THE Indonesia

by sunil on September 5, 2016

I’m reading two books on Indonesia. One, a rereading -VS Naipaul’s Beyond Belief. Well, I didn’t actually mean to start reading it again, but the recent trip to Indonesia made me look for one or the other reference that I had be recalling, so I found myself picking up the book so often, and,  for so long that I decided to re-read again. The other book I am reading ( for the first time) is  Elizabeth Pisani’s Indonesia etc, exploring the improbable nation, which was recommended by a fellow traveller as a good synthesis of Indonesia, especially the geographical differences. This is my first Pisani book.

However this is not about either of the books. The point I want to highlight is this : traversing the length and breadth of Bali I often wondered whether Indonesia with all its florid and well studied history, its diversity – as vast and expansive as it is – still could offer a perfect example of being able to comprehend as an entity, as an idea by collation. The answer, to me,  was yes, but reading the forewards of both the books it was striking how both the authors so very different in backgrounds, origins, cultures, and the use language were making the same point. 

It reaffirms my belief that objective ideas should be aspired to in writing. More so considering  everything passes as writing these days.
Here are the two pieces from highlighted out of their kindle texts:


Naipaul in his foreword of Beyond Belief : Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples 1998

It may be asked if different people and different stories in any section of the book would have created or suggested another kind of country. I think not: the train has many coaches, and different class, but it passes through the same landscape. People are responding to the same political or social and cultural pressures. The writer has only to listen very carefully and with a clear heart to what people say to him, and ask the next question, and the next.


~VS Naipaul, Beyond Belief : Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples, defending how the cultural, political and social reality and ambitions of a country can be deduced by conversations.


Elizabeth Pisano writing in the introduction of Indonesia etc, Exploring the Improbable Nation 2014

…I fell back on one of the core principles of my day job as an epidemiologist, the principle of random selection. This holds that if you can’t study everyone, the best way to get a picture of what’s going on in a large population is to draw a sample at random. Rather than planning where I would go and who I would talk to in advance, I simply trusted that if I got out there and looked through the eyes of enough people in enough places, I’d be able to piece the fragments together into a portrait of the nation as a whole, to understand better the threads that tied the glorious disparity together. I hoped, too, that some of those threads would bind the present snapshot into a larger historical album, revealing some of Indonesia’s deep and lasting qualities. 

~ Elizabeth Pisani, Indonesia etc, exploring the improbable nation.


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