Life inside a mill+residences campus isn't exactly similar to gracious living within a posh Gated Community. Especially in an Indonesian countryside compound thats 40 kms. from anywhere. More like "incarceration" in a 4 star facility bearing as its postal address just a series of pointers : " Km.44 on Highway to xxx xxxx, Behind Village xxxxx , North End of Province xxxx." I guess our letters were delivered not by mailmen but by cartographers. No wonder the milkman chose to appear only twice a week. But life went on ; we lived an indian life less ordinary and even worked up nostalgia for it later !
The campus, which was home to me for a decade, nestled in a sylvan setting , amidst verdant lush paddy fields, in the shadow of a respectably tall hill . The climate,over all, was "hill-station"ish. The gardens in front of the 20 houses, tended by the company gardeners, were in perpetual bloom. The Housekeeper, a pleasant faced, industrious old lady took care of everything and spoilt me rotten.
Life was good. IF one learnt
to forget regular supply of english newspapers and magazines ;
and to take snakes for granted ;
and to plan 24 hours ahead even to buy the occassional ice-cream so that the pooled conveyance could be booked and allotted ( Impulsive outings just to "hang out " were unthinkable );
and to move into hotel rooms till the rainwater drained out of the flooded house during the fearsome monsoons;
and to traipse around the millions of snails that materialised out of nowhere ,seasonally, encrusting even the front door and the service counters at the back;
and to march up and down the single road in batches during evenings for want of anything better to do -much like the activity of caged foxes in a zoo.
<-Dutch-Indonesian house design, called Indische,in Bandung.
But campus life was heaven for the children. At any given time there were at least 6 to 8 little kids and about 4 teens living in the campus. They all enjoyed the company of friends 24x7 and curiously, age and gender never mattered in the games they chose to play. If Barbie's tea Party was the flavour of the day, boys were officially girls and the latter would, on a later date, make macho Batmen to the boys' Goblin or Joker. They lived without any curfew. They played on the street without fear of traffic. Even after dark, thanks to the security service. They developed a strong sense of joint family as they could walk in and out of any home , at any time, helping themselves to any treat from any fridge. They all went to the same school , bought the same toys , snacked on the same munchies and went on picnics together. It has created a deep bond among them. Today, 15 years later, the bunch to which my daughter belonged , now dispersed around the world, still "hang out" together in Facebook and constantly wail: " I miss Bandung !"
We never actually lived in Bandung but the name is used, among us, as a blanket moniker to encompass the whole experience of those 10 years.
Bandung, the nearest city to where we lived, is a beautiful place.
Good roads. Spic and span public squares and parks. Abundant trees and lawns everywhere. Pleasant mannered, ever smiling people - Inscrutable buddhas.
Bandung is the birthplace of "Non Aligned Movement".- with a nice colonial building, now a museum, commemorating it. The Asia Afrika Museum ( below) has a diorama showing the leaders who initiated the Bandung Conference in 1955. And that includes Sri Nehru. In the souvenir shop attached to the museum, one can buy T.Shirt with B&W print of Nehru on it ! Have never seen Nehruji on a T.Shirt in our country ! The Indian School here is also named for Nehru.
From the Bandung scrapbook:
As a nascent immigrant group of 8 ladies and 12 children we once set out to see the prized "exotic" inmates of the City Zoo , reported on TV : Bird of Paradise and Komodo Dragon. The former sat sadly in its smelly little cage denuded of its splendid plumage, looking like a naked sparrow. The latter was a youngster toddling around and looked like our usual monitor lizards with nothing to justify the Dragon title. Big disappointment. The Orang Utans saved the day. But the general seediness of the zoo was quite putting-off and we never visited it again. Especially after we discovered the wonderful open- sanctuary called Taman Safari in nearby Bogor. Having an inquisitive Llama snatch a sandwich out of one's hand or a cranky ostrich chase one's car were thrilling experiences. And we once got to hold White Tiger cubs in our hands.
A day before the 3-day Hari Raya ( Ramadan) Holiday, the whole populace gets moving. It is the biggest annual migration i've ever seen. They call it "Pulang desa" = going home to the village. The whole city shuts down and everyone takes a hike. Interminable convoys of gigantic buses and private vehicles clog the highways for hours. There is as much loud hollering as earsplitting music. I used to wonder if the passengers ever reached their native villages on time for the big feast. Then, for the next three days, utter peace, absolute and total. Not a soul to be seen out anywhere. At the end of the holiday, a reverse flood when everyone returns.
