Stories are the clothes you wear
300 years ago, a meteorite hit Indonesia. Not just anywhere in Indonesia. It hit the heart of Java–Yoygyakarta. But It did not hit anywhere in Yogyakarta either. It fell very near Prambanan Temple. This temple is 1200 years old and was dedicated to the Trimurti, the Hindu’s conception of God in three forms: Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver) and Shiva (destroyer). Around the time the meteor hit, the art and science of keris making was at its peak. People took their keris seriously back then. It was believed that a keris made with bad intentions could cause plants to wilt at a single touch. If you make your blade shaped as a serpent, then the hilt has to be made in the form of a Garuda, the mythical bird, so as to keep the serpent in check.
The master keris makers discovered that the nickel in the meteorite was of higher quality and when used to make the keris, the blade shined brighter. People believed that the rock came from heaven, which was the most logical conclusion to arrive at as it came down from the sky and landed near a sacred site. It fit their mental universe.
When I wrote "The Smell of Jasmine after the Rain", I thought to myself, ‘What if a keris made from heaven was used to murder an innocent person? How would the story look like? But most importantly, how would people living in that time react to the murder, and what meaning would they derive from the violence?
In the main story, "Interpreter of Winds", a Malay writer in pre-colonial Malaya was asked to duplicate a rare Malay manuscript for display in England, but wrote gibberish instead for no European knew yet how to read the language, while in another a dog who can talk asks a camel why he cannot be a Muslim, as they journey across the desert to find the Wind.
When the collection came out, a common response from people was that these stories, while different and new, also felt familiar, as if they had felt them somewhere, a long time ago. And that the worlds, while old, felt current, as if they are living in them right now.
I think all our knowledge about our social world are really stories, just different forms of stories, and that all stories are real, and all real stories change. Some stories outstay their welcome, some don’t. And for those that outstay their welcome, they change rather than disappear, because people always remember. People always remember the shape and feel of the original stories. It was only their endings that had been forgotten. Like some fairy tales, which no longer teach children what the real world is like, but instead show children how to behave in a world made by men. At the end of the day, good stories are the fuzzy, warm clothes you once wore to bed on cold nights. Once upon a time, they made you feel really comfortable and they told you so much about the world, and you still remember how good they made you feel then.
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