Selasa, 10 Januari 2012

Stranger in Paradise: Exotica

Putra Bagus Putu


For me, 2012 started with disasters.
After a dream Christmas break with the fabulous all-dancing, all-singing, all smoking Batak people in North Sumatra I returned to Bali to find that Ngurah Rai Airport had descended into chaos — a version of Delhi train station during the partition of India.
Some enlightened Singaporean project manager had even added a coup de grace in the form of culture-neutral butterfly motifs, my pet hate which had been applied to the new ‘causeway’ floor
It took almost two hours to get from the airport to my home in Sanur (normally it takes 20 minutes) and once there I discovered that the French friends of friends who’d rented my house had stiffed the staff and that my remote controls were no-where to be found; all just as Kim Jung Il’s funeral motorcode was starting.
Once installed at home things rapidly got worse: I took three calls from old Indian clients suddenly in Bali wanting addresses for cut-rate, crappy furniture shops and my domestic tourist house guests just wanted to go to “Jogger”. I was with great relief that I was invited to a tooth-filing — that of my Balinese niece, Desak Duwik, and her three half-Australian cousins.

Phillip, Peter & Putra

30th December 2011: To Jero Dewa Bagus, Suwung Gede the family gathers for a puberty ritual
At Dayu Rai’s home I find three Melbourne teenagers — Peter, Philip and Putra — in my brother-in-law’s bed in full Balinese prince outfits, hair and make up. They look like Christmas bon-bons.


Phillipa and Dewa Bagus Putu

Desak Duwik

None of them knew what they are doing or what for. Not that it’s important: the wondrous thing about being Hindu Balinese is that angelic Brahman ladies just drag you through rituals without explaining anything.

Dewa Ayu Heni Yusnita and Son

The star of the morning proceedings is the boys’ mother, the elegant Deborah Kerr-like Jero Melati (Ibu Philipa) who poses herself, on queue, in various demure attitudes around the courtyard. Her husband Pak Dewa is a true gent: theirs is an enduring love story, with three perfectly behaved Balinese-Ozzie boys to prove it.

4th January 2012: To the Balerung Stage, Peliatan for a night to honour the late great musician A.A. Mandera of Peliatan’s 2012 Hindu Youth Award
I have been invited three times via SMS. I accepted with apprehension as I was attacked in print recently, on a Facebook page (Bali Simple Living) for being a lackey to the Balinese royals and a bragger to boot. I told that Nanny-boy, surfie, tree-huggers to get real: being a conservative monarchist groupie in Bali is the best occupation: Think magnificent Hindu rituals, fancy dress and fine palace food!!! I told them that they could stick their rusty bikes up their bottoms.
Anyway, I digress.

To return to the wondrous Gung Kak Mandera who was the toast of Paris and Versailles in 1936 with his Peliatan Dance troupe, and his legacy. Two of his sons became superstar dancers: one the star of Guruh Soekarno Putra’s Busby Berkeley-style dance spectaculars, and the other the greatest TEROMPONG dancer of his generation.
I arrive a tad late to find a hall packed with Balinese dancers and musicians, all watching John Coast’s 1952 film of the Peliatan Dance troupe in Paris.
This is the first time I’ve seen the target audience at a film night in Bali — usually it’s the expat rent-a-crowd and Balinese VIPs.
As chief bule-poobah to famed Gung Bagus, the maestro’s heir, I am lead to the royal box where a handful of great mates are knocking back local cocktails.
Amongst the mildly-inebriated is Sebatu’s answer to Ali G, Mangku Nyoman Suar, lead dancer of that village’s Wayang Wong (sacred mask dance) troupe who are off to Europe and America in September.

The evening’s guest of honour finally arrives and the mystery of the “Royal Media Centre, Ubud” on the invite is finally solved. The awards scheme, and the Hindu Youth Brigade (Shiv Sena meets Suara Mahardika) and, one imagines, the Soekarno Centre in Sanur itself are the brain-child of the self-proclaimed ‘Raja Majapahit Bali’ Dr. Shri I Gusti Ngurah Arya Wedakarna Mahendratta Suyasa III who has the longest name and the best stylist in Bali. His golden “tongkat pecut” staff and Hindu sporran-doozie were dazzling.

Gung Bagus introduces the guest of honour not as a ‘raja’ (It’s a controversial self-appointment) but as “Dr. Gusti Karna”.
Dr. Karna gives an impassioned speech mostly about the need for the Balinese to respect each other and the need for us all to respect Balinese dancers, which we do.
He makes some erroneous claims about the lack of young talent in the Balinese art world today (I suspect he’s a bit out of touch with the art world) and about Peliatan being more vibrant, culturally, than Kuta (a spurious claim considering how remarkably Hindu Balinese Kuta is, underneath, in all respects) and about “foreigners” bringing performing artist to hotels in trucks (which is the way gamelan groups have always travelled).
The royals are all beaming in the front row — bathing in the reflected glory of the born-again ‘Raja Majapahit’. In the back stalls, we all remember Gung Kak Mandera and his legacy.