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. 😉


දෙලොවක් අතර: සවින්ඥානික මංමුළාවක ප්‍රීතිය

අපේ අම්මා අදටත් මට නිතරම කියන කතාවක් තමයි මම “මේ ලෝකේ නෙමෙයි ඉන්නේ” කියන එක. දවසකට දෙකකට ගෙදර ගියත් ඕක කීප පාරක් අහන්න වෙනවා. ඇත්ත. මම හුඟාක් විට මේ ලෝකේ නෙමෙයි ඉන්නේ. බාහිර ලෝකෙට නෑරිච්ච, ඒකට කිසිම සම්බන්ධයක් නැති, වෙනමම ලෝකයක් මගේ ඔළුව ඇතුලේ පුංචි කාලේ ඉඳන්ම තිබුන. අම්මා ඒක දැන් මගේ වැරැද්දක් හැටියට දැක්කට ඇත්තටම මට ලෝක දෙකකට දොරගුළු ඇරගන්න යතුර අතට දුන්නේ එයාමයි.

පොඩි කාලේ එයා කොළඹ පීපල්ස් පබ්ලිෂින් හවුස් එකෙන් මට ලස්සන පොත් අරන් අවා. මාෂා සහ වළහා, හත් පෙති මල, ලස්සන වසිලිස්සා වගේ සිංහලට පරිවර්තනය කරපු රුසියන් පොත්. පාට පිරුණු චිත්‍ර වගේම පිටු පෙරලනකොට පිටු ඇතුලෙන් උඩට මතුවෙන පැපිය මාශේ  වළහා ඔන්‍න‍ මාෂා පස්සෙන් පන්නනවා. එතකොට එයා දුවන් යන්නේ සුදු පාට කඳන් වල අළු ඉරි වැටුන පොප්ලර් කැලයක් මැද්දෙන්. එහෙමත් නැත්නම්, දුප්පත් අහිංසක වසිලිස්සා බාබයිගා යකින්නගේ කුකුල් කකුල් මත කැරකෙන අම්බලම දිහා බලං ඉන්නවා බිරියෝසා ගහකට මුවා වෙලා. තාර පැටවු මී පැටවු එහෙ මෙහෙ දුවන රුසියානු කුස්සියක ගෝවා සුප් එකක් උදුන මත දුම් දානවා. වසිලිස්සාට බඩගිනියි. හැබැයි, යකින්න එන්න කලින් ඒකෙන් පොඩ්ඩක් බඩට දාගෙන පැන ගන්න එයාට පුළුවන් වෙයිද?

(රුසියානු චිත්‍ර ශිල්පීන්ගේ ලස්සන පොත් කවර මෙන්න මේ බ්ලොග් එකේ, ඕනේ නම් බලන්න

ඒ එක්කම අම්මා මට ගෙනත් දෙනවා ලස්සන ඉංග්‍රීසි පොත්. බ්ලැක් බියුටි, සීක්‍රට් ගාඩන්, ස්විස් ෆැමිලි රොබින්සන් වගේ ඒවා. යෝක්ෂයර් දෙණියාය හරහා අඬන දොඩන හුළඟත් එක්ක නන්නාදුනන ලොකු වලව්වක තනි උන මේරි ලෙනොක්ස් රහස් ගෙඋයනක් හොයා ගන්න හැටි, කොර ගහන පුංචි කොලින් එක්ක යාළු වෙලා එයාව සුව කර ගන්න හැටි, රොබින් කුරුල්ලොත් එක්ක කතා කරන හැටි අවුරුදු විසි ගානකට පස්සෙත් චිත්‍රපටියක් වගේ ලස්සනට මැවිලා පේනවා. ටිකින් ටික ඉනිඩ් බ්ල්යිට්න්ගේ චරිත ගොන්න හොඳම යාළුවන් බවට පත උනා. ජුලියන්, ඈන්, ජෝජ්, ඩික් බයිසිකල් රේස් යද්දී ටිමී ඒ පස්සෙන් දුවනවා. ඉස්කෝලේ යන්න කැමති නැති නොටියස්ට් ගර්ල්, ගහක අතුපතර වෙනම ලෝකයක් මවන මැජික් ෆා අවේ ට්‍රී වගේ පොත් වලින් නැන්සි ඩෲ, හාඩි බෝයිස් දක්වා ලොකු වෙනවා.

