Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Fajar, Ali, Dikin, Min, Fergus and Megawati


Skinny, gangling Fajar, accompanied by two young friends called Ali and Dikin, arrived at my house late one afternoon. Ali had a thin ten-year-old body, a pleasant happy cartoon-character face and a banjo. Dikin looked like a ten year-old from a Lassie film, and he was carrying a drum.
The two musicians sat on the living room floor. Fajar slumped in an armchair.

I suspected that all three children were several years older than they looked and I decided to ask them their ages. Ali and Dikin were thirteen. Fajar was sixteen.

"You’ve decided to get an X-ray?" I asked Fajar.

Fajar nodded and I handed over the money.

"Your friends are musicians?" I asked.

"Ali and Dikin are street musicians," said Fajar.

"Are we going to have some music?"

The two musicians beamed, picked up their instruments and began to sing a typical Jakartan street song: ‘My bonnee lees over the ocean, my bonnee lees over the sea...’ It was sung with hundred per cent gusto, and a lump came to my throat.

The maid brought in some biscuits and glasses of water for the three hungry children.

"When you wash the glasses, wash them thoroughly," I said to Ami. I noticed that Ali had a cough.

As the trio departed from the house one of my neighbours was at her gate, looking vaguely puzzled. I said to myself that one of the joys of living abroad is that you don’t have to be too conventional.


Min, his family and I took a trip to Jakarta’s giant Taman Mini recreation park and took out small boats on the lake. The boats, shaped like swans, were intended to be operated by the application of one’s feet to revolving paddles. I had a boat to myself and found the paddles relatively easy to use. Min, occupying a boat with his big brother, decided it was too difficult to use his feet. He knelt down and used his hands to move the paddles. This worked, and it gave him enormous pleasure.

I wondered about Min’s brain. He had the speech of a child aged one or two, yet he was capable of the actions of a much older person. At an earlier time, he had been able to survive alone in the city; he had deep feelings, if his eyes and facial expressions were to be believed; he had a sense of humour and a mind of his own; he was capable of showing great affection to his siblings. It was as if the computer operator, consciousness, was normal, but the computer, the brain, was damaged.

Min was now almost the tallest in his family and thankfully his behaviour had calmed down. He no longer gave people friendly punches when he was feeling playful. He behaved like an adult.


Fergus and I were having afternoon tea among the potted palms at the Borobudur Hotel. The chamber music and the elegant clientele put me in mind of Florian or Quadri in Venice’s Piazza San Marco.

"How are you?" I asked Fergus.

"Masuk Angin," he said. "It’s the computer in the office and the air-conditioner in the car that cause it. Pain in the neck and shoulder and sore sinuses. Maybe I should move the computer mouse to the left hand side."

"Have you tried rubbing on menthol cream?"

"Frequently," said Fergus. "Reflexology too. I think anger comes into it. Stress."

"Due to the traffic?"

"And nasty students. Anger makes me a pain in the neck." Fergus gave a half-smile.

"Surely not."

"They say shoulder pains are caused by a lack of flexibility, stomach pains are caused by fear and lower back pain by being fed-up."

"You been talking to a dukun?"

"No," said Fergus, as he helped himself to another dainty sandwich, "but I’ve been talking to some of our Indonesian staff. They’re depressed by what’s been happening with the PDI."

"This meeting of Megawati’s party in Medan?"

"The story is that Suharto, or maybe one of his ministers, arranged for Mega to be deposed. Officially she’s no longer party leader. This bloke called Soerjadi has taken over."

"But Mega still claims to be boss and her faction is holding on to the party HQ in Jakarta."

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