An old shrunken man with a crown of grey hair peers through his glasses and regarded our presence. He quickly returned to his newspapers as we lingered on in his front yard fascinated by the wooded washed out signboard that read “Special Balinese Letter Writer”.

I walked up the steps to where he was sitting with his newspapers still in hand. I quickly greeted him “Selamat Soreh Pak” (Good afternoon Uncle). He instantly broke into a welcoming smile inviting us in. Dusting the bamboo lashed seats, he invited us to sit and he stowed away his newspapers and offered us some drinks. Once again, genuine Balinese hospitality astounded us.

Balinese Letter Writer

Pakcik (Uncle) Wayan is perhaps the oldest Balinese inscriber in Tenganan, east of Bali. A vanishing craft of carving the ancient tales and the famous Ramayana story in Sanskrit on lontar leaves (from rontal trees). Long rectangular leaves about 25cm in length are dried, cleaned and naturally treated to prevent the leaves from breaking and wrinkling. The leaves are in a shade of yellowish beige giving it a rustic look.

Balinese Letter Writer

Beaming with pride, he uncovers booklets of lontar sheets are bound with vine and wrapped in newspapers. Prized art antiques, he explains that these booklets are passed down through generations and would never leave his family lineage despite extravagant offers from eyeing buyers. He unwraps a booklet and starts reading the story of Ramayana in a deep lyrical tune. The notes resonated in the air and my eyes caught sight of his overgrown nails curling up like ancient relic. Surely this man could pass for a character who stepped out an Asian folktale. He takes a breath and continues his rhythmic read. For a moment, time warped back and my hairs stood on ends.

Balinese Letter Writer Balinese Letter Writer

This dying trade fortunately has been passed down to his daughter who continues to share and promote the craft in Ubud, Bali. Not only is it a tedious and meticulous craft, each leave takes about two days to complete and is sold for 1 million Indonesian Rupiah each (approximately RM300). Each booklet contains approximately 50-60 sheets and he has orders enough to keep him busy till the end of the year. Most of his buyers are from Europe with a love for antique art pieces.

Hopefully the next time I’m in Bali, Pakcik Wayan will still be sitting on his verandah with newspapers in hand ready to welcome us back to his amiable house, and if he wills to have another apprentice under his wings.

[info]Interested traditional art collectors can get in touch with Pakcik I Wayan Muditadhnana at 036341178. His house is in Tenganan Village, off Candidasa.[/info]