Congratulations Ibu Robin Lim – CNN hero of 2011 !

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Robin Lim pic by mark ulyseas

Om Swastiastu Ibu Robin,

Congratulations to you and the team in Ubud and Aceh. I still remember the answer you gave me when I asked you if you believed there is a God. If you recall, you said, NO.

God has worked through you to sustain your belief that all life is sacred. May you continue your beautiful work in Indonesia, which has given you a home and many loving friends in Ubud and Aceh.

For the readers of this post here is a link that shines a light on this wonderful woman who I have the pleasure of knowing for many years. www.bumisehatbali.org

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

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Why do people continue to smuggle or buy drugs in Bali?

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Hotel K by Kathryn Donella

There has been, and sadly continues to be, Bali bashing by the international media. Anything that does not fit into the ‘paradise’ image of Bali is immediately seized upon and highlighted. Even legitimate drug busts by Bali Police appear to attract an unending stream of abuse, misinformation and sanctimonious comments by those that base their views on Chinese whispers.

It is easy to pontificate on the drawbacks of Indonesian Law, the omissions and commissions of the Bali Police and the ‘perceived’ corruption within the system. No one can deny that there exists some truth in all this (thanks to the KPK).

However, the question needs to be asked –

Why do people continue to smuggle or buy drugs in Bali when the death penalty prevails here?

Some attribute this growing phenomenon to:

– International drug cartels: Example – Timothy Geoffrey Lee, 44, arrested by Indonesian Police on a request received from the NSW Police after they had busted a European drug syndicate importing ecstasy into Australia (street value $30 million).

– Family Businesses – The Corbys ?

– Individuals – Michael Sacatides, 43, caught with 1.7 kilos of methamphetamine.

Others claim it is merely a demand and supply chain like prostitution, fueled by la dolce vita, the good life and that it feeds those tripping the light fantastic in an imaginary psychedelic world.

But is this true? Does tourism generate a need for drugs? And is Bali exclusive in its predicament?

It is said that the three sisters – Bali, Goa, Ibiza – are the playgrounds for jetsetters and those seeking a temporary release valve from the pressures of work…hence the devil-may-care attitude to recklessly taunt fate by imbibing banned substances.

The ‘only’ difference between the three is that Bali, Indonesia, imposes the death penalty.

Even with the stakes so high there continues to be a constant flow of arrests – people from all walks of life attempting to smuggle drugs into Bali. The end result of these misadventures is an overflowing

Kerobokan jail, harassed officials and damaging publicity for the island’s administration.

The recently released book Hotel K by Kathryn Bonella rips apart the secure walls of Kerobokan jail and reveals the sordidness/wretchedness inside it.

A copy of this book should be kept in every hotel/villa room in Bali as essential reading for all tourists, and a warning.

It is also a known fact that ‘undesirable’ locals are selling drugs. The continuing arrests and incarceration of these ‘gentlemen’ is ample proof that the scourge has sunk deep into the system.

If overhaul of the system is to be undertaken then the first step should be to ease the pressure in overcrowded prisons and the resultant inhumane conditions, which includes buying and selling of drugs within the precincts of the jail.

The present situation at Kerobokan Jail is reflective of medieval times.

Maybe it is time to bite the bullet and consider this option as a first step towards working on a lasting solution.

All foreign inmates serving up to five years should be deported after payment of an amount in US$ as a reimbursement to the Bali government for costs incurred by it on board and lodging. All personal details along with a mug shot and drug offense/s or any other offense must be uploaded onto a special website for such felons so that anyone in the world has access to the data.

Further a written guarantee must be obtained from the country of the convict that the said convict can never leave it for the duration of the balance unserved sentence in Indonesia. Or, that the convict serves out his/her sentence in a jail in the home country.

— As for Indonesian convicts the same conditions should apply but payment can be made in Rupiah supported by a written guarantee from the Banjar/local community heads that the convict has to do community service for the remainder of the unserved sentence. This would help in rehabilitating felons and ease the congestion in prisons. More importantly it will have a positive effect on the international image of Indonesia as a modern republic.

I am aware the above suggestions voiced by many well meaning and concerned folk in Bali and elsewhere is a small step towards sanity but then we have to start somewhere, and what better way to begin than by creating international goodwill and at the same time help save lives.

