Unhurried Love

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Unhurried love

You surprise me

You’ve been so late in coming.

 

And now that we’ve loved

Will you sing for me?

That I now forget tomorrow’s an ending.

 

Destinies change

As you leave me

Aflame with your hidden intensity

 

Unhurried love

Tell me you’ll teach me,

To set free as I breathe you in deeply.

 

 

for RSR, December 7th, 2015, New York

 

 

 

 

Deaths of Two Maidens and My Quest for English Roses

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Our maid Jayanthi, who comes every other day to help us, brings without failure a posy of gruesome news – senseless murder, gang-rape and child abuse –  to decorate our breakfast table. As if they are some sweet-smelling English roses. Today it was about a seven year old child who was dragged into an abandoned shack, raped and strangulated to death. We shudder and scream and bark at her to shut up. Spare us the details! The poor woman is a sensationalist – some find these stories of brutality strangely satisfying – or, she is truly disturbed that she seeks some form of venting. And who better than her paymasters?

I hate and admire Jayanthi at the same time. I dislike her for fouling up my mood. I loathe the way these stories are articulated in newspapers, which is what Jayanthi imitates. I detest the vein in which people describe and revel in the gory details and forget about them a couple of hours later. Though, I admit I have no right to find fault with them for that.

And then, I admire her for bombarding our cozy middle-class mornings without mercy. It’s hard to ignore that hint of accusation in her voice. Are we to be blamed for all that is going on? We, the educated, the privileged, the powerful.

We, the middle class. What power do we have? I am wont to say we’ve none. We’ve tried street demonstrations. Perhaps not the right kind, or the right scale, despite the noble motives. Perhaps we’ve not tried hard enough. We have somehow become so estranged from our home turf that when some of us get out on the streets we get labeled as NGO crows or Nightclub Buddhists. Even though we may not work for NGOs, neither haunt nightclubs nor temples.

The truth is that Sri Lanka has a minority of ‘liberal intellectuals’ (let’s say, for the lack of better nomenclature), who are culturally removed from the majority of this country. And this minority, for which we still have to find a better term than the ‘Colombo 7 elite’, is so thin and fragmented that actually they are no longer the elite. They have no influence over the current ruling dynasty. History has finally cracked that cruel joke, and power has slipped from those who held it, into the hands of a new elite. What’s more, the new dynasty is very much the majority of this country, though obviously that has not lead to much common good. They speak Sinhala and listen to Bana, celebrate Vesak and Victory Day in the same month. They have little regard and bother the least about a weak minority that is not of this soil. So who can doubt the fact that this country’s got what it deserves? Democracy to Sri Lanka, I feel, is like a free Ferrari for a tribe in the Stone Age.

What Jayanthi does not realize is that there’s not much of a difference between her and me.  We are just individuals, and despite one appears to be slightly better-off than the other in the scheme of things, neither has any influence over the machinery that controls that scheme of things. What can I do in a state where a school girl is fined for stealing coconuts and Duminda Silva, accused of murder and rape, is released scot-free? Write about it? But that book has been written long ago by one Mr. Victor Hugo. I cannot do better than him. What can I do but to put up a silly Facebook post or vent in a blog article?

How contained my revolt has become, in this day and age…

Six months ago, there were two news items that I could not forget in a couple of hours. Two girls in their early twenties died in two different places. Two totally unrelated cases. One has a name. The other’s we do not know. But does it matter, we would forget them anyway, in the lapse of time.

Who’s That Girl?

Rizana Nafeek, despite the pleas by some organizations to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to intervene, despite the requests for pardon by high and mighty, despite the demonstrations, was summarily executed. Our parliament observed silence. People debated on Facebook. Journalists swarmed that humble mud hut for a couple of months. Some of my friends got together to support Rizana’s family. Some comfort there?

