Clare recounts his daughter's experience of having a child out of wedlock in Yogyakarta.
My wife closed my mobile and handed it back to me. I knew what she was going to say next. I had guessed about a week before and had mentioned my suspicions to my wife, but still the confirmation on the phone as we were driving downhill to Yogya had obviously come as a shock,
She is pregnant
said my wife. I laughed,
my wife brought her “you have no idea what this news portends” ‘Ha!’ into play,
You are English. This isn’t England. You don’t know what this will mean. The baby will be called names at school. There will be demonstrations outside our daughter’s house. We will be disgraced.
I said stoutly:
although I had to admit I had no idea whether my wife was right or wrong on all, or any, of these points,
I am going to be a Granddad and that is all that matters at the moment; that and looking after our daughter. And you will be Granny. How does that feel?
My wife was quiet for a long time and then started to giggle,
Won’t it be lovely to have a grandchild?
I agreed, but even as I agreed I knew that single motherhood in Indonesia would not be the same as single motherhood in the only other country of which I have any experience of such a thing; Britain. Our daughter was in a potentially very awkward situation, socially, and religiously.
The family swung into gear as soon as the news was disseminated. I wish I could say that this swinging into gear was supportive but it was not. The prime concern was to hide a shameful event that would now bring discredit on all and sundry. My wife’s sister in Lampung on learning that our daughter was considering going there as soon as the bump began to show, to have the baby with the Sumatra based branch of our gracious kith and kin as her support group; panicked and rang to say how this plan would be so unsuitable as she, the sister, was a teacher and her reputation would be shot.
The youngest brother in Jakarta found a man in Bandung with two children, recently divorced, who was looking for a wife. This man had a business of his own and a house. What could be better? Just send the daughter to Bandung and she and the baby would be clear of all of us and the problem would be solved.
Our daughter was insisting that an abortion was the answer, so she was no better than all the rest in viewing her pregnancy as a problem and not an accidental blessing.
My wife and I forbade everyone from talking about our future grandchild as a problem. We withdrew to our house on the volcano to the north of Yogya and had a hard think about the situation. My wife still feared real unpleasantness in and around the neighbourhood of our daughter’s house in Yogya. I said I doubted her fears were well grounded but admitted a total lack of evidence for my confidence. We did not consider an abortion as being something we could condone on a number of fronts; not least that we would be inclined to abort anyone who suggested depriving us of a grandchild. We discussed this with the daughter who demurred in bad grace and from that moment on has blamed us for what she views as the whole debacle; her original mistake, all ensuing embarrassment and costs, and, by so doing plonked full responsibility for the baby and its future into our ageing hands and care. Not, obviously, the reactions and behaviour of a rational and controlled thirty-six year old adult, which was, and remains, depressing for both me and my wife.
As the bump developed the daughter withdrew from society into her house and into her bedroom and vegetated. Eventually she was so big and needing care that she agreed to join us here in our house outside town. I could not see why she should feel forced to leave her middle class environment in the city with her neighbours, all professors at UGM (Universitas Gajah Mada) and doctors and business folk of substantial standing. Surely, I said, such people would be aware that mistakes, bad decisions, passionate affairs with married men; these things happen and this is the twenty-first century. But the daughter was adamant; she must take her shame to the countryside and hide with us amongst the orang kampung of our nearby village.
I blamed Islam for the attitudes of the snobbish middle class who were, without saying a word, causing us to bend to their petty bigotry; but our daughter explained that it was nothing to do with Islam; to have an unmarried mother in the community would bring bad luck to forty houses in all directions from the house in which the sinner dwelt. I admit I laughed long and hard at that and ridiculed it for some time before I became aware that maybe this superstition is more potent than any po-faced morality based on a misunderstanding of Islam, or Christianity for that matter; both of which religions are, as far as I can see from their books of instruction, intended to protect and care for the mistaken and the vulnerable. Maybe, I realised, a lot of what we put down to the misogyny of an Islam we are misunderstanding is in reality old fashioned Javanese superstition.
The rural community of which we are a part may (in fact I am sure they do) have much to say to one another about my wife and I and our family and our failure in not bringing our daughter up to be a chaste and proper young lady. But this community has as many skeletons rattling in its cupboard as any other anywhere in the world. We have been to weddings recently and six months later gone to the selamatans for the birth and the naming of the first child from that marriage. We noticed that no-one has remarked on the size of the baby being remarkable for a maximum six months gestation. There are little waifs and strays all over the village that are being brought up by aunts and uncles and grannies and grandpas for all sorts of reasons. And our granddaughter is now another in this pattern.
The grandexpense is three and a half months old now and a joy to all of us blessed with her care; and in this that amounts to most of the village if they are given the chance. Our daughter has returned to her life in town and her neighbourhood where the official story is that she spent some months in Jakarta with her cousin who works there. I don’t believe anyone is daft enough to believe this and in any case the house-girl network will spill the beans; but in true Javanese fashion some form of protocol has been observed that satisfies the prigs and the prudes, and I have no doubt that they feel self-righteous and can enjoy themselves with the essential title-tattle of a small neighbourhood.
It would be interesting to hear from any single mothers, and fathers for that matter, of their experiences and how these differ from the experiences of people of their parents and grandparents generations; and if on this kind of social issue Indonesia is progressing at the same pace as it is, say, in banking, or technology, or democratic reforms. I have a suspicion that, as in the west, industrial, business, and political progress tends to forge ahead as the mores of society take a while adapting to the new environment. Or, is it possible, and perhaps preferable, that the new globalised productive and political world can get on with the business of modernising and growth without altering the standards and traditions of the society of the country? Indonesia, after all, does not have to swallow the whole Western Capitalist deal in one gulp; does it? Drink, drugs, promiscuity; are these all necessarily part of modernity?