(October 2009 issue Maxx-m, Jakarta)
Who is this jolly green giant of a man who has romanced Bali for nearly twenty years and is now falling in love again, this time with India where he had earlier spent many years hitch hiking across in the days of hippie hype, dharma bums and chillums (apologies to Jack Kerouac)?
John Pettigrew’s pedigree is unknown to many of his friends and clients and it was by accident that he let it slip the other day while we were nursing tipples and watching the sun set behind palm trees at his home in Nyuh Kuning, Ubud, Bali.
“My grandfather Professor Bell Pettigrew was a pioneer of the theory of flight and authored/illustrated many books on the subject (before the Wright Brothers). Today there is a museum dedicated to his memory at St. Andrew’s University, Scotland. The other ancestor of mine, Henry Bell, invented the first steam ship called The Comet. I wish we could do a book together on my family; I have all the original manuscripts of my ancestors’ works. What do you think?” he asked me.
The evening slide into night as the two men, one Indian and one Irish spoke passionately about preservation of cultures, languages and the environment.
Two days later we met over breakfast with his wife Anindra Novitsari and their petite six year old daughter, Nikita, to talk about his life and work. After the mandatory photo session which was gate crashed by a bevy of Bali street dogs that have adopted the family, we talked the talk.
John built the house in which we were sitting with his own hands. In the first five years there was no electricity and the toilet was a hole in the ground. Transportation then was by bicycle. His days traversing India had taught him how to survive the elements.
This green fingered Irishman’s completed works (landscape designing) as well as ongoing projects reads like a who’s who of Bali, India etc.:
Four Seasons Resort (Ubud/Jimbaran/Maldives/Singapore/Jakarta), Begawan Giri Estate (Ubud), Bulgari Resort (Bali), Bali Reptile Park (Singapadu), The Huguenot Cemetery (Ireland), Napa Valley Estate (California), Jose Grace Estate (California), Glenair Estate (Ireland), Infosys (Bangalore, India), Kabinkad Estate (Coorg, India), Ashtamudi Lake Resort (Kerala, India), Janice Girardi/John Hardy/Chris Gentry/Mark & Josie Mak/Ian Batey (Bali) are just some of the examples.
“What feeds your insatiable urge to consistently create, mould, sculptor and reenergize the environs of a given area?” I asked.
“My father, Stanley, is a well known landscape (oil) painter. In fact his work has often been auctioned at Christies. And my mother, Vera, is an author of children’s’ books. As members of the ISPCA both my parents have shared with me their intrinsic love for Nature, the outdoors and respect for all living things. I remember our home in Ireland was a shelter for stray/abused cats, dogs and donkeys. My wife and my daughter share this passion too.
My philosophy is to design the landscape of a proposed site by using as much indigenous plants so that the garden is not divorced from its surroundings. Water in the form of pools and streams is incorporated to sculptor the garden into a living, breathing entity that is fundamental to the aesthetics of Nature,” he replied.
“And your family, where do they fit in in the scheme of things?”
“John”, interjected Anindra “is a family man. Although he travels frequently to India he rushes home as soon as work is over. I first met him while working in Sales and Marketing at Begawan Giri (Como Shambala). He was the landscape designer. We feel in love but I was not too sure whether he would be a suitable husband until I met his parents in Ireland. Vera (his mother) narrated the story of John’s return to Ireland in socks after a long sojourn hiking across Europe. Apparently, he didn’t have sufficient funds to buy a much needed pair of shoes and Christmas presents for his folks. So he bought the presents and returned home wearing only socks in mid-winter. This changed my mind and I married him. But I still cannot get over the way the Irish drink (liquor). Aduh, I have never seen so much drinking on any given night. What is surprising is that everyone gets up next morning sober and are off to work as if nothing has happened. Hahahaha…”
“And you dear Nikita what do you want to do when you grow up”.
“I want to be an architect and build my own house. Also I want to have a big place to keep all animals that are hurt. To give them medicine to make them better. And to feed all those which are hungry,” said Nikita hugging her three legged Bali street dog.
“So what food do you like?”
“Soto Ayam (traditional Javanese chicken soup) and Irish apple crumble. They are so yummy,” replied the little girl.
“How do you get on with your mother in law, John?” I asked hesitantly.
“Hahahaha…when Nikita was born we had our differences on how to handle the newest member of the family. It’s the same in all cultures, there’s always a bit of sparring with the mother in law but then things settle down to a tentative truce.”
“Anindra, you and your family have been living for a long time in Bali…will this be your permanent home now?” I asked.
“No, we have been thinking of setting up another home, in India and probably Australia too. The fact is that 80% of John’s work is in India therefore it makes sense to check out these options. But Bali will always be an important part of our lives.”
“John, what are your future plans?”
“My dream is to get back to my painting. Many years ago I held exhibitions of my work in Ireland and Scotland. The other idea I have is to form a loose knit association with architects to design and build holistic centers that truly adhere to the natural elements. Presently, holistic centers in existence are not accurately harmonized with the environment i.e. architecture, building materials, landscaping, recycling, solar or wind power etc. But most importantly I want to spend quality time with the family. After all isn’t that why I am living – to make this world just a little bit cleaner, greener and wholesome?” he replied
I leave you now dear readers with this small note:
This morning, September 19, 2009, an earthquake of the magnitude of 6.4 on the Richter scale hit Bali. No apparent damage has yet been reported. May be this is a wakeup call from Nature reminding us as to who is really in charge of this beautiful blue planet. Fortunately we have people like John Pettigrew in our midst who can help us in understanding the importance of preserving our environment by not polluting it with non-bio degradable waste. Ultimately it is our choice whether we want to make this planet a garbage dump or a tranquil paradise for our children.
So what shall it be folks?
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om