Tuesday, February 10, 2004

The Freedom of Sukamiskin

The Freedom of Sukamiskin

Outside the Sukamiskin prison near Bandung, there's an interesting statue of a mother nursing a baby with another child tugging at her hand. The inscription below the statue reads:
"Anak & Isteri selalu menantimu"
(Your wife and children are always waiting for you).

I visited Sukamiskin during one of my trips to Bandung and took a couple pictures of the place before the guards saw me and asked whether I had permission to do so. I feigned ignorance and pretended to be an innocent tourist and even had the audacity to ask them if I could visit Sukarno's former cell. They told me that I needed written permission from the local authorities for that. I was tempted to do so but decided that I was probably pursuing my interest in Sukarno a bit too far.

For almost 3 years Sukarno was incarcerated in this prison. During that time, his wife Inggit Garnasih visited him every week, sometimes even walking all the way from Bandung because she couldn't afford the transportation.

Imprisonment affects a person greatly. Sukarno recalls in his autobiography how he got into the habit of always finishing his meals fast even in official banquets after he became the president of Indonesia because all prisoners were forced to do so in Sukamiskin--they were treated like parts in a production line.

The Sukamiskin prison was designed by the famous Dutch architect C.P. Wolfe Schoemaker and ironically, Sukarno might even had a hand in its design for he was assisting Professor Schoemaker in the design of many public buildings right after graduating from THS (the forerunner of ITB, Institute Teknologi Bandung).

The prison is a rather beautiful piece of architecture--sturdy-looking and fringed by shady trees. From the outside, it didn't look like a menacing place--it even reminded me of some of the old colonial school buildings in Malaysia. I lingered happily outside its compound for a while, admiring its architecture and the serenity of its surrounding.

Sukamiskin might had been a hellish place for Sukarno and many other prisoners who were imprisoned there. But now as I sit here in my home in Subang Jaya and think back of the time when I was snapping pictures outside the gates of this mighty penitentiary, I recall them with great affection: Sukamiskin, in my mind will always be associated with that unparalleled sense of freedom that I used to enjoyed in Indonesia.

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