Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, November 2005)


Imagine a Balinese MELIS procession - a gorgeous convoy of glittering gods and gamelan - striding purposefully towards a golden, palm-fringed beach in South Bali.
Now ... imagine ... in your mind's eye (children at home on psychotropic drugs should not try this) that same procession without the flags and without the beautiful maidens with pointed breasts bearing tray-loads of woven offerings and without the Kidung choirs that accompany the gods on their outings. Strip away the marching gamelan orchestra playing godly music and replace it with a boom-box blasting Bollywood bop-tunes mounted on a truck. Swap the handsome Balinese devotees bearing umbrellas with gyrating teenagers - flailing and vogueing in form-fitting denim leisure wear - all lightly dusted with fine red powder. Lose the golden god statues and replace them with one polystyrene Ganesha statue two metres high. Now you have a fairly typical Hindu-India (versus Hindu-Bali) procession. Even the magnificent altars the Balinese fashion on the beaches - for the gods to sit 'in audience,' as it were - are, in India, replaced with airport cargo forklifts that pick up the Ganesha statues - all amazingly carved and painted - and dump them, rather unceremoniously, into the sea. Yes, there is some chanting and waving of embers but NOTHING like the two hours of hymns, prayers, incantations and loveliness that accompanies anything Hindu in Bali. Even the hunky pecalang vigilantes - in Bali, so 'High Noon, High Hindu,' - are replaced in Bombay with rattan-wielding parking police and chubby clubbers on jet skis - all trying to stop the sometimes senseless Indian devotees from folding into the ocean like lemmings!

I spend a lot of time in India - this column has made me virtually unemployable here - looking for links between the two Hindus, or is it the two India's, Mother India and 'farther India,' as the Indianised states of South East Asia were once known. In 1934, French historian, George Coedés, wrote; "A study of ancient India, viewed from the East, which has scarcely begun, seems to promise rich results."
Well, it's still 'scarcely begun' (this column does its little bit, mind you) because it's too bloody difficult - one would need to be a broad-spectrum, multi-lingual, archeo-anthropologist.
I have confined myself, in my travels, to attempting to find any reference to the word 'Bali' on the Indian-subcontinent; any reference other than the famed Bali Yatra ceremony in Orissa, where miniature Indian boats - with little plasticine real estate valuers and theme park designers inside - have for hundreds of years been pushed off into the Andaman Sea, in the direction of Bali.
Last month, on a car ride from Old Kerala to Cochin I came across a 'Mahabali,' in season. Like the Balinese children's Barong which go from house gate to house gate in village Bali during the Kuningan season, I found my Mahabali - in this instance, a heavily medicated and appalling made-up actor, with a beer tumour - leading a gang of barely vertical retainers in haunting the shops of Allipuram. He was like a holy Hindu reef shark! I chased after him, in pouring rain, for my blessing and blast of beer breath, and then scurried back to the waiting S.U.V.
Now read on ……

4th September 2005: to the fabulous new Amangalla hotel in the fort of Galle, Sri Lanka
Amanresorts has asked me to inaugurate the new 'swinging singles spa sensation' at their latest slice of perfection, the Amangalla; formerly the New Oriental Hotel (EST. 1683). The hotel is managed with great panache by Olivia Richli, who recently imported teams of Balinese Zecha-lackies and Zecha-lassies to train up the locals.
At a Sunday Bloody Mary soak-up at the stylish home of local legend Charles Hulse, I bump into my old Sanur tennis chum Kerry 'Chief Dark Cloud' Hill, the architect of the Amangalla and the fabulous new Amanwella (Hill's homage to the late, great Geoffrey Bawa) and his divine consort Ruth. The Hills encourage me to visit 'Brief,' the legendary parkland estate of Bevis Bawa, Geoffrey's brother, where Australian Artist Donald Friend lived before coming to Bali in 1969.

5th September 2005: to 'Brief' near Bentota
The house is approached by a path which winds, slowly, up and up through heavenly tropical splendour - Chinoiserie corners, pastoral vistas and renaissance-style terraces. A rather undistinguished bungalow sits on top: its sole purpose, it seems, was to be decorated to within an inch of its lease, by a pair of grand wizards. Not since Oliver Messel and Colin Tennant on Mustique have a couple of old luvvies had such fun creating corners of sublime fantasy: everywhere, garden design virtuosity - horticultural, sculptural, anatomical and otherwise - brings joy to one's heart. The masterpiece of the show is the water basin in the open garden bathroom with old Tuan Donald's head as a spout, replete with sparkling eyes and rude leer. Oh how he is missed in the terrible urban sprawl of Batujimbar today!
Will whimsy ever return to landscape design once the uber-architects have had their day?
Let us pray ………

25th September 2005: SARITAKSU launches yet another book, 'The Art of Learning by Doing', for The East Bali Poverty Project, at the Environmental Bamboo Foundation in Nyuh Kuning, Ubud.
Stranger perennial Sarita Newson has done it again! This time with a charming storybook of paintings by East Balinese children, with a foreword by Dr. A. A. Made Djelantik, the son of the last Raja of Karangasem (East Bali). Hosts Linda Garland and David Booth M.B.E. (the project's founder and co-ordinator) have put on a wonderful spread of yeast-free finger food. As I pass the spinach and fenugreek pasties, Dr. Djelantik is holding forth on how his 'Javanese keris' recently changed the course of history. It appears that Indonesian President SBY's paranormal advised him, on the eve of the last election, that he had better go looking for a Javanese Majapahit keris belonging to a "Dr. Djelantik at 190 Jalan Hayam Denpasar."

"That isn't a trance medium!!" I squawked, "it's a veritable tele-dex!!," Anyway ….. miraculously ….. Dr. Djelantik owns such a keris - for the full story on how the good doctor got the magical keris you will have to read the next volume of his memoirs - and a messenger was dispatched. After listening to the messenger's story, Dr. Djelantik took the keris into his family house shrine where he made some offerings and prayed "for Indonesia." (I would have prayed for the Australian press corps that they may be struck with wisdom and hindsight).
The rest is history.
The next day SBY won the election in a landslide!!!

Chris Carlisle writes about Bali Tourism pioneer Wija Waworuntu in his essay "Sanur Style" in Leonard Leuras' latest book, "Sanur".

"It was clear to Wija that the forthcoming opening of the new airport in 1969 would bring overwhelming change. Recognizing Bali to be a unique and irreplaceable treasure, of which Indonesia was merely the custodian, Wija always believed it should be a destination for the discerning rather than for a mass market with no particular interest in the island's culture or religion. He worked hard to put his opinions across to the World Bank Team that produced the strategic tourism plan for Bali in the late sixties. Wija deserves the credit for their adoption of the 'no building taller than the palm trees' principle that has done so much to protect Bali's low profile."

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