Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The Mystery of Ibu Inggit's House

The Mystery of Ibu Inggit's House

The love story between Indonesia's founding father Sukarno and Ibu Inggit Garnasih fascinates me. I even read R.H. Ramadhan's book, "Kuantar Ke Gerbang" (Led to the Gates)--in Bahasa Indonesia--which gives an interesting biographical account of Inggit's life and her relationship with Sukarno during those early days of the struggle for independence.

I wrote a bit about their relationship in a previous blog entry (also about how Inggit got her name). Sukarno first met Ibu Inggit, who was 15 years older than him, when he came as a young man to study civil engineering in Bandung. Ibu Inggit was then her landlady. In his autobiography, Sukarno recalls how Ibu Inggit's beauty, grace and countenance captivated him.

Ibu Inggit was not a very educated woman but to Sukarno she was the epitome of the perfect woman--a good housewife and an endless wellspring of feminine love and tenderness. She had only one flaw: she couldn't bear him a child. This was the reason that led to their divorce after Sukarno returned from his exile in Bengkulu. Sukarno married Fatmawati who later became Indonesia's first First Lady and bore him a few children-- among them, the current President Megawati.

History is to record Sukarno as a flamboyant womanizer in his later years. But to me, the woman who made the most difference in Sukarno's life was Ibu Inggit. He was his sole emotional support during his years of imprisonment by the Dutch in Banceuy and Sukamiskin, and later in exile to Ende, Flores and Bengkulu, Sumatra.

There's a road named after her in Bandung and the house at No. 8 Jalan Inggit Garnasih (formerly jalan Ciateul) is said to be the house where she and Sukarno lived after they were married. I visited the house during one of my visits to Bandung and spoke to the caretaker, Pak Djarot.

From my readings, I actually had my doubts as to whether that was really the house where Sukarno lived with Ibu Inggit. When Sukarno lodged at Ibu Inggit's house as a student, she was then already married to a Haji Sanusi. So the original house had to be Haji Sanusi's house and when she divorced him to marry Sukarno, I was quite sure that they shifted out from there.

In fact both Sukarno's and Ibu Inggit's biographies mentioned that they stayed in a rented house after they were married. And I knew for a fact that when Ibu Inggit finally returned to Bandung after her divorce and years of exile with Sukarno, she did not have a place to stay for she had even sold off her parents' house before she left.

I asked Pak Djarot, the caretaker, about it. Even though Pak Djarot knew Ibu Inggit personally before she died in 1984, he wasn't well acquainted with events related to Ibu Inggit's early days with Sukarno. All he knew was that when Ibu Inggit died, she was staying at that No. 8 house, Jalan Inggit Garnasih. He even claimed that this was the house that she stayed with Haji Sanusi before she married Sukarno and it was Haji Sanusi who had to shift out after she divorced him to marry Sukarno!

Everyone in Bandung assumes that the house at No. 8 Jalan Ciateul is "Ibu Inggit and Sukarno's house"; but did Sukarno really stay there with her or was it just the house where Ibu Inggit lived in her old age? No one could give me a definite answer. Even the people at the Bandung Society for Heritage Conservation wasn't sure.

I later found out, from my research (which I will not go into detail), that Pak Djarot was only partially right. The house was indeed Ibu Inggit and Haji Sanusi's house and Sukarno did stay there as a lodger. After Sukarno married Ibu Inggit, they shifted out and lived in various rented houses until Sukarno's exile to Flores and Bengkulu. When Inggit returned to Bandung after her divorce, she was totally homeless. She too had to stay in a rented house.

Knowing her emotional attachment to the old house, her close friends helped to pool together some money to reaquire the house (Haji Sanusi's house, and where she first met Sukarno) for her. So she did die in the historical house where Sukarno stayed as a student lodger!

Unfortunately the original house was left in a crumbling state after the death of Ibu Inggit. According to Pak Djarot, the government bought over the place and rebuilt the house based on the original plan. Although the exterior and the flooring are new, the layout of the house remained faithful to the original.

I asked for permission to check out Sukarno's room where he had stayed as a student. Pak Djarot led me to the small room located in front, with a window overlooking the entrance gate of the house. Pak Djarot's teenage daughter was using the great Bund Karno's room as her private bedroom. There wasn't even a bed there: only a thin mattress on the floor, with the paraphernalia of a teenager scattered everywhere.

I stood there at the entrance for a while, imagining how Sukarno, as a bright and eager student, spent many late nights there reading the works of the great leaders of the world, and embarked on animated discussions with his classmates about politics and the independence of Indonesia. And I imagined how love blossomed between Sukarno and Ibu Inggit in that very house.

And then, for one crazy moment, I envied Pak Djarot's teenage daughter--for having the privilege to be sleeping on the very spot that the Great Bung Karno used to sleep and dream about a future where a land of 17,000 islands could be united together under one language, to stand proudly as an truly independent nation of the world.

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