ON SUNDAY night, the important Sheikh on the dais stuck both his arms up, making a royal heart linked at the top of his keffiyeh — a distinct Korean-pop (K-Pop) sign that drove the crowd mad in Jakarta. Later, when popular singer Siti Badriah crooned ‘Jaran goyang’ (an unabashedly vain song that means ‘I’m beautiful, everyday I’m more beautiful’), the entire GBK Stadium at the Asiad closing ceremony made dancing Vs with their middle and index fingers (like inverted air quotes) to mimic a gesture from the TicTok App — an addictive Instagram-like narcissism that originated from China, but is a rage in Indonesia.
And finally, the Gelora stands went into a frenzy and synced their waving hand dance step to ‘Koi Mil Gaya’. Every soul acting out Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol and Rani Mukherjee in a distant land.
It may surprise Indians who go snobbish on Bollywood, but Indonesians can passionately sing every song from what they call the “1998 Boom-hit Kuch Kuch Hota Hai”. Culture travels fast and wide in this continent. So, why would it surprise anyone at the Asian Games that first, Iran snapped up both kabaddi podiums last week, and later, Japan snatched both hockey golds, even stealing one from India?
It’s been that kind of Asian Games, where you caught snatches of Indonesians closing their eyes and trilling ‘Gerua’ on singing reality TV contests — not knowing a word of what they sang. China, which will host the next Games at Hangzhou — an Alibaba-backed Asiad — stuck to its graceful, balletic acrobatics, flinging beautiful looking humans into the air and making them fly, harping on the lanterns, pagodas and the pentatonic notes.
Indonesia, while signing off, went unreservedly pop-culture, full blast. Every country has, by now, figured out what its ancient past can look like in a sound-and-light show. But Indonesia, despite its thousands of islands and myriad cultures, has never settled into the trap of clinging on for too long to that distant past.
Indonesia’s present is peppy Dangdut music — its flute-plus-tabla, not too dissimilar from Bollywood’s melodies. Its young population — which seemed to surprise International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach with its versatile grasp on sports — ape K-Pop superstars iKon and the Seoul-based boy band Super Junior. It’s thrice the mania of Beatles — simply because it’s a 13-strong boy band, complete with dance moves in their black-and-white tux outfits.
For all the colonial wars that were waged and seas that were conquered on account of them, spices from these straits are lost on European cuisine. What Indonesia learnt, and continues to live by, is a generous influence of all cultures — Chinese, Korean, Arabic and Indian, of course, on all things food and music. The nation has built itself on a sense of secure assurance in its own culture, while it absorbs every teeny-boppy trend that pops up in the vicinity of the continent.
The closing ceremony then turned into one big concert party because every kind of music had its sing-alongs. When Siddharth Slathia broke into ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ and the entire stadium piped along, it wasn’t only because Indonesian RnB songstress and rapper Denada was a part of that duet. They genuinely believe out here that Slumdog Millionaire belongs to the whole Asian continent, and that Jai Ho could be a nice anthem for their capital city of Jayakarta.
As such, the enduring image of these Games (for Indians, it might be the Bajrang bout and subsequent gold), will be not a visual, but the soundtrack. The songs that were played at most finals and medal ceremonies — Meraih Bintang (Reach for the Stars) that goes by the trackname Yo Ayo Yo Ayo, and the more cult Non Political (Asian Dance) by Slank & Dipha Barus.
For a country that deals exclusively in Bahasa — the prevailing language — Indonesia makes a lot of music in simple English. The country has a throbbing underground rock scene as well as the Headbangers in Hijab. Their favourite though is Dangdut — just as well that India finished with its best tally in Jakarta.