THE SPIRITS OF THE SUBURBS © Duncan Graham 2008
I've had the good fortune to interview a few famous people, many who'd like to be famous, and far too many infamous.
Future plans include talking to past Indonesian leaders to better understand and interpret the history of this complex and mysterious country.
So far – not much luck. Pak Soeharto said no and now it’s too late.
Ibu Megawati won't answer my e-mails, and I'm not confident that flying to Germany to meet Pak Habibie will be that rewarding. Gus Dur? I scored there and it was a lot of fun.
Perhaps I'd have more success interviewing a ghost.
That's what I've asked my extended family to arrange in this cynical Westerner's attempt to debunk their trembling tales of phantoms and malevolent machinations.
If the undead really roam the streets of Malang during the haunting hours then I'm happy to stay up with notebook and pencil ready to record. I'd have the camera handy, but fear the wraiths would be gone in a flash.
Not that the demons have any dark corners wherein to lurk – almost every house is fully lit for no-one (except the bule) sleeps without a 100 watt globe to warm their souls. This phenomenon is known as globalisation.
Our neighbors are garden-proud folk, though few have trees. For this is where the fiends in the foliage waken come sundown, sweeping the street clean of soccer-mad kids and gossiping housewives. The light thickens, leaves rustle, trunks tremble and the boughs sigh – sure signs that hobgoblins have opened their branch offices.
Most residents are middle-aged with teenage kids and out-of-town jobs. Javanese predominate, but our family is made up of God-fearing Christians from North Sulawesi, so technically immune to Javanese mysticism.
When a niece-in-law took sick a doctor and a dog-collared priest were consulted. The former prescribed Western drugs, the latter 'saw' three evil spirits lurking in her body. One was a big bloke, the other a gremlin and the third too foggy on the man of God's X-ray vision to be identified.
I said it could have been suffering radiation sickness. Or image problems. Not funny, Mister Duncan. Just go back to your laptop.
Close questioning revealed a spurned suitor had recently given the uni student a cute doll. It was suggested that this be destroyed, as it was the source of the black magic causing the physical problems.
The family really got into the spirit of things. When the doll was furiously assaulted with scissors by vengeful female relatives (a sight to deter any male considering extra-marital activities) the sick lass called out in pain – and shortly after recovered.
To the doll mutilators standing among entrails of shredded calico and punctured plastic, its glass eyes stilettoed into the ceramic, the link was clear.
I wasn't convinced. The young woman was in hospital at the time and to my mind medical treatment was responsible for her return to health.
In this response I was in a minority of one, just as I was when a brother in law found a snake in his house.
Snake? This one was so tiny it better resembled a worm on steroids. Its sin was to behave like a serpent, and the Bible has much to say that's uncomplimentary about such creations.
So it was chopped, slashed, hung, drawn and quartered before being burned at the garden stake – and even then was still alive said onlookers in the ten-deep crowd. Christian compassion and forgiveness? Forget it.
What was it doing in the house? Looking for an apple? A dispute with a disgruntled employee was recalled. The snake had been sent into the house as revenge. Presumably it had been given its slithering orders.
So where do ordinary grudge-carrying folk get the skills to infuse dolls and snakes with spiritual toxins? If it's that easy, can the opposite be employed so we can spread joy, not fear?
A bit of white magic to help those who do us good, like finding a bundle of unmarked greenbacks with the right numbers that banks will accept? If we can curse can we not bless? Apparently things don't work that way.
Sorry, I have to click SAVE now, lock the doors and windows, and flood the house with fluorescence. It's almost 6 pm. The shadows are lengthening. The street is falling silent.
I wouldn't want any ghoul getting into the keyboard and mangling my prose. I can do that well enough, thank you, without the help of harpies sent by affronted interviewees whose names I've misspelled and comments misquoted.
First published in The Sunday Post 27 Jan 08