The Art of Golf
I don’t play golf; not because I can’t, but because I’ve not been able to generate enough passion to chase a small white ball through undulating meadows, gullies, coves, sand bunkers, water bodies and all else. Devoid of passion, my patience would probably give way to irritation and frustration. My golfer friends opine that the Golf is like meditating while walking. I agree somewhat. It must be so, or else how do golfers shut out the business of living whilst pursuing measured trajectories to static holes?
On one of his journeys to the 18 holes, a friend motivated me into accompanying him to the picturesque and serene Permata Sentul – a prime golf course in Indonesia. Along the fairways stand rows of well-kept trees, beyond which are terraced hillsides punctuated with colourful, bright flowers. Amidst this heavenly ambience lies an air of innocent glamour: lady caddies dressed in white and yellow, each accompanying a golfer in his electric golf cart.
The first few holes of my friend’s game were uneventful; at least for me. By the 4th or the 5th I’d warmed up to Ida Fitri, the boisterous and flamboyant caddy accompanying my friend who’s a rather serious golfer with a somewhat glum countenance. He examines every golfing move with as much dedication as he would a secret and sensitive file in the government. Ida laughed at one of his shots landing in the sand bunkers despite all the focused concentration of an archer. “What’s there to laugh, at?” admonished my friend.
“I knew you’d land there because you missed out on the heavy south eastern breeze that changed the trajectory of the ball, Sir”
“So why didn’t you tell me? And prevail over me?” grumbled my friend.
“I did, but you were confident of your moves Sir”, replied Ida, her eyes clouding as if wandering into the past. “You know what Sir, it’s very important to be able to spot the direction of the breeze in our lives too” she continued. “My father couldn’t do it and despite being a powerful confidante of the last regime, he landed in jail for ten years…leaving us, his family, deserted and totally deprived”.
I intervened, asking Ida what had caused such a disaster.
“Well, when the First Lady wanted to help my father, his obsessive loyalty refused her help. He asked her to keep away from matters of polity”. Turning to my friend she added, “Sir, if you need to come out of that sand bunker, you’ve got to stop sulking.”
“What do you mean?” countered my even more irritated friend.
“Nothing Sir, nothing except that you need to use the right club to deal with this bunker”, advised Ida.
“Oh but I am.”
“No sir, you’re not”, suggested Ida. “This sixty degree club you want to use has a very heavy bottom that’ll kick lot of sand which will make the ball jump really high and stop it from travelling the distance.”
“Are you saying this is the wrong club to use?” insisted my friend.
“Sir, sand is of many types. This one’s laced with clay and tends to cling to the ball. You need to strike at it with great force, and for that you need the right club.” Ida paused before continuing, “My father advised the President to move towards democratization, but the President was stuck in the clay of his own self consuming sand bunker and Aya (father) used the wrong club to try and clear it”.
“Oh I see, so now you’re equating human psychology with a game of golf?” said my visibly annoyed friend.
“No Pak, I’m not” Ida replied gently and with deference. “Please don’t read me wrong. I’m just trying to share my experience of life with you. I just wish you to apply human behavioral patterns to your game.”
My friend relented and took the club that Ida offered him. With one smooth stroke, the ball reached the hole. “Yes! Good God, I did it,” exclaimed my ecstatic friend.
“Not you Pak! It was the right club and right application!”
“Oh well, just let me play the next hole in peace, will you?”
But Ida continued unperturbed, “there’s that undulating land mass ahead and it causes illusions of distances being lesser than they are Pak. So beware. It is a hundred meters, so use force with an appropriate club.”
My friend reluctantly glared back, “Are you sure it shan’t land in the water body past it?”
“No Pak! If you play for hundred meters, you’ll be right on the greens!” said Ida, with clinical precision.
“My mother knew they’d be coming for us. She dispatched my Kak (older sister) to India to her employers requesting them to keep her safe, and sent me to our Hindu relatives in Bali where the Hindu minority was still safe against the persecutory moves of the regime. From there we migrated to Penang in Malaysia”, continued Ida.
While my friend was focused on planning and executing his further strategy, I was lying engrossed in the sand bunkers of my own emotions, looking for an opportunity to dig out the rest of Ida’s strange story. Anxiety laced my thoughts about her family and their destiny. Was fate too like a golf course: illusory, deceptive and uncertain?
My friend executed an experienced shot that landed safely on the greens of the next course with the deceptive sand bunker well out of the way. An English folk melody began escaping his lips and confidence finally seemed to be his as he walked towards the formality of driving the ball into a rather difficult looking hole.
