A Mirror To Bali’s Place in the Global Culture

By Hector

One of our favourite academics, I Nyoman Darma Putra, has just published an interesting work that chronicles – and critically examines – Bali’s movement to modernity in the twentieth century. A Literary Mirror, published by the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies at Leiden University, is the first English-language work to comprehensively analyse Indonesian-language literature from Bali from a literary and cultural viewpoint.

It covers the period from 1920 to 2000, and thus precisely captures the period in which Bali and the Balinese became exposed to Europeans who wanted to be with them in ways other than as colonial controllers and enforcers.

As such it is an extremely rich field for research into the ways Balinese view their culture and how they respond to external cultural forces. Darma’s work complements the large number of existing studies of Bali and its history, anthropology, traditional literature and the performing arts.

A Literary Mirror should be an invaluable resource for those researching twentieth-century Balinese authors who wrote in Indonesian. Until now, such writers have received very little attention in the existing literature. An appendix gives short biographical details of many significant writers and lists their work.

Darma Putra has several other scholarly books under his belt on a variety of literary and cultural topics, in Indonesian, including Tonggak Baru Sastra Bali Modern (2000; 2010), Wanita Bali Tempo Doeloe Perspektif Masa Kini (2003; 2007) and Bali Dalam Kuasa Politik (2008).

Today he teaches Indonesian literature in the Faculty of Arts at Udayana University, following three years at the University of Queensland in Brisbane where (from 2007-2010) he was a postdoctoral research fellow at the School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies.

Darma Putra, with whom the Diary has an ephemeral connection, was at the opening last Thursday evening of Ganesha Gallery’s latest exhibition at the Four Seasons Jimbaran, at which another Diary favourite, the artist Made Kaek, was one of the twin attractions (the other was the East Java artist Edy Able).

Unfortunately the Diary missed the show, Darma Putra and Kaek, and GM John O’Sullivan’s fine free wine, courtesy of printer’s devils, the evil spirits of the publishing world who are adept at interfering with deadlines.

Suite Delight

We enjoyed afternoon tea at the Conrad Suites on Nyepi Day, since we were inmates for the duration. It was a happy occasion and the offerings, which came upon a three-tiered plate, were very nice indeed.

The Diary chose maté as the infusion of choice – a nicely aromatic brew, a diuretic from the Argentine pampas that in our case is an affection acquired more years ago than are decently remembered – but decided to forgo the dulce de leche, a grievously dangerous Argentine delicacy, in favour of controlling the waistline and staying out of intensive care.

It’s not entirely clear to the Diary why two Argentine delights should be on the Conrad menu in Bali, though doubtless general manager David Burchett could explain it all very simply, but we were glad they were. They brought to mind an incident – also more years ago than are decently remembered – when on return to Australia from a long holiday in South America we brought back five kilos of tinned dulce de leche for a sadly deprived Argentine friend.

The Aerolineas Argentinas flights in those days went only to and from Auckland in New Zealand, and on deplaning there to transfer to a Kiwi flight onwards to Sydney, a little canine chap in a smart Quarantine coat became wildly interested in one of our suitcases. It contained the contraband, but was a newly purchased hide portmanteau fresh (so to speak) from Buenos Aires, and we were able to persuade his minder that it must be the cowhide that had got his little charge’s nose twitching.

A further thought occurred to your Diarist as he and the Distaff munched through the triple-decker tea plate. This was an apt allegory for his career: you start at the top and work your way down.

Oh, Knickers

It does you good to look at the press in other places from time to time. There is madness upon the world (and we do not refer to Moamar Kadhafi or any of the other mentally challenged dictators that blight the globe). It was brought to mind in this instance by a story we saw in the London Daily Telegraph, which reported that transgender prisoners – defined apparently as men who might only think they are women, or would like to be but haven’t had the dangly bits cut off yet – are to be allowed to have padded bras and wear makeup.

We think that’s fine; we’re all in favour of people being what they want to be, as long as it’s legal. Cross-dressing might be odd, even risible, but it’s harmless. The astonishing thing is that the British bureaucracy – led in this instance by the Home Secretary, Kenneth Clark, who up to now has seemed to be such a sensible fellow – is apparently determined to make the UK’s prisons into even more of a national holiday camp service.

We’re all in favour of rehabilitation, too. But it would be sensible to start that process from the other end of the deal. People are in prison because they have broken the law. That must mean, surely, that they have put themselves beyond the Pale? They are serving sentences for all sorts of offences that normal people – that term is used deliberately – would not contemplate committing. Rehabilitation would better start with an offender’s contrition and self-motivated re-education, not with featherbedding (or a padded bra).

Why they should be permitted to vote, to be called Mr (or Ms or Miss) by their jailers, or be provided at public expense with any more than safe and secure housing, nutritious sustenance and health and medical care, is one among a wide range of significant questions that the leaders of the liberal West have long given up trying to answer. They see their job nowadays as keeping the whining classes happy and as part of this have adopted the squalid policy of viewing transgressors as the victims.

Bad Moody’s

Many Indonesians, especially those in top bureaucratic and corporate positions where a major part of the job description is explaining why the fact that you’ve squandered all the loot doesn’t mean you’re bankrupt, will feel some sympathy for the Greeks, who have expressed anger at ratings agency Moody’s decision this week to downgrade the country’s debt. It is, we gather from the furious squawks emanating from Attica, completely unjustified.

It is thus, we gather, because the Greek authorities are right at this very moment arranging for a new and even more massive bailout to throw into the black hole of social unreality and economic irresponsibility. The extra dosh will be coming from the European Union – Greece is a member – for political reasons (no one wants another basket-case within that fractious and improbable collective) and the IMF because, well, that’s what the IMF does.

Political economy is such a fraught discipline, isn’t it? No wonder the Athens SI (the Socrates Index) has hit an all-time high. It measures the market in hemlock futures.

Back in the Box

We happily report that Hector’s helper, who last week missed out on Jack Daniels’ Bali Update, got his weekly fix as usual on Monday night. So it can only have been a glitch, one of those cyber oddities that so blight one’s life nowadays.

We were intrigued to read in this week’s collector’s edition that North Bali grape growers, fed up with declining yields, diving prices and driving rain, are ripping out their vines and leaving the industry in droves, or whatever it is that constitutes an appropriate collective noun for them: a wrath of grape growers, perhaps.

They aren’t. Some of them, sensible fellows that they are, are busy revitalising and renewing their growth stock.

On a Box Brownie

Down on latitude 38 south, in the city of four seasons in a day and public mood swings to match – we speak of Melbourne – the light on Ubud’s culinary hill, Janet de Neefe, has been posing for the camera again.

Something to do with a book, we hear.


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