Two Thousand and One and all that…
My family got back together that summer of 2001. We were happily settling in at the house we had rented, having just sold our home. When I say ‘we’ I mean my husband, our two younger sons and myself. Our eldest son was not with us as he was in Brighton putting together a rock group. One lovely summer’s day we had a visitor. Tall and elegant, he was in his 70s and a member of Subud. He asked to speak to my husband.
I have to interrupt here to say that the Subud world at the time was about to celebrate the upcoming Centennial birthday celebration party in honour of the late founder of Subud, Muhammad Subuh, known to his followers as Bapak or Pak Subuh, who passed away in 1987. In addition, a World Subud Congress was scheduled in Bali some days later. For me, a trip to Australia to finish a Health Course was all that I desired.
But to continue, imagine my husband’s surprise when our elegant visitor said. ‘I have always admired you and your family, and I would like you to accept this.’ And he presented my very amazed husband with a cheque for £5,000! What underpinned this generous gift, was never revealed, but that summer gave us experiences we would never have had but for that unexpected gift. As you can imagine, after our visitor left, we all produced our agendas to spend that great amount! The boys said they could now go to the Bali Congress. And I suggested that I might get that air ticket to Australia – and maybe even a stopover in Jakarta for the Centennial Celebrations. So that is how it played out. I left for the Centennial Celebrations in Jakarta. The boys filled in the paperwork for the Bali Congress and left a week later. My husband decided he wanted to rest at home having completed a term in the deserts of the Middle East.
The Centennial Celebrations were held in Wisma Subud, a residential compound in the Jakarta suburb of Cilandak which was home to Muhammad Subuh and many of his early followers from all over the world. At the Centennial there were meetings, concerts, songs and latihan for several days. On the birthday date, we gathered together to cut an enormous yellow rice mountain – Indonesian equivalent of a European celebration cake. The Indonesian ladies sang songs. There were shared memories, prayers, recordings of Pak Subuh’s conversations and anecdotes before the rice mountain was cut and distributed to the guests. People were having personal spiritual experiences. Some said they felt the presence of Pak Subuh.
One lady told me she had the experience of an ascension seeing her home village from the sky until she had thought of writing a poem, which resulted in an unruly fall to the ground. After the sharing of the rice mountain, a closed screen was swished open to reveal dozens of mini rice mountains. Amid music and laughter, the very young from three years of age to seventeen years walked up to the stage to collect a mini rice mountain each. Speeches were made and the elders foretold that it would be these young people who were Subud’s future, who would spread the technique of surrender practiced in Subud, namely the ‘Latihan’.
A few hours later, I met up with a UK Subud friend, ‘X’, who told me that she planned to visit Pak Subuh’s house in Semarang where he received the revelations that led to him working with mankind. She also intended to visit the village of Kedungjati, his childhood home where he grew up, which was a few hours’ drive from Semarang. Such a plan had never occurred to me. Overnight, I began to think that I might do the trip myself with my friend. So I was surprised when she informed me the next day that she had changed her mind about going to Semarang. Instead, she told me, she had been offered a lift to Bali for the Subud World Congress and had decided to accept.
I was disappointed that she had bailed out, but decided there was no reason why I should abandon my feeling to visit Semarang and Kedungjati. I had no idea where these places were or how far or how I could even get there. I decided to ring Indrawati van Hien, one of Pak Subuh’s granddaughters who had lived near me when she was In England. She gave me the phone number of the Chairman of the Semarang Subud Group and suggested I seek his advice.
The Subud Chairman was very helpful. He told me he could hire a jeep and driver on my behalf. All I had to do was to get the early morning flight from Jakarta to Semarang. The next morning, I was met in Semarang by Latif, the Group Chairman and his wife Janet, a beautiful woman also a Subud member, who despite her name was Indonesian like her husband. They drove me to their house where we met up with the driver and jeep, Latif had hired for me. The arrangement was that Janet and I were to drop their daughter at school and then set off on the road to Kedungjati, where we would be able to visit that village. Latif excused himself as he was expected at his workplace.
It was a very tiring bumpy ride, often on bad roads. Yet, finally after some four hours, we suddenly found ourselves turning onto a side road that led to a village of closely populated houses. At the same time, enchanting Javanese music could be heard. When I turned to where the sound seemed to be wafting from, I saw a very old man sitting crossed-legged on a concrete slab in front of a modern record player and speakers. He was playing traditional Javanese music which I really loved. We waved to this unique village DJ as we drove into the heart of Kedungjati, straight to the house where Bapak had spent his childhood.
As we entered the house, we could see that the rooms were large and spacious which allowed the house to retain some coolness in the heat. We were met by the caretaker, a Subud member in her 50s, dressed in a simple Indonesian dress in apricot cotton which was so simple and elegant. The house had been repaired and redecorated in simple fashion; we were told. Its simplicity and lack of furniture in the room was due to the fact that it was now used for latihan. One felt a deep calmness and serenity. We were given a tour of the village, then we climbed steps to the railway station, an extraordinarily large solid building with big platforms more suited to a Dutch town than to an Indonesian village.
Our guide led us to a railway bridge and beneath it, was the river. As a ten-year-old Muhammad Subuh would dive from this bridge into the river with his friends. We all smiled at the thought of this skinny ten-year-old whooping and laughing with his friends as they dared each other to dive. We turned back to re-enter the village – so neat, the houses packed close to each other, as if for protection. My eyes took in the bright green of the banana plants growing in a protective semi-circle on the far edge of the village opposite the railway station. To the left of the village as far as the eye could see was a pale green grassed plain, with a range of purple mountains on the far horizon. I stopped in wonder. How clever of the heavens to hide this child with an extraordinary destiny, in such a peaceful protected space!
On our return to Semarang, we visited the house where the ascension and revelations were received by Pak Subuh when he was a young man. The Semarang Subud Group meet at this house for latihan these days. This room had been the bedroom where these experiences were received. I was almost numbed by surprise at how the day was panning out. But the tour was not complete. Janet asked me to follow her. We left the house to walk down a busy road until to our right we saw a set of institutional buildings. Janet said it was a hospital. We turned off the road and walked up a footpath parallel to the hospital. After about some dozen paces, Janet stopped and pointed to the base of a tree. ‘Stand there’ she said. I obeyed wondering what was meant to happen. I stood still in the silence. Suddenly I became aware of a coolness climbing up into my whole body from the ground where I stood by the tree. Yet it was a boiling hot day!
I suddenly realised where I was; why I was standing on this spot! I became quite mortified and upset that I was doing the tourist thing on a spot that had been one of the earth’s most shattering moments for one human being. I asked myself ‘How could I be so unthinking – at this, the most important of all places for the growth of mankind?’ I looked up and my eyes caught sight of Janet’s smiling face. ‘Cool, isn’t it?’ she murmured. But here was the proof. The very spot where a great ball of light fell on a young man unaware of his destiny. That spot is still marked by the deep coolness since the day of that event. I remembered Pak Subuh’s account in one of his talks of the day his life changed, the day his mission was given to him. It happened on the walk he took that night. He had stood at this spot overlooking the hospital, which was still being built at the time, when that life-changing event took place.
The next day on my return to Jakarta, I caught the next flight to Australia to complete the course I had started in London.
Photographs courtesy of Subud Archives International