Bemby Bantara Narendra: Beautifying Bali with his Balinese alphabet transliterator
Among the numerous exhibition stalls at the Bali Arts Festival (Pesta Kesenian Bali) in Denpasar Arts Center, which concluded in July, stood a small stall exhibiting dozens of Lontar Usada Bali — Balinese ancient scripts written on palm leaves.
Every day, the stall was occupied by a quiet young man, Bemby Bantara Narendra, who sometimes attended the stall with his brother Dendy, his mother and father Doni Harimurti, the founder of the Bali Galang Foundation and creator of babadbali.com, a website that conserves, collects and publicizes Balinese cultural heritage.
The stall’s 35 ancient and fragile Balinese lontar, which were written in the ancient Sanskrit alphabet, are pieces of Bali’s priceless cultural heritage.
Not many people visited the lontar exhibition stall, though. The few who did make a brief visit, like Bali Governor I Made Mangku Pastika and some school children, might have returned home with a sense of awe as they discovered that they could actually type their own names or a sentence in the Latin alphabet, which then came out in beautiful Balinese letters on the computer monitor.
This was achieved through a simple software named “Smart Font Transliterator Bali Galang”.
Today’s generation of Balinese are mostly unfamiliar with the use of the ancient alphabet in everyday life, let alone able to understand and read it. Thus, the tool holds a significant role in bridging the gap between the next generation and their lontar heritage.
“When seeing such great enthusiasm from these youngsters, I have high hopes in my heart that the Balinese alphabet will continue to exist in the future,” said Bemby, as he busily explained how to get the Balinese alphabet while typing in the Latin alphabet.
The man, who was born in Surabaya on June 29, 1985, is in fact the inventor of this tool.
The 2008 graduate of information technology from the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) in Bandung, West Java, has created two smart font applications: “Smart Font Bali Galang” and “Smart Font Transliterator Bali Galang”.
“I initially created the ‘Smart Font Bali Galang’ program as my final year project,” he said.
After the Balinese alphabet was officially acknowledged in the fifth version of Unicode standard in 2006, his smart font was the first to use the Unicode code space for the alphabet.
After he graduated, Bemby developed the second application to transliterate the common Latin alphabet into Balinese, and vice versa, by using the basic application of his first invention. “I named my second application ‘Smart Font Transliterator Bali Galang’,” said Bemby.
Bemby’s transliterator aims at making it easier to learn the Balinese alphabet.
“All Balinese who have studied at elementary school would have briefly learned about the Balinese alphabet. Although they still have the lessons in junior and senior high schools, the alphabet is never used in daily lives,” said Bemby.
“Only specific people, who are keen on Balinese literature, continue to use the alphabet. My transliterator application makes it easier for people who are completely unfamiliar with the Balinese alphabet to be able to write in Balinese,” said Bemby, adding that the use of computer technology had also helped erase the out-of-date impression that had been a stigma for those people interested in learning the Balinese alphabet.
When asked why Bemby persisted with the efforts initiated by his father, the creator of babadbali.com, Bemby said, “Father once gave me a very beautiful Javanese philosophy: Mamayu Hayuning Bawana. Mamayu means beautifying, hayuning means beauty and bawana means the world or universe.”
“Father always taught me to live my life not only for the sake of myself and my family. He taught me that while living in this universe, we have to do something to enhance the beauty of the universe. Those three simple words motivate me to continue doing something, although only a little, for my Balinese land,” said Bemby.