Wednesday, 14 November 2018, 4.15 pm by Bagus Ari Saputra
I Ketut Bagia Astawa and one of the old regular guests at Gayatri in the early 2000s. Photograph: Bagus Ari Saputra/Gayatri
Hosting is in our blood.
In 2002, when the founder of Gayatri, I Ketut Bagia Astawa, welcomed his son, who was studying abroad, back to Ubud, it did not take him long to get to his very Balinese conception of legacy. "This will all be yours one day," he said echoing Mufasa, "I made it all for you," though instead of pointing to savannahs, great rocks, and that epic tree with endless branches growing densely to the sides, he gestured towards some Balinese style bungalows, a lotus pond, and the rice fields beyond.
His twelve-year-old-son, still caught up in a Eurocentric mindset and feeling like he was in a slightly backward place where superstition reigned supreme and recycling was more likely to be used to refer to the reincarnation of souls as opposed to sustainable waste management, felt a bit put upon and found his father's effusiveness lacking in his heart. "When I retire, you will take over," he continued and then left a pause, waiting for the response that he wanted. The boy felt the pause grow, sit down, and then indicate that it did not intend to go any time soon, so he had to say something. "Look, Dad, this is lovely and all that, but I really can't see myself living here. For a a few weeks or months, sure. But permanently? What would I do?".
The father finished tying his sarong and made his way to the door. Without looking back, he shut the door, muttering "Stupid boy" on his way out.
Now in 2018, I, the stupid boy in question, found this old photo of my father in what appears to be the old Gayatri restaurant, and the conversation of all those years ago came back to me. I felt a bit like Michael Corleone, the son of Don Corleone in The Godfather, who seemingly does everything he can to avoid his father's fate, by choosing to have nothing to do with the family business, going away to study, planning a serious independent career, and dating a girl who is considered not one of us (American instead of Sicilian). But who ends up taking over after the Don dies? Michael. And when he does, he is more Don than the Don himself, as he has been living it since birth. He is a Corleone, it's in his blood.
The photograph shows my father with Flo, of Flo and Lau, a French couple that used to come to Bali and stay with us for several weeks, if not months, every year. They have left behind vivid memories of long conversations completely unhindered by their appalling state of English, as though communication were all about vigour and intention as opposed to mutual intelligibility, and a most French lack of inhibition when it came to sunbathing. True to their countrymen, they also exhibited a genuine interest and appreciation for local arts and traditions, which is why it is not a surprise that a picture survives of her in a lovely fuchsia kebaya. They have since gone on to build their own villa in the south of Bali, which is why they have not been seen much of late, but they of course had the good sense to supply me with their full home address and details in Brittany, if I ever felt inclined to visit, while helpfully passing on the information that their daughter is very beautiful and just happens to be exactly my age.
I love the photograph because it shows my father as what he was, the soul of Gayatri. Taking great pleasure in being with his guests. Proudly representing and communicating his culture. Displaying his personality with style. When I was young I was convinced that he was fluent in six or seven languages because he seemed to be able to welcome a person from almost anywhere, from Harajuku to Hamburg, and Helsinki to Le Havre, in their mother tongue. Most of all I love the passion that beams from his chest and the love that he had for what he did. It was never a job for him, it was a life, and one that he wanted his son to have after him.
Saturday, 10 November 2018, 11.55 am by Bagus Ari Saputra
The inspiring couple from Australia, Dale and Louise Jones, on their balcony in front of Room 3 - Aum. Photograph: Bagus Ari Saputra/Gayatri
On a sunny afternoon about a week ago, before the showers started in Ubud, I was walking along the side of the swimming pool, from south to north. There was a young couple in the room, one of whom was lounging in the shallow end, and an older gentleman doing what may have been laps (or a lap) in the main section. I was heading to the front office, with a determined step, as I had an important email to respond to. As I was making my way past, I overheard the older gentleman say "Well we have been together for forty years now...". I didn't know what the context was (whether he was saying it with pride or with resignation) but without thinking I halted my step, turned to face the man, stretched out my hand and said "Congratulations." He moved his hand toward mine, still wet and dripping, hesitantly, as if saying "For what?".
"Congratulations," I repeated. "You did say you and your wife have been married for forty years right?"
"Married for thirty-three. Together for forty," he interjected.
"Either way, it is absolutely worthy of celebration. What you have is a rarity in today's world. Loyalty, luck, love, whatever you want to call it, most people don't have what you have."
"We have our ups and downs," he said humbly.
"I am sure, as does everyone. But what I mean is that it is so rare for people in this day and age to take the time and effort to work through them. Most people appear to think that their unhappiness is caused by some external factor, whether it is work, where they live, or their partner, and that by changing one or more of those external things they will be happier. When in fact, the unhappiness is far more likely caused by something inside oneself, which one should address before trying to change others."
"Can I ask you something?" I continued, "What is your secret?" I thought I was doing the young couple in the pool a favour by asking but I was also genuinely curious.
"Tolerance," he replied with a quickness that surprised me, acoompanied by a wry smile.
There was a time when I would have found that reply depressing. When I was young, tolerance was one of those lukewarm virtues you associate with government initiatives and religion. Hardly something to set your heart alight. I wanted the secret to a beautiful romance to be kismet, that it was written in the stars, a force of nature that nothing or no one, whether family, class, language or national boundaries could stop, any more than they could stop an earthquake. That when you get together, both feel like they have been re-united with their original other halves, like the humans in the myth of Aristophanes. The secret? Listen to your heart, and don't be afraid to expose yourself, because it is only then that someone can get really close, and love you for who you are truly, as opposed to a mental construction of who you or they would like you to be. That is intimacy, that is two humans making a go at testing how close two humans can be.
That is what I would have liked to hear when I was younger, not tolerance. But now, when I heard his single word answer, it struck me as really profound. Despite its simplicity, it seemed to encapsulate a lot, it was a whole conversation in miniature. It was wise, compassionate, empathetic, experiential, generous, realistic all in one go, yet at the same time none of these things, or beyond them. It was at the same time so humble, yet also so great.