Help me make it through the night

“Come and lay down by my side
Till the early morning light
All am taking is your time.
Help me make it through the night.”
– Kris Kristofferson

Night is a state of mind.

Like an emotion that gently blankets the soul and leaves the hapless stranded midst muddy days and lonely nights. The daylight hours distract. They take away attention from the obvious…that we will end up alone on our backs in the dark watching the fan blades dance lazily in the hot humid air to the buzzing sound of mosquitoes, someone snoring or croaking of frogs. But then does it really matter when thoughts are the subterfuge in the merry go round of existence?

The doleful, melancholic and syrupy song of Help me make it through the Night reflects the pack instinct that resides in each of us. Afraid to be alone. To curl up foetus like on a double bed distraught with “aloneness”. Why does this mean so much to so many of us. To feel a warm pulsating body…to cling to…to share…is it the ‘back to the womb syndrome’? Or is it merely a sense of wanting to belong… to be wanted…afraid of dying alone.

The string of everyday gymnastics seem to wind up that dynamo that spurs us on to believing that the next day would be better, more fruitful and maybe profitable. Usually it is just another day followed by just another night. The cycle continues. And madness takes hold and makes sense out of all this.

I believed once that the world would change into a better place, a place where one could frolic in fantasy and nestle in the creases of karma, an accepted proven formula for all things bright and beautiful. Years on the belief has changed to one of exhausted illusions, with the word ‘love’ run threadbare.

New generations rise and fall like the tide of a river, while eddies are the brief moments of ecstasy set to befuddle even the most astute of us.

When the sun sets on yet another day to the raucous refrain of ducks wading through a rice field, I contemplate the meaning of living and end up coming to naught, which in essence is the Universe.

Everything exists in the zero.

Like echoes of sadness that always resonate in the dark.

And as these thoughts take flight into the land of Nod, I patiently wait my turn to die.

For what is life when there so much to die for?

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Pineapple upside down cake and caresses in the kitchen

(This is not pineapple upside down cake…its been eaten.).

He still tastes it after all these years trampling across life as a hobo believing that all good things remain forever.  Her name is irrelevant. But she did make a great pineapple upside down cake.

The story goes that on a day when biorhythms seemed to be in tune with the self, he chanced upon a slice of cake lying unattended on a kitchen table like the forbidden apple tree in Eden. The path of least resistance led straight to the plate and then moments later the vision became a sweet memory, of course the after taste lingering like the tingling feeling of emptying one’s passion into another.

But the intruder paid the price of beginning to love the cook. Wet hands and oil stains mingling with the aroma of sweat and spices. Colours of turmeric and shades of saffron played across their bodies… two psychedelic concocters conducting an opera of whims and fancies sautéed by passion and a dash of Heinz tomato ketchup.

Yes…yes…those were the days of wine and poses…of sudden clutching and kissing while washing the dishes or wiping the plates. The tell tale signs of broken crockery and bent spoons only gave rise to more nocturnal thoughts resulting in actions that personified mindless sharing…there were no boundaries except when it came to the pineapple upside down cake…it stopped here. The image of it lying unattended then became a sepia print of all that existed in their universe. Ennui opened the sluice gates of their lives and it was over just as soon as the cake was baked and eaten ad nausea.

Rancidness, envy and possessiveness overwhelmed the two to the tipping point of anger and hate. The crumbs of the cake dried up and were carried away by the tiny critters who had been witness to floorshows in the kitchen… Often stamped upon, sat upon or slept upon. Now they carted trophies of diluted lust to another corner of the kitchen that was their home.

Often they would see him enter the kitchen fidgeting nervously and looking around to see it anyone was there…then walk away with drooping shoulders and a sigh. Her panacea had lost its bite. Now the pineapple upside down cake resembled the futility of lust and like fairies existed only in the realms of a fertile mind.

What is hope or love or passion or possession…nothing more than a brief encounter in a dream and then lost forever in the drabness of daily life soaked in tepid emotions.

And as the sun sets across the yellowing rice fields he takes a deep breath and sniffs the air as if to chance upon another enticing pastry…and he stands there as dusk falls…waiting.

Butterfly in the rain

IMG_1478The rain, incessant and irritating
Wetting him to the soul
Monday, funny Monday
Began and ended
Like a rag wet with petrol
But never lit

It could have been
Another day in eternity
But something stirred
Beneath the eyelids

Ask the lonely, pleaded the four tops
They know the hurt and pain
The pain of being
In the likeness of a rag
Drenched with petrol
On the verge of igniting

But the rain, the rain
Held everything in its grasp
Lock jawed onto reality

Nothing could be released
Not his soul, not his mind and not his love
A beautiful ethereal creature
Like a butterfly caught in the rain

Ubud  21.09.2009

Are we the Gods themselves?

monkey

If this is a flight of fantasy or tripping the light fantastic with historical events, so be it. Amen.