I cannot claim to understand what Rizana must have gone through in her 24 years of life. War. Poverty. Hardship. Cruelty. Detention and execution. I have not experienced any of these in my life. Apart from a couple of smacks from my mother when I was a naughty child, nobody has ever beaten me. I have never been in the middle of war. The only form of poverty I have experienced has been my meager existence as a university student in one of the richest and most peaceful countries of the world – no comparison to that of Rizana’s war-ravaged Muttur. I do not speak her language, and I cannot claim to speak for her. I cannot write about it without over or underestimating the magnitude of this girl’s plight.

Rizana’s case is a clear indication of the dire straits in which sections of our society languish: The hand to mouth existences. How do we understand the continued rush of women to the Middle East despite such horrific incidents, of which Rizana’s is only one? Is it not our failure as a society to fulfill the very basic human needs of a majority of its members?  Things are becoming more and more desperate, unjust and alarming around us.

Now we may have time to write to blogs and debate at forums about these things. Rizanas of this country don’t. They have families to feed before they join demonstrations of Buddhists questioning Buddhists and what not. But that may not be the only reason that when we walk out on to Lipton Circus, it is only us and our school mates from St. Thomas there. It is because we have no common language, no medium of reaching out to Rizanas. They are not on Facebook, no? In our fight for greater common good, what common grounds have we found with them?

I have a friend who argues that only the poor can fight for the poor and we pseudo-socialist petite bourgeoisie should keep out of it. He means it in a good way. Can the middle class champion the poor man’s cause? Isn’t that what all the NGOs are trying to do?

He may have a point, but I don’t agree with him anyway.

What’s my point, then? Simply this: Unless we build solidarity with others who may not be of our class, or our cultural milieu, our educational background, we cannot truly be a part of this country. Let’s not pretend to champion their cause, that’s fine. But let’s empathize. Let’s try to understand. Because unless we speak of things simply, in a language that anyone can understand, the masses will not join us university lecturers when we march on to Hyde Park. And let’s be honest and do it because we also care about ourselves, and not dress it up entirely in some altruistic frills. Let’s do it even if we only care about ourselves. Because it affects us, sooner or later.

Until we do that, we can never have those English roses on our breakfast table.

Sex Actually.

Nirbhaya, that girl who got gang raped in Delhi, makes me wonder about our understanding of inequality, class and basic needs in purely materialistic terms. If Rizana’s case is an example of how physical poverty affects society, Nirbhaya takes us a one step further. Not only does class limit our access to food, shelter and basic amenities. It also affects what makes us most human: in nurturing our ability to love and create, as against harm and destroy.  And I am not sure if Marx touched this point when he talked about inequality and class.

Some of the articles I read regarding the perpetrators strongly illustrated the stark realities faced by the young men from rural India who migrate to big cities in search of employment. They leave their families behind. They live in impoverished shanties under dire working conditions. Their situations are not simply hard. It’s more complicated, convoluted than that. Living in the capitol of new India, they see relative wealth all around them. What’s worse, they see extravagance, licentiousness and debauchery. They are lucky if they can afford a prostitute. Miserable street walkers get caught and thrown in remand, when glamorous call girls continue their plush business in the dissolute lavishness of their rich customers.  That’s the sorry truth about prostitution.

Ram Singh, the gang leader of the rape incident, had a wife who died back in the village of kidney failure; had an accident that left him ‘mental’ as others called him. He was prone to mood swings and violence. He hung himself while in detention in Tihar jail, his trial pending.  His parents claim that he was raped repeatedly by other inmates in Tihar. Consider the irony.

I am not pleading sympathy for Ram Singh. He was a rapist of the most brutal order. But Ram Singh and his fellow rapists represent the seething frustration of modern nations, jostling for rapid development and moral decadence twice the speed. It’s bursting at the seams.  Add a dash of deep-rooted South Asian sexism to that. Our obsession with the phallus, that demands to be retained as the only proof of virility of our nations. So we stick our guns and stick our penises to all and sundry. Protect our motherland, and our sisters, Inshallah!

