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Bulantrisna Djelantik: A very nice pair of genes

2 February 2010


There seems to be something extraordinary in the Djelantik gene structure. Family members of this well-known Balinese royal lineage have both sides of the brain switched firmly on.


From the last king of Karangasem, Goesti Bagoes Djelantik, described by his granddaughter, Bulantrisna Djelantik, as “an artist, an architect and a dreamer”, his son, humanitarian, doctor and art patron, A.A.Made Djelantik and his daughter, Bulantrisna, a dancer, doctor and now actress, the family display the best of right and left brain creativity and pragmatism.

However Bulan, as Bulantrisna is known, does not believe this dual nature—this right and left brain hemisphere life view—is restricted to her family, but rather an aspect of Balinese culture.

“I feel everyone can use both sides of the brain, the scientific or logical and the creative, but we don’t use it. All Balinese have this (left and right brain activity)... farmers work in the fields all day and play gamelan all night,” says Bulan, citing just one example of the daily exercise of brain hemispheres that is the norm for many Balinese.

A norm that appears to keep people young and active: At 60 years of age, Bulan is remarkably beautiful—she radiates a calmness that explodes with a zest for life every few minutes in laughter. She is utterly engaged with the world around her. That engagement is seen in her work in medicine, dance, literature, children’s education, film, the environment—just about everything that crosses her radar.

“At the moment we (with Saritaksu Publications) are in the process of releasing the Indonesian language version of Against All Odds by Idanna Puci, with illustrations by my father, A.A.Made Djelantik. The illustrations were done as physiotherapy and it turns out he was making water color paintings of his life ever since he was born.

“Every illustration has a story from his memoirs that touch on courage, ethics—his life as a Balinese prince that had a Western education then came back to Indonesia to work in public health in remote islands back in 1948,” says Bulan of a book that aims to gives kids a hero figure to emulate.

As well as the book, Bulan recently completed her first film-acting role in director Garin Nugroho’s new film Under the Tree.

“The film tells the stories of five women in Bali—that’s why I was willing to do it. It tells the stories behind the postcard of Bali. My role in the film is a doctor who is also a dancer,” laughs Bulan of film imitating life.

She points out there was very little character acting involved as she has danced since she was a small child and continued to dance during her years as a specialist ear doctor.

“Very few people know that when I was writing my Masters in Medicine in Munich as a young student, I was also traveling the country dancing,”

That blend of medicine and dance continues today. Though retired from medical practice, Bulan still chairs the Southeast Asia Society for Sound Hearing, and still dances and choreographs.

It is perhaps through dance that Bulan maintained her ties with her childhood home, an essence of her religion, family and lands concentrated like familiar perfume in the Balinese dance she carried within her across the world.

Recently returning to Bali after 40 years studying, working and living in Bandung, Germany, New Delhi and America, Bulan says she feels like a stranger in her own home territory. Bali has changed so very much from her childhood memories of the island.

“I am excited to be back, but I do feel like a stranger in my island. When I was small there were very few foreigners and I knew them all—now there are what, 40,000 expats!

“Bali has become very crowded. Not with people but with action. There is tourism and conferences and ceremonies. In the past people only went to ceremonies in their own villages, but with cars and motor bikes, people are zipping to ceremonies all over the place. Due to all this activity, Bali has become a very exciting place,” says Bulan.

This zipping about and activity in Bali does not make Bulan fear for the future of the island—she is not rooted in the Bali of her childhood, rather she welcomes the future with open arms. “But checks and balances are needed in our society. We can not go against change, but it is most important we have a sieve to keep what’s good and sift out the rest.

“All this globalization and media attention on Bali won’t be stopped, and I do feel that we still can find Bali’s essence. That is not static, that essence is always fluid, but within that movement, Bali will always be Bali. The island won’t become Hawaii or the Caribbean it will always be Bali and in some ways I think we have Kuta to thank for that.

“Kuta is a shock therapy that makes people aware of what can happen and, hopefully that shock therapy protects the rest of Bali against bombs, terrible environmental damage and over exploitation,” Bulan says.

That essence of Bali remembered from childhood is still alive and can be found confidently meshing with the modern world, says Bulan.

“I remember going to Tirtagangga and Ujung water palace as a child. My grandfather (King Goesti) built these water palaces, not for his family and guests, but for the people to have somewhere to go for recreation and picnics.

“As a child I remember every Galungan and Kuningan, Hindu families would have picnics in the gardens and at Muslim or Christian holidays there would be Muslim or Christian families having picnics under the trees,” says Bulan of the water palaces that have been maintained and kept open to the public by the Djelantik family.

The family legacy to the well being of Bali’s cultural, social, environmental and health services continues with Bulan’s commitment to the Balitaksu Foundation that supports film and film making in Indonesia.

“I believe film can open a whole new field where not only Balinese, but other Indonesians have the potential to show our face to the world through films.

“I sincerely hope Indonesian film will become known ... film we can showcase our country. In America people asked how I can live here (Indonesia) with bombs everywhere. That is such a wrong perception of Indonesia that needs to be addressed.”