අනිත් අතින් ඔන්‍න‍ මට හම්බවෙනවා පුෂ්කින්ගේ කපිතන්ගේ දියණියෝ. ගොගොල්ගේ රතු මලක් පපුවට තද කරගෙන මැරෙන උම්මත්තකයා. කරලේන්කොගේ අඳ වාදකයා. පාවෙල්ට නතාෂා හම්බවෙනවා. පාවෙල් බොල්ෂෙවික් පක්ෂයට බැඳෙනකොට මට අවුරුදු දහයක් ඇති. ගෝර්කිගේ අම්මා කියවල ඉවර කලේ මම ශිෂ්‍යත්ව විභාගයට කලින් දා. විභාගෙන් නම් ෆේල් උනා. හැබැයි වාමාංශික දේශපාලනේ ගැන මල පොතේ අකුරක් නොදන්න කාලේ කියවපු ඒ කතන්දරේ අංශු මාත්‍රයන් ඔළුවේ කොහේ හරි පැල පදියම් වෙලා තියෙන්න ඇති. ඊට‍ පස්සේ දුයිෂෙන්ට  අල්තීනායි හම්බවෙනවා. පුංචි අල්තිනායිව නාකියෙකුට විකුණුවහම දුයිෂෙන් උන් පස්සෙන් පන්නනවා ස්ටෙප්ස් තෘණ භූමි හරහා නොකා නොබී. බේරාගෙන  ඇවිත් ආපහු එයාට ඉස්කොලේ යන්න කියනවා. දෙන්නත් එක්ක ගිහින් කඳු මුඳුනේ පොප්ලර් ගස් දෙකක් ඉන්දනවා. ගුරු ගීතය තරම් අමතක කරන්න බැරි පොතක් තියෙනවද? ඒ අල්තීනායිගේ පළමු ගුරුවරයා.

ඩු මොරියර් ගේ රෙබෙකා, ෆ්‍රෙන්ච්මනස් ක්‍රීක්, ජමෙයිකා ඉන්, ස්කේප් ගෝට්  වගේ පොත් මට දෙන්නේ මගේ පළමු ඉංග්‍රීසි සාහිත්‍ය ගුරුතුමී, කළුතර චන්ද්‍රා දයාරත්න. එයා නිසා මොපසාන්ට්ගේ අර හිත හොඳ ගණිකාව හම්බවෙනවා. බූල් ඩි සූෆ් හෙවත් චීස් බෝලයේ කතන්දරේ නිසා ප්‍රංශ සාහිත්‍යයේ දොරගුළු විවර වෙනවා. ඉතිහාසය පුරා නොයකුත් හේතු නිසා වේස කමට වැටෙන්න වෙච්චි ගෑනු අඳුන ගන්නවා. ජෝන් වැල් ජෝන් හමු වෙනවා. ප්‍රේමයත් සම්ප්‍රදායත් අතර අතරමං වුනු එමා බොවාරි සහ ඇනා කැරනිනා හම්බවෙනවා. පොත් කියවන්න විතරක් නෙමෙයි ඒ ගැන කතා කරන්න දැන් මට ගුරුවරයෙක් ඉන්නවා. මුල්ම වතාවට මං වගේ දොලොවක් අතර ජීවත් වෙන වැඩිහිටියෙක් හම්බවෙනවා. එයා මගේ ඉංග්‍රීසි සාහිත්‍ය ගුරු උනත් ඉස්කොලෙන් නෙමෙයි නිසා මං එයාට කිව්වේ ලිට්‌ ආන්ටි කියලා. එයා හම්බ නොවුනා නම් මගේ ඉරණම වෙනස් වෙන්න තිබුණ, අම්ම මට මාෂා සහ වළහා ගෙනත් නොදුන්නා නම් වගේම. අල්තිනායිට දුයිෂෙන් හම්බ නොවුනා නම් වගේම.

ඔන්‍න‍ අනිත් අතින් ජේන් අයර් අර උඩ තට්ටුවේ රහස් කාමරේක හිර කරපු රොචේස්ටර්ගේ පිස්සු බිරිඳ හොයා ගන්නවා. මට අවුරුදු දාසයක්‌ විතර ඇති. ජේන් යන්න යනවා ආපහු නොඑන්නම. කාලෙකට පස්සේ එයාට රොචෙස්ටර් හම්බවෙනකොට එයා අන්ධ වෙලා. වදරින් හයිට්ස් වල කැතරින් සහ හීත්ක්ලිෆ්ගේ ප්‍රේමය සංසාරික ප්‍රේමයක් කියලා ලිට්‌ ආන්ටි කියනවා මට මතකයි. රුසියන් සාහිත්‍යයෙන් ඉංග්‍රීසියට, ප්‍රංශ සාහිත්‍යට, ලතින් ඇමරිකානු සාහිත්‍යට විතරක් නෙමෙයි ඉන්දියන් සාහිත්‍යටත් අන්තිමට ලෝකේ වටේ කරක් ගහල සුනේත්‍රා රාජකරුනානායකගේ ප්‍රේම පුරාණය දක්වා ඇවිදන් එන්නත් පුළුවන් උන එක ලොකු දෙයක්. අනේ, ඒ පොත් පත ගැන කියල ඉවර කරන්න පුළුවන්ද? ඔක්කොම කියන්න ගියොත් කෙනෙක් හිතයි පාණ්ඩිත්වය ප්‍රදර්ශනය කරනවා කියල. අනෙක ඒ පොත් කියවල නැති කෙනෙකුට මේ කිසි දෙයක් දැනෙන්න නැති වෙන්නත් පුළුවන්.