On New Year Eve 2008 while praying at my favorite shrine in Amed, Bali, I recalled a novel, The Gods Themselves, by the famous science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, which prompted me to pen this essay.

After paying obeisance, walking down to the shore and laying flowers and incense at the feet of the mighty Pacific and genuflecting before the vastness of the Universe, I returned to my Arak on the rocks resting next to the rippling waters of the infinity swimming pool to contemplate the question whether we are the Gods themselves. I took a swig of reality that flowed between the ice cubes clinking in the glass. The ensuing warmth trickling through my body comforted my restless soul. The moment was perfect in this solitary existence. Peace had descended with a vengeance but inspiration, the bitch of invention, played spoilsport and prodded the soul lying curled up within. Suddenly, questions cropped up like a bad hair day for Medusa – Is there a God, or Gods? Or, are we the Gods themselves?

Many religious aficionados may term these questions sacrilegious or worse, heretical. In reply to these blinkered blokes, I shall quote the protagonist Red from the immortal film, Gone with the Wind – ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn’.

Isn’t this an opportune time, at the dawn of another artificial year, to question our existence on this planet; the why fors and where fors?

Surely there are many among us who believe that we are the only living beings on earth that can do all these things; create, manufacture, pre-empt, foresee, destroy, mindlessly use weapons for mass murder, protect, love and more.

Is it conceivable that we are the Gods that ventured out one Saturday night in the Universe and inadvertently overstayed the night out on earth, awakening from a long hangover with no recollection of our place in the firmament?

From this stupor we awoke and created advanced civilizations like the Minoans, builders of temples, whose engineering feats without modern machinery have flummoxed present day historians and their ilk. The Minoans lived one thousand years before the pyramids were built.

Advanced city planning, water ways, architecture, astronomy, mathematics etc. in ancient times when modern technology was not prevalent should be enough evidence to prove the hypothesis that it was the nascent years of the Gods, our ancestors’ stay on earth.

As time dragged its feet across eons, we the Gods became lazy and self destructive; often resorting to violence to achieve a semblance of control over perceived dominions like animals marking their territory. Added to this was an infusion of avarice and egoism that, when ingested through a process of osmosis, morphed us from Gods into ‘human beings’ with all the frailties of animals.

Our memories gently faded into oblivion leaving us stranded with stories, legends and miracles carefully chronicled by word of mouth and script. Over centuries these fragments of thought cemented into a ‘story’ fueled by Chinese whispers that became the foundation for future organized religion.

Religious laws, tenets, commandments, places of worship, days of worship left us impotent for we had finally succumbed to our own delusions thereby cutting the umbilical cord to the root cause of Truth beyond atmospherics, beyond the very essence of physical life on earth. We had severed ourselves from our beginnings thus making ourselves orphans of the Universe.

So how do we retrace our steps cross the dust eddies of history that blurs our past and distorts our sensory perceptions?

Some one suggested to me that the miracle of man on earth lies hidden in the ancient Hindu texts and that the Master Key could be found in the everyday religious performances that we re-enact like exercising at a gym e.g. praying to our ancestors.

What if we could communicate with our ancestors through prayers? (Prayers are in fact a form of speaking to our ancestors/Gods). What if through prayer we discovered the bridge back to Godhood? How many of us would be qualified to attain eternal life on earth? Probably none, for we have digressed too far into the physical world and unwittingly permitted animal instincts to imprison us. We are drunk on worldly pleasures and addicted to its bio-rhythms.

We have, in our haste to relocate our lost Godhood, sown the seeds of religion that sprouted teachers of all hues who had and still do, attempted/attempt, to reach out and touch eternity with prayer, yoga, meditation, fasting, penance, ceremonies and sacrifices animal and otherwise.

All these methods, in reality are too diluted, too impure for they are perpetuated by ‘human beings’ not Gods. The physical world taints all that comes in contact with it.

Nothing is sacred or unsullied.

So where do we go from here after accidentally being marooned on Planet Earth as Gods and then morphing into Human Beings with all the trappings of the infidelities of the Circle of Life and Death?

Admittedly, people have been searching for the answer that could, hopefully, reveal the elusive Ultimate Truth through the process of half-heartedly following the well trodden path to unfettered Love, though never actually reaching the desired destination; which is one of True Love without boundaries, without social stigmas of sex, religion, caste, color or regional affiliations.

True Love could be the Master key to open the celestial doors that lead back to our Godhood: The portal through which we could traverse to take our rightful place in the Universe.

How many among us are brave and unselfish enough to follow this path by transcending all the seductions of a material world, thereby cheating a mortal death?

Only time will tell, hopefully.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Esoteric Enemas and Clash of Clichés

slipperIn Bali many ‘long stay’ visitors aka derelicts are bereft of common sense for they succumb to the cliche – ‘Let’s not rock the boat’, a euphemism probably for ‘ Let’s not draw attention to ourselves for fear we may be found out for who we really are’.