We are hopelessly stratified and divided not only in terms of material wealth, but culture and decency. We are so deprived and frustrated that we lose the ability to nurture, to love. Instead what comes out is harm and violence; against women, against children, against the poor, against the rich, against governments and guerillas; Violence and counter-violence.

Yesterday was Vesak and as I walked around in my hometown in the night. I saw ‘Dan-Sals’. Ice-cream, coffee, rice everything. The young men ogling at the women, and pushing themselves onto them, made me wonder what sort of ‘Dan-Sals’ we should actually have. I know, the idea is insane.

English Roses

I am not talking about free sex. I am trying to think my way through material and non-material dimensions of inequality. It affects us all. It affects me at the deepest, most personal level. A friend of mine once noted that I always put love and politics on the same footing. I think they are, because they are both about power. Or about the inequality of power. I am not merely trying to romanticize social issues.

Even after six months, I still think about that girl who got ravaged in Delhi. I have been to the very Cineplex that she watched the last movie of her life, with a male companion, at the age of 22. Just like her. I have hopped onto a bus afterwards, just like her. And even if I hadn’t been in Delhi at a young age, hadn’t attended the same university she attended, it wouldn’t have made a difference, would it?

Even after six months, I still this of Rizana. I have been to Muttur only once in my life. I have never been to Middle East. I have never been a handmaid. But even if I haven’t it doesn’t make a difference.

Can men ever empathize a woman’s plight? Can Rich ever triumph the Poor’s cause? Can rulers ever represent the ruled?

There are no easy answers. No quick fixes. As cost of living skyrockets together with the sense of alienation, as it plunges our youth into an abyss of frustration, we sit back and watch.

Last month, I was with a group of young girls and boys in Puttalam in a workshop.  The most burning issue they saw around them was premature marriages and teenage pregnancies. After talking through with them to identify the root causes, beyond superficial popular and puritanical interpretations, what they identified as they needed most was to change their attitude towards their opposite sex. They wanted safe spaces to interact with the ‘other’, where they could discover each other beyond the traditional gender roles and stereotypes.

I thought that was a good start.

Talking to each other is always a good start.

Together We Will Live Forever

Breathe with me
Once,
twice,
thrice,
Breathe in with me
This earth beyond a price
Breathe with me forever this way
Draw me deep into your grace
Breathe with me once again

Breathe with me
The rivers and the mountains
Breathe with me
The history of the night
Breathe with me forever this way
Drown me deep in your embrace
Breathe with me once again

Breathe with me
The people and their wisdoms
Breathe with me
The countries and their might
Breathe with me forever this way
Throw me deep into the miracle of today
Breathe with me once again

Breathe with me this lifetime
And its sorrow
Breathe with me this moment
And its joy
Breathe with me forever this way
And set me free on a summer day
Breathe with me just once more
Again

Anti-Heroes

They find comfort in walking
Walking consciously
Walking with the rest
Walking to remember and remind
Those who forget

Lost to the throngs, their footsteps
leave no shadows, no prints
as if frisked away by playful waves
on a beach of childhood innocence

Rising from the vortex
they walk onto the land
looking for what they lost
in the currents of their times

Wading in the maelström
They hold each other’s hands
Crying for what they believe is right
In a precious bog land

This is how they are made
The anti-heroes
The uniform-less men
Lost in tear gas, shot in the breast
No flags to shroud their coffins
No movies in their names
Forgotten and happily dead

From Madonna to Nanda Malini: The Music of My Childhood. (දෙලොවක් අතර: Part II)

Suddenly, it seems this being in the in-between, is the root-narrative of my life: Of constantly being torn or dangling between two unknown spheres. The real and the imaginary; the East and the West; the English and the Sinhala; the Buddhist and the Christian; the mother and the father, the home and the rest of the world;  etc, etc, etc. I’m surprised I didn’t find myself bi-sexual.

