This was the question I was asked to address at the 2018 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival which took place in October. The UWRF is an amazing event which brought together 180 writers, some very famous, others just “emerging”, and thousands of readers from all over the world.
In the esteemed company of Balinese intellectual I Gede Pitana, and a young Balinese lady writer Carma Citrawati, I answered in three parts.
First, I said, we have to “define what Bali is”, and no-one has done it better than my team 14 years ago when we put together the post-Bali bombing program “Bali is My Life”. This defined “Brand Bali” very clearly as being the product of the Balinese since the parts of Bali that God didn’t make (i.e. everything except nature) was conceived and crafted by the Balinese: the landscape through subak, the village structure, the Balinese compound, the temples, the rituals, the festivals, the dances, the art, the clothing, the sculpture, the beliefs and the myths. It’s a fascinating and unique creation.
Secondly, “what is a morning”? For that I turned to Cat Steven’s wonderful song “Morning has Broken”. Here is the relevant verse!
“Mine is the sunlight,
Mine is the morning,
Born of the one Light Eden Saw play.
Praise with elation, praise ev’ry morning
God’s recreation of the new day”
That seemed to me to be an admirable way to describe a morning “God’s re-creation of the new day”. So Bali is recreating itself as the morning of the world and to be honest, that’s true. Some of “new Bali” I like, some I don’t, but it is undeniably dynamic and constantly reinventing itself.
But lastly, I said, perhaps the real morning of Bali has moved north to where Bali is still fresh and unspoiled. So maybe Lovina is the morning of the world, Ubud, the morning coffee of the world, Sanur, the lunchtime of the world, Nusa Dua, the afternoon tea, Kuta and Legian are happy hour and Seminyak, Petitenget and Canggu are the nightlife of the world.
What do you think is true? Is there an element of truth in the humour or would Nehru be turning in his grave?!