Let us show the world our humanity.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om


My memories have been stolen

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(In the early hours of April 5, 2010, my laptop, camera and cell phones went missing).

Easter Sunday night began with a chill glass of beer and a chat with a young lady from some European country who was working for an NGO and living the dream of freedom…travelling around the world.

Her name is immensely forgettable for her demure defaulted when it came to her partiality for yet another drink. The night ended like a cliché…she went her ways and I went mine – to my home, a house on a corner with a rice field view in front and a cemetery-cremation ground bringing up the rear… No man’s land… A perfect setting for a writer living alone and eking out a living attempting to create pictures with words… the phases and phrases merging into a stream of thought for food.

That night I lay in bed remembering my son and recalling the many years we spent together and then with a sigh boarded the train for Neverland.

Morning brought with it the crowing of the cockerel and the knock on the door of the pembantu (domestic help) who had arrived to clean my home.

I got up and with a hot cup of Kopi Bali sat in the garden throwing bread crumbs into the fish pond.

Hours later when the house began churning out the sounds of the day I realised my camera, cell phones and laptop had been stolen by a member of the light finger fraternity. Over four years of memories had been stolen, pictures, words and messages carefully saved on my laptop.

For a while I sat next to the pond and gazed at the fish. Futility of possessions became apparent as I watched the petals of the last of the lotus flowers drooping towards the water… the pointlessness of cataloguing one’s existence for posterity. Everything withers and dies and is forgotten. So why clutch onto images and words as if they are going to save one from drowning in the currents of the daily drudgery of living?

Reluctantly I visited the local police station and reported the matter. And the investigations have begun.

A day later I sit at an Internet café attempting to reconnect with the world. A vain effort to imagine all is well. But this is not true. Someone has stolen my memories and is probably erasing them as I speak. They are gone, returning to the ether from whence they came.

What shall I speak of now? What shall I do now? Create new memories? Buy them? Or steal them from someone else?

I doubt I would do any of the above. Instead I shall walk the walk, wherever it may take me for now I am a soul that has no memories and hence no baggage to carry.

I am free.

John Pettigrew – A distinguished member of the “green finger fraternity”

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Untitled-2

(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

Professor Unni Wikan – A Balinese formula for living

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Unni wikanProfessor Unni Wikan, celebrated Norwegian anthropologist and author of Managing Turbulent Hearts –   A Balinese Formula for Living (a book that strips the veneer off the prevailing society and lays bare the intricacies of everyday life of the Balinese on the isle), speaks to Mark Ulyseas, editor Voices Today, in an exclusive interview.

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MU – Many visitors, women being in the majority, view Bali as a ‘feminine’ island with a culture that is all embracing. Do you feel that the increasing number of immigrants to this island will dilute or distort this culture? And will it (Balinese culture) morph into a more aggressive form thereby seeing a clash of cultures?

UW – I never thought of Bali as a ´feminine´ island; to me, such a concept does not make sense. Bali is a rich and complex civilization with a multitude of ways and “cultures” being practiced, some of them strongly patriarchal.

I do not think that immigration as such presents a danger to this remarkable Culture.  On the other hand, the exposure of youth to manifold influences through globalization, modern forms of communication, tourism etc. will undoubtedly have its impact, in Bali as elsewhere. We cannot say at this point in time what will emerge. It is not just a question of what happens in Bali but in the wider world.

MU – Do you think that the concrete jungle that is growing across the isle will alienate the Balinese with the growing influence of the “hotel and villa” culture? And what, if any, is the way out?

UW – I wish I had the answer to your question for there is clearly the danger that you point to.  The Balinese have traditionally lived in close harmony with nature; you couldn´t cut down a tree or erect a building, even a hut, without appeasing and taking permission from supernatural spirits.  The “hotel and villa” culture is fundamentally transforming the land and disturbing spirits that used to belong in certain places and that are a part of Balinese cosmology.  On the other hand, the Balinese resemble other humans in that they are pragmatic, and these new developments offer jobs to many people.  There is no win-win situation.

MU – Many long time residents believe the Balinese must be more pragmatic in terms of rescinding their responsibilities of the numerous mandatory attendances at religious ceremonies for the responsibilities of a job? Please comment.

