Saras Dewi: Philosophical songs

For Saras Dewi, songs are poetry with musical notations.

The 27-year-old philosophy lecturer-cum-singer mesmerized the crowd last Wednesday at Bentara Budaya Jakarta, West Jakarta, at the Koin untuk Sastra (Coin for Literature) concert, a fundraising event to save the HB Jassin Literary Documentation Center.

The city administration was reportedly about to cut the budget for the center from Rp 164 million (US$19,000) to 50 million (US$6,000) this year. Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo said his administration had miscalculated, and pledged Rp 1 billion for the center, head of HB Jassin documentation center Ajip Rosidi said.

The news of the budget cut raised the concern of Jakarta’s artists and literature lovers, including Saras.

The Bali-born woman with long black flowing hair sang a Balinese folk song Kupu-kupu Barong and her own single Lembayung Bali (Balinese crimson). She performed accompanied by her husband, Coki, a member of rock band Netral.

As she reached the high notes of Kupu-kupu Barong, her beautiful high-pitched voice sent shivers down many spectators’ spine.

Saras is a young intellectual who believes that life is not only about meeting one’s basic needs.

“Humans need art. They need space to create. The world of literature is a place when humans can be expressive and feel,” she said. “By reading prose they can feel empathy or anger. Literature is important for people,” she said.

So when a movement to save the HB Jassin Literature Center emerged on the microblogging site Twitter, Saras — an active Twitter user — immediately joined the movement.

“When I was first invited to join Koin Sastra, I thought of what I could do for the movement, since I don’t have much money… Being a lecturer, we just get by,” she said.

“What first came to my mind was a mass movement, so even if we can’t raise enough funds for the operational costs of the library, at least we can raise public awareness.”

As someone who enjoys literature, she said that in life people always remembered at least a line from a poem that either made one happy or conjured a distinct feeling.

Saras grew up loving literature. Her favorite writers are Ajip Rosidi and Marah Rusli.

“The old literary people are my favorites.”

She chose poetry and music as an outlet for her creativity. Saras Dewi released a book of poems, Jiwa Putih (White Soul) in 2004, and an album, Chrysan, in 2002, with the single Lembayung Bali.

Believing that songs are poetry with musical notations, Saras always looks for deep lyrics, she explained.

Despite her penchant for music, Saras does not have any plans to release an album, like she did eight years ago. “You need to be very committed when making an album. I’m not sure I can deal with that at the moment,” she said.

In the meantime, she is collaborating with the band Netral as well as with Dewa Budjana.

“I try to enjoy singing without it becoming a burden.”

However, Saras didn’t say she would never release an album.

“I make music and jam with my husband every day in the studio.”

Saras, who was born in Bali, moved to Jakarta to study at university. She is part of University of Indonesia’s (UI) school of philosophy along with Tommy Awuy and Rocky Gerung.

After reading Symposium by Plato at the age of 18, she became interested in philosophy and eventually studied it at UI. She is currently completing a PhD in Philosophy.

“At first, I thought philosophy was just theoretical knowledge. However, it has its practical side as well. There’s political philosophy and economic philosophy.”

Saras is focusing on Eastern philosophy and existentialism. However, her bigger goal is to bring philosophy closer to the public.

“I initially started studying philosophy because I was interested in it. Now that I have acquired the basic foundations, I want to popularize philosophy and make it more simple,” she said.

“A number of lecturers like Tommy Awuy, Rocky Gerung and myself want to introduce philosophy to the general public in layman’s language, so it can be implemented in people’s everyday life.”

Saras is a living example of pluralism in Indonesia. Born from parents of different religion — her father is Hindu and her mother Muslim — she said in a 2009 interview with the Liberal Islamic Network that she was a Hindu who read the bible, the Koran and the tripitaka.

When queried over her thoughts on religion, she quoted Mahatma Gandhi when he was asked his opinion before the separation of India and Pakistan on the basis of religion.

She said Gandhi’s diplomatic answer on religion was very honest. Gandhi said he was not Hindu nor was he Muslim. His religion was love.

Saras said the essence of religion is what Gandhi said: Love for humanity.

Source: Jakarta Post

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