Since 2008, these two questions have had the highest rate in making me stutter:
  1. What do you do for a living?
  2. Who's the Timekeeper?
I'm not going to indulge on the first one. There is so much that a professionally unemployed could say before starting to dodge rotten tomatoes.
Fortunately, the second question about the Timekeeper, I can still try to explain, if not verbally, then in a blog post.
Or eleven. Hundred. Ish.
Clergyman
In the simplest terms: The Timekeeper keeps the time.
There is a clock in every room in his house and there are two in his pockets: one tells normal hours, and the other tells equatorial hours (the sun dial). He keeps a close watch of the time because it is one of his duties as clergy to issue the prayer times in this village.
My brothers and I have known him since we were babies. The Timekeeper never married, hence he adopted us and filled in where our parents could not; the elder whose practical advice and detached love we trusted and obeyed and occasionally feared when we are naughty.
In a way, my family's relationship with the Timekeeper reflects at an atomic scale how the rest of the village interacts with him.
Fractions
I do not think it is possible to write about anyone or anything without slightly eschewing reality. We can, however, break down our experiences into fractions of simpler actions and words. Just so that our memories remain accurate, though in smaller doses. And just so that we don't start sounding like Timekeeper evangelists.
I can only hope that whatever Anggi showed in his video and whatever I said about him will reflect enough glimpses of our clergy and father, so that you may connect what you've gathered and make up your own version of a Timekeeper.
(Hover on the links to see the gist of the posts.)

When I knew that Sudhakar, barely 20 years old, was coming from Delhi, I shed all shame and groveled for food.

No woman stuck InNoDairyNesia could pass on a chance to import Indian food, man. You know what India has that Indonesia doesn't? Dairy products. And dairy-based sweetmeat. And Soan Papdi.

The Timekeeper always said that there are two hungers: Hunger in your stomach, and hunger below your stomach. And if you can't feed below the stomach, just eat twice.

Hence, everything there is to know about a place and the people who live there can be observed from the way food is prepared, presented and consumed. Life long relationships are forged or ended witnessed by food: Weddings, Super Bowl, Lebaran, funerals. Some of the most expensive shows on TV are based on food.

So you can imagine how easy it was for me to shower Sudhakar with respect and adoration based on a whole half a kilo of soan papdi, slowly installed in credits to my width.

~

People who work together tend to cluster around the same food and accommodations. And that's where things really happened between volunteers: When they ate together.

During one of these highly-recommended communal dinners, a pretty volunteer walks in and greets Sudhakar:

"Sweet Kutta, how are you?"

To my horror, Sudhakar smiled and returned her salutation in his obscenely sweeter manner.

Now, anywhere in this post, you can switch the "food" with "sex"; because they share the same forms of cultural expression. In places where food is abundant, sex too is abundant. In places where food is treated with meticulous preparation and ritualistic consumption, you can pretty much imagine how the people there behave in private.

But to respond nicely after being called a "sweet kutta" sent the big sister in me kicking. So what if she was pretty and he's vegetarian? Harassment is never okay ANYWHERE.

I held my mouth until the pretty one left, before commencing on bullying my adopted little brother and sole papdi stocker. "Did I just see you being polite to someone who called you kutta?"

There was a moment cross-cultural absorption on Sudhakar's face before he said, "Do you know what kutta means?"

"Of course I do!" I fumed. "Do you want me to hit that sweet kutti for you?"

A few more blinks. Then, "She said, Gupta. Sudhakar GUPTA! That's my name." And he laughed softly in that oh-so-polite voice. "No more papdis for you, Bhabi, I think your blood sugar level is messing up your hearing."

Laughing, I obeyed. I wasn't hungry anymore. The intimacy of a private joke in a crowded place marked the evening, marked him, with gentle companionship, whether or not there was food shared between us.

Day 1

A writer's liaison is a pompous, lollygagging fool.

That's what I thought I did on the first day of UWRF. I haunted sessions that I couldn't concentrate on because there were half-a-dozen other writers to hunt down. And I needed to find my writers to show that, indeed, there is a living, human face attached to that Liaison card, slipped in their goodie bags prior to their arrival.

And that my face was going to be offered to the smartest people, who have been around the world and know how to holler for a ride either in NYC or Gang Pojok. People who have achieved immortality by making real dollars and yens out of their published not-as-ebooks-or-godforbid-blogs books.

Every time the moment of truth arrived, I said, "Hello, Ms. Genius-Who've-Sailed-the-Publishing-Seas, my name is Alia Makki. I'm your liaison officer. If there's anything you need..."

