I Nyoman Darma Putra: Faithful chronicler of Balinese contemporary culture
From July 16 to 18, multidisciplinary specialists on Bali, who include anthropologists, historians and sociologists, gathered in Denpasar at an international conference “Bali in Global Asia: Between Modernization and Heritage Formation”.
I Nyoman Darma Putra is an important figure behind this conference. The lecturer at the faculty of letters at Udayana University served as the conference’s co-executive director with Henk Schulte Nordholt of the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS). Not only a lecturer, Darma Putra is also an active writer, whose writings are published in local and national mass media and scientific journals. He also writes his own books on Bali, especially on contemporary Bali. One of his books is A Literary Mirror: Balinese Reflections on Modernity and Identity in the Twentieth Century published by the Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (KITLV), a research institute based in Leiden, the Netherlands, an accomplishment rarely achieved by fellow Indonesian researchers and intellectuals.
The PhD alumni of University of Queensland has written a numbers of books, including Tonggak Sastra Bali Modern (2000), Wanita Bali Tempo Doeloe Perspektif Masa Kini (2003, 2007), and Bali dalam Kuasa Politik (2008). Together with other writers, Darma Putra also edited To Change Bali: Essays in Honour of I Gusti Nurah Bagus (2000) with Adrian Vickers and Michele Ford, Seabad Puputan Badung: Perspektif Belanda dan Bali (2006) with Henk Schulte Nordholt and Helen Creese, as well as Tourism, Development and Terrorism in Bali, Voices in Development Management (2007) with Michael Hitchcock.
Darma Putra was once a journalist with the Bali Post daily, Editor magazine, and a fixer for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), just to name a few. With his abundant experience as a journalist and a lecturer, Darma Putra continues to write about Bali. To Anton Muhajir, Bali Daily contributor, Darma Putra shared his dream when he was a child and his concerns over the deteriorating quality of journalism and the academic world in Bali nowadays. Here are excerpts.
Question: You are now a lecturer and a journalist, what was your initial dream?
Answer: I used to dream of becoming a policeman. I saw policemen as great people. Powerful. Feared. They can do many things that common people can’t. But when I grew up and saw a policeman from my own village, I felt proud. It was such a silly dream.
When I was an elementary student, I wanted to become a teacher, looking at my teachers’ charisma when they were teaching. Teachers also always look young, much younger than those working as farmers in the rice fields.
After completing my junior high school, I chose teaching school because I wanted to work directly after graduating.
I wanted to become independent from an early age, because my parents divorced when I was a kid.
How independent were you as a kid?
When I was in second and third grade of elementary school, I sold ice. From Padangsambian, we walked for 2-3 kilometers from Siwa Plaza on Jl. Gunung Agung (now the Carrefour supermarket), to reach the only ice factory near the school. I sold the ice with my classmates. Our customers were the farmers. We went selling the ice in the rice fields, or during soccer and volleyball competitions. We were proud every time the ice sold out. After I finished teaching school, I became a teacher for a while at Sekolah Anugerah.
What did you teach at the time?
I majored in math for elementary school. However, when I applied for work, the match teaching position was occupied, so I became a physical education teacher as I was also good at playing volleyball. I taught for about one or two years at SD Anugerah in the morning, while at night I took undergraduate studies in the faculty of letters.
How did you end up working as a journalist?
When I was in my undergraduate years, I often met art activists who hosted theatrical and literary events. Thus, I became acquainted with the literary world and I wrote for Bali Post. I eventually realized I did not have the talent to write poetry and short stories, but I could write news of activities hosted at my campus and in my village. They were published. Then, I kept on writing.
How did it feel when you had your first article being published?
I was thrilled. Amazing. We read the paper with an article with my byline, Nyoman Kopi, because I had dark skin. Afterwards, Prof. Bawa asked if I wanted to become a Bali Post journalist. I said yes. He mentored. I was accepted finally. A journalist was a rare profession at that time. That’s why it was easy to be accepted at Bali Post. I went to cover the regions. And because of my journalistic work, I resigned from teaching. After completing my bachelor degree, I applied for a lecturer position in 1985. While teaching as a lecturer, I continued working for Bali Post.
Why choose both?
Both professions give me pleasure. Journalism allowed me an opportunity to know villages that not all my friends could visit. When others were conducting their internship, I was visiting villages with the minister. I am so proud of being a journalist. I can use my work to promote my village, my friend’s village and others.
This work also benefitted me a great deal when I worked as a lecturer, a profession requiring good research ability. The journalistic experience made me capable of doing research, choosing the old and new data, verifying. Both works complement each other.
You also write many books. What is the main theme of your books?
Bali. Bali literature. Balinese women. Balinese tourism. Everything about Bali, the materials for which I obtain from the media. When I’m observing the modern literature of Bali, I look at them from the perspective of the media. Media is a great source to learn about the development of society, as it records the time of something taking place.
Nowadays, there are cases that reporters write according to order in the form of advertisements. Do you still believe in what the media write?
The media still have the basic facts and these are useful to learn of new phenomena happening in society. Previously, the journalist looked for news, now it is the other way around. Now people pay to have themselves reported by the media. It’s hilarious. People write news releases, bring it to the media, pay the media to have it published and purchase the newspaper, all to write their own writing.
The media has turned into a self-promotional tool. I saw schools with no achievements publish themselves in the paper because they pay. Many newspaper’s content is no longer stuff that matters.
How can that happen?
I believe this is the negative effect of reform. Democracy is translated into freedom to do anything you wish. The mass media should have been a representative of the public, but not anymore. Media has become a source to look for instant money. The sad thing is that many newsworthy occurrences are not published in the media because the people cannot pay. For example, the students who win the national level debate competition, but were
uncovered by the media.
Does that quality degradation also occur in the academic world in Bali?
In my opinion, much research at the universities is project-based in nature. Not all, but most of it is. People do research to get a project. There is a joke, after someone gets a project with some million rupiah allocation, he will then go buy a car. So, the projects are all motivated by the economy. Rarely are there those who do research because they want to produce knowledge. The intellectuals/academics live from the knowledge created by someone else. It’s like owing to somebody until reaching your own grave. You cannot pay it back. When you produce knowledge, you have to share it with others. Don’t just do research and keep the result in a library inaccessible to the public.
Entry filed under: Hello Bali.