කියවීම තුලින් මම වෙන සමාන්තර ලෝකයක් හොයා ගත්තා. මේ ලෝකෙදි මම ඉස්කෝලේ යනවා, විභාග පාස් කරනවා, නාට්ටි තරඟ වලට යනවා, අම්මගෙන් බැනුම් අහනවා, කනවා, බොනවා, නිදා ගන්නවා. ඇත්ත ජීවිතේ දන්න අඳුනන කට්ටිය වගේම මිනිස්සු ගොඩක් මම අර සමාන්තර ලෝකයේදී හම්බවෙනවා. ඒ විතරක් නෙමෙයි, ඇත්ත ජීවිතේදී මිනිස්සුන්ගේ නොදකින මානයන් සාහිත්‍ය ලෝකයේදී හොඳින් අහු වෙනවා. ඇත්තටම මේ ලෝකේ ඒ ලෝකේන් බාගයයි. සැබෑ ලෝකයට වඩා සැබැයි. කියවපු හැම පොතක් ගැනම තව පොතක් ලියන්න පුළුවන් තරමට‍ ඒ පොත් අපේ ජීවිතේට බද්ධ වෙනෙවා. අළුත් ගුරුවරුන්, පෙම්වතුන්, යාළුවන් හරහා අළුත් ලේඛකයෝ හා පොත් පත් ජීවිතේට එකතු උන එක කොච්චර අපූරුද?

සැබෑ සහ සාහිත්‍ය ලෝක දෙක මද අතරමං වෙන විදිහටම සිංහල හා ඉංග්‍රීසි භාෂා දෙක අතර මම දෝලනය වෙනවා. කාලයක් ඉංග්‍රීසියෙන්ම කුරුටු ගගා හිටපු මට තිස්ස හම්බ වෙන එකත් පළමු ගුරුවරයා හමු වෙනෙවා වගේම වැදගත්. අවාසනාවකට මට තිස්ස ඇසුරු කරන්න ලැබුනේ අවුරුද්දයි. නමුත් ඒ කෙටි කාලය තුල තිස්ස මට පුංචි පහන් සිළුවක් දුන්න නොනිවා ගෙනියන්න. එයාගේ පුස්තකාලයෙන් කාවෝ කාල පිටු හැළෙන අමරිකන් කෙටි කතා පොත් ගෙනවිත් එයා මට ගෙදර වැඩ දුන්න හරියට මම දෙක වසරේ ළමයෙක් වගේ. 19 වන පිටුවේ ඉඳල කියවන්න 43 පිට වෙනකන්, මේ කතාව සයිලන්ට් ස්නෝ, සීක්‍රට් ස්නෝ. ඊළඟ දවසේ අපි කාර්යාල වැඩ පටන් ගන්න කලින් ඒක ගැන කතා කරා. ඉංග්‍රීසියත් සිංහලත් යා කරපු ගෝල්ඩන් බ්‍රිජ් එකක් වගේ තිස්ස මං ඉස්සරහා හිට ගත්තා විතරක් නොවෙයි, ඒ පාළමේ ඊළඟ පුරුක ගැන හැඟීමක් මට ඇති කරා.

අද මගේ මිතුරන් අතර ලෝක දෙකක් මැද ඉන්න අය අඩුයි. සැබෑ ලොවයි සාහිත්‍ය ලොවයි දෙක දැන ගත්තත් භාෂා දෙකකින් ඒ ලෝක දෙකේ සැරිසැරූ අය බොහොමත්ම අඩුයි. වෙලාවකට සිංහලෙන් කතා කරන යාළුවන් අතරත්, ඉංග්‍රීසියෙන් කතා කරන යාළුවන් අතරත් ඒ දෙකෙන් එකක් වත් හරියට බැරි ගතියක් මට දැනෙන වෙලා එමටයි. අම්මා කියන්න වගේ වෙලාවකට එලොවටත් නැති මෙලොවටත් නැති බවක් දැනෙන වාර එමටයි.

