Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, September 2001)


Radite and his loyal abdi dalem Rendi in their reception pavilion

Part I: Megawati's eldest grandson comes of age.

Its been an exciting month: On the 21st of July, 100 tanks rolled into Independence Square in Central Jakarta, their nozzles pointed at the president's karaoke lounge as President Gus Dur sang along with Janis Joplin. Gus Dur fired the commander of the armed forces, declared a state of emergency and became the first virtually deposed Indonesian president to appear on the front verandah of the Freedom Palace in boxer shorts, all in the space of 12 hours. On the 23rd of July, Megawati Soekarnoputri ascended the presidential throne that seemed almost her birthright–she was a picture in lilac, radiating joy. The nation breathed a huge sigh of relief after a month of tense stand-offs and showdowns. For me the Mega-month started with a coming of age ceremony for Megawati's eldest grandson, Mohammad Radite Suryaningtyas, at the house of my favorite Jakarta family, the Damais', on Sunday the 8th of July 2001.

I had missed the circumcision ceremony ten days earlier held at the home of venerable Kanjeng Pangeran Temenggung Harjonegoro (Go Tik Swan) in Solo, Central Java, but travelled to Jakarta for the selamatan party–Jakarta-Java-Palembang-Melayu Style–to celebrated the coming of age of this much-loved Moslem man-child. Society decorator Jaya Ibrahim (helped by the charming daughters of Tengku Hasjim from the Sultanate of Tebing Tinggi) had transformed the Damais neo-javanese garden home, the capital's last word in shabby chic, into a series of sparkling palace-style reception courts. Battalions of indokrupuk aunties in maroon and violet pantsuits readied tableloads of gastronomic treats. As is the Jakartan tradition a moslem band (called Orkes Gambus) played selections from the Yemeni hit parade as guests with silk and lurex shoulder pads shimmied and shammied on the lawn (this gate-crashing tradition passed down through the millenia from the Indian eunuchs).

Radite, the pride of two presidential families (his great grandfather is President Soekarno and his great-uncle, on his mother's side, is President Habibie) sat in a garden pavilion receiving guests and ang pau envelopes of cash, which were promptly handed to a chubby abdi dalem aide-de-camp, Rendy, sent especially from Solo. A radiant child from birth, the spritely Radite, (which means Flower of the day or Sunday in old Javanese) was nonchalant when quizzed about the nip and tuck, called khitanan: "Nah, no pain" he answered "anyway, I just keep thinking about all the ang pau!!!". Amongst the guests were a party of Indians from Delhi, sent by Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister of Orrissa, India, whose father had given Megawati her name. Representing the Dutch Queen, were twins Winieke and Winifred de Groot who did a lively jaipong dance as part of the Javanese appeasement ritual, suko ing londo. It was a fabulous, glamorous, glorious morning–especially for family matriarch Ibu Damais, 89, widow of famed french archeologist Louis Charles Damais, who has now witnessed the folding of three presidents into her family tree.

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