These unbridled skeptics tip toe around the isle afraid even of their own utterances being misconstrued and thereby attracting the wrath of unknown entities. They remind one of Barking Deer, which are so skittish that they bolt at the sound of their own droppings. One has had the pleasure and privilege of being ticked off by these self-serving people for brazenly questioning the goings on in paradise.

‘You can’t say this, you can’t do that,’ or, ‘You will be thrown off the island if you write this or that’.

The litany of dos and don’ts goes on to the soundtrack of clicking tongues. No, I’m not suggesting these hapless souls speak in tongues; they just suffer from the enormity of anonymity: Faceless wonders in co-habitation with hallucinations that prompt one to surmise that humanity could be evolving in an oblong fashion, thereby creating a wedge between the Haves (those that draw on their cerebral assets) and Have Not’s (lobotomized folk).

‘Excuse me sir, have you reserved a dichotomy?’

‘Yes but please don’t seat me next to a conundrum.’

‘Oh well, do follow me then to your place in the scheme of things’.

Have you ever navigated the tables of diners lost in a make shift world of cocktails and culinary delights to a corner of the eye which is all seeing…all seeing through the spuriousness of an imaginary social set up like Barnabide’s feast?

The derelicts are the watchers in a paradise festooned with religious tributes. They dwell, procreate and congregate as a group that is akin to a herd of Wildebeest; Acceptance and enlightenment being the exception rather than the rule.

It is well known in some circles that their dodgy knowledge is acquired by dredging society and lovingly collecting, collating, rehashing and serving piping hot flotsam and jetsam at warungs frequented by their ilk.

Culture is the conundrum here for it plays a dual role in assisting in the preferences of the Natives on one hand; and on the other, tickling the appetites, extending the elasticity of sexual synergies and enhancing the delusions of those afflicted by a self induced paralysis in paradise.

Could these derelicts be hamstrung by Nature to prevent them from smothering the prevailing fragile culture with their predatory intentions.

Or, are they paradoxes deliberately planted like weeds to balance the forces in paradise?

The answer to all these questions probably lies with the unseen forces that emerge from the darkness to taunt the derelicts in their dreams with nightmares of the past replete with all the angst of love, hate and belonging to the meter of the Gamelan and Clash of Clichés.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Poem – Eight Degrees – Love Poems

fishfish1

This is a fragmentation of thoughts poorly disguised as poems. Humor me and read them. Then if you so desire consign them to the recycle bin.

Oh Radha!

Visions of love and passion

Drifting ashore at dusk

Announcing the night to lust

On crumpled sheets of lost thoughts

She sat on the beach

As darkness crept up her feet

And covered her in a cloak

Of twilight madness, eating her soul

Krishna had left with the tide

Leaving her forlorn on the shore

Holding her spent dreams

Afraid of them being washed to sea

The moonlit charcoal waters

Raced between her toes

Flowing up her legs

And drowning her sorrows

She waited long through the night

For Krishna to dance into sight

But there was only music to behold

Mermaids serenading him in the depths below

Wayfarers

I came in sheltering from the storm

Cloaked in loneliness

Carrying the pain and sorrow of a lifetime

Soulless, loveless and barren of thought

I called out to the wilderness surrounding me

You heard my wailing in the hills

And came to my door holding out your lips

For me to caress and your arms to rest

You left behind a warm home of love and children

Opening your self for me to enter

To hide my aching heart and dry my tears on your lips

You too cried in joy as we became one

Days have passed and with it many joys

Lying in each other’s arms resting our souls

Hiding from realities of living

Clutching desperately to the belief that things will work out

Sadly nothing remains the same

Time changes and so do people

Are we just wayfarers meeting between lives?

Or lovers destined to be apart?

Kuta Blues

Watching Kuta sunset, hues across the sky

Cascading like his thoughts fading into twilight

He had come to know the wonders of paradise

That could destroy his soul instead of giving it life.

Sunrises and sunsets, blessings in the cosmic trance

Of memories and joys dissolving into the dark

He frantically reached out to grasp the love

Waiting in the clouds above and wonders of a childhood’s end.

But he found to his dismay spirits riding the waves

Sending messages of farewell of goodbye kisses and reminiscences

He strode the shore through the night gasping for breath, a hint of life

Hiding beneath the foreboding waves

Beckoning him to another hell.

She saw him walking by the sea entranced by the lonely scene

She held him by the hand and asked, stranger what make thee

He looked at her and saw himself through the darkness and torment.

She placed her palms on his face

To calm the rising anguish

Whispering thoughts of belonging

Of love and longing, and yes pain again.

The night began to day bringing with it all the joys of yesterdays

But for them there was no sign

Except for the bloody knife.

Farewell

She said good bye today

Wiping away his joys and hope

A small message by her phone

Passing through the ether waves.

