Andrea’s success and how it has influenced his society is certainly inspiring and that makes him a hero among the ordinary people
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MUSEUM Kata Andrea Hirata, which is located in Gantong, East Belitung, looks rather out of place among the small kampung cottages that line Laskar Pelangi 7 street.
The museum’s colourful facade might remind you of one of those “reggae-influenced” outlets that would be the haunt of the more hip crowd.
If you’re one of those who have not read “Laskar Pelangi” (written by Andrea) or seen the film of the same title that was made based on the book, you’d just find the place a little ordinary.
Still, thousands have flown into Belitung (or in English, Billiton) — an island on the east coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, in the Java Sea — just to visit the museum which is located in that quaint little village.
The museum — as well as Andrea and his books — are now part of Belitung’s pride. Museum Kata Andrea Hirata is also the first and only literature museum in Indonesia.
For the uninitiated, “Laskar Pelangi” is also Indonesia’s most-watched film. It tells the story of a group of 10 schoolchildren and their two inspirational teachers as they struggle with poverty, while trying to figure out their future.
The story is very much based on Andrea’s earlier life on the island before he began to explore the world when he started his tertiary education with a degree in economics from the University of Indonesia.
After receiving a scholarship from the European Union, he did his master’s degree in Europe — first at the University of Paris before moving on to Sheffield Hallam University in Britain.
The novel “Laskar Pelangi” was written in six months and was released in 2005.
The novel went on to sell five million copies, with pirated editions selling 15 million more. It also spawned three sequels: “Sang Pemimpi”, “Edensor” and “Maryamah Karpov”.
The film of the same name, directed by Riri Riza and Mira Lesmana, was released in 2008. It also became the most-viewed Indonesian film of all time, seen by five million viewers during its theatrical run. The theme song, recorded by popular band Nidji, became an anthem for quite a while too.
By 2012, the English translation of “Laskar Pelangi” had been picked up by FSG, Penguin Books and Random House with the book sold in 20 countries.
Years after the phenomenal success of the book and the film, people from all over the world are now familiar with Belitung, which is also fast becoming a holiday destination for those who are more interested in the “quieter side of tourism”.
Thanks to Andrea and “Laskar Pelangi”, the people of the island are also experiencing steady economic gains from tourism-related activities.
The island, which was mainly known for its pepper and tin, is also now more accessible via direct flights from Malaysia and Singapore.
While all that Andrea wanted to do was to tell his story, the result is certainly more than what he could imagine.
His success and how it has influenced his society is certainly inspiring and that makes him a hero among the ordinary people.
Much can be learned from Andrea’s experience. Now, imagine if we could revisit all the works by Datuk Mohammad Nor Mohammad Khalid, more commonly known as Lat, and create a museum that could also narrate the story of the country.
Pick a permanent location in, say, Ipoh (the backdrop of most of his stories) and turn it into a fun yet educational spot.
No, not a theme park, but a centre where the world could explore Malaysia as how Lat sees it.
After all, Lat, who is also the winner of the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize in 2002, has published more than 20 volumes of cartoons since he was 13 years old.
In that sense, it would not be that difficult to create a tasteful yet fun space that might just represent the country well. Good idea? No?
Zainal Alam Kadir is the executive editor of The Malaysian Reserve.