When Melissa first shared me her idea of incorporating Indonesian folk tales on Tulisan’s 2012 edition series, I wondered if I could still explore these stories as much as I could do on an original story. The Secret Garden of Admiral Kasarung was my first attempt. The story of Admiral Kasarung was derived from a West Java folklore, “Lutung Kasarung”. Melissa had a very vivid idea of how she wanted the illustration to be elegant and exquisite with a monarchial touch. Her brief gave me a platform to work on the original story and it conceived a concept of how to twist the story. I was in the middle of reading  Siddhartha  by Herman Hesse when I started writing Kasarung. Siddhartha’s devotion to Kamala, the beautiful courtesan in the book, reflected how I imagine Kasarung and Purbasari exchanged their feelings toward each other.

Melissa and Melany Zwartjes helped edited and enriched the story with their eloquent words and ecstatic insights. I still get the shivers whenever reading the final story. Here’s a full version of the story. xRs.


In a time long ago, there lived deep in the forest of Java an enchanted admiral by the name of Kasarung. Kasarung was half man, half ape but he was no beast. His goddess mother had cast a spell on him which made him lose his handsome features. It was an act they had agreed upon such that Kasarung could find a lasting and true love. Having embraced a facade that would deter disingenuous suitors he then fled from heaven and built himself a sanctuary in the jungle to set about finding a soulmate.

Kasarung quickly came to know the forest by heart. Apes were not a common sight in the dense forest, but Kasarung’s wisdom and sophisticated style had earned him the friendship and respect of many of the forest’s animal residents. Moreover, the forest was mysterious place. The trees whispered enchanting tales of mystical events. The river, carrying the roar of the sea, spoke of times when magic unfolded on its misty banks. Everyone seemed to agree that this curious being was destined to set in motion yet another numinous happening.

“The Admiral is here!” the little boars cheered whenever Kasarung passed by. In his uniform and with a cigar in his hand, he would cross the river to chat with the crocodiles. “The weather has been rather humid lately,” he would say with debonair charm. Sometimes, when relaxing atop the forest canopy, he would whistle to the birds and applaud them for their orchestrated tweets. Though he loved to frolic and socialize with his woodland friends, he always remained mindful of his real purpose for residing in the forest: to discover and experience true love. He recited poems to the lovebirds seeking insight on the matter. He wandered the rose garden and admired the exquisite flowers but still somehow the pleasure of beholding their beauty felt shallow. By night, he indulged in chemical experiments and botanical research. His goal was to create a secret garden, overflowing with enormous flowers and eccentric vines, to share with the woman in his life.

One afternoon during a mountain stroll to a nearby lake, he spotted a cottage hidden within a pool of lotuses. As he walked along the water’s edge something caught his eye. There, in the milieu of pink flowers, was a majestic beauty that he could not resist. As his eyes focused he was instantly love-struck by a young lady with long black silky hair and dark skin. Thrilled by his discovery, but unsure of how to proceed, Kasarung returned home to seek out the advice of his friends. 

“Her name is Purbasari,” revealed the geese when the dashing admiral told them of his encounter. “She feeds us crumbs of bread, but always is innately shy toward strangers.” With the help of his docile comrades, the Admiral devised a plan to meet the lady and win her heart. 

That next morning, Kasarung jumped in the lake and pretended to drown as he approached Lady Purbasari’s cottage. As she pulled him out of the water, he was profoundly taken aback by her tender kindness.  Her skin was coarse but a seductive grace filled her presence. As she comforted her rescued prince, Purbasari realized that she shared with Kasarung the unyielding wish to spend a lifetime with someone unconcerned with facades.

That happy introduction was followed by countless hours of conversation and an invitation from Kasarung to explore the forest. A thrilling idea indeed! For years, Purbasari had wanted to explore the jungle but her shyness had kept her from venturing too far from her beloved home. From then on, Admiral Kasarung and Lady Purbasari were inseparable. He introduced her to the creatures of the forest and she taught him the Latin name of each plant they encountered. She was fascinated with the way he collected specimens of the Celosia cristata and Amanita muscaria in the woods. “Why are you so concerned with meticulously gathering those plants?” Purbasari would often ask. Kasarung simply smiled and kissed his Lady’s hand. Purbasari did not mind his vague response for she had once heard that the best companion accepted that some things are best left to the imagination. 

Two years after their first encounter, and on the second day of the second month of that year, Admiral Kasarung threw an intimate rendezvous. Purbasari arrived elegantly dressed with her dark hair flowing to her waist was.  Kasarung’s heart was pounding, as he led Purbasari to the secret garden he had carefully nurtured. There she saw the giant Celosia cristata with its colors so beautiful it brightened the night.  Placed beside the stunning flower was a potted bush that had been painstakingly cultivated to form the number “2”. It was a night like no other. The Admiral simply whispered “All of these wild beauties that are mine now belong to you my lady, for you have given me peace in knowing that you exist in my world…”

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