Ketut in breakfast conversation: on Dharma & Paths

Further to this post (‘Why you don’t like papaya?’) last year…

…This morning’s conversation with Ketut, the perpetually yawning, hand-shaking, backward-cap-wearing, eye-rolling, giggling, 24-year-old chatterbox (when not just woken up) and pillar of this Balinese homestay:

Me (stoicially eating papaya on the terrace outside my room after breakfast was delivered, total paradise and luxury but quite standard for low-cost accommodation here in Ubud, and something achieved either immediately upon waking or after a series of small coughs aimed to invite the offer of a fruit salad; there is no restaurant area; a tray comes when you have shown sign of life; in fact I have no need of a morning alarm, since part one of the morning ritual, at roughly 7am, involves tiny footsteps padding barefoot past my first-floor room and the slight music of a cup and saucer making contact on the wood-carved table outside; a huge flask of hot water and a tea bag is left for me to enjoy until I make myself known to the garden below by way of movement; wearing bright colours aids one’s ability to be noticed, which is fine by me, since I have a near pathological addiction to bohemian dresses in all colours of the rainbow): Good morning.

Him: I am very good. I am so tired. Tomorrow I go to Ahmed.

Me: Oh yes, are you looking forward to seeing your family and friends at home? (Tomorrow is Galungan, a Hindu festival perhaps comparable to Diwali, but a Balinese version, and which I keep accidentally calling galangal, which is the name of a spice from the ginger family [and which I spent this morning chopping up into tiny, tiny pieces during a botanical beauty product making class in order to make Boreh, a traditional body scrub, headache and muscle ache healer]. In preparation for Galungan, Bali has collectively produced masses of beautiful Penjor (pics below), which are decorations now lining the streets made of coconut leaves and bamboo, displayed to symbolise gratitude for good things in one’s life, prosperity and devotion. These temporary decorations are beautifully hand-crafted seemingly out of thin air, and made to balance in large, unlikely arcs across doorways and outside homes and shops).

Him: Yeah, we make all the preparations. Cooking and going to temple and praying.

I ask him if things will be shut tomorrow – shops, for example – remembering the intense countrywide lock-down of Nyepi, which I experienced for a second time just a week ago (see last post). He says it will be ‘like half day’. We have a long, convoluted conversation about my morning plans for today and where exactly I will be walking to, during which I deduce that he thinks all roads are called ‘main road’, which confuses things enormously when I keep explaining that the botany centre I’m going to is ‘just off the main road’. We both get agitated (he is determined that I am going to a soccer field) and I decide to get out google maps to point to the exact place I’m going. He, meanwhile, points to somewhere completely random in Ubud, saying ‘so we are here’. Fascinated, I show him where we actually are, 3 streets south west of his little finger. ‘OK OK,’ he says. ‘Not far.’ Not far, I agree, and eventually we are both satisfied.

Me (thinking about Galungan again [not galangal]. which is a celebration of dharma over adharma; good over evil, light over dark, right over wrong, etc. etc., and during which each family makes an offering in the family temple and visits public temples across the island]: Ketut, what is dharma?

Ketut: damma?

Me: Dharma.

Ketut: damma?

Me: Dharma.

(I get out google again to point at the word.)

Ketut: Ah, dharrrrrma.

Me: Yes! Dharrrrma. What is it?

Ketut: I don’t know.

Me: Oh.

Ketut (Watching me gazing at google’s picture of a wheel, the symbol for dharma. There seems no fixed definition of the word; it’s all-encompassing of goodness, I think): Ah like this one. I have! (He points to one of his new tattoos, the exact wheel replicated in large ink on his left shoulder.)

Me (excited): Yes, you have it as a tattoo, the symbol for dharma. So what does it mean, to you?

Ketut [shrugging]: I don’t know.

Me: You don’t know? You got it as a tattoo but you don’t know what it means?

Ketut: I just like it. It doesn’t mean anything. (Ketut clearly can’t imagine worrying about this kind of thing. He leans over my wall, then sits on it, then tells me he is just chilling, he is hungover, got up too early, then that I can have a nice day and swim in the pool and chill and then he will see me later.)

So there we have it. Dharma; goodness, a tattoo, a (life) path, maybe a main road, maybe not, but certainly a really good excuse for a celebration.

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