UW – This is a challenge in many societies, how to accommodate job obligations with religious or ritual observances. I did fieldwork in Bhutan, a Buddhist country, and the same concern arose there: what could be required of job attendance of people who every so often had other “legitimate” ritual concerns. Or take Muslims in Norway, my country: praying five times a day at specific intervals is not easily combined with many kinds of job. Solutions must be found and generally, religions can be flexible:  they are, after all, partly man-made.

MU – There appears to be a growing gap between the haves and have not’s – the former being expats and the latter, Balinese. Do you think that this will lead to a backlash that will see a rise in criminal activities and in general disrespect for the Tamu (guest) leading to law and order problems?

UW – We see such problems emerging in many societies, they seem to be part and parcel of globalization. Organized, transnational crime is also on the rise everywhere.  What is special about Bali, as I know it, is how peaceful and orderly the island still is. But one should be aware.  Large-scale tourism naturally changes people´s perceptions of the Tamu, and the way many tourists (and some expats) behave further creates disrespect.

MU – Some say that marriages between expats and Balinese, where the age gap being a generation or two is abhorrent and should be curtailed; often these marriages are not legalized with competent authorities from the foreign embassies thereby disenfranchising the offspring from their rights to citizenship of the foreign country from which one parent comes from. Are we witnessing the birth of a generation existing between the gaps in society? And will these children of the morrow become the catalyst for change? And what change do you perceive this to be?

UW – I do not have first-hand knowledge of such cases, therefore it is hard for me to think through the implications with regard to Bali. Not having a legalized marriage is, however, a problem that many people in many countries are dealing with, and there is much international discussion of how to secure the rights of the child to paternity, inheritance and citizenship. Recently, there was a case in Egypt where a woman went to court because the man, with whom she had entered into a non-legalized (so called traditional – urfi – marriage) denied the child he had fathered paternity. In this case, both were Egyptians. She won, and has become an exemplar for others.  I believe women can become the catalysts for change.

MU – “I will not blame the rapes on Norwegian women. But Norwegian women must understand that we live in a Multicultural society and adapt themselves to it.” “Norwegian women must take their share of responsibility for these rapes.”

You stated this in reference to high profile incidents in Norway involving immigrant men and the local (Norwegian) women. Do you think the reverse will happen in Bali, like attacks on ‘visitor women scantily clad’ by ‘locals’ because the ‘visitors’ have shown ignorance of the social norms and/or not understood the prevalent culture?

UW – I have never said that women must take their share of responsibility for rapes. This is sheer misrepresentation of my statement. The rapist bears full responsibility for rape, which is a crime. What I did say was that many immigrants come from societies where the way many Norwegian women dress and behave is misunderstood to mean that they are immoral.  In a multicultural society, it is an advantage if people learn something about one another´s codes of communication.  The same applies if you are a tourist. It is a sad fact of life that women are exposed much more than men to sexual violence.  So women need to be careful, and knowledge is power.  But full responsibility for rape resides with the rapist.

MU – Is then, cultural clashes and clichés the raison d’être for an emerging ‘irrational society’?

UW – No, I wouldn´t use such a term. Society is not “irrational” but persons can be. However, rape does not have to do with irrationality. It is a crime usually committed by wholly rational people.

MU – You have written a number of books that have thrown light on the travails and tribulations and the constant fight for survival between man and woman in societies that discriminate. Does your book  “Behind the veil in Arabia: Women of Oman” shed light or reflect the state of women in general in societies across the world like India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and beyond? And is the treatment of women in a society reflective of its ethos?

UW – Oman is special. It was, and continues to be to me an exemplar of a good Muslim society where women are well respected and treated. Oman has an enlightened ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who has had the power for nearly forty years, and has done a world of good for his country, including women. Yes, there is an ethos in Oman that underscores gracious behavior and that is reflected in the treatment of women. It is different from what you find in many other parts of the Muslim world, local culture and religion always intersect, and so Oman is quite different from not just Afghanistan or Iran, but also its neighbor, Saudi Arabia. That said, there are also similarities: Polygamy – a man´s right to have several wives simultaneously – still holds in many parts of the Muslim and non-Muslim world, Oman included. Men are privileged in numerous ways. But Oman could point the way to what other traditional societies, more harsh to women – Muslim, Hindu, Christian etc. – can become.

MU – What is the role of a culture? Does it create, give birth to or is it a matrix in which we are all born? And does this matrix hamstring enlightenment/progress in all parameters of society?

