>> Being Bali virgins, our trip to the island was preceded by a flurry of tips and advice from friends. “In Seminyak, do check out the W Hotel The restaurants and the hotel have some delightfully quirky design elements,” said one. “Ku de Ta is great for a sundowner, try and sit on the upper level,” said another.
“Try out Sarong for a lovely meal in an upscale setting,” Said a third. “Read Pico Iyer’s essay on Bali in Sun After Dark,” said a fourth. And so on and so forth. But what no one knew, was that the one iconic vision of Bali that had fuelled our trip and all our fantasies was the portrait of a languorous sarong clad David Bowie reclining on a planter’s chair taken by our dear friend Derry Moore, the 12th Earl of Drogheda, many years ago.
Derry is one of Britain’s most celebrated photographers with 37 portraits in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection. His visits to our home in Mumbai are always preceded by a flurry of disjointed phone calls (he isn’t too cell-phone savvy). Over tea and biscuits, we discuss our latest works. To say he is an Indophile is a bit of an understatement.
He has been coming here for decades, quietly, methodically capturing the wonder and beauty of the country for posterity. We had been a subject of his portraiture many years ago in Kolkata and since then have been friends. But Bowie and his wife Imam are not the only famous lovers of Bali. Mick Jagger, Roman Polanski, Victoria and David Bekham, Goldie Hawn, Sting, Yoko Ono and Hugh Jackman have also been devotees. So, we are off to Bali. Fending off our putative punster friends ‘Bali High!’ ‘Bali–Ho!’ and ‘Bali Balle’ farewells as best we can.
>> Eschewing the Balinese CD that our hotel had thoughtfully placed in our room we switched our iPod to what we think ought to be de rigeur listening to in Bali: Harry Belafonte and Bob Marley. Two men from the Caribbean islands who captured the soul of island living. Harry Belafonte, the American singer, songwriter, actor and social activist.
The son of immigrant parents from the Caribbean islands had provided the background score for our childhood years. Called the ‘King of Calypso’ for popularising the Caribbean music he had been a great favourite of our parents not only for his soul stirring Banana Boat Song and Jamaican Farewell, but also for his social activism and anti-establishment stands. Bob Marley, the legendary late Jamaican singer-songwriter and musician who brought an appreciation of reggae music, to international audiences was deeply moved by the social issues of his homeland, and sang of his people’s pain and aspirations through songs like I shot the sheriff, No Woman, No Cry, and Buffalo Solder. Two men. Two voices. Both island singers. How apt that it was their songs that enhanced our stay at the beautiful island of Bali.
Eat, Pray, Love, Travel
>> Who can come to Bali and not be under the thrall of Elizabeth Gilbert’s ultimate chick flick Eat Pray Love? The 2006 book remained for 57 weeks at the No 1 spot on the New York Times paperback nonfiction best-seller list, and has done more for Bali and its neighbouring hill town of Ubud than decades of tourism promotions by its own governments.
Gilbert, an accomplished writer who’d embarked on a journey of self discovery after a messy divorce and something of a mid-life crisis had spent four months eating her way through Italy, three months in India, gazing at her navel, and four in Ubud. She ended the year in Bali looking for “Love”. When Columbia Pictures released the film in 2010 starring Julia Roberts, it further enhanced Bali’s image as the place to go to for lurve. Hell, if Javier Bardem was the result of the trip who wouldn’t go? Of course, Hollywood added its cheesiness to an already cheesy book. The New York Post’s Maureen Callahan called it “the worst in Western fetishisation of Eastern thought and culture, assured in its answers to existential dilemmas that have confounded intellects greater than hers.” Katie Roiphe of Slate said, “The only thing wrong with this readable, funny memoir of a magazine writer’s yearlong travels across the world in search of pleasure and balance is that it seems so much like a Jennifer Aniston movie.” And Andrew Gottlieb, an American comedy writer and producer, wrote a parody of Gilbert’s Book, titled Drink, Play, F@#k (One Man’s Search for Anything Across Ireland, Vegas and Thailand.) But for all its ‘New Age Narcissm’ EPL helped boost Bali’s tourism industry by over a million tourists (2.5 million visitors in 2010, an improvement on 2009’s 2.2 million and 2008’s 1.96 million tourists). Never underestimate the power of Hollywood.
>> Bali is going to be in the news when in September 2013 it will host the Miss World pageant. According to news reports, Julia Morley, chairwoman of the Miss World Organisation, told reporters that Bali would host the competition and that 131 national beauty pageant winners had confirmed their attendance. Indonesia’s popular island resort was chosen because of its global popularity and its track record of hosting international events, Julia Morley, co-chairwoman of the Miss World Organisation said in Denpasar.
Morley met with Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika earlier that day to discuss the planned beauty pageant, according to the Indonesian news portal kompas.com. Morley said Bali was chosen for the pageant because of its culture and global popularity. In an understandable onslaught of EPL cheesiness, she is reported to have said “I feel better when I’m here and surrounded by such friendly people.” But all will not be peaceful at the Indonesian Paradise; the one-month pageant is expected to draw protests across the country from hard-line Muslims, who stage public protests every year when Indonesian contestants join any international beauty competition. According to one news report, protests by Islamic fundamentalist groups in 2007 in Bandung forced a Miss Universe pageant winner to call off a planned evening charity event. This year, observers say that radical groups may try to hijack the Miss World pageant in Bali to win international public sympathy by aligning themselves with anti-pornography organisations. However, mayor Pastika appears to be gung–ho about the international contest. “This will ensure that Bali is even better known around the world,” he said.