Idanna Pucci, from Florence to Bali Part I: A new edition of The World Odyssey of a Balinese prince

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Book Launch at Periplus book shop. Standing to the right of Idanna Pucci (centre) is Surya Djelantik, second daughter of Dr Djelantik and Idanna’s husband Terence Ward, also a writer (second from right). (Photo courtesy of Terence Ward)

IO – In March this year a new and re­vised edition of Idanna Pucci’s book, Against All Odds was released. The new book The World Odyssey of a Balinese Prince tells the story of Dr A.A. Made Djelantik through a series of paintings that he created which depict his life and helped him recov­er his memory after being in a coma for nearly two months. He had volun­teered to be a test patient for a new type of hernia operation by a colleague from Holland. The operation was suc­cessful but not long afterwards he de­veloped an infection and went into a coma. After awakening from the com­ma Dr Djelantik was partially para­lyzed and had difficulties remember­ing. It was through a type of painting therapy that he was able to recover the memories of his past. The book says that painting had always been his secret passion from when he first set up a tent and easel on a desert­ed island in Northern Holland on his honeymoon at the end of the Second World War.

Invitation to the launch of Idanna’s recent book The World Odyssey of a Balinese Prince on October 18th, 2019, It was held within the context of the Ubud Writers’ Festival. The publisher is TUTTLE. (Photo courtesy of Terence Ward)

Idanna Pucci, an Italian from Flor­ence who was living in Bali at the time is a writer and filmmaker. She was a friend of Dr Djelantik and visited him after his convalescence. He showed her 5 water colours that he had cre­ated of his life’s journey. Idanna was deeply attracted by the water colours. She says, “It was as if the Prince’s in­ner world had suddenly opened before my eyes,” and she saw his paintings as if, “an explosion of colours blos­somed in his mental horizon, a verita­ble rainbow of pigments awash with water.” She promised him that if he continued painting she would make a book of his life stories and illustra­tions and this led to the creation of a coffee table book entitled Against All Odds, in 2008.

Anak Agung Made Djelantik was the son of the last Raja of Karan­gasam. He was also the first Balinese to go to Holland to study medicine and become a doctor. Later after his return he was to become the head of the Sanglah General Hospital and subsequently he also became the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Udayana. The knowledge and experience in treating malaria that he obtained while assigned as a doctor in Eastern Indonesia proved useful not only in Bali but also for the World Health Organization which stationed him in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. Besides his work in the medical field Dr Djelantik was also very active in promoting the study of Balinese culture. He headed the Wal­ter Spies Society with its Walter Spies Festival which focused on Balinese music and dance. Later he also taught aesthetics at the Balinese Academy of Arts and wrote numerous papers on Balinese culture as well as a book on Balinese paintings covering Balinese art history and aesthetics.

The Bengali poet laureate Rabindranath Tagore in 1927 when he visited Bali and met Dr Djelantik’s father, the last Raja of Karangasam. (Photo courtesy of Telegraph, India, 22nd July 2011)

When Dr Djelantik was a small boy the great Indian poet laureate Rabin­dranath Tagore once visited the puri or palace at Karangasam and told Dr Djelantik’s father, Anak Agung Angloerah Ketut Karangasem that the birthmark be­tween his son’s collar bones was an auspicious mark. “Your son is bless­ed. He will meet many dangers in life but he will never be harmed…”

Water colour for A Prophetic Sign with Rabindranath Tagore on page 49 of the book. (Photo courtesy of Saritaksu, Bali)

Dr Djelantik’s water colours and Idanna Puci’s writings are in fact a narrative of the many occasions of danger and auspicious serendipity in Dr Djelantik’s life that saved him. The stories are woven together in the book making it one of the most inter­esting stories of Bali. All the events narrated are death to life stories where a situation of death or dan­ger reverts to a situation of life. They befit a man whose life was centered on healing.

In describing herself as a writer Idanna says, “I do not really con­sider myself a writer. A writer is like Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell or Michael Ondaatje. Their lives cen­tered on writing and they produced one book after another whereas I have enormous difficulties writing a book. I have always dealt with real life stories. It is because the research and stories I find are so compelling – and once I begin I have to end. In a sense I was forced to become a writer. When I saw his first 5 paintings I told Dr Djelantik that if he continued to tap into crucial moments in his life I would do a book. Once you say this and especially with that caliber of human being – you must keep your word.”

Dr. Djelantik’s watercolor of the story, A Miraculous Dog is about how his infant daughter Bulantrisna was saved from a crocodile on Buru Island. (Photo courtesy of Saritaksu, Bali)

From the many stories in The World Odyssey of a Balinese Prince, the one that stays the most clearly imprinted in Idanna Pucci’s mind is the one called A Miraculous Dog. It was at the beginning of Dr Djelantik’s career when the government sta­tioned him together with his family in Namlea on the distant island of Buru. This isolated island is in the Moluccas or Spice Islands. They lived in a little house near the sea. On day in the morning as his wife was doing household chores and Dr Djelantik was at the small clinic treating people their tiny daughter Bulantrisna was playing in a sandbox under a tree in the garden. Suddenly, a monstrous crocodile emerged from the sea and headed in a straight line for little Bu­lantrisna. Her mother came running out as the little girl screamed. The crocodile would have taken the child but just at that moment a tiny black dog rushed out of nowhere in front of the crocodile and as the great crea­ture opened its mouth the little dog jumped into its jaws. The crocodile then retreated back into the sea with its meal.