He looked to the sky and wondered why

The love she brought and took away

Made him feel so sad once more

Of being deserted again and again.

Mother, he cried, carry me away

From all this sorrow and pain

To a quiet haven faraway

Where joy and love were alive again.

The night descended across the sea

Darkening the land and he

To the sound of temple bells

On the shores of Gethsemane.

He quietly left to search the land

For love and lust and hope again

He found it in a gutter by

Whimpering, hurt and a terrible fright.

Now she has become a part of him

A little creature called sin

Licking pawing and whining for joy

Bringing him back to life again.

Sisters of Mercy

(A dedication to Gwen and Nia)

I came into your life like an abscess on your gums.
Bringing a host of uncertainties
of love, life and whatchamaycallit
the cigar smoke, the whisky and
complaints of a lifetime.

I stayed in your home
bitching and crying

weeping and laughing
to the tune of my own voice.

The change of seasons, the rain
and the wind howling outside
brought with it a joy of belonging
of being accepted with all the iniquities
carried from Bardez to Wales.

The food smelt of love,
the writing of hope
and the wine of forbidden
sex to the sound of Cohen.

Nothing, nothing was more pure
than the sisters who showed their mercy,
placing their soothing palms on my troubled soul.

I shall carry this wherever I go,
remembrance of the joy of having
been loved and cared for and
never being forsaken by true friends.

Wherever you are today
nestling between someone’s thighs
yearning for the ultimate joy
keep this blessing close to your heart
for your karma can do you no wrong.

Life Sentence

She was marooned

Eight degrees south of the Equator

In a life devoid of love

Scampering between beds

And men and hell

Furiously searching for herself.

She had come to this isle

Thinking it was paradise

To absolve her from the past

And start a life anew.

In days she found a man to hold

In innocence to make a whole

And children did she tried to beget

To the silence of dying hopes.

Years have gone by with the tides

Now she sits by the riverside

Crying for her lost soul

Floating down to sea.

She wants to begin her life once more

To the sound of what she knows

For though she was born free

Still she imprisons herself.

Strangers on the Shore

He held her close so she could feel

The fears and tears on the stranger’s cheeks

He swallowed hard and spoke aloud

To the quiet rippling waters

and the moonlit dhows.

She looked at him for she could feel

The fading beats in his breast

She kissed his lips and tasted life

Ebbing from his side.

Stranger, she said, I will love you forever

While gently stroking his thighs

Forever, he said in a dying breath

No, there is no forever.

He kissed her forehead and bade farewell

Turned his back and went.

Alone she stood on the moonlit shore

Gazing at the stars afloat

And with a heavy sigh

Walked into the waters by.

Full Moon

She called him to say goodbye

Nonchalantly uttering the words

The passing traffic drowning out her voice

Trembling he put down the phone

In the distance drums are beating

Cries and shouts in the air

Of ceremonies of the lunatics

Maidens dancing to rhythm of the night

The full moon is up readying itself

Casting shadows in darkened doorways

Waking up the slumbering souls

To another twist of fate

She was the big little woman

The goodbye girl lost within herself

Tasting the moonbeams on his lips

Then moving on to another life

The ethereal light wrapped him in joy

Returning the wayward spirits of the past

Igniting the night with fireflies

That carried his soul away

Neo-colonials – the new birds of prey

fishbirdI dedicate this column to the Balinese and other citizens of this great country – Indonesia, who have in the past struggled against the Dutch and Japanese only to be confronted today by a new breed of invaders – neo-colonialists. These hi-bred specimens do not abide by any rules except that of self-profit.


In my inaugural column in The Bali Times dated Friday, August 10-16, 2007, I noted the words of my Landlord Wayan who referred to the act of foreigners buying land in Bali as ‘ekenomic colonisation’. He couldn’t have been closer to the truth.


One year later the scenario seems to have remained unchanged – the open season on Bali – just like the good old days when hunting season was declared in some countries allowing people to indiscriminately kill animals. Here in Bali the difference being that islanders are seduced with money in exchange for the land of their ancestors. If this carries on unabated there could come a time when the Balinese will become coolies and labourers on their land. I beg to ask the question – How many Balinese live in villas? And how many Balinese who have sold their land are working on them as labourers? The results of a census are a forgone conclusion.

As the Devil’s Advocate I have jotted down sixteen basic rules to follow to enable all prospective colonisers to successfully enslave the Balinese through a painless process called neo colonisation.


01. When you arrive on the island please do not bring a spouse. All you need to do is ask a resident coloniser who has married a person well below their age: the disparity and the children born from this connubial joy would be unacceptable in most western countries from whence these colonisers originated. But this should not worry you, as this is paradise, anything goes.

02. Once you have done the deed so to speak ensure you register the marriage. If you were previously married etc. you would need to present documents of divorce etc. before marrying a local lass. However, some colonisers have simply got around this by converting to Islam. You can convert if you don’t have the correct documents but continue to pretend to honour the Balinese and their culture by wearing their clothes, eating their food and going to their temples, while dishonouring two great religions of Hinduism and Islam.