A spooky story:
Just on the outskirts of villages and small towns , one can notice some windowless concrete cubic buildings bearing the name " Ketok Majik " ( Magic Box). These turned out to be tinker's workshops where automobiles were repaired. Only, here the work was not done by mechanics but by Spirits ! Hard to believe. But natives swear by them. No sound is ever heard. But the faulty or damaged vehicles come out good as new. Needless to say, no one is allowed in, nor inquisitive questioning entertained. The Magic endures.
A Jean-etic dis-order:
Markets in Bandung are numerous and specialised. There are supermarkets, native markets,gold markets,leather market,flower market.......and a Jeans Market.
A long street called Jalan Cihampelas, exclusively for Jeans and things denim, has shops outdoing each other in putting up the most spectacular, most crazy decorations and displays. A bizarre bazar ! If a 25 ft. inflatable King Kong grapples a shop in its villainous clap, a real Cessna plane "crashlands" into another's roof ! One shop is a wigwam festooned with Buffalo and "Paleface" heads, mohawk axes and beaded dreamcatchers. Another is King Solomon's Mines. Outsized figures of iconic Hollywood characters, Chinese gods, European royalty and cartoon figures sprout from foyers, windowpanes and rooftops. Some, like the Naga from local mythological movies, are animated with mechanical action. Gigantic Jeans frame some doorways. High decibel , pounding music is piped throughout the street. Its all completely over the top, whacky, no apologies ! And the jeans sold are incredibly inexpensive.
Power Puff Girls:
There's a predominance of women in the workforce. Since schooling is free and college education expensive, 80% of the girls leaving school take up jobs in mills , factories and shops. Most minor businesses are also run by women. Non-employed wives of civil servants too belong to an active organisation called Dharma Wanita ( their emblem in pic.) and engage themselves in myriad community service activities and socially productive work. As far as i have seen, women there are busier than men. One can see many men loitering and lazing around. But i never saw a woman inactive. One other virtue i noticed there was that all women, be they humble farmers or wealthy entrepreuners,young or old, take utmost care of themselves and give high priority to personal grooming. I was told that their traditional health and beautycare system gives them hundreds of potions and powders to keep beautiful, inside and outside, and that the regimen starts right from birth ! On the contrary, men are somewhat...... careless.
Bandung, like all Indonesian cities, is also a most lively place when it comes to street food. The kiosks, carts and open air food courts are ever busy and teeming with customers, except during the fasting month. The natives are inordinately fond of sweet dishes and shrimp garnish. So wherever one goes, the air is heavy with the aroma of some coconut milk based pudding steaming or of a shrimp garnished snack frying or ,as often,both . The cart-kitchens that turn out a sweet, thick,stuffed crepe called Martabak Manis , and a colourful, falooda-like, multi layered drink called Cendol are a delight to watch. Gado-Gado ( salad) and Mie Goreng ( fried noodles) are available and relished any time of the day. The Bubur ( porridge)carts start business very early in the morning, by 6 am., along with the Jamu Ladies . Jamu is the native equivalent of our Ayurveda. These ladies sell freshly made tonics which are said to keep a person energetic and efficient throughout the day.
Talking of food, two establishments in Bandung are indelible in memory.
One is a chic restaurant called " Ahimsa" that serves only vegetarian fare. Their USP is that they create veggie dishes that look like non-vegetarian recipes. So that the habitual carnivores can have at least some visual satisfaction ! The " baked fish" ( made of spiced sweet potato, pumpkin and onions) and the " fried Chicken" ( made of cottage cheese and bell pepper) look awesomely real ! (The authentic look sometimes unnerved me !) The menu carries names like Poached eggs , Chilli meatballs, Corned beef cutlet, Peking Duck etc. but with thoughtful descriptions of what they are really made of.
The other is a small eatery called "Kobra", that stood on the highway along a small town called Ujung Burung on the outskirts of Bandung city. On our weekly outings to Bandung city, we had to pass this place on the return journey. Everytime the response it evoked in us was the same, inspite of the innumerable times : Skin crawled and we went "eeek". This bistro served only snakes. Through the green tinted windows were visible rows of snakes hanging like strings and sausages. Also displayed proudly in the porch was a huge glass trough , full of wriggling live specimens for customers who demand " fresh" food. Drinks advertised were Snake blood and Snake wine ( regular alcoholic beverages in which snakes were soaked). We kept promising ourselves that we'd enter "Kobra" once before we left Bandung. We never did. Thats one thing i don't regret.
I attended the wedding reception of a colleague's daughter (when I briefly taught in the Indian school) and made a quick sketch of the lovely couple, in my note book. The girl's head gear was awash with "melati" ( jasmine) strings and tinsel flowers. They looked gorgeous . Here's my sketch - background is a typical batik print.
We used to see such wonderful, huge, tiger moths, in the garden during some seasons at dusk. But their visits were very brief.