Baharuddin Aritonang, 54, went to the Baitul Hasib mosque to the rear of the State Audit Body (BPK) office building after finishing his routine work one afternoon.He talked with five people — all staff members at the audit body. They talked about chairs, food and the audience. They did not discuss auditing. They were preparing a venue for a book launch.

Titled Orang Batak Berpuasa (The Fasting Batak), the book will be Aritonang’s fourth since 2002.

“Although the title is about fasting, it raises a variety of issues such as corruption and social harmony. I’ll launch it before the fasting month (scheduled to start Sept. 13,” Aritonang said.

Orang Batak Berpuasa will be his fourth book after Orang Batak Naik Haji (Batak Goes on the Haj), Ketawa Ngakak di Senayan (Humor in the Legislature) and Dari Uang Rakyat Sampai Pasien Politik (a collection of short essays).

Like Orang Batak Naik Haji, Orang Batak Berpuasa will be published by Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia, an outstanding publishing company.

Born in Padangsidempuan, North Sumatra, Aritonang is a Batak, an ethnic group known for its strong character, solid brotherhood and stentorian voice.

He uses his ethnicity as a title in his books not only to make them eye-catching but also to remind people of the nation’s pluralistic nature.

According to him, he has planned to make two other books that use Batak ethnicity within the title. They will relate to his hobby and his current job as a state auditor.

His love of writing, Aritonang said, is motivated by his love of books. He said he was concerned about them.

“I like reading books. I have a collection of books and I always keep an eye open for the latest books at stores. So, it is hardly surprising that I love writing,” he said.

“For me, a book is a window on the universe. It is a source of knowledge,” said Aritonang who is now preparing a thesis on BPK reform for his doctorate.

His love of reading has enabled him to understand a range of subjects such as politics, religion, flora, fauna and even culinary matters.

“I want to be a writer. That is why I write regularly for newspapers and magazines. One thing that I’ve not done is write for The Jakarta Post. I think I’d have to work together with a friend because of the language,” he said.

Lifelong bookworm

For Aritonang, writing is not a new activity. He started while studying at the pharmacy school at Gadjah Mada University (UGM), Yogyakarta, in the 1970s.

He brought his hobby to Jakarta. He has written numerous articles on various topics for several publications.

“I have written articles about religion, adventure, politics, sociology, youth affairs and technology. I have also written an article about fish on Intisari magazine. That’s unusual, isn’t it?” he said.

Even though he is still an auditor, Aritonang has continued to read and write.

“My goal at BPK is to encourage my colleagues to write and to publish books. I have to make writing a tradition. I’d like to make BPK a productive institution in terms of publishing. In the end, BPK should have its own publication unit,” said Aritonang, who appreciates that the Constitutional Court has produced its own publications.

“The court is only four years old, but it has produced a lot of books. BPK has already been established 61 years but it is very ‘dry’ in terms of publications,” he said.

It is hard for people to find anything in print about BPK, he added.
Aritonang emphasized that the book launch scheduled for Sept. 11 would become a stimulus for colleagues to start writing. It could be a book on any subject.

As an example, he said, his book contains “fasting” within the title. In fact, it covers many other issues including corruption, politics and culture.

“Anything can be written. People need only combine different aspects to turn them into good writing. It will attract people to read,” he said.

The son of a local businessman in Padangsidempuan, Aritonang was exposed to books from childhood. His father ran Pustaka Pergaulan bookstore in his hometown, giving Aritonang access to a lot of reading material.

“Eventually, that gave me a love of books. Although I’ve never been to Paris, for example, I know the city from books and magazines,” said Aritonang, a father of three.

Given the importance of books, Aritonang often tells his three sons to read a lot. However, he has not found it easy.

“That’s a great challenge: I have to convince them of the importance of books. At the same time, there is strong competition from TV,” he said.

Asked how he could still write a book despite his tight schedule as an auditor, Aritonang said that it was a matter of time management.

Writing, he said, is like sport. It is about discipline.

Although he could write a book this year, Aritonang considered himself unproductive as a writer.

When he was a member of the House of Representatives (DPR) from 1999 to 2004, he finished three books, quite apart from publications on legislation and regulations.

“The busier we are, the better we manage our time. I dream of being a novelist. That way, I could write about issues like corruption without hurting people,” said Aritonang who also plays tennis three times a week to keep in good health.

Aritonang has been through both good and bad times as a politician, auditor and writer. He has been invited to speak at seminars, discussions and talkshows. The most memorable thing, he said, was when he was invited to speak about haj management.

While it took another guest speaker 10 years as a director general for haj affairs to have the competency to speak about the haj, Aritonang needed only to write a book, Orang Batak Naik Haji.

“I was excited and surprised to discover that people read it,” he said.

This has motivated him to keep on writing. He said he aimed to produce a series just like J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter.

“Harry Potter has become an international best seller. I think Orang Batak Berpuasa will be the next best seller here,” he said, laughing.



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