I am a child of Generation M. (M for Media.) I grew up in front of a TV screen, watching Cinderella finding Prince Charming, Snow White finding Prince Charming, Ariel finding Prince Charming, Aurora and Jasmine and Belle and Mulan and the whole retinue of Disney princesses finding Prince Charming. Since I didn’t grow up to be a princess, little wonder I never found my Prince Charming. My brother sat in front of the same TV and grew up watching Defenders of the Earth and Voltron.  It puzzles me that children could grow up in today’s world being fed such a different diet, based on whether you are a boy or a girl.  I’m sure the thought of a princess never crossed my brother’s mind. And surely, this must have some impact on us, no?

Anyway, what I wanted to get at was that the TV unraveled in front of us, a different world to that of our home. While at home our world was made of green cement floors and flower-print curtains and time that ticked at a certain pace, the television brought to us…well…you know what the television brought to us. Sesame Street was perhaps the better of it.

The television gave us a different culture to compare the one in which we existed. Take music, for instance, and today, I just want to write about just that – the music of my childhood.

I remember, at home we listened to light Sinhala classical, the kind categorized today as ‘ප්‍රබුද්ධ සංගීතය’. I’m not sure how I found it out, but I know that my father met my mother at the Victor Ratnayaka concert ‘ස’.

සඳ කැන් වැසිලා – අඳුරේ එතිලා
ගනඳුරු රෑ – තනිකම නෑ
සොයා එන්න ගනඳුර තරු නිවලා
මගේ එළිය අද ඔබ පමණි

At that young age my mother thought she was falling for my father when what she actually fell for was Victor’s voice. They were drawn together by their common musical taste and soon forced apart by greater incompatibilities and yes, capitalism. Okay, okay, I’ll tell you about it some other day, but basically, my father ended up in Fålkenberg, a small Scandinavian town full of snow, so that decades later his children could drive Toyota Allions and Fiat Puntos. My lonely young mother ended up listening to lots and lots of Nanda Malini.

පෙම් ලොවදී දුටු ඔහුමද මේ
ඔහුටද මා – අන්ධ උනේ
යෞවනයේ දුටු ඔහුමද මේ
ඔහුටද මා – අන්ධ උනේ

C’est la vie! And so Nanda Malini quietly, pensively entered my childhood world. But wait, I think Madonna got there first. I’m confused now, and I want to trace my earliest musical memories.

Chronologically speaking, the first beating of my heart was for Reggae. As a baby I had rocked with my uncle high on marijuana to Bob Marley and the Wailers. So the music of my infancy was without doubt Reggae. Even today, Reggae puts me in the zone. Jimmy Cliff’s I Can see Clearly Now, and Reggae Night and Roots Woman are like the primal heartbeat that sustains me. I don’t want to get started on Bob Marley. He probably got into my head before I figured out I had one. That Bob Marley poster in my uncle’s room was perhaps one of the first pop images that got burnt into my sub-conscience. I can’t even believe it, but probably Marley smiled down at me saying that the best things in life are sex, drugs and music when I was like, what, one or two? I’m not into grass but I just love the panache of Marley. And later, I came to respect the politics of his music. Of course at the age of one and two, it was just his crooning and strumming guitar that rocked me to sleep.  But discovering much later, that before he died at the age of 36, Marley managed to truly put the Trenchtown ghettos full of wretched souls and soup kitchens on the world map for me, is something I don’t take for granted. If I am to die at the age that Marley died, I’ll die in another five years. And I would have put nothing on the map for anyone. Did you know that the lyricist of No Woman No Cry – Vincent Ford ran a soup kitchen in Trenchtown ghetto in Kingston, Jamaica and the royalties he receives from the song go into the continuation of that soup kitchen to date?  I don’t want to fill up this post with Marley hits, cos I love each and every one of them. But let’s have this one’s for the underdog, and those who sing for them.

