Monday, February 09, 2009

Rosihan Anwar: The last Mohican of Indonesian journalists

Matheos Viktor Messakh , THE JAKARTA POST , JAKARTA | Mon, 02/09/2009 10:08 AM | People

JP/Ricky YudhistiraJP/Ricky Yudhistira

Sharp, bright and straightforward are three words that best describe legendary journalist Rosihan Anwar.

At 87, the man known as “the last of the Mohicans of Indonesian journalism” still regularly writes columns for several national media, such as the Cek&Ricek tabloid, the Waspada newspaper and the Business News newspaper or Jawa Pos.

“I will continue to write until I drop dead,” he told The Jakarta Post, laughing at his modest home in Menteng, Central Jakarta.

Citing his best friend Mochtar Lubis, who suffered from Alzheimers during his final years, Rosihan said the main reason he wanted to write was to prevent senility.

He also writes for his life.

“I have to write because there is no social welfare in this damned country. I have no pension so I have to write,” said the author of more than 40 books. The last book he authored was Petite Histoire Indonesia, on Indonesian history.

In his study room, he wrote all his articles using his 40-year-old Facit 1620 typewriter. A small bed is nearby, a place is where he would lay down when he tired.

Writing did make him sharp. Smoothly, he could rehearse the contents of a book he read during high school, such as Stefan Sweig’s Marie Antoinette, one of his favorites.

Rosihan was born on May 10, 1922 in Kubang Nan Dua, West Sumatra. His father, Anwar Maharaja Sutan, was a Demang, or a prominent local leader in Padang, West Sumatra.

He finished his studies at the Dutch elementary school for natives or Holland Inlandesche School (HIS) in 1935 and the Dutch colonial secondary school or Meer Uitgebreid Lager Onderwijs (MULO) in 1939, both in Padang.

He continued his education at the prestigious Dutch colonial high school or Algemeene Middelbare School (AMS) in 1942 in Yogyakarta.

Rosihan stayed at his teacher, Tjan Tjoe Siem’s, house where he had the opportunity to read Siem’s collection of books.

His style of writing, he admitted, was influenced by Austrian writer Stefan Sweig, which displays a broad knowledge of many historical figures and is very well-written.

Rosihan said he became a journalist by accident in April 1943 when he joined Asia Raya, the only newspaper allowed to be circulated by the Japanese military during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia.

At that time, he had passed a test to become a prosecutor, but he needed money as his parents did not provide him with financial assistance.

“It never crossed my mind to become a journalist. When I finished high school, I wanted to go to the Netherlands to study philology. However, fate brought me to journalism,” said the man who speaks many foreign languages.

On Oct. 1, 1945, Rosihan became an editor of the Merdeka daily newspaper, but because of a conflict with B.M. Diah, he quit the paper on Oct. 7, 1947. He later founded the Siasat magazine on Jan. 1, 1947 and became the chief editor until the magazine died in 1957.

In 1948 he also founded the Pedoman newspaper and became its chief editor until former president Sukarno forcibly closed the newspaper in 1961, and later president Soeharto did the same in 1974 for its criticism of the authoritarian regime.

Rosihan married Siti Zuraida Sanawi on April 25, 1947. He met Siti Zuraida at the Asia Raya newspaper and they have two daughters, one son, six grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

The man, who was regarded by former president Sukarno as “a good boy” in terms of his attitude toward women, said he never questioned the judgment of his wife.

“When former president Soeharto appointed me ambassador to Vietnam, she said there was no point going there while our children stayed in Indonesia. I refused the appointment, which made Soeharto angry.”

As a journalist who has lived through the Dutch colonial period, the Japanese occupation, and independence, Rosihan has had many experiences a journalist can be proud of.

He was there during the Nov. 10, 1945, battle in Surabaya and witnessed other battles during the revolution.

He covered numerous events such as parliamentary meetings during the revolution, negotiations between Indonesian delegations and the Netherlands, the early trips of former president Sukarno and vice president Mohammad Hatta as well as attending the Malino Conference in Malino, South Sulawesi.

“I thank God that I was present at every crisis in Indonesian history,” he said.

He also had experience as a correspondent for several foreign media publications, including Australia’s The Age, the Hindustan Times in New Delhi, London-based news agency World Forum Features, and the Asian weekly in Hong Kong (1967-1971).

From 1976 to 1985 he was a correspondent of Singapore’s The Straits, and the New Straits Times in Kuala Lumpur. The two newspapers only terminated his service because he was already 63 years old.

Old journalists never die; they only fade away. Rosihan Anwar is one of them.

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