this piece I must mention one other thing that helped Tides recover. One cannot write about Aristides Katoppo without also writing about his wife, Sasmiyarsi Sasmoyo, popularly known as Mimis. I know that she also played a large role in his recovery. Mimis has a lot in common with Tides. She is intelligent, curious about the world, loves travelling, is very kind and always helping people, she likes adventure (they met sky diving) and is passionate about nature. She is also very knowledgeable about the arts and about culture. Like Tides Mimis has a strong instinct about things and about people. As a member of the Javanese aristocracy she also brought him deeper into that world which also deeply interested him. On top of all this Mimis is beautiful and elegant and a superb cook. Sometimes I tease Tides by saying, “I wish I could marry a man just like Mimis.”

Mimis has taken care of Tides in many ways and I am so glad that he has this good wife and friend to walk beside him not only through the sunshine but also through the valleys and shadows of life. Aristides Katoppo is a unique and very special man and I am blessed to be able to count him and Mimis among my closest friends.

Jakarta, 8th of March 2018. (Tulisan ini juga bisa dibaca dalam buku: Tides Masih Mengembara, yang diterbitkan dalam rangka ulang tahun Aristides Katoppo ke-80)