03. With a little money and a bank account in your wife’s name you can start plying your trade. Some may talk of acquiring a Kitas, please ignore this advice. A business visa works better as one only needs to travel out of the country every six months. It helps one get a breather from family responsibilities and anything else lurking in the shadows. If in doubt ask any long time resident coloniser who is well versed in this field. There are quite a few floating around. It is heard in local watering holes that a Kitas is more expensive than a business visa for it has to be renewed every year. Further, after five years one can automatically attain citizenship – This is a frightening prospect for self-respecting long time resident coloniser who clings to his or her country’s passport.

04. Now if marriage is not on your mind and you are birds of another feather no worries, the island does not discriminate. It welcomes all who live within the law.

05. Buying land is a safer bet than leasing land in your name. As you cannot buy land in your name please do so in any Balinese’s name. You will have to give a percentage of the value to the person concerned. This is how you can own land that will never belong to you. If problems related to land acquisition arise, throw a few dollars and see things magically fall back into place – this advice you will receive from many an experienced coloniser.

06. If you want to do business always think in dollars but pay in Rupiah, preferably well below the minimum wage.

07. Another option is to be an English teacher. In the past, backpackers have taken it upon themselves to educate the masses, for a fee of course.

08. The essential dress code varies from place to place. It is imperative that you blend into the community by wearing thongs, shorts and a singlet. A tattoo strategically placed could add to the mystery. There are many permutations and combinations but under no circumstance wear a Balinese dress. Unless of course you are going to the temple to pray where there are a sprinkling of colonisers in attendance. You wouldn’t want anyone to see you honouring the culture, would you?

09. Do in Rome as the Romans do – hire a motorcycle and drive around without a helmet or driving licence on the roads and sometimes on the pavements during traffic jams. When caught cry foul and blame it on the police. Also, do not advise underage bikers not to drive carelessly. Though you wouldn’t want to instruct the locals on road sense, you are qualified to advise them on how to run their country.

10. Always visit restaurants and bars frequented by your ilk so that you can feel comfortable talking about the laws of Indonesia and other important things like sports and women.

11. You don’t have to learn Balinese. Bahasa is simple and easy to pick up. You can dress and ape the Balinese but speaking their language that represents their culture and all that they stand for is not required.

12. Joining a local hang out for colonisers is vital to one’s survival. Necessary information can be gleaned from any coloniser reclining with a draught.

13. When in need of spiritual healing please consult any self styled resident coloniser. For a few hundred Rupiah cash you can check your aura, have your fortune told and be shown ways to clear your bad karma. The Balinese do not know anything about these matters.

14. Dogs versus children. I suggest forget the poor children concentrate on the mangy street dogs. Fight for their rights to spread their communicable skin diseases. Feed them not the poor children. Do not follow the system in your home country where such animals are humanely put to sleep. This is good for your karma.

15. If you have a death wish or have no money or place to stay in paradise the law will be provide you with a lifetime of free board and lodging if you can present them with a few grams of banned substance as proof of your lack of understanding of the country’s stringent laws. Many before you are partaking of this unique hospitality.

16. Never consult the locals. They do not know anything about their country. The long time resident colonisers know better. Sit in any Warung frequented by these experts and you will get unsolicited free advice that should help you understand how to ‘deal’ with the locals.


Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Creative Licence up for renewal

A celebration-mark-ulyseas

This is my 50th weekly column for The Bali Times. It would have been the 52nd but for the Christmas Week and the fact that I missed a deadline this year. All in all it has been one invigorating, vibrating, intensive year that has seen Bali grow in business, pleasure and most of all, peace. I am grateful to the following people who have been a source of sustenance, spiritual and ‘otherwise’:

My friends, Tjok Raka Kerthyasa and his gorgeous wife Asri of the Ubud Royal Family; Editor in Chief, William.J.Furney who has had to treat me on some occasions like a schoolboy playing truant; my family especially my two sisters Ela Gori in the USA and Sarita Kaul in Bali, both have often pulled me from dark depression and the wild life; Ketut Suardana and Janet de Neefe have gently introduced me to the exclusive Balinese society; Sioned Emrys and Nia Williams my Welsh connection of love and hope; my beloved Manon de Jongh; Jill Gocher who has used the carrot and stick quite effectively to get me to write; And lastly and more importantly all my Balinese friends in Kuta, Ubud, Lovina, Singaraja, Amed and Padang Bai. To all these wonderful people I fold my hands and say in Hindi, Shukreya, thank you.

