It is funny what you remember of a place, or an experience. And also how you cannot predict what you will remember many years from now and how you will react to it. I didn’t travel much as a child, travel wasn’t as cool or ‘required’ for ‘horizon broadening’ as we think it is today. We were carted from home to ‘native place’ once a year, and that was pretty much it. Many years later, when I was in my late teens, my father moved to Indonesia and in those five odd years that he worked there I visited twice or thrice before I went off to college (weirdly cannot remember how many times!) This was around 17-18 years ago. Recently, when I received a call from a PR company asking if I would be willing to travel to Bali I didn’t even think it through or visit my schedule, I just said yes. I was going back to Indonesia, why would I say no!
Rewinding back to those years… Trips to Indonesia was all about things we didn’t have in India and an indulgent parent who was wiling to do anything to make up for the time he was spending away. My brother and I were teenagers, our world view was changing, there were all kinds of influences from western fashion, music, movies and food. Television had opened a window to a world different from the one inside and outside our window with the blast of American shows on cable. In the India of those times, things were changing rapidly and the differences between generations was not a mere flight of steps but a couple of storeys. From watching British comedy shows like Mind your Language and Yes Minister we were now watching shows that our parents didn’t understand whether in terms of words or just culture. We would often catch them when our parents weren’t at home, or just avoid watching it with them because they would ask for explanations of words that we were either embarrassed to give or irritated to keep telling. This was the day before google where you could check the meaning of a word, or subtitles. We’d moved from a culture of Brit comedies to American shows and we would eventually become experts in deciphering the American drawl. The dichotomy of our worlds never felt too stark, it was just the way it was. We were eating sambar rice at home and watching our favourite characters eat burgers and pizza or going to school in uniform and watching American school kids wear what we called ‘colour dress’ to school everyday! Of course the dating universe and the first kiss which was still tabooed in our world, with the famous “not till you turn 24” phrase that was oft repeated. At this very juncture in my life, came Indonesia. The land pumped with borrowed money gave us large toll roads (I had never seen such speedways in India), huge air conditioned malls where you shopped without restraint or shame (It was an activity not a chore, not an indulgence!) and fast food restaurants from all over the world. We left behind our idli-dosa joints, our narrow roads with standalone shops and leapt into this world with great joy. It was close to the one we’d seen on the television but with brown Asian faces walking around, it was the familiar and unfamiliar intertwined, in multiple comforting ways. Indonesia was also my first passport stamp, and that will always be special.
Bali was beautiful and I enjoyed my short discovery of the island and neighbouring ones. It was also the familiar sights, those stamps of Indonesia, that made me happy. I got excited when I saw an A&W at the airport though I don’t like their food today. I shopped at Baatik Keris because I had to and ogled at the traditional Indonesian prints though I’d never been fond of them. Whenever I saw the word “toraja’ which is often enough I said it with funny mish-mash accent and felt pleased with myself. I tried to remember Bahasa Indonesia and used it while bargaining with people. It was almost as if I had turned back time and was a teenager again on her first trip abroad!
Nostalgia lives in forgotten corners, popping up in ways that you didn’t expect. Memories line up as a show of what was important for you then, and sometimes, like in the case of Indonesia, I am, and maybe you are too, surprised by how much priorities and worldview changes. Things that are important secure themselves onto that tapestry and years later pop up like a jack-in-the-box. Travelling back to a place, after many years, always makes me revisit myself, maybe a version a little different from the one now… and that in itself is always an interesting discovery. In all those pieces of the past, I find myself, I find my journey. And yeah, I stayed away from the air-conditioned malls of Indonesia this time.