Wednesday, July 25, 2012

[Short Story] The Woman With A Pitted Face by Ratih Kumala

This time I would like to introduce and promote Indonesian literature in the Short Stories on Wednesdays. What embarrasses me is that I’ve just found this site: I-Lit: IndonesianLiterature in Translation from a non-Indonesian blogger. I did not even know that such a project exists, until now. Anyway, this is a project to promote Indonesian literature by translating it to English. You can find many short stories (and you can read it directly on the site) written by young female Indonesian authors. The tag line is “Not Chick-Lit! Writing by Younger Indonesian Women Writers”.

For my first reading, I pick a short story from Ratih Kumala, as I have recently read one of her novels, a historical fiction, that I found very enjoyable.

The story is about a poor woman with a disfigured face (a pitted face) who was rejected by her parents since her birth, as well as by everybody in the kampong (small village). Not only ugly, she was also mute and appeared to be idiot too. I’d rather think that in fact the girl was quite normal in spite of her pitted face, however as nobody has ever treated her as a human (taught her to be civilized), she became mute and idiot. Anyway, everything run quite well for the pitted face girl until someday, a group of school boy threw pebbles to her out of nothing, just because she was ugly and never talked or responded to them. The girl took a big stone and threw it to the children, and one of them got a wound from it. The mother of the wounded boy got angry and insisted that the idiot girl should be chained “because she didn’t even resemble a human being”.

That was such an absurd thing that I could never understand. Haven’t we all been taught about not doing something that you don’t want others do to you since we were kids? I really want to shout out to that stupid mother: it’s your boy who has first thrown the pebbles to the girl, so you must blame him instead of the girl; what do you expect the girl to do against that insult? If she didn’t do anything, the boys would insult her more!

Anyway, that incident caused the pitted face girl to be chained in a small hut since that day. Years went by, she became a woman, and still no one cared about her. She was rejected, captured and alone. Her only friend now was the moon, who always shone her with its light, no matter who she was and how she looked. Only the moon who always came for her, the one to whom she could talk every night.

Actually the story is very simple (and short), written in narrative style, no dialog, no conflict, and without any major character besides the woman with a pitted face; however I found it quite deep to be reflected. I like how Ratih put the ending:

She approaches the pool of water, a dirty pool of water, mixed with dust. There is a shadow there. She smiles-and finds the moon’s face in it. Then she falls asleep and has no need to wake up again because her friend is with her.”

It is beautiful to picture God in the moon. God who loves men no matter how they are, and who treats them all equally. How absurd it is that men can’t love each other while they are together in the same pilgrimage on earth. Why must men treated others badly just because they are not like us? Isn’t it enough that a woman was born with ugly face, that we must insult her too?

I was moved by this story, and when I feel alone and desperate, I’ll need only to see the moon, for there I will see God, and know that I will never be alone in this world…

Four stars for this story!

And I encourage you to read some of the literatures in I-Lit, you will find there short stories, poetry, as well as monologue. Let’s help Indonesian literature to get access to international readers!


  1. Nothing beats promoting our own literature, although that does not stop us from reading other international works. I'm a Filipino and I promote Philippine literature whenever I can on my blog. With each story I read that is written by a Filipino, my appreciation towards my heritage grows.

    You featured an interesting story. I remembered a news report about a woman who was chained in their basement simply because she was labeled as "mentally ill". When she was freed by the police, she was a heart-wrenching sight, all fearful and distrustful. I wonder what happened to her now.

    I would like to read this story very much.

    Thank you again for joining Short Stories on Wednesdays.

    1. And thanks to stop by and read my post, Nancy! Hope you will like the story as much as I do.

  2. Fanda, sori baru sempat mampir, dan thanks utk posting ini dan perkenalan dgn I-Lit dari Lontar. Lontar mmg byk menerbitkan buku2 kuno heritage Indonesia, tapi aku baru tahu ttg site I-Lit ini. Ceritanya mmg sederhana tapi menyentuh inti kemanusiaan ya. Ratih Kumala menerbitkan bbrp kumpulan cerpen sblm bukunya Kronik Betawi an Gadis Kretek. Kira2 cerita ini ada di buku yg mana ya?

    1. Aku gak tahu apakah cerpen ini pernah diterbitkan di bukunya, atau ini cerpen baru khusus untuk I-Lit?