UW – We are born into cultures; I was born on an island in the Arctic Ocean in a part of Norway called the Land of the Midnight Sun, and my view on the world is profoundly shaped by the influences I came under through my formative 18 years there.  But cultures are ever changing, just like people; indeed, it is people who make up cultures, we are the agents, culture in itself can do nothing, it is just a word, a concept. It is important to keep this in mind: People have in their power to create and make “culture” happen, for good or bad.  Therefore too, culture clash is not a term I use: it indicates that there is something there with the power to act by itself. Think of people instead, and you have a better instrument for building peace.

MU –  As a celebrated and highly respected anthropologist do you think that Bali will survive the onslaught of the continuing influx of alien cultures bombarding the island; and will this be the beginning of a convergence that will bring about a new evolved society or will it be another reason for a conflict of cultures?

UW – Bali has withstood a continuing influx of alien cultures for a long time in history. That gives me hope for the future of this gem of a civilization. Bali is bound to go on changing and evolving; and society fifty years from now will be different from the one we know. But I believe there is a solid core that is sustainable and that may even take on a stronger identity as “Balinese” as cultures mix and mingle.  Or, I should rather say, as people from different cultures mix and mingle.  My husband, Fredrik Barth, wrote a book called “Balinese Worlds”, plain and simple. That says it all: Bali consists of many worlds, many cultural traditions that have co-existed, competed, and also enriched one another. This is due to the resourcefulness and tolerance of Balinese people.

MU – What are you working on now and will you be visiting Bali in the near future?

UW – I have just finished two books – one published in the US, the other in Norway, on honor killings in present-day Europe. A sad topic I never planned to handle but that became urgent with the murders of several young girls by their (immigrant) families in Europe.  One is called In Honor of Fadime: Murder and Shame and deals with the fate of a young Swedish-Kurdish woman who was killed by her own father because she had “dishonored” her family by choosing her own love in life and refusing a forced marriage to a cousin. Her story made the international community wake up to the fact that honor killings do not just belong to “them” but to “us” in the West, and has helped to put the problem on the international agenda. Now I am about to do something much more pleasant: embark on a long fieldtrip to Arabia (Yemen, Oman and Saudi Arabia) to explore ideas of freedom and dignity post 9/11, and to see how these ideas are put into practice in various walks of life. As an Arabic speaker I can work without interpreters and as a woman, I have easy access to people, I am not considered a threat. Among places I will visit is the Hadramawt in North Yemen where some families I know in Singaraja  originally came from so I will explore the links; there have been close connections between inner Arabia and Indonesia for centuries, with influences going both ways.

I have also an ongoing project in Bhutan, a Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas, where I have spent much time to explore culture and religion.

I was last in Bali a year ago, and hope to return later this year. It is very much a part of my heart.

Who draws the crowds and plays so loud? Baby, it’s the guitar man!

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Simon and WayanSlowly as a lovers’ dawn

We lay here in this bed ablaze

Long were the days when I needed love

Every night, free falling

You picked me up where love left off

You showed me through this long windy road

You gave me the light to see the other side

Every night, free falling

-Simon Kinny-Lewis, Free Falling, from his album Higher Heaven

Bali is a fertile breeding ground for ‘travelling wilburys’ – writers, poets, painters, musicians and the odd middle aged woman from the West seeking restitution from life in general. These wandering souls that arrive on the sunny shores of this Isle unwittingly become captives to the benign spiritual forces that encapsulate all that creates and nurtures life. The ensuing drama that continually unfolds sustains and enhances their perspective and reverence for all living things.

This week we shall talk to a young couple, Simon Kinny-Lewis and his Balinese wife Wayan Suratni, who shuttle between Sydney and Bali and two jobs and two cultures, spiced by this effervescent sense of being.

Simon is a tall lanky chap with a disarming smile and a laid back attitude. I first saw him a year ago when he was spasmodically playing his acoustic guitar as he sang a blues number at As One, a jazz joint owned by a Japanese painter. Now that it is closed he performs at the Blue Cat Jazz Bar on Pengosekan, whenever he descends on Ubud from Sydney.

I began by asking him to briefly outline his 28 odd years on this planet.