An equally relaxed Ida too was by now humming a popular Indonesian melody, “Jangan Berhanti Mencintaiku…” (Don’t forget to love me). With her beautiful mane caressing her back she seemed to have obliterated all scars of hardship. My mind wondered if she’d inherited her mother’s wisdom along with the apparent beauty that she certainly had. No doubt her stay at Bali was therapeutic since Balinese are known to be respectful towards human life. Was Ida’s melody related to her past? What was her present like?
My friend had meanwhile landed the ball in some foliage. Irritation laced his angry outburst, “What’s this Ida? Why haven’t I cleared the cove despite the swing and the follow through?”
Ida was her helpful, calm self. “Pak, you have removed your cap despite being against the sun. How could your shot succeed?”
“So what?” glared my belligerent friend.
“Pak, the glare of the sun makes our eyes squint, and that restricts the free movement of the swing. In golf you have to be conscious of your body’s tiniest involuntary reflexes”, explained Ida.
“My Ibu came back to Jakarta to apologize for my father’s mistakes. But the moment she faced the chief, she was immobilized by her own nervousness. Statue-like, she forgot her salutations to the Chief who ordered her to be jailed. Thanks to the efforts of the First Lady, my Ibu was released on the assurance that she would live with us – her daughters – in a quiet, unchallenging and disgraced manner”, reminisced Ida. “Your confidence against the sun was somewhat like my Ibu’s action, Pak”.
In the past I’d heard tales of gory repression by the previous draconian regime; elderly Indonesians who’d suffered and witnessed the horrors spoke in hushed whispers of crushed lives and battered dreams. My thoughts flew to Ida’s Ibu: how had that lady – once the toast of the charmed circle – managed to adapt to her changed circumstances? Did she think of suicide? Or did the presence of her daughters lend endurance to her?
Pained though he may have been with Ida’s story, my friend recomposed himself for his next move. Golfers cannot afford distraction; it can ruin an entire day. My friend soon hit a birdie, which ensured the return of his confidence and lost joy. No wonder they say Golf is a meditating game: one good shot and all woes dissipate.
“Bravo, Pak, bravo!” exclaimed an excited Ida, “You are indeed a pro!” Lithe and lissome, I’d noticed that her gestures reflected the joy that she felt at my friends’ shot. Ten holes had been crossed and I was a tad sweaty and impatient, but the expectation of Ida’s story kept me going. A perceptive Ida soon got me cool water from the golf cart accompanying us. And then she proposed to click our picture: I presume to bring me some excitement but my friend presumed it would ruin his concentration. “Come on Pak, be a sport. This’ll help you rest your limbs and renew your focus”, pleaded Ida with her trademark enthusiasm and my friend’s mobile camera in hand, all ready to shoot.
A caddie is like a (wo)man-Friday on the course. Always well versed with everything that may need to be done for the golfer. Ida was used to handling my friends’ calls and messages while he played to avoid distractions. Now she was also creating memories through his phone.
“You know Pak, my Ibu destroyed all those photos of pomp and regalia that we’d once lived with. But she kept those that were of our togetherness, joy and small happy moments. Ibu believed that it was these moments that needed to be cherished, “said Ida softly, as she gently underlined the need for the picture that she was soon to click.
While I ruminated over the prophetic anecdote of Ida’s mother, my friend prepared himself to go for the most difficult hole to negotiate. He had to cross two treacherous water bodies, one of which was partially covered with the long shadows of trees, to reach the greens of the twelfth hole. He was staring pensively at the ball. I wondered why he was nervous. After all, golf creates its own benchmarks; there are no opponents to defeat. Was he distracted by Ida’s story? Unlikely, since golfers are known to tackle stress in most adverse situations. Ida too looked serious. I realized that a caddie’s life is somewhat entwined with the golfer’s moves.
“Contrasting vision can impair your judgment Pak, don’t look at the shade, focus on the light instead, as it’s easier to focus on. That way even if you falter with your swing, you’ll still land on the peripheral soft ground that’ll stop the ball from rolling into the water”, she suggested yet again. “My Ibu too had to focus on the mercies doled out by Bapak Presiden. There was no other way out, you see, that’s why I say that you must see the light and not the shadows”, she continued lost in thought.
For once my friend did as she said and the ball landed safely on the soft peripheral ground. Fist raised in disbelief he thanked Ida.