ඒ කොයි එක උනත්, ලෝක දෙකයි භාෂා දෙකයි පොත් කියවන්න ඇස් දෙකයි ජීවිතේ මට ලැබුණු වටිනාම දේවල් නෙමෙයිද?

Nothing’s Forgotten

Nothing’s ever forgotten, is it? 

It was past midnight, and three of us middle-aged women, (yes, I suppose I can definitely call myself one), were working on a translation, Sinhala to English. The word was ‘ranketi’.

My mind scurries back about 25 years in time. Emotions are hard to keep down when it’s past midnight, so I blabber it out. I don’t quite intend to be heard by anyone. 

“The word reminds me of a story I heard as a kid. It was in this audio cassette called Kathandara and there was one story in it about a mother bird that mistakenly kills her little one, and then she sings this unforgettable song..” 

Mee pup ladimi – daru noladimi

Ranketi putha ko ko 

Nadya jumps. “Gosh, I was thinking of the same thing.” 

So there. One word. One memory. One emotion. I have only known her for a few months. 

“I have never met anyone who knew this cassette” says Nadya.

 I don’t recall knowing anyone who grew up listening to it either. The audio tape is called ‘Kathandara by Upali Attanayaka’. If you have kids, I highly recommend it.

We recall the tales told in it, and the emotions associated with it. Suddenly there’s a bridge between us.

Common memory. Shared experience. Kindred spirit.

I need to find a better word than ‘nostalgic’ to describe the feeling.  

The next day, in between translations, we waste a lot of time youtubing ‘Dosthara Hondahitha’, a cartoon we grew up on. 

Muhuda mage goda bimai – Newa mage niwasata samai

Siyalu sathun mage thami – Dosthara honda hitha mamai

The next day, we find out that Titus Thotawatta has passed away; the man who brought us, Dosthara Hondahitha, Pissu Poosa, Haa Haa Hari Haawa, Surangana Katha Karaliya, Situwara Monte Cristo, Manuthapaya,Oshin, Rasara and forever true to the very words Nothing’s forgotten; Nothing’s ever forgotten’ the greatest ever, Robin of Sherwood.

Ruwa recalls the moment when Robin of Loxley shoots his final arrow. For a fantasy moment, in which she relives  that memory, she actually draws the arrow in space. We all know that drawing. We have all drawn that arrow as kids. We’ve all played Robin Hood. We’ve all worshipped Michael Praed and Jason Connery.

Those were the days before reality TV swamped the channels; with people-dying-to-become-idols made themselves idiots in front of the camera, and the viewers actually called that entertainment.

Of course, I didn’t quite know words like cinematography, or scriptwriting or casting. But Sherwood is still evergreen in my memory. I still recall the mist rolling over the river bank, the light seeping through the branches, the curly beauty of Marion’s hair. (Judy Trott, ah, she’s the best Marion ever!) And the haunting sound tracks of Clanned. The unforgettable words…

Now is here, Here is now…

 (Hey, that’s what I try to live by now!)

Robin: “I’ve lost my aim!”
Herne: “Then aim again.”
Robin: “To what purpose? To what end?”
Herne: “There is no end and no beginning. It is enough to aim.”

Isn’t that mindblowing?

And decades later, I still want to know the words. I would still take time to search, so those celtic whisperings become real words.

With the sun right through,
Departed into darkness,
I need someone too;
The fantasy and you
Now is here, Here is now
Na na na na
You inspire
Peace of heart
Na na na na
With the words like air
The destiny we share
Is a dream come true
The fantasy and you

Is it the best TV series ever, or am I just nostalgic?

I really want to know. So I google and youtube. (The few things of worth the world introduced after I grew up!)

It’s the same the world over. The HTV series Robin of Sherwood, 1984-1986, was what the  kids in the 1980s grew up on. And all of them think it’s the greatest ever. It actually is one of the best takes ever on the legends of Robin. Mysteriously, that work of art set the standards for a generation. The Music by Clanned, the irreplacability Marion… ( Googling, I found out that Lady Marion, actually ended up marrying the camera operator of the series Gary Spratling, in case you, like me, are glad to know.)  And it was also one of the few TV series that actually did away with it’s lead and successfully replaced it. Even when most girls in my class loved Praed as Robin, I loved Jason Connery in the role. It was absolute magic.  

Every once in a while, great people come together and make great art. And it is remembered forever. Robin Hood is superbly written, superbly casted, superbly directed and acted, superbly cinematographed, superbly laced with the most haunting music ever, that nothing about it is forgotten.

And other great people dub them, subtitle them and take them to different audiences across the boerlines. People like Richard Carpenter, writer of Robin of Sherwood, Titus Totawatta, our Ti Mama and Upali Attanayaka of the ‘Kathandara cassette eka’ are people whose work is never forgotten. Because their art transcend barriers. They bring people together.