When I walked into William’s office in August last year to peddle my wares I was hesitant about the outcome. Happily it has been a roller coaster ride with culture chameleons, karma mechanics, birds of paradise, rice farmers, royalty, warungs, sleazy greasy bars, stylish pretty boys, cigarettes and cell phones with no pulsa, music, salsa nights and fading memories of a lost childhood. Much water has flowed under the bridge carrying away the dregs of the past. The religiosity, weather, food and women, played a decisive role in discarding the excess baggage of hopes, desires and false notions of paradise peppered with paradoxes, forcing me to come face to face with myself in a small Balinese village.

Now as the dust settles in the brain and thought processes start up like a blender that churns, kneads, minces and grinds all the words to pulp, the images of an enchanting ethos comes roaring back like a steam engine gone amuck. Sanity hangs in balance as one attempts to share the myriad images each jostling for space in the viewfinder.

The numerous trips across the isle have helped in broadening one’s views and opinions about rising prices of essential commodities, Bali kopi, rice, minimum wage and the headless chickens in the form of youngsters cruising the roads of death. One continues to ask – how many young people need to die before we realise the price of life?

And when will the madness end in the lanes of Bali where sometimes people fall prey to banned substances and sign their own death warrants by a momentary lapse of indiscretion or foolhardiness?

Questions raise their ugly heads like plastic floating down sacred rivers after the rains. The sanctity of the isle is slowly being defiled by an army of people from other countries racing to pitch a tent and claim a piece of land in the hope that a slice of nirvana can be theirs for a few dollars. Above the cacophony of bidders one can hear the sacred chants of the Balinese and the voices of the Gods through the Gamelan.

Often one has walked the walk down rice fields past villas and small bamboo dwellings pondering the futility of existence with all the trappings of material wealth; the pointlessness of ravaging the beautiful earth to build monstrosities that mock all that is spiritually ordained for the isle.

The Balinese have taken shelter in their religion and customs. The cloak of centuries old traditions like ceremonies has protected them from the acid rain of western values.

Throughout the isle there are watering holes and resting places for expats treading the beaten path looking for a quickie with the culture. They hope to return to their concrete jungle with the satisfaction of having rubbed shoulders with another civilisation by carrying mementos like handicrafts, some cheap replicas on canvas and trinkets of a kind that their ancestors gave to the natives.

But then there are expats like Robin Lim, the legendary mid wife; the East Bali Poverty Project; the many social programs of the Rotary Club; individuals like John and Eileen from Oz who have adopted two Balinese families and more. The list keeps growing by the day of long-term resident expats and those visiting who are returning to Bali what others have been taking away for so long.

Ketut Suardana has sensitised me to the intensive culture of his people, often taking me to temples, holy men, sharing his food and home. This has opened the doors to a whole new world that exists beyond the eye and earshot of the expat enclave of know-alls who sit around watering holes waxing eloquent about the Balinese. It is through him that I met I Nyoman Suradnya the Batik Painter, a master who abhors the growing number of art galleries that are adulterating creativity to the point of extinction. Nyoman introduced me to Tjok Raka Swastika, the Gamelan Master, who shared his personal views with me about his art form and the desire to continue promoting it worldwide.

In August 2007 I wrote a special report for The Bali Times on leprosy in Bali. When I approached my expat friends to help me locate the lepers I was berated for wanting to write about ugliness in paradise. Fortunately my Balinese friends helped me meet the lepers and to interview them with assistance from the Banjar. This incident showed me in no uncertain terms that the Balinese are willing to accept a problem like this and to deal with it.

Admittedly this soliloquy seems to be a bit disjointed but that is how the year has been – some enlightening moments when navigating Jalan Dyanapura at 2 am, conversing with the Kuta cowboys and cowgirls on Kuta beach or sharing a Ramayana cigar with a traffic cop and discussing the accident statistics interspersed with the latest gossip surrounding Bollywood stars and their shenanigans.

Some other encounters have reminded one of Calcutta of the 1960s, of a misplaced people struggling for an identity that eluded them. They were the Anglo-Indians. In Bali fleeting images of them can be seen on the faces of some expats and their beautiful ‘Indo-Mix’ children who are marooned between cultures living a life with tenacity and joy, ignoring the pain of unbelonging. Skin colours, religious ceremonies, languages and dreamscapes merge to form a bridge that crosses the minefield of subtleties of the all-pervasive religion – Hinduism, to one of pluralism.

This waltz between peoples of many lands enhances one’s perceptions and hopes, which induces a delightful feeling of being part of a whole.

However, there have been instances of sudden surges of emotions on full moon nights that threatened to capsize one’s life. Fortunately an angel in the form of Nikki Kovesi told me to walk into a rice field on a full moon night and converse with the spirits. This was done after having imbibed enough spirits to set myself on fire, if one so desired. It worked. No more emotive recklessness.

The loneliness of a writer had its moments for it magnified all the insecurities, desires and sexual tensions. This column, Paradox in Paradise, for a time became the anchor that brought about coherence to one’s existence. And for this I have no regrets.

