Title: Pasung Jiwa
Author: Okky Madasari
Published by Gramedia Pustaka Utama
In Indonesia, in Jakarta for exact, spotting transgenders as street singers is a common thing. But not just looking at their particular fashion style and dance moves, their lives and self-battle will be another interesting and heart-wrenching story to see.
Born as a boy of an upper-middle class family, Sasana's freedom as a child was constrained by piano play. Pressing every key according to the notes. His parents were sort of obsessed to hear their children into classical music. Until Dangdut music played somewhere nearby his home, the boy found his cup of tea. He knew what he wanted. But it took quite awhile to understand what he actually should be.
Growing up was even harder and complicated than ever. He preferred to have his sister's body, toys and dresses. When he went to all-boys high school and new comer student Sasana was blackmailed and abused by his seniors. Many events in his life path drove him to hate masculine stuff, but despite the crack that happened, deep inside Sasana knew who he really was. Luckily, his encounter with Jaka Wani, a street singer in Malang, turned his life upside down.
After Sasana moved out to the city, he gained his freedom finally. Including to sing dangdut songs and let Jaka Wani (or Cak Jek) turned him into a she, Sasa---living the true soul. Both of them worked by singing and playing guitar at small diners nearby and aspiring to become professionals. When a friend of theirs came up for help, the two got separated and suffering from ordeals of heinous violence by soldiers who arrested them. When both of them reunited, Sasa and Cak Jek were already two different people, against each other, but sort of losing the freedom they always wanted.
Previously, Okky Madasari won Khatulistiwa Literary Award in 2012 for her work, Maryam. In 2013, she released Pasung Jiwa which also went to Top 5 for the same award. Most people appreciated her consistency in writing stories about low class people and social issue around them, but I could appreciate more for her blunt and brave stand point, written so honest.
The novel doesn't only open up about the self-battle in accepting the sexual orientation and facing rejections and public's scorn, but also wider issue surround a transgender. Through the persona of Sasa, readers are brought to see differently, not accepting stereotype or rumours people always say when they hear the word 'transgender'.
From a emptied-soul and confused little boy to sexy, sensual and brave Sasa. As a she, Sasa could show off her singing and dancing skills confidently, blazing the society with her bold personality to have justice served for a dear friend. Her character improved as she realized the true meaning of freedom and experiencing it. Meanwhile, Jaka Wani's character portrayed as the little guy who stayed in his fear, but later exchanging his true self with a new person people's hate most, along with guns in hand and brainwashed people to act as his 'armies'. When it came to his heart, he realized that he'd somehow has lost the real freedom and hiding under pseudo religious image. The two main characters are vividly brought up the depiction of what we usually see in reality and it is interesting to when they are in the crossroads. It cracks up more cultivated background story of the social life people can usually see just from the surface.
Going deeper. The novel tells so much about life and battles to go through, and drags us to see how grey the world can be. It is a witty way to remind the readers if the world is bigger than anyone could think of. Pasung Jiwa is seemed to prepare us with the ugly truth about the society, whether it's about gender equality, accepting differences, religious fundamentalist and military power that used to exist very strongly. Through each character---a prostitute, a female labour, a mental institution resident, a psychiatrist---they could also make us re-consider about freedom and happiness. Re-questioning every point once we were told for so long, lies that have been made for certain interest created in the past.
Personally, I found this book as one of the longest to read. The first opening pages were so slow but detail in elaborated root of Sasana's life. Then, the heartbreaking point stopped me for some time. After I could pass that phase, I found this novel quite interesting and deceiving (as the ending is truly unexpected), and a page-turner as well. Plus, it is very clever to slip historical events in the book and relate to the fictional characters beautifully and logically taking it as a chance to strengthened the feel.
Although complications of what the characters might feel is quite difficult to absorb, the language is just perfect balance mate. The writer portrays the place, time settings and society groups as relevant as the reality is, resulting the story felt so near to readers. And I think Pasung Jiwa really transfers positive energy to the readers in sharing sympathy and concerns towards those issues and bringing understanding to arise.