“You seem to know both the game and the course so well Ida! Didn’t you ever think of becoming a golfer yourself?”
“No Pak! Knowledge only enriches you with principles; execution requires training, which I lack”, Ida confessed candidly. “Both training and skills matter a lot in life. When in exile, my Ibu in Penang and my sister in Bengaluru, both used their skills and basic training to survive. Ibu taught at a local school and my sister practiced the art of batik. Without their skills we wouldn’t have been able to survive Pak”.
I could finally sense my friend warming up to Ida’s story, probably because it was emphasizing the significance of skills at a time when the last few holes would severely test his skills on the course.
A sudden sharp burst of rain smacked me out of my reverie. We ran towards a ‘bale-bale’ (a wooden flat bed) under a canopy of trees. On a golf course umbrellas are useful only against the sun; the rain defeats them completely. As Ida started to point out the beautiful multihued butterflies around us, I couldn’t but help notice the charm that she was endowed with: a beautiful expressive face, ringed with golden brown hair and her lemon yellow youthful sun kissed complexion. A rainbow had quaintly formed a halo behind her as she hummed “Janghan berenti mencintaiku….(don’t forget to love me…) in her pretty yellow and white dress.
Captivated as I was with the serenity of the hills, the foliage, Ida and her story, I looked at my friend. He seemed completely oblivious to everything yet again. I knew that golfers often miss out on the beauty of a bountiful nature on their path towards a perfect score: the visuals of wild flowers and planted shrubbery and the sounds of rare birds are all dispensable to a golfer immersed in his game.
The rain was subsiding and my friend hurriedly took a shot and what a blunder it was. Sluggish from the break, his focus must have wandered for he hit the ball far away from his intended trajectory. Crestfallen, he turned to Ida who patiently explained that the wild swing must have been the result of hitting a wet ball with a wet club. Yet, what was done was done.
Dampened by this setback, it took my friend four more strokes to finish his fourteenth hole. Embarrassed and dejected, it seemed my friend would give up at this moment.
Tuned as she was to my friend’s mental frequency, Ida attempted to restore his confidence through her tale. “Bapak Presiden started mobilising foreign funds for the transmigration of Muslims to far flung and sparsely populated areas in the name of development. My father dutifully informed him that this was creating a deep suspicion in the minds of ethnic minorities and that peace could be breached in the days to come. But Pak, just as the rain had left its damaging presence on the ball and the club so was the residue of the greed of foreign funds on Bapak Presiden’s mind. My father misjudged this factor and his moves backfired, landing him in jail”.
“Later, in 1998 the winds of change started blowing through our nation and the forces of Reformasi (Reformation) declared my father innocent and freed him. However he was a broken man, silent and numb within his soul. The love of his motherland lured him back to the country and he started teaching with my mother. They taught ethics, something they had practiced well in life. Once again he was decorated and awarded for his contribution to education in ‘Pesantren’ and was invited to be part of the local government. He politely declined and continued teaching the importance of values in a modern society. And then he breathed his last”.
A heavy silence hung above us all. Ida’s moving tale had stupefied us. As if to underline the way out of a difficult situation, Ida surmised, “My father always said that the ugliest designs of destiny encourage the weak to surrender and escape ignominiously whilst the strong learn the art of course correction in their lives”.
I could sense the recharging of my friend’s depleted morale. Guided by a devoted Ida – who had politely accepted my condolences without unnecessary remorse – he was not just recovering from his emotional abyss but was also bettering his game. The sixteenth hole was conquered but my friend’s score was still tarnished. After all, a ‘par’ player cannot easily digest even a ‘one-over’ in golf.
Hole 17 was dreadful and intimidating. It was in a softly patched valley flanked by sand bunkers on either side; the ingredients for a visual deception were nicely laid out.
Sensing my friend’s discomfort Ida came forward, “Error is a part of human nature, Pak. You should focus on the task at hand and concentrate on the hole. My Ibu knew the strength of my father’s character as also his insistence on transparency regarding foreign funds. Because of his impeccable sense of propriety, my father could not turn a blind eye to wrong decisions as he felt that silence was being complicit to a crime. He was warmed many a times yet he landed in jail. That was part of nature’s design Pak. After all you cannot run this world; you can merely fulfill your assignments to the best of your ability and sincerity”.
Ida’s measured words seemed to have hit home. My friend seemed to be gazing into the seventeenth hole, oblivious of all the illusions surrounding it. His swing was superb, a rare feat indeed; he landed cleanly on the greens of the hole.
