My Jakarta: Bhavana Sutrisna Tirtadinata

Bhavana Sutrisna Tirtadinata

Bhavana Sutrisna Tirtadinata


My Jakarta: Bhavana Sutrisna Tirtadinata

Bhavana Sutrisna Tirtadinata, born and raised in Jakarta, refers to herself as the owner of an “Indonesian heart and an Indian soul.”

The beaming mother of two, who joined the social club Toastmasters almost three years ago, came up short in a recent international speech contest when she was disqualified for going over the allotted time by 0.3 seconds. The sanguine speaker is now preparing to compete in the club’s Table Topic district competition on March 28.

How do you feel about going over time in the international contest?

It wasn’t the first time this has happened. They always say that to understand the value of time, you should ask a sprinter about a fraction of a second. I think I would change that to ask a Toastmaster.

How do you practice?

Usually I am pretty confident; I know I can deliver. I know everybody here, so I feel pretty confident. And then just before the competition I lock myself in the lady’s toilet and go over my speech.

Are you in any other social clubs in Jakarta?

I volunteer for the Girl Scouts of America at my daughter’s school.

Do the Girl Scouts in Jakarta sell cookies?

No, because by the time they get here they’re old, and too expensive anyway. Nobody is going to buy a stale box of cookies for Rp 100,000.

You seem to keep pretty busy. Anything else on your agenda?

A big concern of mine has always been culture, so every Saturday I volunteer for Sathya Sai Study Group Indonesia where we teach Indian kids about our values and culture: Why we have certain festivals and why we have certain customs, like when we touch the feet of our elders, or why we light flames at our Indian alters at home. Most of the Indian children ask us: “If my friends don’t have to do this, why do I?” And this is a chance for the parents to help explain their culture.

Being born and raised here, what changes have you seen in Jakarta through the years?

We Indians aren’t seen as strangers anymore. Initially, if you were Indian, you were alien. Whenever there was a wedding in the neighborhood, everyone would come and look but now they consider it normal and they come and dance.

Would you give any advice to the government to increase tolerance?

I hope that in the way Chinese Indonesians get a public holiday for Chinese New Year, maybe the government could give us a holiday for Deepavali. The government recognizes our Hinduism as basically the Balinese form of Hinduism, but we have different festivals and different holidays. Balinese Hindus get a holiday on their Balinese New Year — Nyepi — but we are deprived of that.

How tight-knit is the Indian community?

So tight that if you are single and you hang around with someone for more than a day or two it is immediately labeled as an affair. There’s always a lot of gossip going around. Every Indian’s life here is under a microscope.

Where do you go when you leave the city?

Mostly Singapore; I have family there. Unlike Indians in Jakarta, the Indians in Singapore are too busy to want to know about anyone’s life.

How has Jakarta changed as a city?

Our neighborhoods used to be safer, and now we are more protective of our kids. We don’t want them going anywhere without their nannies. When I was growing up in Jakarta, all the Indians went to one international school, but now times have changed so many Indian parents send their kids to many different schools. Now my son and daughter have more Chinese than Indian friends.

What do you miss about the old Jakarta?

Nobody has time nowadays. Neighbors are strangers. I don’t know what my neighbors next door do. Back in the old days I could just walk up to their house, but now everybody has double-bolted their doors. They don’t want to know who you are.

What is your favorite place to eat in Jakarta?

I basically eat at home. I eat a lot of stir-fried greens. My husband says I’m like a cow — I can eat a whole bowl of greens on my own.

Are your kids fond of vegetables?

Actually they call me a maniac because whenever they order KFC, the standard is fried chicken and rice and I always insist that they bring their serving of vegetables to KFC and eat it there. They are always so embarrassed and they say, “Can’t you just be normal for once?”

Bhavana Sutrisna Tirtadinatawas talking to Zack Petersen.

The Jakarata Globe Reference

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