“I am Sydney born and schooled but dropped out of college to study music from friends and by watching the masters play at various gigs across the city. Music possessed me when I was very young. At the age of 8 I learnt to play the guitar and at 12 performed Lay Down Sally by Eric Clapton at a public gathering. From then on I would practice with friends, go to the concerts of Ray Beadle, a Sydney Blues Guitar Player, who used to and probably still plays at The Bridge Hotel. Because of my limited means I would buy many second hand CDs of my favorite artists – Robben Ford, Stevie Windwood, Scott Henderson, James Muller, Yellow Jackets etc., and listen to their music over and over again. Then I would take my guitar and attempt to ‘match’ their ‘fretwork’. Oh those were the days when everything seemed to flow. There were no hiccups except for want of money…hahahaha.

I first came to Bali about 5 years ago with my mother for a short holiday little realizing that the trip would turn out to be an experience of a life time…I met my future bride Wayan at Pura Dalam. The moment I saw her in her pink kebaya, holding herself upright with all the dignity in the world I realized I must have her…marry her, I mean.

But we had to wait nearly two years before we could get married.

My first album that I recorded was in 2004. It was titled ‘Open up the Letter’. In 2006 the second album ‘A winding bend’ was released. It was recorded in Bali. The title song ‘Why can’t we feed them all’ was inspired by the tenacity and industriousness of the Asian people who struggle everyday just to ‘eat’. The songs in the third CD, Higher Heaven, were written while travelling around in Bali. The cover picture was taken by my wife.

And now the latest album with the Henry Rollins drummer, Sim Cain, is coming out in December this year.

You know Bali has this strange, erotic and deep rooted spiritual vibes that intoxicate me. On full moon nights I dream dreams and feel the throbbing pulse of the island running through my veins. I don’t know how to explain this phenomenon. I suppose you can tell me…yeah?”

I side stepped the question and turned to Wayan and asked, “So tell us a little about yourself, please.”

“What you want to know…(giggling)? Okay I will tell you.

I was a Legong and Kecak dancer till I married Simon and went off to Sydney where I work in the hospitality business. My father is a Master Wood carver who still plies his trade in Ubud. I come from a reasonably traditional family, so my marriage to Simon was a bit of a shock for my parents. However, they saw how happy I was and finally relented and gave us their blessings and permission. We married under Hindu rites in Bali and then Simon’s parents arranged another ceremony in Australia. I admit I am ambitious. I want to learn, to travel and more importantly to remain Balinese through all this. Living in Sydney is at times very hard in terms of relating to the constant rush of business and traffic…but I know I have to work…if I don’t then where will the money come from? At the moment Simon is working as a music teacher in a private school. His music (laughs) still doesn’t get us enough money…but I love him and want only for him to be happy…”

Simon interjects, “Sometimes she is jealous of my guitar. Wayan says she wants to be MY guitar!”

“Yes,” says Wayan, “Yes ‘cause he plays that goddamn thing very late at night instead of coming to bed and cuddling me! Hahahaha…my husband is a non-smoker and rarely drinks that’s why I put up with his antics. You know I too am an artist. I have just recorded a Balinese song ‘Tuah Semaya’ with Gus Maya, a well known producer in Bali.”

“Will you two keep shuttling between Bali and Sydney indefinitely?” I ask.

“Actually I would like to make Bali my base for my ‘backroom’ music because it is truly the gateway to the world. People of all nationalities live, work and travel here for pleasure. It has everything…culture, arts, music, food, religiosity and gentle folk. What more can I ask for?’ says Simon.

I turn to Wayan who is returning from the bar with three chilled glasses of lemon squash and a smile that would melt butter in a jiffy and enquire, “ And what about you my dear?”

“I would prefer living in Sydney and travelling to Bali because Sydney will help my career in the hospitality business. And also, I can earn lots more money. Here the salary is too low; we need to support Simon till he makes it to the Grammies. Then we will be rich and famous and I won’t have to work. I do miss my family and the culture here. What to do? One has to survive”, she smiles and walks back to the bar to place the empty tray next to the flower arrangement.

Now that you have heard it from a young couple what do you think dear readers –

Are these the youngsters of the morrow who are now bridging religions, cultures and countries by their acceptance of life as it is…without prejudice, only with love, understanding and mutual respect?

I leave you now to ponder the answer while I sit back and listen to one of Simon’s latest numbers about one world, one people and one song…the song of peace.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Are we the Gods themselves?

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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

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