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Laksmi Pamuntjak

Yesterday I was at my parents’ house to visit my mother. I ended up spending a few hours on the 3rd floor, which is where the collection of my family’s publishing house, Penerbit Djambatan, has been kept since the company folded in 2013. In those hours I felt like the little Laksmi who used to spend whole days on the floor of our family’s old bookstore on Jl Kramat Raya no 72, Salemba, gobbling up all the beautiful (many of them award-winning) children’s books published by Djambatan.

Djambatan was co-founded in February 1954 by my late grandfather, Kasoema St. Pamuntjak (who was still, at the time, a director at Balai Pustaka), his colleagues Djamaluddin Adinegoro and Ahmad Ramali (from the Indonesian side) and H.M. Randwijk and C. Koning (from the Dutch side). In 1956 it became fully Indonesian-owned.

Though Djambatan was primarily known for its literature, educational and children’s books, they also published many books on history, culture, law, medicine, economics and engineering that became mandatory reading at schools and universities. My personal favorite, of course, has always been the fiction and non-fiction classics sections, where I pulled out the following gems once again: Burung-Burung Manyar by J.B. Mangunwijaya; Ziarah by Iwan Simatupang; Manusia Bebas by Suwarsih Djojopuspito; Max Havelaar by Multatuli; R.A. Kartini’s letters to Mrs. Abendanon Mandri and her husband; the biography of R.A. Kartini; Ekonomi Terpimpin by Indonesia’s first Vice President Moh. Hatta; Manusia dan Kebudayaan di Indonesia, by Koentawijaya; Al Quran Bacaan Mulia by H.B. Jassin, I La Galigo and the Indonesian translation of  Dr. Zhivago.

In the early 2000’s, in a bid to revive interest in the classics, Djambatan launched its own Modern Classics series. I was asked to lead this effort. Among the books I had the pleasure and privilege to edit and oversee were Tidak Ada Negara Islam (We Are No Islamic State), the correspondence between the respected intellectuals Nurcholish Madjid and Mohammad Roem; Gerpolek, Tan Malaka’s famous political manifesto; and Prasangka Terhadap Etnis Cina (Prejudice Against Chinese Ethnic Minority) by Yusiu Liem.

It’s been almost 60 years now since my grandfather’s passing, 27 since my aunt Roswitha’s (who helmed Djambatan for many years) and 4 months since my father’s. Eight years since the publishing house closed its doors. But looking at these treasures yesterday, I became even more fired up in my new mission: that of finding a new house for Djambatan Library so that it can be better displayed, maintained and accessed by the public. Since Djambatan was an important part of the country’s post-independence history, I believe it deserves a new home where more people can access its invaluable collection. This way we as the founding family can also keep alive the spirit of our forefathers’ motto, “membangkik batang tarandam” (a Minangkabau saying which means to restore a forgotten legacy/sovereignty).

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