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Ties that bind

Sebastian Partogi

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Mon, July 10, 2017  /  10:01 am
Ties that bind

Two wonderful architectures: Both the Taj Mahal in India and Borobudur in Indonesia are among the Wonders of the World and are UNESCO heritage sites. (JP/Jerry Adiguna)

India and Indonesia have similar names — the latter was derived from the Latin word Indus meaning India and the Greek word nesos meaning island. Apart from the shared etymology of their names, how much are the two countries aware of their cultural similarities and the intimate political ties they once had during the early post-colonial days?

To remind both Indians and Indonesians about the ties that bind them, the Indian Embassy to Indonesia has just launched a photobook called Kesamaan(similarities) India-Indonesia: Still in Step. The book was released a few days before former Indian ambassador to Indonesia Nengcha Lhouvum retired on May 31.

The book features photographs outlining both countries’ journeys over the years starting from the 1940s to contemporary times, emphasizing both countries’ cross-cultural characteristics across many sectors, from architecture and dances to foods and beverages.

“The photobook brings into focus our dynamic and continuous relationship. Many of the stories of our relationship from the past have, unfortunately, faded from memory and are relatively not known anymore by both Indonesians and Indians, particularly among the young generations.

“This is why we showcase a number of historical incidents that make our relationship special,” Lhouvum told The Jakarta Post during an interview in her office.

The book is not for sale but it has instead been distributed to Indonesian official circles and civil society organizations, as well as to university and school libraries.

Some highlights from the book include a number of photos showing the close ties both countries shared during the post-colonial period, particularly ones of former Indonesian prime minister Sutan Syahrir and first president Sukarno with former Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru from the 1940s to the early 1950s.

One of Indonesia’s founding fathers and former vice president Mohammad Hatta wrote in his autobiography Untuk Negeriku (For My Country), first published in 1979, that he was acquainted with Nehru in 1927 during an anti-imperialism and colonialism congress in Brussels, Belgium.

Their amicable relationship continued. In 1947, for example, Hatta had to go to India to visit Nehru to request armaments as there were signs that the Dutch military would soon attack Indonesia after it declared independence on Aug. 17, 1945.

The solidarity between both post-colonial countries — Indonesia having been colonized by the Netherlands and India by England — went both ways. In 1945, for instance, Indonesia shipped rice to India, arrival of which in Cochin Port is documented in the photobook, in order to alleviate the hunger that was occurring in the country.

Two countries: The close socio-political relationship between Indonesian first president Sukarno and the first prime minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru was extended to shared family ties. (JP/Jerry Adiguna)

This cooperation has now been also captured in music, in a song called “Padi untuk India” (Rice for India) by an Indonesian all-female choir group named Dialita made up of survivors of the 1965 communist purge, with lyrics and music written by Indonesian non-mainstream band Sisir Tanah.

There are also photos showing 20 Indonesian pilots who were trained in India around 1947, illustrating military cooperation.

“At that time, a pilot training school [called Maguwo, it is now the Adisutjipto International Airport] in Yogyakarta was bombed out [by the Dutch] so the pilots went on training in India,” she explained.

Meanwhile, the cross-cultural similarities between the two countries can particularly be seen in the architecture of the Borobudur and Prambanan temples in Yogyakarta — two of Indonesia’s most outstanding cultural sites, which can be traced back to the influence brought by the Hindu kingdoms.

According to Dutch historian MC Ricklefs in his book Sejarah Indonesia Modern (Modern Indonesian History), the Hindu kingdoms arose in Indonesia in approximately the fourth century, putting an end to the local civilization’s prehistoric era and bringing literacy to the archipelago, along with the famous Indian epoch of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Because of this, the Indonesian language has been heavy with Sanskritic influences.

“I feel immediately at home when I arrive in Indonesia because here you have so many people with Sanskritic names,” Lhouvum said. Indonesian names like Aditya, Buana and Cinta, for example, are rooted in the Sanskrit language.

She said these cultural characteristics could hopefully serve as a common ground for both countries to continue their cooperation in the future. There are some contemporary contexts in which India and Indonesia could learn from one another’s expertise.

“We are significant countries, two of the most populous and diverse nations in Asia. We could work together in certain issues. For instance, India can learn from Indonesia about infrastructure building, on different methods and technologies of construction and much more because those aspects seem to be Indonesia’s strong points,” she said.

Meanwhile, India could share some of its experiences in enhancing the quality of human resources, particularly through education.

“In terms of human resources, we now have so many Indians working in other countries, particularly in the banking, finance and technology sectors,” she said.

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