KINGDOM OF SHADOWS
Ardjuna, the paragon of chivalry, sometimes looks at me in a way that seems to suggest that I could do better.
His older brother maintains that things are as they are, deal with it.
And Semar takes it all in stride, averring that we're all insane.
Semar must be Canadian. That would explain his dry sense of humour.
The one three dimensional character is a wayang golek doll I brought back from Amsterdam. Painted wood, noble features, thoughtful yet controlled expression.
Though the tale cycle he represents is far younger than the Mahabharatic world of the five Pandawa brothers, he is the oldest of the dolls. Even Semar, battered and world-weary, was born from the artisan's labours more recently. The flat dolls probably date no later than the fifties, but the refined minister of an Islamic kingdom originated many years before the war. There is a gentleness to his carved face that suggests that he has seen much, lamented the collapse of society in the great upheavals of the twentieth century, and survived tumult and discord.
Java in the twenties and thirties, the Japanese invasion, the long ocean voyage to the Netherlands when the Dutch left the Indies forever......
And, more recently, emigration to the United States.
Of all of them, he is the least displaced.
Wherever he is, he belongs.
The two krisses on the high shelf have been much calmer since he arrived over a decade ago.
Peaceful. No longer tumultuous.
Despite the dreamed conversations that take place, it is often quiet.
When the shadow puppets speak, they do so seemingly by silence.
And krisses, of course, have no words. Only emotions.
One could not expect otherwise from wavy steel.
All of these entities assuredly like the snow-pear incense I burn.
Partly to chase away the occasional mosquito.
Partly to hide my smoking at night.
They do not mind the reason.
The world is aromatic.
Sandjaya spoke to king Dritarastra, saying: "long ago, when we all lived in Ngastinapura, before those five and Draupadi departed......"
The story is lengthy, and involves whole histories that must be detailed, so that the final battle on the field of Kuru, though forever in the background, need not be mentioned.
There were five brothers, who went and lived in the forest.
In each era they live again. They still live.
At some point, probably this year, I will carve Gatotkatja with the pale green-blue visage and ferocious facial hair, the gallant son of Bima and Hidimbi. To my mind he is the most complex of the characters in the Indonesian telling of the tale. For reasons which the Sanskritist will understand, he has to be more three dimensional than other puppets.
Most especially his head.
It's all in the head.
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