Ketut Liyer is something of an accidental celebrity. Stumbled upon by Elizabeth Gilbert over ten years ago, little did he know he would become a pivotal part of her best-selling book, Eat Pray Love and, later, a character acted out alongside movie megastar Julia Roberts in the film of the same name.
A Balinese spiritual leader, traditional healer and now, seemingly by popular western demand, a fortune teller, Ketut Liyer offers his services to locals and tourists alike, cross-legged on the steps of his peaceful home-stay in Ubud.
Since the novel – and then the movie – a trip to Ketut Liyer’s home has steadily worked its way to the top of every tourist’s itinerary, and this quiet, smiling man has enjoyed a rapid influx of visitors, all of whom hope to follow in Gilbert’s footsteps and ‘find’ themselves with the help of Ketut’s wisdom, spiritual insight and a thirty minute consultation.
Visiting as part of a small group, I’m lucky in that my trip has been organised, and I don’t need to join the ticketed queue of other tourists (all women) eager to see ‘the medicine man’.
A few minutes after being welcomed into the home-stay, I’m shaking Ketut’s hand, smiling along with his infectious beam, and being led onto a palm mat to have my own ‘fortune’ told.
It’s easy to get sucked in. A couple of accurate analogies (that I’m competitive; impatient; in a solid relationship) and Ketut has me hook, line and sinker. He counts the grooves and lines that tunnel through my forehead and palms, inspects my ears and finds fragrant lotus flowers on my back. I’m still unsure as to the significance of the flowers, but my fortune is a good one, full to bursting with health and wealth and longevity. My knees are pronounced strong and, as he runs his weathered fingers down my shins, Ketut diagnoses a future free from injury. Do I drive? he asks. Yes. “Slow down,” he says.
It’s time for questions, and despite looking forward to a future flooded with prosperity, the journalist in me can’t help but be curious. With the help of a translator, who turns out to be a travel agent and not, as we’d been led to believe, or perhaps wanted to believe, a member of Ketut’s relatively small Balinese family, we learn how Ketut’s life has changed since “Liz” came along.
More used to conducting elaborate ceremonies for new-born children, and spending significant lengths of time talking to individuals who need medicinal healing, its the tourists who have demanded this Yoda-esque man read their palms and tell their fortunes since discovering the ‘medicine man’ in the pages of Eat Pray Love.
Indeed, the need for confirmation that we will all be okay and will continue on healthily and happily is palpable. Every member of our group is huddled around Ketut, leaning towards him, impatient for their turn and eager to receive the same fortune I did. After all, who wouldn’t?
Ketut is an old man, estimated to be around ninety-five years old, and with a happy smile punctuated by just a few remaining teeth, I can’t quite bring myself to imagine this jolly man saying anything bad to anyone he meets. But whether or not we, you or I choose to believe Ketut’s positive prophecies, what struck me most about my trip to the medicine man was our society’s apparent need for instant gratification; to receive assurance from a stranger that our future holds nothing but happiness.
Where Gilbert spent a year pursuing her spiritual path, including three months at Ketut’s side, learning and listening, anyone expecting the same spiritual awakening during a 30 minute meeting will surely leave disappointed.