Jakarta: A city of jarring juxtapositions
Garuda Indonesia. The name sent a shiver down the spine of the small boy from Babhnan. Yeah, he knew that it was once one of the most dangerous airlines of the world with unrivalled crash record. Then he remembered his flight to Mugu, deep in the mountains in Nepal in a 10 seater Cessna Caravan, which the pilots flew with the GPS as radar doesn’t work in mountains and checked the tires on landing! Garuda is fine, he told himself with a smile!
Jakarta, it was to be. The city which took its name from Sanskrit, Jay Krita or victory accomplished. The city which was there in books since forever as the capital of Indonesia. What dragged him to the city, rather country to be honest, was a lesson in his Hindi textbook of standard 7th or 8th- a lesson about Sumatra and Bali- still Hindu majority in the world’s largest country by Muslim majority. He had to go there.
And he was there. On his way to the hotel, for a change from hostels, at 1 am. Lots of eateries were open with a sizable presence of women too. Just like rest of South East Asian countries, he thought. Hanoi, Bangkok, Shanghai, Phnon Penh- the first thing that struck him was this- the sense of security for the women. Do they too worship women, he thought and shrugged, no time for sarcasm.
This city is love, he was to discover soon. It was pain, when it came to the traffic, he was to discover too. It is a contradiction. Where else could one find Hijabi women in a bar, even if drinking mocktails? Or Muslims with names like Sukaron and Suharto! Jakarta holds one of the biggest (and first of the world) Ramayan Fair, also the most popular tale in the country told in a thousand ways from plays to puppetry!
Puppetry reminds me of another contradiction: they make their ones with the skin of dead buffaloes or cows. Imagine our deities on that- I am sure it could force us to put the bigots on trauma induced heart attack watch!
And the Apsaras roaming in the streets in full costumes and an accompanying band! Mostly of youngsters! Beware though, they may seek money so keep some change, small notes with you! As it is, they have notes of millions meaning nothing!
Jakarta, I mean Indonesia, is repressive, it allows the police to keep people in remand without even producing them before a judge for a whopping 60 days. The boy from Babhnan saw thousands assembling right in front of the Presidential Palace protesting for a myriad of things for a full week, everyday!
Biggest of them though is coexistence of religions captured perfectly by the Istiqlal Mosque, fifth largest mosque in the world with a capacity of 1,20,000 people right in front of St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Jakartal. Look from a little distance, and the towers of cathedral and minarets of the mosque seem to be part of the same structure! This, in fact was the idea behind Sukarno, then president deciding to build the mosque to celebrate Indonesian Independence right in front of the cathedral.
And they both welcome people from all religions. The boy from Babhnan had gone there in a group with 2 women wearing shorts- they were immediately given a kaftan kind of thing to cover. A guide was assigned to the group who took us inside and gave us great details! And his name was Indra!
It was a visit for work so he was little hard pressed for time. The traveler inside him was enterprising though, he stole as much time as possible and saw the city like a local. He bowed to the Monas Tower (National Monument celebrating the independence of Indonesia) in memory of all those who made sacrifices, small to supreme fighting against the colonials. Just like in our own India.
He went to the Passer Baroe- a lovely flea market established in 1820 and bought everything- from Batik to biscuits! Just like locals would! He went to Kota Tua aka Old Town Batavia, the colonial name the Dutch gave to the city when they ruled it and traced the city, and country’s history in the Fatahillah Museum. Old Town Batavia is really charming, worth a whole day of museum hopping coupled with loitering in Cafe Batavia. Wish he had that much time on him!
And more to visit Chinatown
There’s always a next time, though. See you again, Jakarta!