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…)

Something about Priyanga

I met Priyanga in Pahe Ela, somewhere near Anuradhapura. She is still a beauty, in her thirties…She was widowed in the early nineties, a year after her marriage…she told me the exact name of the battle he lost his life in, which evades my memory now…it was somewhere in the eastern frontiers…now she lives with her family. The pension of Priyanaga’s husband is quite something. It’s almost as if that money and the prestige of a war hero could replace the loss of Priyanga’s man.

But somehow, the loss of this man dominates the whole house. The moment you enter the place, you confront with his life size image garlanded. He makes a visitor slightly nostalgic and sad. I stood there trying to find a way to relate to him and the loss of him and this attempt to replace the loss of him.

After lunch, in the dry-zone drowsiness, Priyanga asks me to use her room; take a nap if i want to. I walk into her little room.In some places the paint was coming off the wall, and you could see a thin sun beam seep through a tiny crack in the ceiling…but apart from that it was a room of a woman who was meticulous about tidiness. Somehow, these things you would notice only much later…after you get over the initial shock of having to face with so many photographs of a her husband – in uniform, in civil clothes, carrying an AK-46, sitting on a armed car, arm in arm with his platoon buddies….her room was like little museum dedicated to his memory. A photograph of Priyanga and him together was on the dressing table, with a little paper red rose Priyanga had made.

In the throbbing intimacy of that room I couldn’t breathe for sometime…naturally I couldn’t nap…I had stumbled upon someone else’s privacy…

and it has taken me all this time to write about it, to acknowledge…and still, months later, I do. I found the time. I found the courage. I found the emotion.

 I add to this post a poem written sometime back…this is for Priyanga and the man she lost. It’s something personal, as always…

A Soldier Mourned   

Gunshots in the distant night
Surge with news of death
Inklings of my turn brew
In livid silence between the shelling

News of death that comes, as foretold
In the guise of white papers to be signed
Neatly typed, touchy words from someone unfamiliar
Someone without a shadow or a face

Polecats yowling
Fever-pitched battle to game and mate
A minor crisis on the half-done ceiling
Their frenetic scuffling
Trailing into my dreams

I turn to your side of the mat
To residues of your last embrace
The memory of you tapping
On the valley between my breasts
Asking, as if you knew
It is what I almost cannot give

The ghost of your ardour
Sealing my womb
As days slip too easily
Into night

Toy Tire

In Kiliveddy IDP camp in Muttur, a tire is a toy for this kid. Deprived of his home in the Sampur battle, he doesn’t know how long he’s been here in the refugee camp. Not that he does not remember, but he cannot count. He does not answer anything more than his name, and that’s what he repeats, smiling…as if his name is the only language he knows. Obviously, he is not going to school.

Personally, I have seen tires in a different context as a kid. It is something I can never imagine as a toy. I don’t want to repeat what a tire stands for in my childhood, 1988, 1989 Sri Lanka: The world knows about it; and I have already written a story about it: Pallu (it’s listed under Pages). With that I imagined that it is out of my system.

And then I meet this boy, Seethan – if I got his name right, with his toy tire around his neck, homeless, probably rootless, and futureless despite my optimism for him and the others of his kind. Seethan plays with a tire that epitomizes the hieght of violence I have experienced in my life. Of course, he’s lived through another war, with its own symbols of violence.

I want to hug him as if I were his twin. But I couldn’t.

Morning Blues

I’m reading a book called Inner Feng Shui and it tells me that I should think positive in the morning. So I woke up this morning and thanked God for the beautiful day; thanks the bounty of the universe for the fact that I am alive and happy and lucky today. I have a loving brother who drives me to work every morning. He faithfully drops me on top of the road, so that I can walk ten steps to the office just so I get some exercise. As I walk in to Siripa Lane, I meet the madman again. He is diggin’ in to the garbage bin next to Sea Lord restaurant and collecting some food for the day. The air becomes pungent with the smell of foul food. I have seen this guy on and off, haunting the area. Yesterday I stood for a moment watching it. Today I choose to walk past, ignoring the annoyed faces of the tuk tuk drivers, who seem to tolerate this daily foul-up of morning air as an obligation to their traditionally Buddhist upbringing that force them to compassion.

I am angry now. How come the world is so cruel to so many people? I know this madman is not the only unfortunate I saw for the week. So I know its not about one individual not doing well in life. Its the system that makes some people overly fortunate and the others deprived! So even if I give this guy money to buy a lunch packet today, it makes no sense. There are so many days more for him to survive and so many others like  him. Very much like when we vote one corrupt leader out of power another will come in who will be even worse. We got rid of President Premadasa, but today many say he’s better than what we’ve had after him.

My collegue and dramatist Rajitha Dissanayaka was in conversation with Dharmasiri Bandaranayake recently. I rememeber watching Dharmasiri’s play ‘Yakshayagamanaya’ as a kid. Its a translation of a Brechtian play – Driving Out the Devil, maybe – I’m not sure. The end of that play is the elimination of the dictator, but it adds: “Don’t rejoice that he is gone. The womb that bore him will bear many more”  

So I guess that what we are suppose to do is to change ‘the womb’; The Evil System. And Gudrun Kramer says, the System has its own inbuilt mechanisms that will protect it from change.

It’s still 7.40 am. It’s too early to be angry. It’s too early to be confused.