Of course, by the time I reach "Liaison" in my recitation, I would have seen imagined it running it in their minds what a pitiful hobbit was standing in front of them, and whether it was amusement or alarm that's stopping them from squishing me with their godly writerliness.

Maybe I ought to have played it cool. "Hey, man, I'm Alia Makki and here are my boobs, please sign on them. First name on the left boob, please. Yes, thank you. Oh and by the way, even though I've never read any of your books, I'M A HUGE FAN!!"

Day 2

By the second day, I had already met most of them. Yihaw! That meant I was free to attend sessions. If nobody from the volunteers base camp called for back up. If all of the writers showed up on time for their sessions. If no other liaison officer called to set her writer a meeting with one of my writers, and I didn't need to call the search team to find my writers and pass them that holy grail of message about a meeting that is supposed to ... whoops. Forget it. I just missed the meeting without finding my writers.

My landlady banged on my door during the night. She thought I was getting murdered. No, madam, I said, it was just a nightmare about a couple of writers I couldn't find, and an avalanche of failure burying me under a crumbling tower of inefficiency.

Day 3

Now. I get it. Track them down while they're still in their pajamas. Call their rooms. Paralytic shyness can shove it up the telephone's hungover microphone. My voice must be used in two-way conversations instead of the monologous audiobook recording.

There. That wasn't so hard, was it? And look, there's a lovely room below the main event lounge where we can step out of a window and jump a gorgeous Ubud ravine. I didn't just say "shut up the fuck up" to that girl, did I? DID I? Oh sweet muses...

Day 4

I know this game. I know where my writers are. I know they will obey me. Bring it, y'all. Oh not you, Ms. Soft-and-sweet lady writer, I meant Mr. Mal...MISTER MALEENA, WHY ARE YOU ILL, SIR?! HAVE YOU CALLED THE DOCTOR? THE WITCH DOCTOR? EVERY VOODOO MASTER IN UBUD?! I'LL CALL THE AUSTRALIAN, AMERICAN, ZIMBABWEAN OR WHATEVER EMBASSY OF GODKNOWSWHAT COUNTRY YOU CAME FROM TO SEND YOUR PREFERRED DRUG IN AN EMAIL ATTACHEMENT AND GET YOUR HEAD RIGHTED ENOUGH BEFORE YOUR SESSIONS AND CLOSING PARTY TONIGHT, Sir.

Hell, no, I ain't gonna be your date for a writer's party, are you crazy? I've got Mr. So-and-so to chase down and help him find a cheap enough souvenir worth the 16 hours trip he's made all the way here.

Day 5

There was no day 5. The festival, indeed, was just 4 days long, officially.

Unofficially, well, let's just say that I'm still recovering from Night 2, Night 3, and definitely (just don't tell my mom), Night 4.

No, don't give me that look. Even if none of us wrote more than half-minded tweets for days, I bet my hobbit's liaison's ass that all the writers and volunteers who were in Ubud for UWRF are still in the same place right now. That place where their ears are still ringing with music, life and Ubudsickness.

Bet next year's festival on it.

Ubud, around 7AM

He remembers his name,

Not his age, claim or gods.

Poetry and family may be lost,

but his ancestral name

haunting and concrete,

flows in his breath,

with force and fright

against denial and doubt

.

He remembers his name to frame

How it felt to be a man, a father, a son, 

How it felt to love and want and lose,

How he will recite his name again and again,

Until every ear bears the burden of his fame

.

He remembers his name

to map country and duty.

…to find dinner and family

to warm his bed and fancy

.

He remembers his name to forgive and embrace

What he cannot count,

What he cannot have,

What he cannot face

.

He remembers his name so that I,

his accountant and mistress,

Will know how to find him

under his final stony address

.

Remember his name,

Ruwaidan bin Ashraf bin Jawad al-Khalidi.

 

Tegalalang, Ubud We write from quintessential landscapes within us.

In Ubud, every day was an adventure. I asked fellow writers, "Have you had time to write?" -- and almost always, I plucked a withering satisfaction from every bashfully unwritten shake. "Not a word since I got here."

Ha!

Ubud traveled through the length of our thoughts and bodies. The mountainous terrains squeezed our lungs and legs, filling our wakeful minutes with decisions: Our own or hers. Trains of events, talks and showmanship forced into our most private spaces; shattering every shudder of retrospect with waves of instant responses. Unapologetic. Abrasive. Impassive.