And here’s for the sweet intoxication of reggae:

TV introduced me to Jackson. Who’s the kid who doesn’t get mesmerized by that Billy Jean moonwalk? At school we started making song books. The first song in my book, I remember, was Black or White by MJ. I remember how I cut out MJ from mirror magazines and stuck them in. And how I adorned my walls with his posters. And then, when he suddenly turned from black to white, I took it as my personal mission to steer MJ’s name clear of classroom insults. In school, some of the teachers knowing my Jackson mania, confronted me quite openly. “So, what’s happened to Jackson?” I was at a loss. So I lied blatantly. I denied that MJ was ever black despite the fact that his poster on my wall was very much black. Can you beat that? Now, those were the days without the internet. By the time I found out about the real health condition of poor MJ, I had grown out of Jackson mania. But oh, what an artist.

Now, while MJ and George Michael and Madonna were practically adorning my bedroom walls, my musical world fortunately included Nanda Malini and Amaradeva and Sunil Edirisinghe. I know Nanda Malini’s Pawana by heart. What attracted me to Nanda Malini is not so much the politics of her songs, but it is her image. And the same is true for Madonna. As I grew up, Nanda Malini and Modonna sort of marked the contours of my feminine identity. Nanda, in her white sari and bare soulful voice somehow struck a chord in me. Even when I sometimes felt that this snow white puritanism leaves certain bitterness about life in your mouth, the minimalism and the calmness of her step drew me in. In a way she taught me that a woman does not need to be beautiful and sexy and display a prince charming by her side like a tennis trophy all the time. That you can be yourself, by yourself. She was plain, single and dignified. And her songs went right into your heart. From the pensive රුවල් ඉරී ගිය නෞකාවේ to the delightful හද විල කළඹන පෙම් ජල රේඛා to සුළං කපොල්ලේ to all the rebellious songs of Pawana, Nanda Malini stood for something I recognized as concrete.

සඳළු තලේ සඳ පහන් රැයේ – මධු විත් පුරවා උන් බොන්නේ
අපේ රුධිරයයි සොහොයුරනේ //
පැන් සනහන විට අරුණ උදේ – වතුර මලින් උන් පූදන්නේ
අපේ දහදියයි සොහොයුරනේ //

Opposite end of my identity spectrum , there was Madonna with her girly true blue voice. She is the antithesis to Nanda Malini. Just keep them side by side and you’ll need no further explanations. With her bold sexual outlook Madonna, struck a different chord in me. There’s something liberating about a woman who recognizes that she is a sexual creature, especially in a man’s world, and is quite comfortable at being that sexual creature. She is the woman on top, who is true blue, who pushes her love over the borderline. The truth is that Madonna is not at all avant-garde, especially if you compare to what Bob Marley stood for. As sexy as she projected herself to be, she always wore a crucifix about her. God-fearing, church-going, middle-class girl. She always had a young man about her. And she seemed somehow powerful and vulnerable at the same time.

Now that’s the kind of woman a convent girl could easily relate to. All of us had limits to our moral worlds, but we dream of asserting our identity, sexual and otherwise. So, we don’t quite think that sex and drugs and music are the be all and end all of life. Oh no, we are material girls. But we want sex alright. We want more actually. We want love and romance and fidelity. We want everything. That’s Madonna’s material girl of the 1980s– the girl who wants everything.

So Madonna, though she often seemed to mock tradition, was very firmly within it. Even while we talk of liberation, us women are the keepers and bearers of tradition most of the time. It will make you laugh, but between Madonna and Nada Malini, I really think Madonna is the more conservative one. And gosh, I love her. Sometimes, even more than her music, I feel Madonna’s legacy to a generation of young girls, is a series of images, symbols and identity markers. Even better, Madonna is not a drunk and a drug addict. She works hard and fights hard to be herself. She can fall in love with a Latino, or Afro or Asian guy. She can stand up for the gay and lesbian rights. She’s unafraid to experiment with her sexuality and still comes off without being wacko. So Madonna, like or unlike the virgin she sings of being, meant different things, but meant quite a lot, to a girl like me.

