Bali: First Impressions of a Visiting Indian

By V.S.Gopalakrishnan

I am a Tamilian from Chennai and living in Mumbai, India, on an educational and recreational trip to this beautiful island of Bali. The history, culture and wonders of nature of this island attracted me on to this trip.

Over the last few days whatever I have seen, absorbed and learned are really fascinating. It would be difficult for me to put my impressions in one article. So I shall start with my first impressions.

People I encounter ask me whether I am a Hindu when they question me and find out that I am from Mumbai, India. They give me a big smile and say, “I am also a Hindu.” A real, proud moment for them. “What is your name?” is the usually next question. And I usually say “Krishna.” They feel a delight. “Krishna is the God,” they would say.

When people find out that I am from Mumbai, they at once talk to me about Bollywood movies and the actor Shah Rukh Khan (SRK). Bali is presently under a Chayya Chayya rage. Everyone seems to be singing this song. SRK is the best known Indian name here. This song from the film Dil Se (1998) is nearly 12 years old, with a young Shah Rukh gyrating around from the top of a moving train. However, an Indonesian policeman called Norman Kamaru has become famous overnight ago when his rendering of Chayya Chayya took the whole nation by a storm and he was given special honours by the police chief. Local TV programmess are full of Norman Kamaru and his Chayya Chayya rendering. I do think that he is very good with that song.

My first nightmare while landing at any foreign airport is the question of whether one would get a free trolley for the luggage. Every second country you visit, including the advanced ones, is quite foolish when it comes to luggage trolleys. You are expected to carry a coin of that country right from your “port of embarkation.” Your dollar notes are of no avail when you retrieve the luggage. And you cannot change the dollar bills for the local currency until you exit customs with your luggage. If I remember rightly, a shop assistant at Istanbul gave me a free local coin for a trolley. At Sao Paulo, I had to manage the Herculean effort of dragging my suitcases as I had no Brazilian coins. Can the International Civil Aviation Organization not lay down a rule that luggage trolleys at all international airports should be made available for free? Luckily at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport the luggage trolleys were free. That is the best welcome to a foreign tourist in any country.

However, the Indonesian currency is a real bugbear to contend with. With one US dollar being equal to nearly 9,000 rupiah, you get lost all in the zeros. A hotel bill for 15 days at US$40 a day would entail that you part with a colossal Rp5.5 million! This is simply cruel. The government of Indonesia as well as its Central Bank should do some thinking post haste and bring more logic into the exchange equations. Perhaps two zeros could be omitted from the rupiah’s value. I recall that the French francs and the Italian liras also used to run amok with zeros, and were rectified before the euro ultimately swamped them.

I am mightily proud to be an Indian Hindu – about 80 percent of the 1.2 billion Indians are Hindus – visiting a distant Hindu land, Bali, where this religion has survived and thrived in vicissitudes over nearly 2,000 years. Indeed, there are very many striking differences between the two cultures based on the same religion. I came across so many people with the same names in Bali, such as Nyoman and Made. And I learned that the first-born in a family is called Wayan, the second-born Made, the third-born Nyoman and the fourth-born Kutut. In India, this is not the practice but we have surnames which are the last names, and the first names are usually the personal names in India, such as Kiran (meaning ray), Arun (sun), Akash (sky) etc.

I was most struck by the fact that there is no dowry system amongst the Balinese Hindus. Dowry is the cash and kind that a bride’s father has to pay to the bridegroom’s father before the wedding is celebrated. This can equal a few thousand dollars. Therefore, a girl born in a family in India is regarded as a burden by her parents. There are occasional cases of girl-baby infanticide, too. Although Indian law has prohibited receipt of dowry money by the bridegroom’s parents, the practice continues, though much attenuated compared to what was happening in earlier times.

I happened to witness a Hindu funeral procession while I was on one of my tours in Bali. The pomp and splendour, the decorations and festoons, the huge crowds carrying large offerings and the gaiety of the situation thoroughly confused me. I came to know that funerals and cremations are extremely elaborate and expensive affairs. This indeed took me by shock and surprise. In India, Hindu funerals and cremations are very solemnly carried out amidst a lot of natural grief, with prayers said for the departed soul. In towns and cities, the body is consigned into an electric crematorium, and later the collected ashes are strewn upon rivers or sea waters.

I feel there is much ignorance of the cultural practices of Balinese people amongst the Indian Hindus, and similarly great ignorance of the cultural practices of the Hindus of India among the Balinese. There is no substitute to travels and exchanges between these people for learning more about each other. Such learning should lead to absorbing those practices that are considered good and practical, and abandoning those that can be said to be irrelevant, outdated or harmful.

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