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

 

 

 

 

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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.

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 http://librarything-svetlana.blogspot.com/)

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?

The Nestorian Cross

A colleague I had worked with sometime back dropped into see me this evening at my office. I was delighted to see Kalle. Usually, when projects finish, people forget you. When you no longer profit them in some way or the other, they no longer have time for you. Kalle dropped in at around one o’clock to say Hi – and probably to find out how I’m faring under the regime, whether I’m still red or blue – and our chat continued till five. I know him to be an old foot of the left, with whom I have plenty of ideological common ground.
I can’t quite say how Kalle ended up telling me about a parents’ meeting at his daughter’s school – it must be the first time we ever refered to something personal – but I found out that his daughter is a Sirimavian. His description of the meeting rang a bell. Aha! I told Kalle about how I ended up in Sirimavo Bandaranaike Vidyalaya for the last two years of my schooling. Kalle immediately gasped that there’s no trace of a Sirimavian in me.

Indeed. I am not much of a Sirimavian. I just had to meet Kalle to realise that!

Should you care to read here’s the story. At least Kalle found it interesting… 🙂

I turned six in Nineteen Eighty Six, when bombs were popping-up around the corner every now and then like a carnival in town. Colombo was totally unsafe terrain. Our red brothers, probably Kalle could tell you more about them, were bleeding our streets with tyre-pyers. That was when my very young single mother had to decide all alone which school to send me to. She couldn’t think of sending me to a Colombo school, and so my mother saved me from a life-long complex, or perhaps replaced it with another one. Maybe she thought it is better to be at least Convent-educated if not Colombo-educated. And so I ended up in a small town convent school of 800 students, run by Roman Catholic nuns. Not to mention that my home town is home to hard-core Buddhists. I don’t know how my poor mother had the sense to make such a decision but I thank the Lord in Heaven that she did. She probably thought it was the practical thing to do, because she could just walk with me to school.
If anyone’s interested in a colourful account of my Sister Principal Mary Dhammika – bless her soul – read the story Silent Night, Whispering Night. She was a character. Our Catholic nuns were Victorian Virgins Par Excellence. But in that small town back in the Eighties they were less classist, and more inclusive in many ways than their counterparts in Colombo. For one, it was a convent full of Buddhists. And poor Anglicans were way down in the hierarchy than us. Of course, I never made it to Shakespeare competitions, because no one in my small school knew that such a thing existed, but still that convent gave me enough drama to get out of my shell.

Twelve solid years of that Roman Catholic education and I find that I have to do two more in Sirimavo Bandaranaike Vidyalaya Colombo Seven. So there I am. No more Hallelujas. No more Hail Marys. I walk in from the gate and a gigantic, blindingly white Buddha greets me. In Sirimavo we call our teachers ‘Madam’. In our convent we just called them Teacher. So instead of Shanthi teacher and Doris teacher and Sister Celine, we had Ekanayaka Madam and Kulasooriya Madam. The madams wore Kandyan Sarees mostly. The Monday morning assemblies were long drawn sermons of how Sirimavo makes “Kula Kaanthawan” out of us poor souls. Literally, Ladies of High Caste, meaning Ladies of High Class in a more Sinhala Buddhist sense. Not that things were so much better in the convent school. There we were supposed to grow up to become Mothers or Nuns. I’ve grown up to become neither, but at least I appreciate having a choice.

I had quite forgotten about it, but in Sirimavo, I started wearing a cross. It was a small Nestorian Cross of silver tinted metal. We couldn’t wear chains or anything so I attached it to my wrist watch. For me it must have been a cross of nostalgia. But I recall how it drew attention. Many ‘madams’ noticed the cross, and asked me if I am Christian. I said I wasn’t but I was from a convent school. I remember the puzzeled look they gave me.

Looking back, I can see how clearly I had enjoyed that opportunity to slap that identity marker across their faces. I can’t fathom what they must have thought of me. I couldn’t care less. Even today.

I didn’t understand what I was going through back then but it must have been a culture-shock. The distance between the teachers and students, the quality of that relationship, the unbridgable difference between a nativity play and a pirith mandapa, left me bedazzled. Now please, Sirimavo is a great school. I mean no disrespect. It has taught me as much as the convent and perhaps more. But I realise it had been painfully Sinhala-Buddhist to me. Even more chronic than our Catholic convent. I remember one madam saying, ‘we don’t want to make good doctors, we want to make good mothers’. Sirimavo, named after the first woman prime minister of the world, that aspired to manufacture high-caste mothers. How ironically Sinhala Buddhist is that?

It was suffocating. It was insular. It was pedantic. Parochial. Paranoid. To be there in that environment devoid of music or culture. It kills creativity and gears you up for 4 A’s.

I never understood any of this then. Perhaps it is good that I didn’t. I just wore a Nestorian Cross for two years. Silently. Only answering when an explanation was called for. All I knew was that I found it difficult to fit in and I missed my old nunnery. I missed the carols and the nativity plays and the English Days. So I thought it was just nostalgia, that cute little Nestorian cross. It had nothing to do with faith. Or dissent.It was something I did unconsciously, almost.

But Kalle tells me it is, indeed, dissent. I don’t know if he’s right. I guess so. I have no recollection of wearing that Nestorian Cross after I left Sirimavo. I can’t ever remember giving it a second thought until today.

But I confess I love crosses. The three petal Nestorian beauty being my favourite. They discovered a most delicately chiselled Nestorian cross I posted above in Anuradhapura. From 5th century AD, if I remember my facts right. I love this cross as much as I love the Avukana Buddha.

I haven’t worn or owned a crucifix since I left Sirimavo. Perhaps I still carry one, invisibly, who knows. It certainly isn’t a cross of faith, though.

A cross is the most powerful symbol in the world.

To date, I stare, every time I see one.

Party

It’s past midnight and I’m still searching
Searching for a party to join
Walking past the neon lights
Past the posh cars whizzing by
With rich and powerful chasing
Their dreams through the city night
Empty streets, foul gutters
Clicking stilettos in flight
Past the doors marked Members Only
Lurid music on the prowl

It’s past midnight and I’m still searching
Searching for a party to join

It’s past midlife and I’m still searching
Searching for a party to join
Walking past the thugs in white
Past the lying, pilfering, ranting, ballot-box stealing
Past the censoring, mud-slinging, match-fixing,
Past devote Sinhala Buddhist kings coming back to life
Past journalists performing disappearing acts
Past the guns and saffron robes flaring
Past the cheated, tired, disappointed crowd
Past the bhodhi pooja women and unemployed men
Traffic jams and lost ideals and something seething in between

It’s past midlife and I’m still searching
Searching for a party to join

The Nearness of You

And now that I have you

Next to me

So calm is the night

The moments twinkling

Like stars in a Christmas sky

 

Now that I have your arms

Around me

So warm is the night

Our breaths intermingling  

With the wind-chimers’ sigh

 

Now that I have your love

Surrounding me

So innocent is the night

The every-day barrenness fading

From the far corners of life

 

Now that I hear your breathing

I feel you feel the same

Your heart beating

To the harmony

Of your smile

 

But now that you are near me

So wakeful is the night

Just as much as I keep awake

When you are out of sight

 

We’ve been with ourselves for too long

Our beds so narrow

Our hearts too stricken

So late into our lives

 

And the nearness of you

The nearness of me

This love

Steals our sleep

 

So we hold each other like

Wrapped gifts

We never asked for

Nor deserve

Surprised we finally found

This bliss

 

But thank god,

For the nearness