The route is a simple one, though long in the making, and very long in the taking. Draw it all on a map, and it is not quite a circle; but it doesn’t matter, nang dibeh, not to worry. The mandala is the journey, the kaminyu one takes to birah kaza, to come home, and to bai lonzi, to go out again, to make the world their own. This is their world, and this is their stage. Nus sa kaza. Nus sa stradu. Nus sa mundu.
Port Blair, first, with a quick, one-and-a-half-hour stopover at Indira Bazar, then Aceh for three days, Medan for two, Jambi, Palembang, Bengkulu, Jakarta. Semarang on May 15th, and Surabaya two days after, and then another long ocean crossing to Makassar, Balikpapan, Sandakan, Zamboanga, Manila. Hanoi just in time, before the monsoon season starts to quicken; safer travels over land thereafter, through Hanoi, Chiang Mai, Yangon. Bangkok, closer to home, then Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and Phuket, to catch the tourists. Finally, Georgetown, on the last Thursday of June, Melaka, for Festa San Pedru, and Singapore again. So it goes, and will go, over, over and over.
Everyone else is aboard, hovering above the returfed Padang in the afternoon sun; he is the last to ascend, and still he lingers, just a little while more on this good, green, this stage set for all to play. Their first show was spectacular; the closing notes of the second, last night, are still etching themselves across his mind. That’s what he said to me: you never forget a show done well, his dizaboh machu used to say about his own dizaboh machu. And because of that, you never want to stop, once you know how to do them well. But they stopped, even though they didn’t want to; his dizaboh machu’s dizaboh machu stopped in 1926, and once war came, beginning again was impossible. Scripts vanished, speakers passed on, the language disappeared. They thought it was over.
Draw it all on a map, and it is not quite a straight line. But nang dibeh. Write it down. Put it on stage. Nang dibeh. Nang bergonya. Don’t worry. Don’t be ashamed. The journey is the mandala, and the journey was over; and the journey begins again. The Bangsawan fleet departed weeks ago in the opposite direction, and the S.S. Madhanavel Pillai will follow them tomorrow; his troupe themselves will rendezvous with the Royal Lakhon Barge and the Wayang Chaoju over Vientiane.
“Fazeh lesti,” he says into his vox. Ready, in Kristang; literally to make for the East. “Westi ka?” comes the laughing reply, and he smiles as the ladder hoists him up across the edge of the Padang, the last of the New Minstrels aboard the Bela Infanta, the first airship carrying a Kristang theatre troupe, itself the first Kristang theatre troupe in a hundred and fifty years.
Sea and sky are open. Bai lonzi. Birah kaza. And this, their world, their wondrous stage, is set.