They have made us who we are, not by the virtue of memories, but by what they have contributed to our personalities. In the end, we are, what we remember to be. In sociological terms (ahem…cough…cough…) this is our cultural history. Our memory is the books we grew up reading, the cartoons we grew up watching, the songs, the films, the TV series we got hooked onto. If you are upto it, read Umberto Eco’s ‘The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana’. He definitely says it better than I do.

These words and images are the poetry and the mystery of our lives. And thirty years later, or more, they make us recognize another human being, as kindred.

This is my tribute to Titus Totawatta.

Nothing you did is forgotten.

In the Company of Men

Returned to Bolgoda to translate ‘No Return’ with Rajitha, Shyam and Gihan. It was a small bungalow on the edge of a lake with lotus and water-lily fringed banks. In fact, the very first entry of this blog came from my previous visit there, when I captured ‘Just another Lotus from Lake Bolgoda‘.

And this time, I got some more. It’s almost unbelievable that such beauty could bloom and fade within a day, and keep blooming and fading everyday, in hundreds. It is almost unbelievable that world can hold such beauty, in such simple things.

I woke up early in the morning and walked to the edge of the lake. The mist was just lifting off the waters, revealing the blooms to the Good-Morning-kisses from a rising sun. Again, I cannot believe, that this beauty  repeats every dawn. Just how much do we miss each day, in our crazy-busy line-up of meetings and events and projects and pomp?

As if being there surrounded by all this blissful beauty wasn’t enough, I was also blessed with the delightful company of three gentlemen. Men that I am only getting to know, I must admit, but with whom I completely felt at home. Men who did not remind me that I am a woman, someone different from them. I could only feel how much I am like them, passionate about politics and plays, sentimental and soul-searching, light-hearted and at ease. The conversation flowed freely in the true spirit of camaraderie: Rajitha talkative and almost innocent in his honesty; Shyam quiet and deep like the serene lake before us, with the eyes of a wanderer and the smile of a heart-broken; and Gihan, boyish and gentle and happy.

Three Gentle Men.

I felt rewarded more than I deserve.

As I was sipping a brandy in the evening with them, sharing music we loved, I suddenly realised that this is what the Buddha called ‘Kalyana Mittatta’ (beautiful friendship). Ananda, one of Buddha’s best disciples once suggested that kalyana mittatta is the partial realisation of the Goal of the Noble Path. The Buddha replied: ‘Not so. Beautiful friendship is the Goal and the Consummation of the Noble Path’ (Samyukta Nikaya 1.88) The Buddha believed that when human beings care for each other in kalyana mittata they would need neither the gods nor earthly potentates to protect them.

Coming back to Colombo, moving again with the usual crowd, waking up to news on the radio and dailies, driving to work in the traffic jam, I realise this is exactly what we miss so much in our lives. Simple sharing and caring. In all our relationships, be they parents, siblings, lovers, bosses, servants, colleagues and friends. (I would even add strangers.) How much do we genuinely share and care in these relationships and how much of it is obligation, ownership, convenience, exploitation, subordination, possession, choicelessness or simply dead habit?

By no means do I imply that it is simple. Relationships are indeed an intricate mix of all these things. Maybe I am a bit of an Incurable Romantic to expect otherwise. I have no idea, maybe it is difficult for a husband and wife to be good friends. Beautiful friends. Maybe it is difficult to be a kalyana mitraya to your brother or sister or mother or father or your boss. But I don’t see why we shouldn’t give it a try!

I chose to be in the company of these three men over an official obligation. I enjoyed every single moment of being with them and working with them and talking with them and listening with them. It’s what I have missed, having rolled over the world for more than the first half of my twenties like a gypsy, friends with whom I can connect to at a deeper level. Friends who I can support creatively and who can inspire creativity in me in return.Friends whom I don’t have to leave behind and email from the other side of the globe to keep in touch.

Drunk with the beauty of Bolgoda and each others company, we were debating if Sri Lanka is actually the most beautiful country in the world. I don’t remember us coming to an agreement. But I firmly believe that if our people find joy in caring and sharing, in kalyana mittatta instead of benevolent dictatorship (that our  Buddhist clergy advocates so contrary to what the Buddha said), it stands a good chance of becoming the most beautiful island in the world.

Typical Tropical Woman in Berlin

So it’s Berlin 2010. It’s the fall. The maples are caught in the Autumn fire. The sun mellowed down and sentimental. My  German colleagues tell me I’ve brought the sun with me, since it’s out again after weeks of rain and meek weather.