One misses the birds of paradise that have flown the coop and nested in the great unknown for they had shared their knowledge of innocence with me. The experience reverberates in one’s consciousness like the feeling of standing in a belfry when the bells are rung.

There are many more stories to be shared with you dear readers but before they see the light of day I must renew my creative licence with William J Furney: Then and only then can I drive my pen across Bali to trace patterns of a wondrous life that continuously regurgitates a paradox – the regulator of reality in paradise.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

-Congratulations to Mark on his 50th column for us, an important series that has opened up Bali to readers here and around the world and explored the vibrant nature of the island and its equally vivacious inhabitants. Here’s to another 50 columns – so, Mark, consider your creative license renewed. William

A Bohemian Rhapsody – Amed

Finding Neverland has taken me many years, across continents and through the minefields of social disparities and conflict of interest. Now I rest my weary self on Milton’s Paradise regained, eight degrees south of the equator. The spirits of Bali hold me close to their bosom magnifying the good and bad within me. The choice is there for us all. Many intrepid travellers have fallen by the wayside; others have created a niche for themselves surviving on the nectar that the island has to offer. Circumnavigating Bali in search of this nectar I come across a place on the north east coast that nestles on the rocky side of hills overlooking the azure sea. Amed, the seventh heaven, which lingers in a time warp embracing the rustic beauty; the innocence of village life wrapped up in breathtaking landscape with Agung the sacred (the largest volcano on the island) looking down benevolently on the mortals below.

Driving for two and a half hours from Ubud in the hills down along the coast past Candidasa and Padang Bai I make the mistake of asking a Balinese for directions to Amed. The reason is that the Balinese understand directions based on the NSEW system and not by road names. So off I go down a northerly direction along narrow roads hugging the hillsides along the Mediterranean like coast. The long drive takes me through villages, across bridges partly submerged by flowing streams and children bathing in the gurgling waters. The countryside is alive with the wind whistling through the trees, the raucous sound of birds and the clinking of coca cola crates being unloaded at the warungs by the roadside. One cannot get away from consumerism that eats into the island’s life. Passing through a village I stop to light a cigar and to take in the fresh sea breeze. Nearby four Babi Gulings (suckling pigs) are being roasted over a pit lit by coconut husk. One of the four men who are rotating the large bamboo skewers gives me a toothless grin and asks for a cheroot. I reply in the negative and instead offer him a cigarette. The bond is made and soon I am sitting on my haunches rotating the skewers and chatting in sign language with the aroma of sizzling pork permeating the air around us. I am invited the next day for a feast in the village. It’s a celebration after a cremation. The Balinese sometimes bury their dead when they cannot afford the cremation and after a period dig up the body (when money is available) and then cremate it. In Bali people spend a fortune in cremating their dead. It is more important than marriage! In fact banks offer loans at reasonable rates. In the small warung across from where we are sitting are youngsters gyrating to the song “It’s my life”. They know what life is and accept it without any pretensions. I am still attempting to comprehend the subtle nuances that make their lives so fulfilling.

Half-hour later (which feels like an eternity in serendipity) I carry on my journey along the coast past Selang, Lipah, Lehan, Bunutan, Jemeluk to Amed. Even though the names change from area to area the whole strip along this coast is loosely called Amed. The beaches are lined with brightly coloured fishing boats and the surrounding area has some of the best coral reefs. In fact coral from these reefs have grown over a Japanese shipwreck from World War II that lies submerged in shallow waters metres from the beach.

I am waved down at a warung called Wawa Wewe One (in Balinese it means – like this like that) by Wayan. a young bloke with pants hanging precariously on his lower hip, boxers shorts showing and a t-shirt that reads Born to die rebel for Life. After a warm Balinese smile, handshake and greeting me Om Swastiastu he is sitting in the car directing me to the Wawa Wewe Two hotel down at Lipah beach. Wayan informs me that the area is predominantly rural with fishing, cultivation of peanuts, corn and rice. The entertainment being cock fighting and Saturday night live at Wawa Wewe One.

I check into Wawa Wewe Two that has a number of cottages built at different levels overlooking the rocky beach. The balding Rastafarian Made (pronounced as Maaday), who is the proprietor of the hotel, has a perpetual grin on his face. Initially I mistake it for dementia but then realise he is in a perpetual state of exhilaration. Saturday night at Wawa Wewe One café is made up of a live band, gyrating local and expat hipsters with lots of Arak thrown in. The “throbbing musical evening” commences with the band playing songs in slow motion! Methinks it’s the magic mushrooms which the locals eat here. But as the evening wears on everyone is on the dance floor swinging to “Sweet Home Alabama”. Even the pet dogs are on the dance floor. The following morning I witness the fishing boats returning with their catch and landing on the beach where the hotel is situated. The eight fresh mackerel that I buy for ten thousand Rupiah makes me wonder as to how these fisher folk exist on such meagre earnings. Their catches are quite small but the dignity with which they conduct themselves is truly inspiring. Putu, the head cook and bottle washer, serves me a breakfast of fried fish and rice with a large dose of potent sambal. As I don’t eat fish I hand the fabulous spread to Wayan. Putu, observing this tells me to “waitamoment” and soon serves me an English breakfast. God save the Queen! From now on I name Putu, the Queen of Amed and bestow on her the honorary title of “waitamoment”.

