The Essence of Lightness
Updated: Jan 28
Written on 4 April 2007.
Central Bali, gazing out of the window into the inky blackness that blankets the rice fields. A brief moment of darkness as a cloud skates across the silvery face of the almost full moon. The air thick with humidity, laying itself around me with an impenetrable dampness. Still so hot, despite the lateness of the hour.
Today has been an auspicious day for marriage. I enjoy Balinese weddings. There is an essence of lightness and joy that is so often missing in the West. People come and go, always with a smile. We chat and observe and eat and laugh. And chat and then laugh some more. I missed the ceremony this morning, my late arrival last night and the magic of being back in the rice fields leading me to sleep way past the time the bride and groom were praying, walking around the ceremonial ‘kitchen’ and ‘bathing’ together. But that did not matter. Time a plenty to pay my respects and enjoy the party this evening. Music by Balawan, Indonesia’s most famous Jazz musician and his band, playing to an audience made from what looked like every family in the village and a fair few more besides that. Plenty of food and plenty of people to ‘gossip’ with, as the Balinese so delightfully say.
Despite the fun I was having, it was the heat of the night that drove me home from the party early. In through the door and straight to my open-to-the-elements bathroom, clothes shed as I walked, watched by a tookae, his fat, pink and green body suspended on the wall near the shower, motionless, his coal-black eyes glistening. The hypnotic fragrance of the Sedap Malam flowers in the terracotta pot on the corner of the bath filled my awareness as I showered, causing me to shut my eyes and breathe slowly and deeply as cool needles of water danced over me as stars twinkled above me. A sensory delight.
It is now almost midnight and the moon has reappeared. From my desk I can see Gunungs Agung, Abang and Batur shimmering in the moonlight, their volcanic omnipotence undoubted yet somehow softened by the femininity of their illumination. The night is noisy. Frogs endlessly croak in competition with one another. Geckos chuckle, the tookaes talk, crickets whirr and the songs of the night birds blend with the music from the wedding party that is drifting sinuously across the fields. It’s every bit as loud as Singapore in its own way, maybe even louder and yet this is no intrusion. Instead it fills me with a deep inner peace.
My mind wanders back to the wedding where I sat absorbing the world around me. Surrounded by friends and a sea of smiles. All of us dressed in traditional attire ... pinks and blues and gold and silver. All the colours of the rainbow and more; sarongs and skin-tight kabayas, some sparkling with sequins, and flowers behind our ears. Indonesian and Balinese and laughter being woven together in a tapestry of communication that crossed all cultural and linguistic boundaries.
As I sit here watching the emerald green pinpricks of fireflies flicker beyond the windows I am reminded of the effortless harmony that can exist between humankind. I am not saying life here is without problems because of course it is not. But the respect that the Balinese have for one another, for their world and for their Gods permeates every inch of their society. On this island where terrorism has caused such much heartbreak and continuing poverty the light of non-conditional love shines very brightly.
This island is far from the one where I was born, I do not even live here permanently. And yet, when I visit I am welcomed and embraced as if I were one of the family and for that I am profoundly grateful.