And this time, as I was walking through the clean streets, with polite traffic, across city squares with guitarists and lovers and children engrossed with their ice-creams, I felt truly peaceful inside. Unlike last summer, I wasn’t haunted by a heartbreak or an unresovled past in Europe. No guilty feelings. Just me and the summer. I admit, every moment did include a parallel moment, in which I was sharing that moment with G. It was magical. But still, I was not homesick or lovesick, and I was truly present in the moment, fully awake and conscious and absorbing what Berlin had to offer. What a GREAT feeling!

So, the first thing I step into, right after the airport, is a taxi, with a driver who fled Baghdad 30 years ago, for political reasons which he doesn’t want to share with me. But ofcourse, he’s mad about Hindi films. He’s seen Arzoo and Ai Milan Ki Bela. He loves Sholay. And Vaijayanthi Mala is his favourite.

Tumse mohobethain…he crooned as he drove, overenthusiastic to find an audience who knew the same songs. And knew what they meant, as well.

Thanks to globalisation, I was thoroughly entertained all the way to Movenpick Hotel.

And I recollect the same feeling I had, coming to Europe the first time in my life. Just getting out of the train in to the city square, and strangely feeling at home. Surprise! Surprise!

Sunday afternoon; Alexander Platz with Kristin. I take the subway, and momentarily held by this subway singer…

And another one in Alexaner Platz…

Ask me what I appreciate most about the European cities…yes, there are many things a typical tropical woman could appreciate, but what strikes me most is this ‘Love is in the air’ mood. You know the lovers, walking hand in hand, kissing in public, cuddling in the sun and all. (ya, it’s a couple kissing in the background!) It’s this freedom to love, and to express love in public. And I can’t help remembering how wonderful it was to be in love in summer europe, and how dismal it is now, by comparison, to be in love in my tropical isle sometimes…

To generalise, if I may take the liberty to, our men are a bit paralysed in this department. I mean, they are fantastic in bed. They can compete there, at an international level, in terms of technical perfection of the art. But in the art of affection…oh dear…I wish I had never experienced love in Europe now that I have to live with this permanent Rebecca syndrome. I don’t wish to look down on the men in my country. I’m a tropical woman. I want to love one of my own kind. But I couldn’t escape globalisation. So I had to go through all these experiences. And I can’t help these philosophical observations! It’s not criticism, so if you are a tropical man reading this, don’t take it personal.

OK, you’ll say it’s not our culture to display affection in public. But then, do our men display affection in private? Or do they just do it because they are expected to. Some times I feel they do, simply because it’s what our sentimental women kind want. Something just to get over with. Like an obligation.

Life is an obligation. To be faithful to your wife, to love your mother, to fight for your country!

Ha! Ha! Ha! That’s my only reaction!

Of course, I am not saying all our men are like this. I have indeed met a few wonderfully affectionate men in Sri Lanka. But overall, when I listen to my friends and observe the world around me, I feel that our society has crippled our men, hip upwards, I mean. They are denied the right to express themselves. They are denied the right to feel, to be emotional. And I often find them uneasy, when a bit of affection is expressed in public.

I don’t know why people only talk about liberating the woman in this part of the world, because the men, oh them poor souls, they so need to be liberated themselves. Being a man and being human must be difficult, come to think of it.

In Sri Lanka when a bit of affection is displayed in public, the public scoffs right back at it. It’s considered ugly, uncultured and vulgar. What’s ugly, uncultured and vulgar about a man loving a woman, and expressing that in public? I don’t get it. I think it’s at the core of the sexual frustration and violence of this society – the big secret everybody knows but nobody talks about. Without allowing the men to be human, to be affectionate, we will never liberate our women. (That’s my ‘loud and clear’ to the feminists!) It’s not just enough to talk about sexual harassment in public transport, you see – something I have never experienced in Europe and experience daily in Sri Lanka.

I mean, it’s simple right?

High degree of sexual freedom, acceptance of affection, flexible gender roles – low levels of sexual frustration, harassment and violence (summer Berlin or Sweden, to quote an example I know better)

Low degree of sexual freedom, acceptance of affection, strict Victorian mores and gender roles – high level of sexual frustration, harassment and violence (our tropical paradise)

And I don’t know how to change this society around me; or to liberate a man, (or myself for that matter), but I know I can love. Not in a possessive way – not to hunt a man down and put him in chains of lifetime bondage (aka marriage) but in a way that redeems. In a way that supports both individuals to grow, to explore, to be more affectionate beings, not just unto themselves, but to others as well. One could also do all these things within a marriage, or without it. The choice is personal.