At home again, for only a week or two, I bandage myself in reflective veils. Sweet, fragile calm; nothing pokes in, hence it begins to flow outwards. Before movement and travel takes me again, I can show you in fleeting glimpses, how bruised and toughened it's like in here, in my quintessential landscapes.

Lemmie just show you my room before I get back to my slightly odd-houred work as liaison volunteer. (You should see my boss; it's almost midnight and she's still sending us updated info from the office. Bless them.)

I have this weird relationship with Ubud that leads to me always arriving in darkness. Darkness in strange lands is always miserable at first. Not to mention the fact that this place is hidden inside a traditional family compound. With a barely representative entrance.

You should see how creepy this place is at night. The cab driver was awfully nice; he carried my stuff and introduced me to the family, then asked if it really was the place we wanted. The family nodded happily, chattering in Balinese. Then lead us deeper into the compound, until the "cottage" lobby appeared. And then I (sort of) understood why this place flew with flashing colors among budget travelers.

DSC05081 (There is always something to be positive about as well as grumbling and whining, right?)

I whined about sleeping alone in a strange bed that first night in such a strange hotel with off-color sheets and faded blankets.

DSC05110 When morning came, though,

DSC05056 it came bursting in, impatient to show off its best side. My senses overloaded with unsynthesized, unrecorded sounds from every side of my 3rd floor room. In 4D stereophonic! Starting at 4AM, with mellow rooster calls that gradually turns into chicken-orchestral havoc by 6AM from every compound.

DSC05083The traditional setting in Ubud is that every extended-family lives in a compound. Where the Wantilan (or central gazebo) is in courtyard at middle of that compound, while nuclear families and temple (where the dead elders reside) live in bungalows built around that Wantilan.

So, if I pushed zoom just one bit with my ancient handycam, I could see the insides of their temples and kitchens.

DSC05084 It's kind of bizarre being in this place. On one side, Ubud is famous for being one of the most expensive places on earth, with the most "naturally" expensive hotels. On the other, here is this room where the selection of furniture give away their owner's decision making stories. Intricate door vs.  supermarket cupboard.

Detail on door It is for these glimpses of common humanity (kitchen, sweeping the yard, the cheaper cupboard for the fancy door), that we are surprised and gladdened with the companionship in our travels, even in the strangest of lands: To experience our own life stories be told in foreign languages, by unfamiliar societies.

Samples

  • Some call it schizophrenia, others call it touched in the head, or sensitive, or gifted, or crazy. The essence is the same: seeing what the eyes do not percieve.
  • Some call it God, or fairies, or Cosmos, or energy, or nature or Love. The essence is the same: the energy that started everything and keeps an eye on the balance of things until It decides to end it all.
  • Some call it black magick, bad chi, voodoo, virus, or cancer. The essence is the same: That causes may vary, but essentially the human body ails and expires.

Ingredient

Truth is truth. It may have different facets and multiple dimensions, but the core and practical definition is the same.

Someone said that intelligence is the ability to welcome opposing ideas in the same mind. If the human body can contain solid, liquid, heat and gas matters all at once, why can't the human mind welcome opposing ideas? If the most balanced meal is the most diverse, why can't the balanced mind be the one that welcomes diverse ideas, and then have them sit comfortably together?

Directions

Whatever you call it, I know that if I waited long enough, whatever label we differ to give it, we'll agree on practical definition. Because truth is universal. Like the truth that we need food and water to survive. That gravity on Earth is 9.8m/sec2. And that all life eventually ends.

Facts aren't necessarily pleasant. But when we know enough, we can grow more comfortable with the variety in labels. And someday maybe admit the common truth behind all of these labels.

When you do understand it so well and beyond the labels, is the time when we can believe in heaven, nirvana, equilibrium, actualization: When humanity performs at its very best.

Take your time. You'll get it someday.

"She was perfectly unconstrained and without irritation towards him now, and he was gradually discovering the delight there was in frank kindness and companionship between a man and a woman who have no passion to hide or confess."

- George Eliot, Middlemarch

Yoga-toned forearm muscles we love.I'm turning into my idea of a dinner mate from hell: "I don't want to go bohemian. I don't want my curls to drop and frizz. I don't want to straddle a motorbike in a dress. I don't want to go scratching mosquito bites at the length of my high-heel-aching legs."

So he came in the car. Sat with me in an air-conditioned French restaurant. And saw beyond the curls and dress and band-aided heels. My Middlemarch friend.

Wishing you plentiful of sincere and lasting Middlemarch friendships.

 
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