Wednesday, September 21, 2005
It was a Saturday morning.
My vehicle inched its way into the little market town of Parung, which is on the back road to Bogor, and which is the meeting place of two narrow and particularly busy roads.
The traffic stopped and became completely jammed.
A very fat little policeman and a skeletally thin policeman looked as if they had given up trying to get the traffic moving and were resignedly breathing in the thick brown fumes of buses and lorries.
After a wait of ten minutes, my stomach began to tense up.
I ordered Mo to park at the side of the road, jumped out of my vehicle and set off on a walk.
I left the long dusty street of concrete, garage-like shops and crossed an area of weed-covered parkland where small barefoot boys were playing football under a deep blue sky.
At the edge of the parkland stood a home-made wooden shack, outside which sat a barefoot old crone, possibly in her late forties.
Beside her sat her depressed-looking little son, aged about four.
I felt instantly sorry for the four-year-old as he and his mother conjured up images of Victorian poverty and distressed characters in Grimms’ fairy stories.
The woman told me that she was unwell and pulled down part of her grey blouse to reveal a large dark misshapen growth on one of her meagre breasts. She told me her name was Nurul and that her husband lived in Jakarta.
Nurul seemed resigned to her condition, but was eventually persuaded to come with me to the nearest doctor’s clinic. We set off on foot.
A serious-looking woman doctor examined Nurul, diagnosed breast cancer, and explained that surgery at a hospital was almost certainly required.
Nurul was adamant that she was not going to a hospital and was certainly not going to let anyone get at her with a knife.
The doctor failed to change Nurul’s mind and so dispensed some rather expensive pills. I assumed the doctor knew what she was doing.
Having said goodbye to Nurul, and having promised to return within a few weeks to get her more pills, I returned to my vehicle and found that the traffic had eased and that my journey could continue.
Somewhere between Parung and Bogor I asked the driver to stop. I needed some exercise and it is always exciting getting out in the middle of nowhere. I set off down an unknown track.
There was a steep descent, through some trees and an impoverished hamlet, down to some fish ponds.
And at the water's edge there was a wonderful surprise: a house-sized statue of a fat grinning dwarf-creature sat above a stupa.
Some giggly young girls and boys had followed me and they were now disporting themselves around the base of the monument.
From the trees came a very old man of diminutive stature. He had the same roundish body and the same friendly smile as the statue.
"President Suharto comes here at particular dates," said the man.
"Suharto?" It was difficult to imagine the elderly president walking down the rough path past the falling down shacks of the hamlet.
"Yes, the President. This structure is linked to others in different parts of Java."
"What’s the link?" I asked.
"It’s to do with energy flow," said the man. "Energy flows along lines between holy sites."
"Ley lines?" I asked, but the man had not heard that term before.
"The energy can help you to understand things better, can help you to be in harmony with God."
"We need all things to be in harmony to avoid disease and disaster."
"How does the energy work?"
"Every object contains energy or power. The trees and mountains and animals. It is important to have things in balance."
"So, is this place here very special? Is it a special place in the universe?"
"Everywhere is special. The universe is in every person and in every place." The man smiled his gnome-like laughing smile.
The funny thing was that I sort-of believed him.
Thanks to Samsu, I had read about physicist David Bohm’s belief that all the information about the entire universe is contained within each of its many parts. It’s like a hologram. The whole is in every part. The world is an indivisible whole. There is only one of us.
I had read about physicist Alain Aspect's discovery that small particles, many miles apart, could appear to communicate with each other, as if they were part of the same whole. Well, these physicists do do strange things.
"The universe is in everything?" I said. "Have you heard of quantum physics?"
The man gave me a blank stare. "I don’t know about that," he said.
"Is this statue Islamic?" I was remembering that Indonesia has more Moslems than the entire Arab world and that Islam in Indonesia has a strong spiritual side.
"No," said the man, shaking his head.
"So the statue is animist? Or it’s linked to Hinduism?"
"It’s something traditional," said the old man, who didn’t seem to understand the words ‘animist’ or ‘Hinduism’.
There was a call from somewhere up near the hamlet and the old man shook my hand and wandered off into the trees.
I decided to continue my walk and followed a path alongside a narrow river sided by rice fields and the occasional banana tree. Some of the children decided to follow me through this sunny world of magical colours.