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Life and Death as seen from Bali
warning: looooong post!
Last week was for me personally a pretty dramatic one. Sometimes life, like the proverbial stage, has complete act changes, with characters either charging in from the wings or abruptly â€˜exeunt rightâ€™.
On the 8th, my daughter Lani gave birth to little Lucas in London. Whoa â€“ let me catch my breath here: I am Gramps! Beautiful little boy 6lbs 14oz. Not much Asian left in him but hey we love him! For some reason Laniâ€™s husband Nick thinks he is the most amazing boy on the planet. He was not only born on Laniâ€™s in-lawsâ€™ anniversary, it was also Laniâ€™s maternal grandfatherâ€™s birthday! Spent a lot of time on the phone to Laniâ€™s in-laws and also to her mother Sita. A lot of excitement for sure. There is a distinct possibility that Lucas will be spoiled.
On the 9th, Waisak day, some friends and I spent most of the day in quiet contemplation â€“ how little time we give to taking a breather from the hustle and bustle. Unfortunately, as this â€œretreatâ€ had been planned for a while, I missed acquaintance Aldo Landwehrâ€™s commemoration at the Green school. Aldoâ€™s untimely death was the result of a motorcycle accident on the notorious Double Six road in Legian at 6am on Sunday 3rd of May. Aldo was in his early thirties, a designer with lots of promise who had designed many of the buildings at the Green School in Bali.
But the day was not to be uneventful: that evening I heard news of the tragic death of Isa, son of friends Nicholas and Indra Schwabe, who was only 24 when he died of an overdose. He had been struggling with the drug demons for years: having spent time working with addicts in prison I know what a terrible battle this can be. Anybody who simply thinks they could handle it better has no idea. May he find an easier path.
Sunday passed peacefully enough and I attended the memorial for Bali based painter Jason Monet in the late afternoon at his hillside bamboo house/studio. It was quite a happening, Jason had led a full and colourful life. His children from two of his marriages were there, in particular his daughters put on a great show with some great eulogies, including one from Barbara Streisand who “with Elliot” apparently bought their first “joint” piece of art together from Jason.
His little granddaughter, Sayana, really stole the show with a completely uninhibited rendition of â€œyou are my sunshineâ€ for Grandpa. There were plenty of laughs and tears as people recounted their stories of the irrascible (and plenty talented) old Jason. It was a party that would have been to his liking.
But on Monday morning a sad email from old friend Gerhard Veit in Australia popped up in my inbox to tell me of the sad death of Milli Oâ€™Nair on Motherâ€™s Day. In my younger days living on the land in Oz, I shared a farm with a few friends, and one of the shareholders was Milliâ€™s mother Tara (Fleischman) and her family.
In recent years Milli had really come into her own working as a non-violent communicator and relationship mediator across Australia. At home she always travelled by push bike. Last Sunday morning a couple of young guys in a rented truck were driving down the highway after an all-nighter. The driver, at around 110 km/h, fell asleep at the wheel as he came into the stretch where Milli was cycling on her way to see Tara. On the phone Gerhardt and wife Jinta told me she died instantly. We are all shattered.
Itâ€™s interesting to see how we all deal with death. The usual clichÃ© goes that in Bali people deal with it much more directly and more acceptingly, and in the west it is relegated to undertakers. Yet in reality its slowly becoming pretty formulaic in Bali too.
A couple of weeks I learnt almost too late of the cremation of the mother an old friend of mine â€œGus Malenâ€ who is also in the same banjar (community unit) as me. As I raced off to the cemetery to catch the last moments, people were already streaming home. Not a few kidded me about being late. But as they say in Bali, better late than never, And they have another saying â€œKwale Ngenah Genâ€ â€“ as long as youâ€™re seen. Which kind of sums up a lot of these events for many Balinese.
As it was an opportunity presented itself to actually have a chat with Gus Malen, as it was quieter when I got there. It was good to touch base again. Gus has always been a bit of local rascal in a jolly sense, a pretty earthy character. We had a longish philosophical exchange, Gus having that facility that so many Balinese have of simplifying the philosophically deep and accommodating the mundane in a breath.
Meanwhile the professional hired â€œcremationâ€ expert dealt with the kerosene blow torch-like burners (forget wood these days). Having a professional deal with details has been a growing trend in Bali over the last 10-20 years! But the personal touch is still there â€“ Gus Malen went around himself offering watermelon slices to everyone in the hot afternoon sun, and didnâ€™t neglect to offer one up to the pyre for his Mum. Perhaps Balinese are not as demonstrative because they have such elaborate rituals?
On the other hand on Tuesday, watching the funeral of Isa, I did get a strong feeling of real loving and demonstrative care from the local expat community. None of the couple hundred strong crowd was there because it was their duty â€“ everyone wanted to be there to show support for the family. The slightly new agey ritual kind of made itself up, but there was some rhyme and perhaps reason. Jim Morrison sang â€œThe Endâ€ from the other world through the ghetto blaster, replacing the usual Bali gamelan. Indra kept it together amazingly, how gracious she was under such circumstance. There were touching messages from his friends and family. All things considered, it was a good send off for the boy.
I am looking forward to a hopefully quiet rest of the weekâ€¦