Thinking about the ways to improve Russia-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) connectivity beyond the present situation, especially in the field of culture, I cannot resist a reference to a remarkable Southeast Asian author whom I used to know personally. The point is to illustrate how really important literature and art are in the life of nations.
In 1948, at the time when Indonesia already declared its independence but still had to fight for it, a young writer by the name of Utuy Tatang Sontani published a drama entitled “Suling”.1 This word stands for a bamboo reedpipe, a flute. The main character in this drama was Panji, the mythological forefather of Indonesians. He played the flute to accompany the dance of his sweetheart Sri — the Soul of Rice, the Goddess of Fertility and, in that particular case, the impersonation of a newborn nation.
Panji had four advisers, all of whom begged him to stop playing this useless music and switch to more productive activities. According to the first adviser, only through politics would it be possible to achieve independence and a brighter future. For the second one, the only key to prosperity was the economy. The third adviser praised law and ethics as means to pave the road to genuine self-improvement and happiness. The fourth was all for promotion of religion and faith. Later Utuy explained that the prototypes of these advisers had been Soekarno, Hatta, Ki Hadjar Dewantoro, and Hadji Mansur — the four leaders of the Pusat Tenaga Rakyat or Centre for People's Activity that was officially established under the Japanese occupation.
Once the four advisers took away Panji's flute, the inspiring melody was stopped and Sri, not hearing it anymore, became unconscious. Eventually Panji succeeded in getting back the flute and bringing his beloved back to life. As the final curtain falls, she sings:
Remember, please, all of you, // that the Greatness and Prosperity // of countries and peoples, their salvation and peace of mind // cannot be achieved // if your heart, mind and actions // are not irradiated with the shine of the art, // that lifts the spirit of the people // and calls them to innumerable deeds.