Later in the day Wayan takes me into the hills to village Bangli in an area called Toyemasem where four holy springs are located. I park my trusted and rusting Feroza on a side road and carry on foot across the rice fields up into the hills. We reach the temple dedicated to Goddess Masayu. Its not really a temple in the true sense of the word but a grey stone carved column. Wayan gathers a few wild flowers and hands them to me along with some lit incense sticks. I place these offerings at the foot of the column and pray for my family to the sound of the stream rushing by and the giggling of the village children observing me and whispering “Thakur Singh”.

The springs are located at walking distance from each other along the steep hillside. I taste the water from them and wash my face hoping to be absolved of my iniquities. What I experience dear reader is one of wonderment. The water from each spring tastes different: sour, bitter, sweet, and sweet salty! You must visit this place. There is a presence here that I cannot explain but which I can feel deep down. As we walk back I sense a presence watching my back. I convey my apprehension to the villager who is our guide and he tells me the Goddess Masayu is benign and that I should not be afraid.

On our return drive to Wawa Wewe, I ask Wayan about the phenomenon and he nonchalantly informs me that the Balinese practice a form of animism and therefore their form of Hinduism is partly different from that in India. This simple village lad has just enlightened me without even knowing it. This is the nectar I was looking for in Bali: The simplicity of living woven into a rural existence on the threshold of modernity, yet retaining the beauty of life.

For lunch “waitamoment” serves us corn and rice, seaweed salad, grilled chicken in peanut sauce and topped with the potent sambal which I immediately term “after burner” because the effects are felt only the following morning. Who cares? We tuck into the spread washing it down with local arak diluted with orange juice. An hour later I am lying comatose on a deck chair next to the infinity swimming pool that seems to meet with the sea on the horizon. The warm afternoon sun is comforting and I feel myself drifting into a luxurious slumber. Minutes later I am rudely awakened by “waitamoment” who has a hot cup of tea in her hand and a smile that livens my mood. She grandly announces that there is a Metajen (cockfight) in the village, which is commencing under the hour, and that Wayan will take me to the venue. So I dutifully sip my tea and await Wayan’s arrival.

Mind you the authorities here frown upon cockfights and when I write about it, it is not to glorify this blood sport but simply to convey how rural life often comes in conflict with perceived western notions of right and wrong.

The Metajen (cockfight) is held at the local meeting place on the beach a few km from the hotel. We arrive to the cacophony of voices and the shrieking of cocks, with intermittent oooohhhhs and aaaahhhhs.

Wayan introduces me to Kadek, one of the main promoters, who is famous for his cocks that win most of the fights. Witnessing a few wins by his cocks I promptly give him one of my Ramayana cigars to the delight of the onlookers, light it for him and rename him Don King.

Before each fight there is much discussion as to the contenders. When this is decided a man carrying a leather purse opens it and flips through the felt pages that have very sharp knives mounted on them. The knives are as sharp as scalpels. The contender’s leg size is measured and then the appropriate knife is tied onto the leg with red thread. Soon both gladiators face each other to the loud shouts of “Menang” (win) and “Kalah” (lose). Like the gladiators in Roman times it is a fight unto death. The vanquished is soon cut up and taken away for someone’s dinner while some of its feathers are given to the owner of the winning cock. Don King loses only two of his gladiators out of the ten that he has entered in fights.

I have to leave the coliseum as the sun is setting and Wayan is keen to show me the peanut, corn and rice cultivation before I head for home. Back on the road the silence in the car is deafening. Wayan slips his cassette into the tape deck and soon life around returns to normal with the reggae beat of “Welcome to my paradise”.

The rest of the evening is spent walking the fields of dreams with Agung the sacred glowing in the setting sun. Nightfall is minutes away when I turn onto the highway to head back to Ubud. Wayan alights from the jeep and folds his hands saying “Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om” and I reply “Suksema” (thank you in Balinese).

Night blankets the countryside as the headlights of my car weave patterns on the darkened road. Another day in paradise tomorrow is yet to come.

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Where does one begin to unravel the past? Do I speak of education in college. Or, of the professional work I have done? It’s confusing living life as it is to commence a story that most of us are not really interested in! Suffice to say I have been in the wilderness for many years spanning continents, friends and the odd lie. The buck stops here on this site. Today the truth begins, anthology of a life worn by the myriad faces of the past scurrying for an identity. Patience with me dear reader. Humour me. I need your attention and views. Write in when you have read what I have written and share the life within you and teach me how to be a better human being. 

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