He was admitted to the emergency ward of St Carolus Hospital in Central Jakarta on Thursday (27/4/06), suffering high blood pressure, breathing difficulties, stomach pains and a high blood sugar level. He fell into a coma the following morning and was transferred to the intensive care unit. "His health condition is worsening and he has refused to eat anything for a week," his daughter Astuti was quoted as saying by state news agency Antara.
After waking up, Pramoedya told his wife Maemunah Thamrin and his children that he wanted to return home. The hospital only agreed to release him on the condition that it could not be held responsible should his condition deteriorate further. After receiving oxygen and an infusion, Pramoedya left in an ambulance at 6.30pm Saturday and is now back at his residence on Jalan Multikarya II in Utan Kayu, East Jakarta.
Relatives and friends said he remained in a critical condition and they were praying and singing songs for his recovery. "At 8.45pm [Saturday] Pram’s condition was still critical. But he had earlier asked his family for cigarettes,” a friend of the family was quoted as saying by detikcom online news portal.
Among those visiting the house were former political prisoner Budiman Sudjatmiko, Catholic priest Romo Mudji Sutrisno, actress and political activist Rieke Dyah Pitaloka, poet and environmental activist Eka Budianta and human rights activist Yeni Rosa Damayanti.
Pramoedya’s grandson Dery said his grandfather was able to move and could communicate with his hands. "He is sleeping now. Earlier he could open his eyes and communicate… He can move his body, but he is still weak," Dery was quoted as saying by detikcom.
Pramoedya’s poor health has been partly attributed to years of brutal treatment as political prisoner, his penchant for kretek cigarettes and his diabetes.
Astuti last week said her father’s ailments had caused him to lose his appetite. "Only once, Father ate a spoonful of rice. After that he did not want to eat again. At the behest of several writers, I brought Father to the hospital,” she was quoted as saying by detikcom.
She said her father not only found it painful to eat and drink, but had also stopped chain-smoking. "Usually he always smokes, but when his sickness started, never again. At the most [he smokes] only one stick and even then it is not finished.”
Astuti said Pramoedya used to read many newspapers every day and clipped articles that interested him. “Now he only reads one or two newspapers, only for a moment. After that he looks tired and falls asleep," she said.
Pramoedya has retained his wit and humor in his old age, often joking about senility and his poor hearing – he was been nearly deaf since Suharto’s soldiers bashed his head with rifle butts in 1965.
Despite his good humor, he has become increasingly pessimistic about Indonesia’s future due to the country’s “lack of good leaders”. "After Sukarno there have only been clowns who had no capability to lead a country," he said in 2004.
Pramoedya has often been a nominee for the Nobel Literature Prize for his 34 works of fiction and non-fiction. Critics have hailed him as Indonesia’s most courageous, important and talented writer, but he has long been shunned by Indonesian society.
He has not written any novels or major essays for a decade, saying he everything he needed to write has been written. His most recent project, in collaboration with Astuti, is an Encyclopedia of Indonesia. They started work on the encyclopedia in 2000 and it remains unfinished.
Several of Pramoedya’s books have been lost forever, as the manuscripts were confiscated and destroyed by authorities.
The son of a schoolteacher, Pramoedya was born on February 6, 1925, in Blora, Central Java. He was jailed by the Dutch and later by ex-presidents Sukarno and Suharto for his often controversial writings.
He was first arrested in 1947 by the Dutch for producing an Indonesian-language magazine. During a spell of more than two years in a Dutch prison camp, he wrote his first published novel Perburuan (The Fugitive), describing the experiences of an anti-Japanese rebel.
Pramoedya was next arrested in 1961 and held without trial for nearly a year in Jakarta’s Cipinang jail for criticizing the Sukarno regime’s anti-Chinese policies. He has blamed the Army, not Sukarno, for his arrest and says he was treated with respect and allowed to meet with his family.
In 1965, Pramoedya was detained without trial by the emerging Suharto regime for his affiliation to the Indonesian Communist Party’s cultural wing LEKRA. He was imprisoned for the next 14 years, mostly on the remote island prison of Buru. All of his books were banned by the Suharto regime.
Following his release from Buru in 1979, he was confined to Jakarta and forced to report to authorities every month until Suharto resigned in May 1998.
His best known work is the so-called Buru Quartet, which comprises four novels – This Earth of Mankind, Child of All Nations, Footsteps and House of Glass – all regarded as modern classics. The books, which were inspired by Indonesia’s anti-colonial struggle against the Dutch, have been translated into more than 25 languages.
Pramoedya’s riveting autobiography The Mute's Soliloquy, published in 1995 and translated into English in 1999, has also received rave reviews. After the ban on his books was relaxed, they became widely available – yet many Indonesians still regard them with suspicion and some complain they are too difficult to read.
Despite appeals from friends and family to adopt a healthier lifestyle, Pramoedya has remained a heavy consumer of kreteks, which he has smoked since his youth.
In the forward to the 2000 coffee-table book Kretek: The Culture and Heritage of Indonesia's Clove Cigarettes, Pramoedya writes that hunger compelled him to sell and smoke kreteks as a child. "Smoking was a good way to fend off hunger pains," he writes.
Since the fall of Suharto, Pramoedya has been extremely critical of Indonesia’s political elite. He says Suharto’s regime continues “to silently hold power” because politicians lack the courage to bring the ousted dictator to trial and implement genuine reforms.
“Suharto has ordered the killing of hundreds of thousands of people but he is still at large," he told a Dutch radio station in 2003.
Pramoedya was also a harsh critic of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, describing her as “ignorant” and full of “empty words”.
“I was raised and educated about an Indonesia that would someday be democratic and modern and independent," he told the Los Angeles Times in late 2001. "But let alone modern, it's becoming more primitive. Every problem is solved by gunshots. Democracy is not working yet.”
In 2003, he said Indonesia had failed to make any progress since the fall of Suharto. "There is no progress at all. Indonesia is the marketplace of the world; we're rich in raw materials. The only thing the people have to show for it is unemployment."
Pramoedya has also criticized President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, faulting him for failing to stop brutal military repression in Aceh province until the December 2004 tsunami resulted in a huge influx of foreigners to the conflict area.
“They [the Acehnese] are the country's bravest, most fiercely independent ethnic group and they cannot be conquered. With everybody coming in from around the world, that could bring real change for the Acehnese," he told the Associated Press last year.
But he was doubtful the military would release its grip on resource-rich and now foreign aid-rich Aceh. "In Indonesia, wherever the money is, the military is, and in Aceh, it will be business as usual," he said.
He said he was content to no longer be writing. "I do not feel frustration because fortunately, I have written everything I had to say. I have everything I ever wanted. I am at peace."
The 2005 Global Intellectuals Poll compiled by England’s Prospect Magazine ranked Pramoedya as the 95th most important living public intellectuals in the world.
This month, Pramoedya was the star interview subject in the inaugural edition of Playboy Indonesia magazine, sharing his thoughts on women, imprisonment and writing, as well as his indifferent disillusionment to politics, his dislike of wayang (Javanese puppets) and his regret that he can no longer hear gamelan music.
When asked if he still has any dreams, he replied: “I don’t have any dreams. My only problem now is death. It’s been 10 years since I have written. Or since I’ve answered letters. This [taps his head] no longer works. It’s already senile.”
Some of his works can be read online at http://www.radix.net/~bardsley/prampage.html.