Dr Djelantik helping his daughter Bulantrisna prepare for a dance performance, London 1956. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Bulantrisna Djelantik)

Dr Djelantik was at a loss to ex­plain where the dog had come from. No one had ever seen a dog on the island and what made that little dog rush at the crocodile and then leap into its mouth?

These are the sort of stories of mi­raculous but true happenings that make up the book. Once while post­ed to a remote spot in Sulawesi Dr Djelantik was set ashore by the crew of his canoe after he decided to walk to a village rather than sail. Eventu­ally, he and his assistant had to wade across a deep river to reach the vil­lage where he was to minister as a doctor. It was only after they safely reached the opposite bank with the village that he found out that the riv­er was infested with crocodiles and that his crossing had been extremely dangerous. It was inexplicable that no crocodile had attacked them.

Another time, a chance meeting with an Iraqi general on a flight saved Dr Djelantik from execution in Iraq. A moment of kindness saved him as well as a patient from a mortar blast during the Second World War, and a gust of wind from Bayu the God of Wind saved him and his son Widoere from the gas of a volcanic eruption on Mount Agung, the highest and most holy mountain in Bali. These are just a few of the miraculous tales of Dr Djelantik’s life.

Dr. Djelantik’s watercolor for the story A Wind from the East, is about the devastating eruption of Gunung Agung in 1963. (Photo courtesy of Saritaksu, Bali)

Idanna Pucci is a fine writer with an ability to convey all of this with a prose that reads like poetry capturing not only the spirit of an extraordinary man who somehow met each of life’s challenges with peace and healing, but also capturing something of the culture and magical spirit of Bali. It is a place where the supernatural and miracles are accepted as common place.

Idanna says that it is all a mys­tery. “It is so Indonesian,” she re­marks. “Even now in a contemporary global world, I do not know how it happens. When in Indonesia, I know these things of serendipity and syn­chronicity are true but if you mention it elsewhere they think you are crazy. I think it has to do with the power of nature in Indonesia. There are things that happen in that Archipelago that do not happen elsewhere: esoteric, mysterious and profound.”

Dr. Djelantik’s watercolor of the story on page 100 of the book entitled: River Crossing
(Photo courtesy of Saritaksu, Bali)

Where did that dog in Buru come from? It is amazing that the croc­odiles in that isolated village in Su­lawesi did not disturb Dr Djelantik but also that after that incident all the villagers who were reluctant to consult with a doctor especially one from so far away, immediately gave him their trust and allowed him to treat them.

For Idanna the most important thing in life is curiosity and for her Dr Djelantik was the symbol of curi­osity. His curiosity about other lands, other people and the things around him. She first met him at a small din­ner party in Sanur and thereafter fre­quently went to visit his remarkable library on an island where books were not easy to come by then. They were about Bali, Java and Indonesia and of course, world history and literature. During those visits he told her about his life and his culture “He was to­tally understated and yet one noticed him immediately. Dr Djelantik had a wonderful smile and a beautiful sense of humour. He was a true gentleman. His smile exuded immediate trust and also life experience,” reminisced Idanna.

He struck her as a man who never took things personally. She says that Nelson Mandela strived for peace no matter what and it was extraordinary that after years of fierce apartheid there was no great bloodshed: this can only be achieved by someone with great character and charisma – and Dr Djelantik was also such a man. “All his life Dr Djelantik never talked or dwelt on negativity. He always sought the peaceful way even if he experienced quite a lot of belligerence and jealousy in his life. It was exceptional. All his life he was wise, he had that inner peace and he made people calm down. He was the ultimate peacemaker.”

Idanna Pucci together with Dr A.A. Made Djelantik.
(Photo by Terence Ward)

There is a naturalness about Idan­na’s words which seems to fall into place so effortlessly in her book. She explained that the first book, Against All Odds (publisher Sari Taksu) was a heavy coffee table book put together in great haste for a New Age confer­ence being held in Bali on the sub­ject of finding a new humanity. Dr Djelantik was to receive an award at the conference and Bishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa was in atten­dance. “We were so rushed I did not even have time to read the galleys. Fortunately, very few people read cof­fee table books so no one noticed the few errors in the book but Dr Djelan­tik was able to see it and was thrilled. Nevertheless, my dream was to pub­lish a new edition that people could read with a different introduction and ending. Now the text is clearer and better. An Italian version came out first – published by my brother and then I brought the Italian version to Eric Oei of Tuttle and Periplus in Singapore and he agreed to do this new English edition which has now been released in the United States, the UK and all other English language countries. The book was launched last year at the Ubud Writer’s Festi­val and now it is receiving very good reviews and people are reading it.”

A Dutch edition of The World Odyssey of a Balinese Prince is also being planned. Idanna says with a certain nostalgia, “Dr Djelantik like Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana (another man whose heart was caught up in Bali) belonged to those kind of great personalities that I fear are in extinc­tion. I think that this current world governed by technology will produce other kinds of special human being but certainly nothing like these two exceptional gentlemen and their type of humanity. “

If that is so then Idanna Pucci has done her work in helping to preserve our knowledge and memory of such men in her book which is a work of love. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Bulantrisna is still a dancer (aside from
being a prominent Ear, Nose & Throat
specialist). Here she dances at the royal
Palace of Ujung, Karangasem, East Bali
in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Dr.
Bulantrisna Djelantik)