The Bird Girl and the Painter Boy
Once upon a time on a mountain high above Lake Batur in Bali there lived a Bird Girl named Kiriana who was very unhappy. Kiriana had marvelous feathered wings which changed colors according to the Bird Girl’s moods – canary yellow when she was happy, flamingo pink when relaxed, parakeet green when the stings of envy struck her soul, kingfisher blue when she felt serious, and egret white when at last, serenity settled over her. But for the longest time her feathers were mostly gray and black because Kiriana, the Bird Girl, did not know how to fly.
She just sat and sat and sat, like a stone statue, and stared down onto the mirror lake far, far below. Cold rain poured down on her head. The sun dried her back. Kintamani dogs sidled up and sniffed her human feet and her feathers, then backed off, confused no doubt. Clouds blew across the sky as if agitated by some unseen force but the sun continued to rise in the east and set in the west. Days and nights passed by while the Bird Girl sat on her rock, still as a stone.
The King of the Winds felt sad whenever he looked down and saw the Bird Girl sitting and brooding her life away.
“Someone help her!” he shouted at the mountain, the trees, the sandy shores and the fish in the cold clear lake. But the huge mountain remained silent, oblivious to the plight of the beautiful Bird Girl. The trees shook their leaves but held their ground. On the shores of Lake Batur, the people in the villages did not understand the King of the Wind’s commandment. All they heard was a breathy roaring as they ran into their homes and bolted their doors against the wailing wind. Everyone but Kadek Krishna. He was a young artist who lived alone in a forest hut and painted pictures of trees and birds and mountains and was happy doing what he did no matter what it was or how long it took to do it.
Kadek listened to the wind and decided he would do whatever he could to help the Bird Girl who didn’t know how to fly. Kadek stood at the edge of the lake and watched as the wind whipped up the waves and churned the fish into a froth in the center of Lake Batur. The Painter Boy stood on the shore and watched the trees and grasses wiggle wildly and felt afraid.
“You will go to the Bird Girl, who is called Kiriana, and teach her to fly,” commanded the King of the Air who had two faces, one in the front of his head and another one behind.
“But I don’t know how to fly! How can I teach Kiriana, the Bird Girl, how to fly? “ said Kadek. All he heard was a long low growl that warned him against turning away from his destiny.
“There are many ways to fly,” said the back head, who was the King Of the North Wind. ”Show her your way,” advised the front head, who was the King of the South Wind.
Kadek the Painter Boy packed his sketchbook, his charcoal pencil, his brushes and paint tubes into an old rucksack and started up the mountain determined to find Kiriana, the sad Bird Girl who could not fly. He climbed through dense woods, past tall trees and over rocks both big and small. He climbed all day and all night and when he reached the top he laid on his back and rested. He watched the sun rise in the East and felt it warm the ground for all the creatures of the forest that awoke one by one, then two by two to begin a new day on Mount Batur.
“Where can I find Kiriana, the Bird Girl?” Kadek asked a brown squirrel who was sitting in a tree. But the squirrel scurried up the tree without a reply. Kadek, the Painter did not take offense. He knew squirrels were very busy creatures and always in a hurry. He walked on until he saw a goat.
“Please Mr. Goat, can you tell me where the Bird Girl they call Kiriana lives?” he asked. The goat smelled the Painter Boy’s scent and sensed he was not a hunter so Mr. Goat was not afraid. “She sits on a big rock on the far side of the meadow,” said Mr. Goat.
“Thank you very much,” said Kadek, just as a beautiful gold and black butterfly fluttered in front of the
Painter Boy. “Follow me,” she instructed without uttering a word as she guided Kadek through the tall green alang-alang grasses to the place where a big flat rock protruded over a wondrous waterfall that never ceased falling.
On the bleak rock sat the sad and beautiful Bird Girl named Kiriana. Kadek’s heart leaped with joy at the sight of her. Her feathered arms were dull gray but her oval face was more beautiful than he had imagined. The butterfly circled the Bird Girl’s head, then settled on her shoulder and silently imparted the news in Kiriana’s ear. The Bird Girl watched Kadek approach.
“Please sit,” she said in welcome. “Butterfly told me you have come a long way. She said you are a much admired nature painter and you love all the creatures of the forest, be they great or small.”
“Thank you for your kind words and those of Butterfly. I have climbed Mount Batur in the hope that you would permit me to paint you in this field,” said Kadek.
“I cannot stop you as I am afraid to take to the air because my mother died before she could teach me how to fly,” Kiriana said.
“Thank you for your permission,” he said as he sat to the side of Kiriana and began drawing in his sketchpad. Kadek worked quickly and produced one picture after another. In time he drew what he did not see with his eyes but what he saw with his heart. Page after page showed the Bird Girl in flight: her wings lifted up, then down, then up and down. He drew the Bird Girl gliding on wind currents over rice fields, temples, and banana groves. He drew Kiriana floating above the waves in the Indian Ocean, her face glowing with confidence and joy.
Kadek worked from morning to night and when he was satisfied he brought the sketchpad to the rock and sat beside the Bird Girl. He said, “I want to show you how to trust the wind and yourself.”
But just as he opened the notebook a gust of wind blew out of the shadowed forest and tore only the sketched pages from the book’s spine. One after the other the pages flew into the sky like black and white birds.
Kiriana looked at the painter and no longer felt lonely. She stared at the flying drawings and felt glad for them. Suddenly, the beautiful Bird Girl jumped up, shook herself free of old fears, then spread her gray wings and lifted off just as the last picture tore out of the notebook and took to the air. Kadek watched Kiriana fly and saw her wings turn brilliant blue followed by an ecstatic yellow and then a serene white as she glided on wind currents.
A gentle wind blew through the tall grasses and Kadek was sure he heard a distant gamelan playing. After a while, Kiriana returned and told Kadek to climb on her back, which he did, and she flew down to his house by the lake. After a long farewell, Kadek went inside his house and felt both glad and sad because he knew Kiriana could not stay with him. She belonged in the air, and he on the ground. But the Bird Girl never forgot the nature painter from the shores of Lake Batur. Occasionally it still happens that someone finds one of Kadek’s sketches on the path leading up the mountain or floating on the surface of Lake Batur, and they retell the story of how art helped a shy and lonely Bird Girl to fly… without whispering a single word.
Uma Anyar is the pen name of Tamarra Kaida, a photographer who has published, Ogoh-Ogoh: Balinese Monsters in 2011 with Sarita Newson and Tremors from the Faultline in 1989. Tamarra collaborated with Pulitzer Prize poet Rita Dove on The Other Side of the House in 1988, a poetry and collotype photography book. She has participated in more than 100 photography exhibitions. Her photographs are in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, The George Eastman House Museum in Rochester NY., Center for Creative Photography Tucson, Az., The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia among others.
She was a professor of art photography in The School of Art at Arizona State University, in Tempe, Arizona, USA from 1979-2004. Tamarra retired from university teaching in 2004 and moved to Ubud, Bali in order to live a more balanced, slower paced lifestyle and spend more time with her husband, Paul.She took the name Uma Anyar (means ‘new rice fiel and new beginnings in Balinese) as her pen name and wrote short stories and worked on a novel. In 2009, Asia Literary Review published the short story Angry Ghosts. Uma Anyar has been writing book reviews for the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival column in The Bali Advertiser since 2005. She started writing film reviews for Inspired Bali in 2013. She loves movies, books, photographs and creating beautiful, unique environments.