Rohmad's father passed away when he was just six years old, one of six children. He still remembers how his father, a civil servant at health agency, told him that to succeed, he needed expertise or an advantage over other people.
"As a six-year-old boy, I didn't understand what it all was about. What advantage did I have when I didn't even have any money?" Rohmad recalls.
"The only thing I knew I had was my interest in wayang *shadow puppetry*. I loved wayang. Even before I finished elementary school, I knew the Mahabharata stories like the back of my hand."
So Rohmad was thrilled when his grandfather hired professional puppeteer Ki Joko Hadiwijoyo to perform in his house in Salatiga. Little Rohmad told the puppeteer that he wanted to follow him, that he wanted to become a puppeteer too.
He received no response. "Perhaps he thought I was just a schoolboy who was not serious in my request."
Rohmad did not give up. He kept going to the puppeteer's house in Semarang and kept getting ignored. "He didn't even talk to me. I was just left in his terrace."
He even followed the puppeteer to the mosque during prayers, but there too he was ignored.
When Rohmad learned of Ki Joko Hadiwijoyo's fondness for horses, he started bringing horse feed to the puppeteer's house, where he fed the horses and even washed the horses. Finally, the puppeteer noticed him.
"He said I was allowed to learn how to become a puppeteer but I had to wait until I finished elementary school."
Even then, he did not learn puppetry immediately, only being allowed to follow Hadiwijoyo's group wherever they went. His place was among the gamelan players, which he assumed was so he would understand when an instrument should be hit.
Only after entering his first year of high school was he awoken every morning at 2 o'clock to learn puppetry. By this time, he was also allowed to sit behind Ki Joko Hadiwijoyo during performances.
Sometimes he was also allowed to perform. Although he was still a beginner and disgruntled audience members occasionally called for him to be replaced with another puppeteer, he gained a lot from those years.
But sometimes the most is gained by losing: He failed at school when all his friends moved onto a higher grade, although Ki Joko Hadiwijoyo found him a place in another school.
"The headmaster was his friend who also a puppeteer," Rohmad says, laughing. "My choice could have cost me my education and it shows how important wayang is for me."
Because of his devotion to puppetry, he failed to make it into any universities in Semarang, and left for Jakarta in 1985 to attend the state electro-medical academy.
When he left for Jakarta, Ki Joko Hadiwijoyo gave him a parting gift: His last name.
"My given name was only Rohmad. Ki Joko Hadiwijoyo said that he had nothing to give me except the name Hadiwijoyo and a kris. So now he is known as Ki Joko Edan instead of Ki Joko Hadiwijoyo and I am Rohmad Hadiwijoyo."
In Javanese, hadi means "more" and wijoyo means "successful" or "prosperous". "He gave me the name hoping that my father's dream would come true. The more I think *about the name* the more I realize that it makes sense," says the man who is now also the chairman of Lontar Foundation.
As a student in Jakarta, Rohmad's puppetry skills soon became known.
"Lecturers and students and even people outside the academy got to know me as a puppeteer and this is when I understood my father's words that I needed to have something special to be recognized. My father was right and I realized I did have something special - as a puppeteer."
His first performance in Jakarta was a play titled Wahyu Purbojati, performed with a gamelan set borrowed from the Health Ministry and puppets from the Taman Ismail Marzuki. Since then, he was hired to perform at several venues across Jakarta.
While studying in Jakarta, he made a living distributing meat around the capital. After graduation, he worked until a scholarship in 1992 allowed him to study project management at George Washington University.
In Washington D.C., again wayang came his way. The Indonesian Embassy recognized his talent and asked him to perform once a week, and he was also hired by Indonesian consulates around the country. He also took wayang to universities, as the president of the Indonesian student association, quickly building name among colleagues and professors as "Rohmad the puppeteer".
Back in Indonesia, he succeeded in business. Today, Rohmad is the president director of a handful of oil and gas companies including the owner of PT Resources Jaya Teknik Management Indonesia (RMI), where he used to work as an account executive, PT Adinata Pandita, PT Daya Alam Teknik Inti and PT RMI Krakatau Karbonindo. He also runs PT Bali Hai Cruises Nusantara, which provides cruises around Bali.
Currently the chairman of the Indonesian Puppeteers Association (Pepadi), Rohmad believes that wayang is a reflection of human life. It has many characters - good and evil - from whom we can learn. The philosophy of wayang has helped him a lot in business management and diplomacy.
"Because I have expertise as a dalang, I can easily make business deals. For me, wayang diplomacy starts when business diplomacy fails," he says, laughing.
"Wayang provides guidance for my life. It tells me to live my life with ease. I don't have to work so hard if I know who I am, if I know myself. Many legislative candidates fail because they can't measure themselves; many businesses fail because they have no clear vision. Wayang philosophy is like a SWOT analysis: You have to know your strengths before starting something."
Out of gratitude to wayang, Rohmad built a traditional Javanese house in Cirendeu, South Jakarta, as a rehearsal space for puppeteers around Jakarta and to support the art of puppetry through various training workshops and education.
"I was raised by a puppeteer," he says, "and I wanted to do something for puppeteers."