Just wanted to share our experience performing at Jakarta. The concert was organized by the South Indian Association as part of the Sastha Preethi celebrations. Apart from the three of us, violinist Sherthalai SivaKumar accompanied us from Chennai.
Our flight from Chennai took us to Singapore, and then we had to wait there overnight to catch our flight to Jakarta in the morning. Passing time at Singapore airport is quite easy as the airport is very impressive in size and facilities. You can spot people from every corner of the world waiting for some connection flight. No wonder, their government spent so much on the airport. I am sure everyone would share a word or two about this airport once they reach their destination. Anyways, if I remember well, our flight was at early morning we had only our check in baggage to be bothered about. We took a train that took us to the other end of the airport, where our gate was. We presented our ticket at the gate, and were in for a surprise, as the attendant informed us that the gate was changed for this flight. We probably missed the announcement, but none of us could remember hearing any. We now had to go to some other end of the airport, and we could do this only by train. But the system is so organized, we were able to locate our train in no time, and quickly we took off to the other gate and were permitted entry, with raised eyebrows, annoyed at our late arrival. Guess we just about made it. Aboard the Garuda Airways, we were seated at the back. The moment we entered the flight we were aware of some nauseating smell, which got worse as we neared our seat. Well, guess these guys cook something which smells like that. Fortunately it was a short flight to Jakarta, and the airport was quite plain compared to Singapore. The visa was on arrival, and it was taken care by our host, Ramaswamy Mama. The security guys wanted to know what was inside the Mridangam bag (Mridangam of course), and dad had to explain the instrument. They did a scan and after some deliberation, dad agreed to play a mini thani for them in the airport and they were mighty thrilled.
We then drove to Ramaswamy Mama’s house, it was a pleasant drive of more than half an hour. We saw the famous Gita Upadesa depiction on the way. The Ramayana and MahaBharata are supposed to be pretty famous in this part of the world as in India. We were welcomed at the door by Mrs RS with a broad motherly smile, and none of us could contain our joy at the delicious aroma of home made Vethakozhambu. The family was so hospitable from the word go, and Mami wasted no time in getting us seated for what followed to be a most satisfying dinner. We took some group snaps, and were ready to retire, when somebody reminded us that Indonesia is very prone to earth quakes. He got no better time to make this comment!!! However, RS Mama, brushed aside the concern, and informed us that it only occurs at certain locations and there is nothing to worry.
RS Mama’s house is very beautiful. Very spacious, it had a swimming pool too. We gladly accepted his invitation for a swim, but preferred to do it after the concert. Mami, made sure the pool would be cleaned by then. Another point that stuck us was that, in Indonesia, there could be as many as five servants in a house. These people were a content lot, and Mami was explaining that they very much adhered to our “ Madi Acharam” and took bath nearly five times a day!!
The next morning, we had Darshan at the Ayyappa temple. A very beautiful temple, and every ritual was carried on as done in India. That evening we performed, and we rendered quite a few Tamil compositions, as there were predominantly Tamil speaking people among the audience. I think I saw some local Indonesians too in the audience. I remember we sang Kaa va va, as the main. Later, they wanted a sloka from Narayaneeyam, and we sang a Virutham for the slokam, “Yogeendranam…” It is indeed a great feeling to see our people in these far away places still sticking to our culture. They also appreciate it much better, for we in India take it for granted as we get it so easily.
After the concert it was nice meeting lot of people, and we had many invitations, all of which we could not honor for want of time. However, we had two more days left, and it was decided that we will go for a Safari tour the next day.
Mr Chandrashekharan alias “Uncle”, as they call him, is part of the organizing team, and it was he who took us for the safari trip. We were surprised to see lot of vegetables, especially carrots, inside the van. Uncle informed us that these were to feed the animals. We still had no idea of how wonderful the trip would turn out to be. We drove away from Jakarta, into the forest, and we were let in after we purchased the tickets. We were warned to keep the windows closed.
The safari was like any typical safari. We would drive on the road, and on both sides there were animals moving about. The wild among them, like the lion or tiger, would be within an enclosure, so they don’t come out and hurt. But what really amused us were the monkeys. Here, uncle asked us to throw bananas at them, and some of them threw back the banana skin after eating the fruit. That was really funny. We were also shaken, when a particular kind of bird (forget its name), which was tall, up to our van’s window, suddenly started tapping violently on the windows with its beak. By no means was this cute, but rather menacing with its wide eyes and weird hair style (it did have some hair). However, Uncle told us that it is harmless and we entered the most interesting part of the safari.
There was this Oranguttan, and we could take snaps with it. One by one we posed with the monkey, and it held to us as a small child would. That over, we were in for one more photo shoot, but this time with a Cheetah. We were assured that it was domesticated, but dad would have nothing to do with it. Uncle convinced the rest of us, and yes we did get the snaps. However, Uncle refused no for an answer, and dad had to bow down to his relentless entreaties and finally obliged for a snap. The cheetah sat on his lap, and for some reason, it stood up just when the camera was above to be clicked. I am sure Dad did not expect this and he had to go through this again. The snaps were taken and then we roamed about the civilized jungle, and heard all sorts of sounds made by these animals. We distinctly remember seeing this monkey swinging from branch to branch, gleefully screaming, and it was freedom at its best. Thanks to Uncle, this safari trip we will never forget.
The next day we stayed with our cousin Radhika and her husband Harish. On the way something interesting happened. Apparently we broke a traffic rule, and this police guy stopped us. Before opening the window, Harish explained that in Jakarta, the police guys were very gentle, and accepted bribes gracefully by explaining how much more we will have to pay otherwise, quoting from their traffic rules book. The door opened and the police man, ever so gently, requested for a bribe or penalty of some 20000 rupees (don’t remember the amount exactly, but sounded like a staggering sum for sure). We were stunned as Harish started counting the notes. We soon realized that Indonesian Rupee is not as valuable as the Indian Rupee and 20000 Rupees is not a big amount for them.
RS Mama and Uncle dropped us at the airport next day and we were back to Chennai within 24 hours, taking the same route. We did meet Ramaswamy mama, Uncle and many friends we made at Jakarta during the marriage of RS mama’s son that happened in Chennai. It is an unforgettable trip, and the fact that I write about this after nearly 5 years, without forgetting much of the details, stands testimony to it.