Pankaj Mishra reports from Indonesia: LRB

Pankaj Mishra
Pankaj Mishra

I first visited Indonesia in 1995. For someone from India, as I was, to arrive in a country that was once part of the Hindu-Buddhist ecumene was to drift into a pleasurable dream where minor figures familiar from childhood readings of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata loomed over city squares. The Dutch, unlike the British in India, had inflicted few obviously self-aggrandising monuments on the country they exploited. Squatters now lived in the decaying colonial district of Kota in Jakarta where the Dutch had once created a replica of home, complete with mansions, canals and cobbled squares. By the time I visited, the language of the colonial power had been discarded and a new national language, Bahasa Indonesia, had helped pull together an extensive archipelago comprising more than 17,500 islands and including hundreds of ethnic groups.

Monideepa Sahu reviews Toraja: Misadventures of an Anthropologist in Sulawesi, Indonesia by Nigel Barley for Kitaab (Monsoon Books; US$ 15.95, Pp 232)

toraja-jpgThe name Sulawesi, Indonesia invokes mystery and the lure of the exotic and unknown. This book offers a knowledgeable and entertaining account of an anthropologist’s journey through a remote, largely uncharted region and culture.

The author succeeds in making us laugh page after page with hilarious accounts of his travels rife with the human touch. He also offers enough insights to engage serious readers. The spontaneous flow of humour is sustained throughout the book, with only a few points where it could seem contrived. This is certainly no mean feat.

Rainbow-TroopsPallavi Aiyar on Andrea Hirata and the bestselling Indonesian novel of all time in LARB

In Indonesia, Laskar Pelangi or The Rainbow Troops, a book about two village teachers and their rag-tag clutch of elementary school children has touched a chord, or rather, millions of chords. The book has gone on to sell five million copies, making its author, Andrea Hirata, the best selling writer of all time in the country, and the only one in recent history to enjoy international success.

Merely mentioning the name Andrea Hirata, though, seems to transform everyone in Indonesia, from posh society ladies to taxi drivers, into shiny-eyed eulogists. When I tell our cook that I am about to interview him, she squeals, fumbling a heavy ladle in her excitement. “I love his book,” she declaims passionately, splattering the kitchen with oil. And when my driver discovers he’s taking me to a rendezvous with the author, his voice chokes with emotion as he repeatedly mutters what a “nice man,” a “good man,” which everyone agrees Hirata is.

John Pilger

According to a statement by the organisers of Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, John Pilger, Australian journalist and documentary maker based in London, has confirmed his participation as featured guest in the main Festival program.

Pilger has twice won Britain’s Journalist of the Year Award and his devastating and internationally renowned documentaries have polarised media and public opinion for decades. In 2009, he was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize in recognition of his courage as a foreign and war correspondent in enabling the voices of the powerless to be heard.