Small communities of expatriate Indians , living in far flung small towns in alien land, are always thrilled to seize upon any excuse to have a jingoistic bash where they can wallow in nostalgia and longing for "home", with over- the- top exhibitions of Desi-ness.
Hyper-Desi sentiments, Uber-Desi attire, Ultra-Desi feasts .
Diwali is one such excuse and a grand one at that.
In the ghetto of the factory -campus in a smaller- than -small town of Indonesia, where we once lived, Diwali was always a Big Fat Desi Affaire par Excellence - yeah, Bollywood dances religiously included ! The Party was usually held not on actual Diwali day, but on the Saturday night nearest to it.
Since Fireworks were prohibited, a few anaemic chinese flare sticks were burnt for "tradition's" sake. But the rest of the party was great fun. Women turned out in bridal finery, men togged up like residual royalty, children stumbled around in cumbersome "ethnic" wear.
Dark odiferous chinese Gingelli oil , fuelled an assortment of wick lamps ( some lit in Pyrex dessert cups);
Sugar and coloured flour, incarnating in dozens of shapes and flavours, were exchanged by tray loads;
Reluctant children were bullied into reciting atrociously accented bhajans and shlokas ;
Any auntie who ever had sa-re-ga-ma dinned into her in her past, however remote, was given a concert hall opportunity ;
Rummy and Bingo went on in dizzying rounds ;
the latest ' filmi geets ' provided the background score ;
A lavish feast ,prepared by a battalion of housekeepers, was pigged into at unholy and unhealthy hours ;
And finally when everyone staggered home with take away gifts, it would almost be the dayafter. Who says we expats din't nurture Bharatiya Sanskriti !
Once, on a Diwali day ( midweek), a group of us decided to go on a little picnic to Garut, a district much eulogised for its Natural Beauty and geological curiosities. (Garut is also widely known for the delicious fudge , Dodol).
About 3 hours from home, the district is dotted with Volcanoes of all sort- active,dead, resting, incipient, susceptible , take-your-pick. Though stuck with an intimidating scientific label : " unstable stratovolcanic complex", Garut District ,which lies on elevated land , has a lovely crisp, newly washed feel to it.
When faint traces of sulphurous fumes start tainting the cool air, we know we are in proximity of the Patuha Volcano with its two huge craters Kawah Putih and Kawah Patuha..... We choose to visit the former as it has a 8 meter deep lake , while the latter is dry. Both places are marked out as tourist sight seeing spots, so there are ticket booths, paved walk ways , snack kiosks and trash bins at the entrance. A five minute walk from there takes us to the crater proper. It is v-a-s-t.
The water in the crater has a milky, greenish glaze to it and dense white fumes keep issuing out of it. The rim is well covered with vegetation and bleached volcanic rocks. It looks beautiful . And also a wee bit sinister, reminding one of Dante's "Inferno".From there, we drive for half an hour more to reach"Bumi Panas Kawah Kamojang" , a 25 hectare Geothermal Field, sitting on Mount Guntur ( =meaning Thunder), which incidentally is listed as "Active" ! We soon learn, to our relief ,that the activity consists only of boiling mudpools and steam geysers. There are about two dozen geysers, some of which shoot steam upto 20 meters into the air. PERTAMINA, the state owned Energy outfit, taps this geothermal energy for production of electricity.
The small Kamojang Township that we pass through looks very pretty and unbelievably like the toy town in Noddy stories. Neat as a pin !
A copse of woodland later, we enter the actual Geothermal Field.
The whole Field is heavily guarded and we are let in only after necessary clearance from the check post.
As we drive down, we can see dense white clouds issuing from the forest cover. Flanking the road are emerald meadows which are criss -crossed with snaking and twisting miles of large blue tubing . Looks like some futuristic movie set. They all lead to the power plant at the far end of the field, but we have no access to it. Tourists are expected to disembark at the parking lot and stroll through the jungle paths . And an awesome trek it is !
Boiling mud pools and steam vents pop up along the beaten paths without notice. Geysers howl intermittently behind bushes. And sulphur steam clouds up vision here and there. Often, we tip toe cautiously, picking our way gingerly between two simmering mud pools. At many places one can feel the heat through the very ground one is walking on.
The earth is literally seething here. Some particularly powerful geysers are( mercifully) fenced in ! One Geyser called "The Locomotive" makes a sound very similar to a steam engine.
Such tremendous heat just underfoot, yet, the jungle is so lush ; the air remains cool, even nippy; birds and small animals romp around merrily. Difficult to understand this compatibility.
By noon, we were heading home.
'Look at us' we told ourselves, 'good bharatiya behenjis, goose- stepping around smelly craters , instead of going to a temple on Diwali day ! '
The day was still young. So, on an impulse, we decided to take a small detour and visit Cangkuang Picnic Spot , a site we had heard about.
We had heard that there was a nice island there, in a nice lake , with nice boating facilities, surrounded by nice gardens. We arrived expectantly. And it was .....NICE !
Pretty picture. The nice lake even had nice patches of white and purple waterlilies in full bloom. Boating meant taking a nice reed raft fitted with benches and an awning. So pretty and so nice that anyone weaned on a diet of Desi movies could break into a nice song .
As we rafted towards the island, which was covered with tall straight trees, we noticed , with excitement, the outline of a........Candi ! A hindu temple ! Now this was a real discovery for we had had no info. about it before that. We scrambled up the bank and, sure enough, found a small stone temple of some antiquity. It looked austere with not much ornamentation.
Of course, compared to the magnificent Siwa temples of Central Java, this one was only a bare and humble structure, but it's importance lay in its utmost rarity in West Jawa. A sign board explained that the present temple was reassembled from ruins excavated from under old volcanic debris. We peeped inside the sanctum and found only a small, unidentifiable torso . But it was called "Durga" ! Right behind the temple lay a grave. That of a revered muslim preacher of 17th. century named Arif Mohammad, who, as a Mataram warlord, had earlier resisted , unsuccessfully, the invading Dutch adventurers.
We returned home by dusk, happy at having witnessed the steaming detritus of Mother Nature's own fireworks and happier still with our unexpected visit to an ancient Durga temple on Diwali day.
A nice co-incidence, which can also be called a nice miracle.