3 min read

A book, a hug and a memory

A book, a hug and a memory
Tong Tong Fair - Image from tongtongfair.nl

I'm on the train heading to the 63rd edition of the Tong Tong Fair in The Hague. It's a cultural programme that celebrates the blending of East and West, with a focus on the Dutch Indies culture. I find myself wondering how it feels to be on my way to such a fair. As I write in my notebook on the train; "Honestly, I don't feel much about it at the moment. Although I do experience a small hurdle to go there by myself. Arthur is also coming tonight (a friend with Dutch-Indonesian roots too) and I’m looking forward to that!" I have Yvonne Keuls' book with me. She is one of the speakers, or actually thé speaker, I want to see today. "Maybe I can ask her for an autograph." In retrospect I laugh at myself, because now I know which emotions I didn't allow myself to feel on the train.

Who is Yvonne Keuls?

For those who don't know her, Yvonne Keuls is a successful Dutch writer, born in Batavia (now Jakarta) and is 92 years old, yet her vitality lightens up the rooms. In front of me sits her granddaughter, about my age, and when Yvonne Keuls is on stage, her granddaughter waves enthusiastically. The first time Yvonne Keuls doesn't see her, but the second time, she does. A big smile appears on Yvonne Keuls' face, and she waves back. Then she begins her story.

I'm captivated by her words; the lecture is a tribute to Willem Nijholt, an actor, dancer and singer. He was also born in the Dutch East Indies and recently passed away. Willem Nijholt and Yvonne Keuls had a special friendship and made wonderful plays together. I close my eyes and listen to the anecdotes and excerpts read from the book; "Mevrouw, mijn moeder" (Madam, my mother). I hear my own grandma talking and I smile.

What is your name?

After the session, I stand there, a bit nervous, waiting for her to get to the place where she’s signing books. As she walks out with her granddaughter, I hear the granddaughter cheerfully say, "Bye Grandma," and an exchange of loving smiles follows. A pang of longing hits me.

I brought a book that belonged to my own grandma. When I wanted to learn more about the Dutch East Indies, I searched through my grandmother's books in our home. Yvonne Keuls' books were there in abudance, I read them all, and then bought some more.

With the book "Madame K: van Indisch kind tot Haagse dame" (Madam K: from Indonesian child to The Hague lady) in my hand and a lump in my throat, I awkwardly crouch down beside her in the low chair she's sitting in.

She asks, "What's your name?", while I feel tears coming up. I manage to say, "Sammy," in response to this simple question. I would have liked to say that the book in my hands is almost 20 years old, a book that belonged to my grandma. That reading her books brought my grandma back to life for me. While reading, I could see my grandma walking through the room, moving her hands and hear her speaking on the stage she painted in her books.

I couldn't say all those words because tears choked my voice. I didn't get much further than "This is my grandma's book," but I believe my intention was clear. She said “Come here, dear”, took me in her arms and gave me a hug and a kiss. “It is important to write everything down, really everything. That has also helped me.” I received another hug and I smiled through my tears knowing that I would take her advice to heart as I shuffled away with my signed book.

Disclosure: the link to to the books are affiliate links. If you would make a purchase through this link, it doesn’t cost you anything extra, but I'll earn some coffee money, which will fuel me for writing more content ;).