I am a villager, thirty years of age. The unforgiving sun scorches my skin as beads of perspiration roll down my forehead. My hands are calloused, my muscles experience excruciating pain and discomfort, as my thirst remains unsatiated. Yet, I persist in the completion of my work. I was not coerced into the building of this grand monument the king had in mind, I volunteered to be here, fully aware that it was my choice not obligation that brought me here to this exact point of physical suffering. I firmly believe that as I uncover these images of Buddha would help me accumulate my karma. I hold faith that in my repetitive and arduous carving that somehow, someway, I carve my own path unto nirvana. I do not question if my actions are my futile, I do not dare to search for loopholes in this faith. I can only wish that in my next life, I find enlightenment, a life away from this gruelling labour.
I am a woman, a woman in modern Indonesia practicing the seemingly lost art of crafting batik. I welcome these foreigners with a bow and a gentle “Selamat Datang”. My English is rudimentary, I can hardly comprehend the foreign tongues these aliens speak. I monitor their every movement with eager eyes, making sure their attempt to trace the outlines of the fabric with the piping hot wax would not scald them nor desecrate my workmanship. These students, they fumble often, failing to balance the canting in their hand as dots of wax pepper the fabric, creating an anomaly of my art. I try with my simple English and gesturing to correct their form and techniques. Ultimately, I resigned and recognised my inadequacies before waving them off with a wave, accepting that their attempt at my art and tradition was only going to be a mere souvenir to stash away or fodder for banter eventually.
I am twelve years old this year. I have been working at this Ramayan ballet troupe for the past two years. I do this because it is a tradition ibu and ayah told me to. I drag the drums across the concrete floor because my arms could not support the weight of it. I cannot run off the stage as fast as the rest. I sprinted my lungs out as I gasped for air off stage, trying to prevent my head from spinning as I steady my feet. Before I knew it, Paman passes me the torch that was set ablaze. The vehement and effulgent flame paralysed me as I could still remember my first tears vividly, where I burnt myself during my first-ever rehearsal. My heart was palpitating way too fast, my hands trembled uncontrollably as I took over the torch. I wanted so much to break down into tears, I was so afraid that I would burn myself again or even worse, burn someone else.I then recall the words of Ibu resonating in me reminding me that me I will soon become a man, a head of the house, I cannot cry. I leap on the stage, twirling and dancing, flirting with the fire that threatens to engulf me as I met with the rancorous cheers and thunderous applause from these aliens seated in the stands.
I am Mbah Maridjan, the spiritual gatekeeper of Mount Merapi. I have been leading the Labuhan annually without fail. My profession is to appease the spirits of Merapi. I am entrusted to allow the volcano to respire, that in its natural state to be at ease yet I am careful not to agitate it that it would cough. This time, I witness Merapi erupt again, as I count it a blessing to once again take on the mantle of custodianship over Merapi, to stand here, unwaveringly against the swathe of carnage that approaches me. I have cheated death once, escaping with burns but this time, I know my time to die in this fortress that I was sworn to protect has arrived. I watch intently the sea of molten lava gush towards me, washing over the village, ravaging the homes of my neighbours, reducing this spiritual citadel into ashes in the wake of its unforgiving destruction. The overwhelming glow of lava and the relentless heat calls out to me, giving me an odd sense of serenity. I do not resign to my fate out of hopelessness, I have accepted my fate out of my belief that i have fulfilled my calling. I kneel down to pray that let my faith be the legacy that I leave behind. I now, breathe my last.
I am Keith Yap, a freshman in Yale-NUS College. I used to believe that my worldview though incomplete was completely justifiable. The inquisition that I have attained, a peek behind the proverbial curtain of my own comfort, to see and partake in a world that contradicts my very own perspective. It made me deeply uncomfortable as I would imagine myself in the shoes of others and slowly watch my assumptions and pre-conceived notions unravel before my very eyes. It is this disconcerting experience of tension in these moments of self-enquiry that allows for transcendence past this carnal world that we live in.
I am confused, beautifully confused.