There have been literally dozens of books about Subud written by Subud members. In the early days, to be sure, we mainly had John Bennett’s Concerning Subud, Husein Rofé’s two volumes, and Ilaina Bartok’s Worth Living For. There were also those mysterious blue Pewartas, with Bapak’s Indonesian with little 2s after some of the words on one page and the English translation on the facing one. Of course, we “probationers,” as we were called then, were not permitted to read them until after we had been opened. Most importantly, though harder to understand, there was Bapak’s Susila Budhi Dharma. You really needed some latihan under your belt before parts of that tome started to make sense.
As someone who has read nearly all the “Subud books” published since the early classics, I can say that Latifah’s Ha Ha Among the Trumpets—An Improvisational Journey is arguably the best—and that includes my own Stories I Remember (2009). The book is comprised of two parts.
Part I focuses on her San Francisco years, 1962-1972, and the exciting story of the development and life of The Committee, the iconic improv company that she and her former husband created and nurtured to maturity. As it happened, many of its members came to Subud (or from Subud) like Hamid Hamilton Camp and Mursalin (Lewis) Arquette, whom many of us remember and still miss. Part Two, then, describes Latifah’s ten-year stint, 1972-1982, in Jakarta at the world Subud center, Wisma Subud in Cilandak, South Jakarta, during the latter part of which stay she taught acting and staged plays and musicals at what was then called the Jakarta International School. In this section of the book, we come to see Bapak and his second wife, “the” Ibu for us old-timers, Siti Sumari, in action as well as the stalwarts of the Sekretariat—Sudarto, Brojo, and Prio—and Bapak’s translator, Usman, who, with his wife Aminah accompanied Bapak on his early world tours.
Latifah’s book is beautifully written, an absolute page turner. Okay, you may think: Ruslan, you came to Subud in ’61, so for you, it’s a stroll down memory lane. But my wife, Cedar Barstow, who’s been in Subud just 14 ½ years, proves my case. She couldn’t put it down either. Moreover, she commented that she could now vicariously experience the magic of those pioneer days of Subud in the West and especially of what it was like back then to spend time in a place we referred to as “Cilandak.” Subud took us from a black-and-white world into one of full, fantastic color. Everything was new, bright, and enchanted. And in this book, she had felt that for herself. So whether you are a brand-new member or someone who has grown up in Subud over the decades, run, do not walk, to buy Latifah’s book and in fact, consider as I am buying it to give to your Subud friends or family members as a Holiday present. Among other things, Ha Ha proves what Bapak told us when SICA was founded, in part at Latifah’s initiative, at the Anugraha Congress in England: that the power of the latihan will manifest through the creative work of Subud members and touch those who experience that work. Congratulations, Latifah, on this wonderful, Great Life Force-filled book. It has certainly touched me.
P.S. When ordering the book, make sure to use Latifah Taormina’s full name and/or the book’s complete title. Otherwise, you might end up getting a book on jazz!