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.
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.
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…”
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.”
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 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.
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.”
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.”
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)