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Obituary: NH Dini, Indonesian feminist literary figure

A car crash in her home town of Semarang has taken the life of prominent literary figure NH Dini at age 82.

Born in Semarang on Feb. 29, 1936, Nurhayati Sri Hardini Siti Nukatin, affectionately known as NH Dini, had been interested in writing since her elementary school days. She often poured her heart’s contents into her school textbooks. 

Her mother, Kusaminah, was the person who introduced NH Dini to the world outside of school. Every night, she told her stories and read from Javanese magazines such as Panji Wulung and Penyebar Semangat. Kusaminah also introduced her daughter to tembang (Javanese songs) and the alphabet. 

In an interview with Antara news agency in 2017, Dini noted her mother’s influence on her character: “My mother was the person whose influence dominates [my] character and how [I] approach [my] surroundings.”

Dini’s father, Saljowidjojo passed away when she was still in junior high school. The loss of her father made her a loner who learned to quietly express her feelings by writing. In 1953, Dini’s short stories began to be published in various magazines like Mimbar IndonesiaSiasat and Kisah

Apart from her short stories, NH Dini was a prolific writer who worked through many other forms of composition, such as poetry, radio plays and novels. Over the years a number of her novels, like Pada Sebuah Kapal (On a Ship), Keberangkatan (Departure), Namaku Hiroko (My Name is Hiroko), Padang Ilalang di Belakang Rumah (The Meadow Behind the House) and Sebuah Lorong di Kotaku (An Alley in My City), had become the favorites of fans of literature. 

Dini was also recognized as a feminist who defended women’s rights in her works.

Author Laksmi Pamuntjak remembers NH Dini as the quintessential “modern woman”.

“The modern person, says Walter Benjamin, is someone who chooses, who is always positioning him or herself as a subject. Dini was ‘modern’ in that sense: She had the courage to make herself the subject of her life and her fiction and never felt she had to explain, much less apologize for, the autobiographical aspects of her writing. She was also modern in another vital respect: her sexuality and her pioneering writing about sex. To her, sex was an integral part of life, not a feminist statement. Not many realized she had broken new ground in matters of sex and sexuality long before the post-Soeharto generation of women writers did,” Laksmi told The Jakarta Post in a WhatsApp message.

Dini received numerous accolades for her writing. Her short story, “Sarang Ikan di Teluk Jakarta” won the nationwide French-language short story competition in Indonesia in 1988. A year later she received a literary award from the Education and Culture Ministry. In 1991, Dini was awarded the Upapradana Charter from the province of Central Java. 

In 2003, Dini received the SEA Write Award from the government of Thailand, followed by the Francophonie Award in 2008 and the Achmad Bakrie Award for literature in 2011. In 2017, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (UWRF) committee. 

Following her 1984 separation from her husband Yves Coffin, whom she had married in Kobe, Japan in 1960, Dini returned to Indonesia, reclaimed her Indonesian citizenship and resided in Kampung Sekayu, Semarang, where she built Pondok Baca NH Dini (NH Dini’s Reading Hut). 

Having built a career as a writer for 60 years, Dini only received royalties from her works for the past three years. At the time of her death she was living in an old-age home called Panti Wredha Langen Wedharsih in Ungaran, Semarang regency. Dini still actively participated in literary events, academic activities, thesis-guiding and speaking in seminars until her final days. 

NH Dini passed away on Dec. 4 following a car crash. She was 82 years old. The literary icon was survived by her two children, Marie-Claire Lintang and Pierre Louis Padang. (asw)

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