I was flying to Jakarta for the second time in less than a month. This time I was at a window seat and the sky was clear. Under such circumstances the flight can be really enjoyable as you can see the islands of the Indonesian archipelago floating, as it were, on a turquoise sea. There are over three thousand islands, I gather, that make up Indonesia, many of them stamp sized and often uninhabited. You can see several of them as you fly down to Java, one of the principal islands and the site of its capital Jakarta.
The countryside (as seen from the air) around Jakarta is very familiar. There are cultivated fields, large waterbodies all very reminiscent of Bengal. Jakarta airport is like most South East Asian airports modern, efficient, but not so crowded. The visa on arrival process took all of three minutes and I was waved into Indonesia with a smile. The luggage took ages to arrive, and I always suffer from agonies of apprehension if my luggage is a little late to arrive, wondering whether it has been misdirected to Melbourne, Chennai or even Frankfurt!
The highway to the city from the airport is lined with familiar Krishnachura trees. In these climes they are still in bloom, their red blossoms lending reassuring familiarity to a distant land. Soon afterward, we were passing what can only be called Bheris, the fish cultivating ponds that are so familiar to us in Calcutta as we drive past the EM bypass. The traffic was bumper to bumper and on a Friday afternoon it took me all of two hours to reach my hotel in the centre of town.
As an Indian of my generation, somehow we feel a sort of kinship with Indonesia that is absent when we visit any of the other SE Asian countries. Perhaps it is because of President Sukarno’s friendship with Jawaharlal Nehru and subsequent Indian premiers that made us familiar with Indonesia in the pages of daily newspapers. Rabindranath also made a very successful visit to these areas in 1927, visiting Sumatra, Bali and Java, and using the local dance forms to craft some of his dance dramas as well. There is a substantial Indian influence in Indonesia, and it is acknowledged and not swept under the carpet as in some countries of the region. They are, like India, proud of their multiculturalism, and though there are problems with majorityism, (just like in India) the principal political discourse includes the syncretic elements of different cultures to build up a mosaic. I felt very much at home in Indonesia, Even the newspapers contain trenchant criticisms of their government and when I was there was a major article in the Jakarta Post criticizing the Indonesian policies in Timor. The newspapers in Singapore and Malaysia are like the Soviet newspapers of those days. The joke went that Pravda (meaning truth) had not a word of truth in it and Izvestia (meaning news) had no news, only the speeches of party officials. This tradition is alive and well in the Malayan peninsula.
I was there for a few days, but was confined to the hotel, except when our hosts took us to a sea food restaurant for dinner. The food was superb. I really gorged on all sorts of fish to make up my lack of the piscine in my diet in KL, not because fish in not available but because of my lack of culinary skills. The city of Jakarta, the central part where I stayed, was clean and shining. There were skyscrapers and eye catching monuments and flyovers and malls. However I am told by my friends there that there are poor areas which are in complete contrast the shining centre. Again, shades of India!
I plan to fog back with Susmita sometime to see the temple of Borobodur and, of course Bali. Perhaps I might even venture to the Komodo Island to see the legendary dragons. But for this trip I was confined to business and the seminar I was invited to address, and did not even get to see much of Jakarta. However from what I did, I felt very much at home and I hope to be back soon and often!


Hello, Nice to find people like you on the Blog, I'm from Calcutta, I thought Calcuttan don't blog, your topics are really very interesting.Specially about the Kolutolla street , Jews , reminds me of Calcutta University and IISWBM.
With warm Regards

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