All the excitement of the recent past lay in balance with the anxiety of what was yet to come: the last hole. The revered eighteenth hole was the last bastion. Among the lengthening shadows of the majestic trees a cool comforting breeze seemed to flit around; the golden light of the fading day seemed to be a mother caressing her children to sleep with a soothing, soft lullaby.
My friend was nervous with the apprehension of ending with a 2-over. He hoped for a miracle, yet seemed reconciled to the impossibility of one. Contrasting emotions sound the death knell of one’s concentration in a sport, yet humans often succumb to them.
As usual Ida could read the emotions crisscrossing through my friend, tossing him violently with all their might whilst he searched desperately for something to hold on to. Very casually, yet with underlying understanding of golfing and human behaviour, Ida offered my friend an oatmeal-energizing bar, which he dutifully accepted. As if to soothe him further Ida continued her story. ”The passing away of my father meant that I had to supplement the family income. One of my father’s students offered me this job here at Permata Sentul. I wasn’t aware of my ability of becoming a caddie, but it seemed that the gentleman read me right. Here I am, in a job I enjoy and cherish,” she continued. “My Ibu’s health was failing too since the loss of her companion had pushed her into becoming a recluse. She often regretted not having educated her daughters as she had wished to despite her having steered her family through treacherous tests. Yet she believed that teaching and training other minds towards a sense of esteem and achievement could fulfill her life too. And so she continued to teach with diligence, in the firm hope that one of her students would make it to a position of respect and seniority in life. This dream of hers fructified when Bapak Agung, her student, was appointed one of the youngest advisors to the present President of our country. But destiny plays strange hands Pak, because the day my Ibu’s student was appointed was the day she suffered a stroke and slipped into coma. It seems she was overjoyed and this led her to near death. Strange indeed are the ways of fate”, remarked Ida.
The silence surrounding us could be cut with a knife. My friend and I were unable to break out of the sense of gloom and sadness that had descended on us. Here too, it was a strangely calm, almost happy Ida who announced that “It’s my Ibu’s birthday today Pak! I need you to finish this game well so that I can go be with her as soon as possible.”
This last bit seemed to galvanize us both with hope. My friend seemed to have found a mission to accomplish: it seemed he wished to play that last hole as a tribute to the indomitable grit of the two women we’d spent the last few hours with: Ida Fitri and her Ibu. As for me, I felt the hollow within me slowly filling up. A part of me felt that Ida’s infection for living was rubbing the numbness off my dulled senses.
Ida broke the ice with her characteristic smile and handed the appropriate club to my friend. “All yours Pak!” she said softly guiding him to aim to a spot from where the ball may roll down and land nearest to the 18th hole.
Nervousness intermingled with hope inside me as I watched my friend attempt his shot. Standing closest to him was Ida, like an extension of my friend’s body. She shut her eyes as my friend swung his club: she too was human indeed; hoping for an outcome that was possible yet almost miraculous, Ida finally displayed the emotions that I knew were within her, never mind the dark caves and tunnels she had negotiated in the past. She opened her eyes as the ball hit the ground with a thud, remained still as if listening to the movement of the ball on the slope, peered for a moment, leapt in the air and threw her long sinewy arms around my friend; hugging him tight, she screamed, “Itu keajaiban Pak! (It’s magic Mister!)! You have a ‘hole – in – one’! Alhamdulillah!”
It seemed Ida had seen all that we had missed: my friend and I were too stupefied for words, time stood still and we were the statues that adorned the moment. Our emotions seemed huddled between us all. So much had happened in the past few hours, it seemed like the course of a lifetime, and the formation of a bond that held together a sport called golf and a life of values and humanity. Even nature seemed to applaud my friend’s feat. The green foliage seemed to be throwing a sheet of golden light around him as if in exuberance of his courage in bouncing back from the jaws of escapism. Ida’s little melody awakened me to reality once again…”Jangan Berhenti Mencintaiku” (don’t forget to love me)…
My friend finished at par.
Ida carried a birthday gift of deep gratitude from us – two strangers – to her mother.
As we walked back, I wondered: were the past few hours a lesson on the game of golf or on the art of life? To me it seemed like both, saddened though I was at the amazing crests and troughs in the life of an incredible Ida. My mind slowly seemed made up: I wasn’t going to pick up golf, I’d rather learn Ida’s melody forever….”Jangan Berhenti Mencintaiku” (don’t forget to love me)…