Do you believe in ghosts?

Do you believe in ghosts?
April 19, 2009
Kartika Jahja
The Jakarta Post

I could have sworn I closed the curtains and turned off the lights when I closed my shop that night. There's no doubt about that. Less then a minute later, as I approached my car in the parking lot, I looked up and saw the curtains were drawn and the lights were on. When I asked the security guard if there was still anyone in the building, he said that we were the only ones left.

With shaky hands and weak knees, I walked slowly up the stairs, with the security guard holding a flashlight so huge it could have knocked a person dead. But both of us knew it wasn't thieves, robbers or pranksters that we suspected of foul play. It was those from the other world. Reaching the door of the shop, I was ready to see whatever it was that had scared me as a child. A long haired banshee in her white dress doing a tango and shrieking that eerie laughter, or even that infamous form of mystical creature whose name I dare not say. I just refer to them as "the P word". You know, the ones wrapped in white fabric and who hop around graveyards. Us locals deem it as the scariest ghost to roam the night while expats perceive them as a failed attempt at a Halloween costume.

The next day I told the tale to my Canadian friend over lunch.

"I don't normally believe in that sort of mumbo jumbo," I said, "but how do you explain that?"

He chuckled "I have lost count of how many times of my Indonesian friends have said *I don't believe it, but.' The fact that you're telling me this story means you do believe it."

I guess he had a point.

Yes, to some degree, I believe in ghosts, the supernatural, magic, what have you. Along with 99.9% of the Indonesian population. Pick any random person browsing Facebook on their Apple laptops in any minimalist caf* at your nearest futuristic mall, and ask them if they believe in ghosts. They can twist words any way they want, but they will ultimately tell you that ghosts do exist. No amount of modernism will ever completely erase the supernatural beliefs of our people. It is something that a sweaty bus driver and a swanky socialite can actually have a conversation about, should they get stuck together in an elevator for 8 hours.

Maybe it is rooted in Indonesia's ancient mystical culture, maybe it has to do with the poor level of education. But those factors merely determine the degree of fascination in the spiritual world. My mother being one example. An engineer and super-career woman, who is so pragmatic and efficient in everything she does that I once thought of getting my DNA checked just to make sure I wasn't half robot. Yet at one point in her life, when illogical oddities started happening around her that her extraordinary logic failed to explain, she consulted a paranormal, to my disbelief.

"It isn't unusual in the Indonesian business world, for a businessman to use magic to paralyze their competition," she explained.

Though, to my relief, she isn't that high up on the business food chain, I have heard freaky stories about conglomerates and politicians getting hexed, growing horns, and having razor blades found in their intestines. We're talking about men clad in Armani suits and carrying the latest model of Blackberry here.

Indonesian novelist Ayu Utami, in her book Bilangan Fu, made a great point on the topic of spiritualism in our culture. That superstitions and mysticism, in a way, protect nature from being overly exploited. The stories about the spirits and creatures haunting the forests, rivers, and ruling the ocean, gave people a reason not to take too much from nature, out of respect for its guardians.

That worked for our ancestors, but let's take the context back to today. With that much fascination in all things unseen, you can easily conclude there's big bucks in the mystic business. Check your local newspaper's advertorial, and see how many so-called paranormals are offering everything from alternative healing, to charms that will melt the coldest hearted bitch and make her fall head over heels for you. Big corporations are throwing billions to sponsor horror films with sinetron- quality pictures. Television gets high ratings from supernatural reality shows. Not to mention the SMS services luring people to get clairvoyant advices through their cellular phones on what career path to choose, who they should marry, and how to get a ticket to a happy afterlife. And no, you don't get a money-back guarantee on the magics purchased.

It frustates me that we are so gullible when it comes to the unseen, the other dimension, whatever you call it. People with schizophrenic disorders treated with exorcism instead of medication. A little boy with magic powers taking hundreds of patients a day instead of learning how to read. But you know what also frustrates me? People who defy anything that isn't scientific. Who sneers at us when we ask them to respect our beliefs, our culture, and our history. Because sometimes some things just can not be rationalized, no matter how you try. So just roll with it, and we will all co-exist in peace and harmony. Us and the unseen.
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