Soldiering On

We parked precariously on the edge of the main road. I had already exited the car, so Ketut could park close to the fence. A dog was barking at our arrival, yet with its wagging tail, I assumed it wanted to lick us to death.

According to my friend Ketut, a very old man lived here, at the top of Gitgit village. We had arrived unannounced, so I was uncertain how things would progress.

I’m not really sure why I have an interest in meeting and talking with older people. I guess it’s my desire to document a little of what life was like for them, particularly in their early years. As time passes, so do these elders, and their memories with them, unless snippets are recorded.

We ventured in the front gate, and were greeted by a man who was perhaps in his 50s. Ketut enquired about his grandpa, and was told that the old man was awake, and sitting in the kitchen. We followed to the semi detached building.

He called to his grandpa, who rose and appeared in the doorway. Tall, with thin legs and frame, the old man eyed us intently as his grandson explained why we were here. He nodded, and with the aid of his walking stick, crossed the courtyard to a doorway to the main house.

He was slow to climb the steps with the support of his grandson, and I worried that we were putting him to too much trouble.

However, once inside and comfortable sitting on his day bed, I Nyoman Sarka told us he was pleased we had come to visit. Phew.

At 93 years old (he was born around 1929), he doesn’t travel much any more, though he does enjoy wandering through the gardens of the family compound. From my personal estimate of the people who were here, I guessed that this compound is home to 3 or 4 generations.

I Nyoman grew up under Japanese occupation, and agreed that life was often difficult during those years. His brief stories collaborated with that of other senior residents I had interviewed. He told me he mostly kept away from the Japanese, to avoid any trouble when he was young. Hiding from them was his best way of not being taken away to work on the road over the mountain.

(I recall being told the same some 6 years ago by an old man of about 86 in Desa Panji Anom, who lived high on the hillside).

Although he was not impressed with the Japanese, he later decided on a career as a soldier. He joined the military, and became an officer, serving his time in Bali.

After many years in the military, he retired to a relaxed life with family. His grandson told me that grandpa loved to sing. It was one of his favourite pastimes.

‘Grandpa, would you like to sing for our guests?’

Yes, he nodded and smiled. I Nyoman turned so that the light from the window fell onto the open page of the songbook in his hands. His eyesight is no longer as good as it used to be.

And thus we were treated to a wonderful traditional song, rendered to perfection by a seasoned artist.

I later asked I Nyoman what his message for the young people of today would be. Without hesitation, he told me that to get by in life, one must learn to be patient, and try to get on with everyone. There was no point going through life making problems with other people, or rushing.

Wow. This man epitomises Bali as it used to be some 30 years ago, when nothing was ever a problem.

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