Wednesday, April 27, 2011

‘man jadda wajada’ to ‘man shabara zhafira’

Those familiar with Negeri Lima Menara (The Nation of Five Towers), the first novel in a best-selling series by Ahmad Fuadi, will recall how Alif Fikri discovered truth in the mantra "man jadda wajada" (there is always a way for those willing to go the extra mile).

Now, in the second installment, Ranah Tiga Warna (The Land of Three Colours), as life becomes more complicated for Alif, he finds this mantra is not enough to keep things under control. But all is not lost, as he discovers another mantra, "man shabara zhafira" (luck comes to those who wait).

This novel shows that Alif’s ambition to study in university and go abroad remains high despite doubt from his close friends and family financial hardships.

As an Islamic boarding school graduate, Alif faces a daunting challenge that might destroy his dream: he must pass a senior high school equivalence test before he can take the state university entrance test. Alif knows his father is not rich and can only finance his study at a state university.

With his dubious and restless effort to learn high school materials that he never learned before, he finally succeeds in entering one of Bandung’s prestigious universities, Padjadjaran University, where he studies international relations.

In his own way, Alif enjoys new friendships in college that depict (perhaps) forgotten feelings of youth, devil-may-care attitudes, idealistic hopes and dreams and unexplainable bonds that provide comfort and security.

However, not long after college starts Alif receives a telegram from his mother telling him to go back to his home village, Maninjau, West Sumatra, as his father has fallen ill. Back home, Alif almost cannot recognize his father’s face in the hospital. He can see a mixture of delight, joy, and gratification on his father’s weary face after seeing his son’s arrival. Alif senses that his father is holding something back, a worry he tries not to show.

Death, the only certainty in life, finally comes to take his father away. With cold hands and words weakly spoken, Alif prays to himself: not here, not now.

Regrets, sorrows and promises fill his head as he heads back to Bandung. He cannot help the tears that run down his face upon remembering the simple, almost forgotten experiences he had while growing-up, feelings left unsaid, promises left unfulfilled  and the sometimes the impolite things he wishes he hadn’t said. Left with regrets, he realizes that he never expresses his love for his father in words. After his father’s death, the only thing left he can do is to fulfill his father’s last wish: finish school and be the father of the family.

Six months after his father’s death, Alif becomes absorbed in self-pity and grief. He is drowned in his own emotional battle between being realistic (quitting school and taking care of his family back home) or keeping his promise to his father (to finish school, especially after the sacrifices his father made to get him into university).

The never-ending difficulties make him doubt man jadda wajada. How can we identify the thin line between being realistic and optimistic?

Man shabara zhafira becomes the mantra that initiates a turning point of his life. Admitting the truth is often the hardest thing, and that is what Alif does to overcome his despair. He admits that he is weak. He admits that he is fatherless — but a strong person. Penniless, but will soon be rich. 

Unfortunate, but fortune will come. Go the extra mile and be patient, and you will succeed, he says to himself.

“The teacher will appear when the pupil is ready”, a proverb said. Indeed, Alif somehow manages to learn to write from whom he idolizes, a man named Bang Togar. Little by little, his writings make it into well-known newspapers, which eventually bring him overseas to Canada — with a scholarship in hand. His dream is finally fulfilled.

Arabic proverbs are indeed the foundation of this novel since A. Fuadi, the author, was once educated at an Islamic institution. 

However, the moral messages and essence are not far from inapplicable in our daily lives. It does not matter whether you are a Buddhist, Christian, or even an atheist, this book carries messages that may just shed of light in times of darkness.

Perhaps some of us have been caught up with chasing our ambitions, but Fuadi’s semi-autobiographical novel encourages us to reflect on what is important and where we come from. Sometimes, we might even have forgotten the sacrifices our parents have made in order for us to be here. His emotional departure of his father would perhaps remind us to treasure what we have before it’s gone.

Change is inevitable, as well as challenges and difficulties. The hardest battle, however, often takes place within ourselves. When that happens, we must remind ourselves that we always have a reason to live, and sometimes, must be willing to get out of our comfort zone to find out the most important things life. 

And if that happens, would we drown in regrets, or would it push us to grow? Inspirational, emotional, and honest, this book will take us to a world we had once been in but perhaps have been forgotten.

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