The Last Komodo Dragon – a Tribute
The Complete work.
The Final Part
When I was growing up through my teens, I was captivated by the stories of badminton players like Rudy Hartono. He was just a name, but even then, in an age without computers, the Internet, and just very basic television, it seemed his name was whispered from mouth to mouth, flying across cities, countries, and then continents. Rudy Hartono. The invincible emperor of badminton. All that we got to see were infrequent pictures in the papers (mostly the Sunday papers with their special features in colour), and if we were very, very lucky, a brief 10-second glimpse on television – black-and-white. There was a grace, and yet lethal element to his play that seemed just so deceptively easy!
Of course, I soon learnt that there were others. Like the Danes. I couldn’t believe that an European country could play badminton as compulsively as the Indonesians. But I soon learnt to respect their style, dedication and competence. Hartono was not alone any more.
And then, there were always whispers about the Chinese. The Red Army was coming! What would it mean for badminton? We were told the Chinese were even more talented and powerful than Hartono! Could it be? I was awed by the number of champions that suddenly emerged from that country. Their mastery over the rectangular battleground was truly awesome. Their technique was mind-boggling. Their conditioning was supreme. But secretly I still longed for…
Liem Swie King! Now we’re talking! The party has re-started! The excitement is rolling again! Hartono and King: Immovable object and irresistible force, working together! And over the next decade they were joined by other men and women from that chain of beautiful islands in a flamboyant demonstration of joy, power, dominance and insane talent. What was it about the Indonesian players that got your blood racing? I witnessed a parade of names, legends take the stage, dominate it, and leave millions happier in the end. Why did the players of other nations not evoke the same mad laughter or excitement from us? Why why why?
There is something in the art of the players of the islands of Garuda that evokes an ancient rhythm of the seas, the wind, the earth. It is primal; yet it speaks of an art, of sublime mastery of the way the body moves, how it responds to the moment in battle. We watch with the delicious anticipation of the unexpected. And yet, when violence is committed, it is with a silken, utterly graceful undertone, and leaves us grateful for the violence!
These warriors spent millions of years doing battle on the sands of their islands; a rubber mat must give them wings to glide gracefully on. And they took their time to get into their stride, to bring out those lightning-quick reflexes when the sun had warmed their backs. Yes, they had Time. And once their blood was warmed, mayhem followed inevitably; beautiful, impossibly beautiful mayhem. Just a scent of weakness from the prey come within striking range, and they pounce with lightning speed and immense power; it is over! These were the masters; silent predators of the islands.
But look here: among the men, a boy! Is it allowed? That question was never asked, because the men took this wisp of a boy into their fold like he was one of them. And indeed he was! Such talent and maturity! Could it be possible, all in one person? He wasn’t tall; he wasn’t muscular; he wasn’t even very handsome. He had a boy’s temper, but he had an old man’s temperament! Patience on the court, and magic in his methods! Madness! Everywhere the crowds embraced this boy-man, and his colleagues knew the future was secure. Again.
For a few years, they all played together, like nothing else mattered in this world. Rudy, King, Hendrawan, Arbi, Ricky and Rexy, Icuk, Fung, the Gunawans, Susi, yes Susi, Suprianto, Wijaya, Ardy, Allan, Sigit and so many more giants; and the boy. All was well with the world. There could never be a shortage of great and magical players coming from this chain of islands. They would produce champions and entertainers for a hundred years more! The dancing in the aisles, the singing in the stands would go on forever. The smiles on the streets, not just in Garuda, but in houses-and-buses-pubs-offices-palaces-and-huts in every corner of the world, those smiles would remain, along with those unbelieving gasps of pleasure. That was the gift that these players gave the world. It could never end.
But it is the nature of this universe: everything must change. Change must come. We say our hellos with the sure knowledge that one day we will also say our goodbyes. One by one they all said goodbye; and we had no choice but to shed a tear, wave a weak hand, and whisper our goodbye, with a smile and a lingering thread of thankfulness. At least we were granted the privilege of witnessing this beautiful period of this beautiful game.
But the boy played on. He didn’t know he was supposed to leave. No one told him. And his people believed he would fill the shoes of all the ghosts who now lived on with him, in the quadrangles they once owned together. No one told him, that this was unfair. He didn’t know. He just wanted to play. And so he played.
Soon, the play metamorphosed into a battle; then a war. Still he played. Or battled. Did he think often about his companions? Did he miss them? Did he wonder why no other comrades stood shoulder to shoulder with him? Markis and Hendra, Nova and Lily; they reminded him, they were there to walk with him. But they were different. They had each other on that quadrangle; they could feed off the other’s strength. Who did he turn to?
The boy grew. His time came; he slew all the other dragons from far-off lands, and cried. They thought, this is a man crying with relief, at having achieved the pinnacle of his calling. He thought, “I wish they were here, to share it all with me once again: the laughter, the pain; the joy, and light, the darkness. Just to share; to be there.”
On it went. He waited. He searched for another comrade. Among the islands and volcanoes. The beaches. The cities and the ancient stone villages. He found only mirages. Meanwhile, he battled on, proudly; carrying himself with dignity and the hopes of his people of Garuda with commitment. And he waited. And battled on. Slowly, it came to him that he was the last of them. “They are gone. They are not coming back. And there are no more of them, from whence they came” said the wise M. At least the boy-man had a friend; a shoulder. But he cannot forget: “They are not coming back.” “There are no more.” The silence reverberates in his mind.
Morning comes. It takes a little longer now to warm up for the fight. It takes a little longer now to warm up during the fight, and to turn the tide once more. But once he is warm, he can lash out with surprising speed and venom. Deceptive turns, awesome grace, all unexpected. The sandpit of the quadrangle is his domain. The signs are clear: enter at your own risk.
He has so many scars from his battles, now; he has inflicted many more on others. Alone. He scans the horizon from the sea across the sands for more of his tribe. His breed is found only on these islands; you will not find them in any other land. Hoping, they may be over the next dune. But they are not here. Meanwhile another approaches to challenge him; he must defend his island, his people. Week after month after year…….......
…he battles alone. He needs no one now; he has long given up on that hope.
He will fight, and one day when he too is called away, he will go. Then, the sands will be empty of his breed.
Until then, there he stands; all alone, a reluctant warrior. His knees are bandaged. His back is braced. His step is not as quick as it once was. But his heart beats. His technique still evokes supreme awe. But they know; the others know he can fall.
They circle round him, the youngsters, the pretenders; waiting to claim the scalp of the great warrior:
“I beat the great Taufik Hidayat!”
He asks himself: “whose glory is this? Not mine; not my beloved Garuda’s.”
He stands alone, in the fading light of what was once a blazing sun—of Indonesian dominance of men’s singles. There was no one to stand beside him for these lonely years. The greater sadness is that he knows: there is no one to follow him.
There may be other great singles warriors in the future, from this land of a thousand islands, and a million ways to play the game. But never again, one like Taufik Hidayat. He is the last Komodo Dragon.
It is over.