I feel this is the key to the politeness, the gentleness, the ‘culturedness’ that I sense in the European public life. Now don’t call me a post-colonial Eurocentric rootless bastard of globalisation. I’m just expressing my opinion. I’m entitled to one.

So to get back to Berlin – Tacheles. I want to talk about Tacheles. It’s this run down building which belonged to East Berlin before. Now, the area is transformed. The Big Bad Banks have come in. So have Gucci and Prada. And the government wants to pull down Tacheles because it’s an eyesore in the middle of a chic commercial district.

And the artists resist!!!!!!!!! The very next day there was a peaceful public demonstration, not devoid of music and dance.

So the call to rally goes:

To enforce art piece Tacheles

We save the creative centre of Berlin – We build a city

The pillage of Berlin by banks, investors and neo-liberal pseudo-politicians must stop!!!


Monday 20th September 2010

And they’ve been successful in resisting the demolishing of the building since the 1990s.

For more on Tacheles go to the Wikipedia entry

and then walking through the graffiti covered walls, exuding an anti-capitalist verve, I come across this great poster shop. The work is bold and gripping. (Btw, that’s Kristin in the photo thanks to whom I visited Tacheles)

So why do I feel like this is another important element missing in Colombo. Just the space to have ‘honest straightforward talk, purpose’ (that’s the meaning of the yiddish word ‘tacheles’). Now where’s that space in Colombo, or anywhere in Sri Lanka? Ours is a society of stifled emotion, come to think of it. There is no space to come together and to have a dialogue. No public space for people to meet and talk (leave alone kissing!). In Colombo, the Galle Face Greene is the only ‘public space’ and in the evenings no wonder it is overcrowded. And still, it is NOT a public place. Because, people don’t come there to meet new people and to have a chat, they just come there with their families to fly kites! It’s just an escape from the four walls of an urban home. Nothing more.

So, our civil society  – sorry, but there is no ‘society’ in that sense. It’s only a collective of individuals, families and organisations, struggling in their own small worlds. And that lonely struggle embitter them. No wonder, when there is no space, like or unlike Tachales, to bring people together to share things that are common. And our pseudo coffee houses like Commons (which has nothing in common with the common of our country), or Barefoot which has nobody who ever had to go barefoot, offer no ‘public space’. In fact, they form status hierarchies that the middle class has to struggle to access, in order to be ‘cultured’. (Btw, this also makes me a pseudo-intellectual, because I also grace these places despite my criticism.)

So in that sense,  we need to pay attention to these words like ‘civil society’ and ‘public space’, because I am not sure that we have these in the true sense of the word.

So, no wonder we are crippled, not only in terms of showing affection in public but also resisting power in public. There’s no culture of peaceful public protest. And our protests, forgive me for being brutal here, but they are soooo boring. And sometimes even sponsored by organisations (like the one I work for, so I am not innocent here, you see!) I mean I do have a soft corner for some genuine individuals who repeatedly take to the streets and I do respect them sincerely. But the truth is it is not in our ‘culture’ to protest peacefully.

We deny the issues till they brim over the top and every 10 year cycle we have a violent revolution or a guerilla war of some sort that can only be countered by terror and suppression only.

And the only way I see out is to work systematically to build these ‘public space’ to be affectionate, to create, to express and to protest!

Ok, this is getting too long. And beginning to sound like a sermon, so I’ll have to skip the rest of the travelogue, in which I visit Fusion Street, a creative organisation working with marginalised and immigrant kids in Berlin, the visit to the New National Gallery of Modern Art, the Pergamon Mueseum…maybe some other day…

At Colombo duty-free I bought a Bailys, a Semmilon Chardonnay, a Chivas Rose and a French Brandy. They are all locked up in my grand ma’s closet right now, which is full of duty-free spirits! You see, my family culture is not one that encourages drinking. Like my mom asks ‘who on earth are you going to go drinking with?’

So you see, if I want to  promote dialogue, I can start at home!

Nevertheless, let me raise my glass!

To Love, Art and Politics!

Beauty as a Basic Need

Yesterday, the discussion that meandered through censorship, cultural policies, art and society left my mind racing through out the night. My mind was working through the ideas expressed in the forum, sifting through, scrutinizing, recalling statements, evaluating…maybe like my family feels, I am just plain mad. Or I am just one of ‘them’. So who are ‘they’?

I would like to call ‘them’ as people whose basic needs are slightly different, or more than the others. I really have no idea, if the people whom I meet day in day out, people who seem to have everything, and people who don’t seem to have anything, have anything in common with me. Do they really want the things I want. Have they got them? Are they happy?

