Spirits of the island

spiritsSomewhere beneath the shade of a tamarind tree in a small village outside Calcutta lies buried a stone wrapped in paper. On the stone is inscribed the words M loves Nina. Many years on that little boy M has grown into a man who is still searching for the esoteric dream of utopia. Trying to grasp the fleeting ethereal phantoms that appear off and on, on a full moon night in Bali.

So what is it that this island conjures up for each of us?

Some nights back a much travelled actor and writer announced over a glass of wine that people come to Bali only to be confronted with their demons. If they endure the truth they survive life on the island and are reborn. Otherwise the punishment meted out is one of instant loss of passion, the visible effects being cynicism and pessimism.

The Balinese have long understood about instant karma and have dealt with it in a matter of fact manner. Going about their work and respectfully carrying out their religious duties. One has often wondered about the pact they have made with the celestial forces that guide the ebb and flow of life for they live in sublime harmony.

As a child I have been enchanted by the spirit world, watching ghosts wander through the old colonial house in which we lived in Saint Thomas Mount, Madras. Too afraid to get up in the night to go to the bathroom I would wet the bed. The morning brought with it a sound thrashing.

Here in Bali I have seen apparitions off and on that walk past my room quite oblivious to my presence and no I don’t wet my bed…the thrashings did work. On arrival in Ubud it took me a few months to adjust to the pace of nightlife…bars, jazz and night time uninvited guests. I didn’t mind the nocturnal visitations to my room except for one particular lady in black who would often sit at the foot of my bed and look at me. Whenever I glanced back she would disappear. Irritated by this intrusion I called a friend to seek her advice. I was instructed to light an incense stick every night before going to sleep and if the visitor did appear again I should converse with it. Hah! As if I was about to start a dialogue with a being from another world.

“Excuse me Ma’m would you like a nice cuppa with a spot of milk and two sugar ducks? And if you are a bit peckish may I offer you Chicken Soup for the Soul.”

No the incense stick trick didn’t work but the visits have become few and far between. Maybe my personal hygiene could be the reason.

The period of adjustment to spirit life has had its moments. Once when I was going through a sense of displacement I bumped into a young designer and photographer, at Indus. She advised me to walk into the rice fields on a full moon night and talk to the spirits of Bali. I did just that. It opened wide the door to psychedelic visions. Beyond it laid a world of Dali ish phantastic realism that my friend and painter Wolfgang would have been most interested in. Suffice to say it settled matters with the spirits. Now I am not bothered by niggling doubts of mundane things like existence, co-existence or for that matter Sartre’s Existentialism!

All this Blake ian talk is enriching for it brings to the fore matters that need to be redressed by us visitors; The inexplicable sudden surge of extreme feelings that many of us have had to grapple with and the deep yearning to find the road to love and sometimes to connubial joy that is instigated and enhanced by the island’s spirits.

Diana asked me the other day about my uninvited guests remarking that she had not seen any entities that defied logic except the ones she met at Nuri’s. And Sophie talked about water being the vehicle for spirits. So if there’s any running stream, river or maybe a leaky faucet near, around, under your home the chances are that your neighbours in the other world may take the fast train to the physical plain and drop in for a chat.

Colin Wilson’s book The Occult is a must read as it documents many recorded instances of the paranormal. Some would call this old wives tales and mumbo jumbo. But proven studies only help in dispelling doubts many of us have with regard to the unseen world.

The following incident occurred when our family lived briefly in St. Thomas Mount, in the 60s. You decide what to make of it.

Alfie, the family friend who saved me from being electrocuted when the lights of the Christmas tree attached themselves to me, was an unholy gentleman who dabbled in black magic with Tantrics.

One day on the way back from primary school I saw Alfie taunting one of them whom he felt was an impersonator of the black arts. The man stood up, eyes blood shot and pointed at Alfie while uttering some obscenities. Alfie fell to the ground with both his hands around his throat and appeared to be throttling himself. People fled while shouting and pointing to his writhing body in the dust. I imagined he was joking so I ran to him calling his name and laughing. The Tantric looked at me. His face was the epitome of a power that was frightening. He turned and walked down the road without looking back. I shook Alfie but he didn’t respond. His eyes were bulging and spittle was coming out of the side of his mouth. I realised then that something was wrong and kept screaming till a passing bullock cart stopped. The man alighted and nonchalantly started slapping Alfie till he released his hands from his throat. He lay there covered in dust, spittle and blood that oozed from the side of his mouth. I pleaded with the bullock cart walla to take us home. The gruff chap just lifted Alfie like he was a stuffed toy and dumped him onto the cart while beckoning me to get on. He took us straight home. Mom was livid with me for bringing Alfie home. She thought that the spirits could have followed us.

So what was it that the Tantric did? Mind over matter? Cast a spell? Or was it harnessing the unseen world to do one’s bidding?

To survive in Bali one must pay heed to the spirit world by making offerings and listening to what the holy men say because they know from whence the spirits cometh. We cannot and should not ignore the tell tale signs around us.

It has been suggested that we look closely at how the Balinese live in harmony with their surroundings, their acceptance and comprehension of the metaphysical world and the many avatars that one encounters in this paradise. The road to attaining nirvana could be by shedding all angst of the past that we carry to this isle and to embrace the spirits of the land.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om