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Don’t Discard the Old

Anand Krishna

The Bali Times, May 21, 2012

Don’t judge the content by the title.

We are closer to the last Christmas than the next – no, I am not talking old and new in “that” sense.

I am talking about old buildings, old structures, old ideas and old institutions versus the new ones. Travelling through Europe or the Indian subcontinent, we can see so many of them carefully preserved. Indeed, in Europe many of them are still in liveable condition. Not so here, in Indonesia. You don’t get to see too many old buildings.

The old must give way to the new, yes. But does that mean the old must be “killed” to create a space for the new?

They do not wait until maturity to marry and give birth to both legal and illegal offspring. The republicans and democrats are not satisfied with such identities alone. The generics are out – they must have their own specific brands. The same is with the liberals and conservatives, the left and the right wings, the religious and the nationalists, the labour and the capitalists.

Unity is sexy a matter to discuss and glorify, but not to practice. We are experts are disuniting. Perhaps “divide et impera” is the only lesson we learned from our colonial masters, in which we are adepts.

Recently I met a veteran politician, who sighed: “This is the only country where none of the founding parties of the nation exist.” I had never thought of that, but, yes, he is right.

We don’t have to go that far behind in history. Just look at the fate of the so-called new, post-reformation (1998) parties. They are not doing any better either. What is wrong?

It could be in our genes that we are not good at preserving things. We are not good at holding things together. We do not have proper records of our ancient history.

In the past we used to have the multi-volume Sejarah Nasional Indonesia – the Indonesian National History. Nowhere close to Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of World History or even John Keay’s modern history of India – but, at least, we had something on our history, written by our own people. Now, no more. For more than a decade, the official line is that it is being revised.

Well, histories do not record facts alone. It is full of perspectives. Let there be another multi-volume edition with fresh perspectives. Why kill the “old perspectives”? But, no, before writing something new, we make sure that the old is “killed,” or buried alive. We want uniformity. We do not like pluralistic views.

How many old buildings are left? Not too many. They do not fare any better than our political parties or history books. Even 20-30 years old buildings are often torn down without any emotion or sentiment. Great, we are yogis, no attachments! Are we?

Or we are simply looking for shortcuts and easier ways. I have been discussing this with builders and contractors for the past 30 years, “Why tear down a building that can be renovated?” Their answers have been uniform: “It is easier, cheaper and more efficient to tear down the old and rebuild.”

Not always.

I am not a builder. But my ninth sense tells me that it is not always so. Besides that, what about the value of restoring the old, something that has a historical value?

Did you know that when we began the restoration of Borobudur complex, there were people who not only opposed it but did so quite violently?

Many of our old institutions and values are still relevant; they are good, and of universal nature. What is the need to establish a new institution? Just like our builders, our leaders are also experts in burying alive the old, or discarding them, and establish new ones. Why? What is the rationale behind this?

Perhaps this is because when we revive an old institution we do not get “full” credit. The institution will still be known as founded by such and such person. And we cannot take this. We cannot share the credit. We like to take full credits.

So we allow the old die prematurely for want of care, and focus on creating new ones, which may not be as good as the old.

I am not against the “new”; I am all for it.

What I am against is the idea of burying alive the old that still has some life left. I am against allowing the old die prematurely. I am against forsaking the old just to appease our personal ego and the craving for credits.

History is not always in the museums. History is a continuum and has lessons to teach. If we do not learn the lessons, as George Santayana often said, we are doomed to repeat them.

Our discard of the old, be they the universal values, liveable buildings, or relevant institutions, will result in us being discarded by our successors. The Law of Consequence, the Karma, is always at work. Let us learn to appreciate the old values, which are still relevant and can guide us in making this world a better place to live.

Anand Krishna is a spiritual activist and author with healing centres in Jakarta and Bali, including a new live-in ashram in Ubud (www.ubud.anandashram.asia).