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 ‘exeunt right’.

Welcome Lucas!
Welcome Lucas!

On the 8th, my daughter Lani gave birth to little Lucas in London. Whoa – 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 Lani’s husband Nick thinks he is the most amazing boy on the planet. He was not only born on Lani’s in-laws’ anniversary, it was also Lani’s maternal grandfather’s birthday! Spent a lot of time on the phone to Lani’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 – how little time we give to taking a breather from the hustle and bustle. Unfortunately, as this “retreat” had been planned for a while, I missed acquaintance Aldo Landwehr’s commemoration at the Green school. Aldo’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.

Jason's life
Jason's life

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.

Sayana does "You are my Sunshine"

His little granddaughter, Sayana, really stole the show with a completely uninhibited rendition of “you are my sunshine” 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 O’Nair on Mother’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 Milli’s mother Tara (Fleischman) and her family.

Millie on her bike...(from Northern Star)
Millie on her bike...(from Northern Star)

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.

It’s interesting to see how we all deal with death. The usual cliché 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 “Gus Malen” 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 “Kwale Ngenah Gen” – as long as you’re seen. Which kind of sums up a lot of these events for many Balinese.

Gus Malen at his Mum's cremation
Gus Malen at his Mum's cremation

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 “cremation” 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 – Gus Malen went around himself offering watermelon slices to everyone in the hot afternoon sun, and didn’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 – 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 “The End” 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.

Farewell Isa
Farewell Isa

I am looking forward to a hopefully quiet rest of the week…

One Response to “ENTER LEFT, EXIT RIGHT”

  1. Chicco Nava

    I am one of the ten millions friends Nicholas and Indra met during their long life. First time I met Nick we were both very young, I was still not english speaking. Eyes were talking. It was 1983. Years passing by, his family was growing, first came Sabine, one by one their 3 children, Last time I met them was 1999. Isa was 14, intelligent, beautiful and full of life and enthusiasm. Surf was apparently his main interest. Wisdom and inner balance his goal. During a party over jimbarani hill I remeber an entire evening we spent talking about my long indian experience. He was curious and fascinated by my descriptio of that world able to deeply capture his mother soul and discipline of life. We were sitting in circle together with many young people talking to each other. Sight was amazing and while talking we passed from sunset to twilight to candle light.
    Later Nick, being a good father, show curiosity and concern about our long conversation.
    Few months later I met my future wife. She is from Beijing. We had a daughter. Now Bali is out of my way, but ancient friends are always in my heart.

    Please be patient to me and if you know, tell me how could that happened that such a wonderful guy went wrong. What, if you know, his inner suffering.
    I cannot ask directly to Indra, nor to Nick.
    When I will write to Indra and Nicholas i want my words to comfort their suffering hearts and not reason for further grief.

    OM Shanti

    Chicco from Milano


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