Amid the green-and-gold paddy fields of western Lombok, an island of some 3 million people just east of Bali, and home to the predominantly Muslim Sasak people, stands the Puri Lingsar temple complex. I visited the place on a December morning, to find, at the entrance, a billboard featuring a soldier in dark glasses shaking hands with a portly civilian, against a backdrop of mountains and, mysteriously, a giant hosepipe. Inside, traditional gamelan orchestras clanged away, and hundreds of devotees crowded into the Kemaliq, a courtyard built around a sacred pool. Some sat with their palms joined and raised above their heads, in the gesture typical of Hindu worship. Others adjusted their prayer mats to face towards Mecca. Many women were dressed in kebayas—tight-fitting blouses, worn with a sash and a sarong—while others wore hijabs.
Late in the afternoon, the dignitaries arrived. One of them, a man in military fatigues and accompanied by a large entourage, stood inspecting the scene. He was the temple’s Sasak Muslim pemangku, or supervisor, I was told, and I recognised him from the billboard. Nearby, I spotted the fleshy civilian from the billboard too—Zaini Arony, the local bupati, or elected representative. The sky had been darkening for a while, and it began to rain. Even so, there was an hour of traditional dances, followed by a round of speeches.
At one point, the master of ceremonies announced the presence of a special guest from India—me. “You can identify her by her big nose,” he said. A young policeman sidled up to me. “Are you Hindu?,” he asked. I nodded. “So am I,” he said, his body language immediately more relaxed. “Can you tell me why you treat women so badly?” Local Hindus, he said, were embarrassed “because people keep saying Hindus rape and beat women after reading the news about India.” I was spared having to answer by a call from the bupati. A roar filled the air, and the crowd started flinging about gobs of sticky rice.