Do people feel beauty is a basic need? When I say beauty, i don’t mean the way some men are hung up on some fantasy woman with 32-28-32 figure Naomi Campbell types, or women dreaming of some male equivalent,(whatever their measurements are…) I mean do people want beauty as expressed in nature, in art, in the diversity of our smiles? Do we search for it, the way we search for truth, freedom, justice, identity?

Some of my colleagues expressed that in our community, spaces for social communion and sharing have been erased. Our families are emotionally sterile grounds, a simple site where a struggle is for survival alone. I wonder if it is merely the economics of it, why someone wouldn’t really consider watching a movie every now and then, a need? Or going to a play? At least some of these movies, plays, books, poems,paintings and music fulfill in me a sort of a hunger; they ease my pain a bit; make me reflect; give my mad meandering mind a meaning to hold on to. Why do people around me not want these, the way they want food, clothes, jobs, sex or religion? Or is this only normal, and it is again myself, slightly eccentric in my needs, slightly complicated, doomed for a bit of mad meandering?

Great thinkers have already said that basic needs goes beyond the requisites of basic survival. Maxneef says its well being, freedom, identity, love etc. But why is it only Maxneef and the like, a minority, and not the whole lot of us? Is there no common human element in us six billion?

Sunil says it’s a very Sinhalese-Buddhist disease, this negation of complex needs, as you find in Sri Lanka. I can call it Capitalist-Nationalist disease. I mean, Cancer or Aids; whichever, right?

After the forum, on my way home, I chat up the cab driver. He’s a shaken chap. Locked up in his small car, pushing into middle age. He’s no Maxneef. But his mind has started questioning. He says he hasn’t seen a movie or held the hand of a girl in a long time. he says he feels like living dead. Hacked. Tired. Hopeless. Lost. Lonely.

And I meet so many people like that day in day out. Tired, hopeless, lost, lonely people. It’s like we carry a tiny glass capsule around ourselves, and trapped inside we all feel the same.

And I really don’t know…when I get this feeling, which is not even loneliness, I go watch a film or read a book and it temporarily gives me the beauty I lack in myself, in my life. So, I recommend the same pill to the cabby, ‘there’s Akasa Kusum, go watch it…and about a girl, i don’t know really the way around that one, but i wish you luck!’

Ha ha ha! (Just a way of finishing the whole thing, in wanting better words…)

The Edge of Heaven


What is it that we have here, in this part of the world, and they – the developed world – don’t have? (Apart from the yearlong sunshine and refreshing monsoons…) If you rule out the exoticism and the lure for adventure that brings many ordinary white people (without hidden agendas and not working for the CIA 🙂 to our shores, what is it that we offer them, in return of the luxuries they leave behind in their countries? I am not talking about the tourists, you should know by now. I am talking about those who come for longer periods, who come in search of work, who come because they ‘want to help’.

With my interesting connections to first world attempts to help the third, and with the excessive media coverage Wimal Weerawansa is getting at the moment, I couldn’t have timed experiencing this exceptional movie by Fatih Akin any better. (Ok, I don’t grudge Weerawansa his moment of glory, I only feel a whiff of nausea when it is overdone.) But Akin is a good antithesis to Weerawansa. It’s a good way of putting things rather than disqualifying all what Weerwansa says as bunkum.

The Edge of Heaven is not a story about conspiracy. It is not a story about aid workers. It is not a story about super powers’ manipulation of the world market. It is even not a simplistic version of globalisation and multiculturalism often bought and sold in the ideological arenas of the day.

It’s a story about coincidences. It’s a story about what we gain and what we stand to loose in this world system. And what we ultimately want as the ordinary people we are; What do we want to do with our lives? What gives us meaning to continue the madness of existence?

Why do young people take to streets and resort to violence just outside the European Union? Why would Germans and Swedish and Danes risk their lives in our conflict zones de-mining our territory? And why do we reject their help? But why do they still want to continue despite the arrogant refusals of our governments? Why don’t my American and German friends want to leave Sri Lanka, despite the less than bearable visa procedures our government? Is it just the fancy lifestyle they get to lead here? Would someone give up a whole country, a ‘home’, a way of life as comfortable as what you get in Germany or Sweden to some material benefits that we can provide them here? The big gardens and bungalows with domestic aid, is that it? or the sunshine? or vipassana?Or is it the sense of purpose that we find in living in situations like these?

Weerawansa would have one answer to these questions. Fatih Akin has another.

When I look back upon the choices I have made in my life, I’d rather go with Akin. I choose Sri Lanka because it gives me what Sweden couldn’t have given me. Being here gives me a sense of purpose. I feel needed. And of course, it is HOME. I belong here. And I draw a clear line between that sense of belonging and love for a land and the euphoria I see around me these past two days.

Watch The Edge of Heaven. And let’s talk.