But how do I reconcile the two? Madonna and Nanda Malini? Is that possible? Are they really the polar opposites? Or two sides of the same coin that’s in all of us? As much as I love the sexuality of Madonna I also like the a-sexuality of Nanda Malini. Or is the subtlety about her more appealing than the boldness of the former? Look at the range of emotion in their love songs. From the meditative ඔබයි රම්‍ය සඳ කිරණ to the self-sacrificing රුවල් ඉරී ගිය නෞකාවේ of Nanda to Madonna’s pregnant teenager in Papa Don’t Preach and invincible Material Girl. I have no clue which one is my default mode.

Nanda Malini and Madonna have enriched my musical imagination. They have increased my ability to feel a range of emotions that would have escaped me otherwise. For instance, by listening to both Nanda Malini and Madonna, I am a different woman than my mother, who only listens to Nanda Malini, or another girl of my generation who only listens to Madonna. The tough side of it is, for a long time, I was torn between the two. Not only were they from two cultures, two value systems, two different worlds, they were two extremely different ways of being woman. Invariably they appear on polar opposites and seem absolutely un-reconcilable. I don’t know if I could ever put the two together, but at least, in my head, they are both there, together.  And like many extreme opposites, at some point, they meet.

In case you wonder why on earth I think that this is even worth writing about, let me put it this way. We, in the end, are the books we read, the music we listened to, the cartoons and films we watched, people we loved, and the God we believed in as children. And these identity formers affect generations, not just individuals. I find it easier to understand others when I understand myself better, and I understand myself better, when I understand where I come from. I just thought, because men often complain that women are difficult to understand, it’s worth exploring.

So here’s the trick for any man who wants to figure me out as a woman: Listen to Nanda Malini and Madonna. You got me. It’s as simple as that.😉

අත්තම්මාගේ කතාව

අත්තම්මා අපේ
අන්තිමට ගිය පාර වට වන්දනාවේ
ගැහුවේ පොල් විෂ්ණු දේවාලේ
මට රස්සාවක් ඉල්ලලයි.

උපාදිය තිබුනත්
බට කොළ කන්න වෙයි උඹටත්
හෙනහුරා එක්ක නම් ලේසි නෑ කාටත්

අප්පච්චි හේන අතෑ’රල
ගඩොල් කපන්න ගත්ත
වැහි මෝසමත් දිගටම
හරහට හිටිය හින්දා

දවසම රස්තියාදුව
බිං කළුවරත් එක්කම
හවහට ගෙදර ගාටන
මගේ ජීවිතේ ඇඳිරිය
ඇගේ නෙත් අඳ කෙරුවා

මේ බිමේ සාරේ නෑ දැන්
කොමිනිකේෂන් එකක වත්
රස්සාව බැරි වෙයිද කොළඹ ගියෝතින්
අත්තම්ම කිව්වේ මට
බතට හොදි බෙදමින්

වැවුණත් අකලට මැලවී මැලවී
අයිනක දැන් තාර පාරේ
ගම යන්න හිතක් නැත්තේ
අත්තම්මගේ මරණෙටත්
ගම නොගිය හින්දයි

මහා මේඝයක් වී හමන්නේ
මහා කෝඩයක් වී හඬන්නේ
මා නොදන්නා අතීතේ ගැන
ඈ නොකී ඒ කතාවයි

වීරයා මැරිලා

වීරයින් හඬන්නේ නැද්ද
මට වගේ රිදෙන්නේ නැද්ද
සඳත් සෙමින් මියෙන රැයක
පාළුවක් දැනෙන්නේ නැද්ද

 
අඳුර ගලන ලොවක තනිව
ඉටි පහන් සිලක්‌ දල්වන
පැතුම පමණ ඇද්ද හෙටට
එළිවෙන තුරු බලා ඉන්න

 
වීරයින් වැටෙන්නේ නැද්ද
හදවතින් යටත් නොවෙයිද
වැටෙන වැටෙන වරට නැගිට
දිගට ඇවිද යන්නේ කොහොම

 
අහිමි දේ උඩින් වැටිච්ච
රතු පලස් දිගේ ඇවිද්ද
සදාකාලිකයිම කියන  
වීරයින් මැරෙන්නේ නැද්ද