25 July 2011

Love is irreversible and life forever young

It seems that either I am in some coincidental time warp or have suddenly become more conscious of things looked at or heard but not seen or listened to.  I’ve been writing about intersections and random encounters more frequently than usual, I realize.

My sister Ru Freeman
Monday night was made of encounters that taught me how meaningless time and direction are.  My sister had to go for a recorded interview on Prime TV – that’s ‘Celebrity Chat’ hosted by Kumar De Silva.  She’s no celebrity. She was always the kid sister and always will be, even though she’s travelled the world, acquired a name and is the mother of 3 beautiful girls.  I asked a friend to take her to Thalawatugoda.  It so happened that the reverse gear was out of order; the driver had to find a place wide enough to turn the vehicle.  Reminded me of a sticker I’ve seen on three wheel taxis, ‘aadarayata brake nae; jeevithayata reverse nae’ (Love is without brakes and life without reverse).

I managed to make it to the tv station in a three wheeler, just to chit-chat with her. Accompanied her into the studio, said hello to my friend Kumar, wished them well and left. That’s where it all started.

Kumar had just finished recording an interview with another celebrity, the accomplished dancer Vindya Warakagoda. It was her father who had come with the ‘little girl’. It was the first time I saw Wijeratne Warakagoda.  Years before, when working at the Sunday Island, I would interview people of his vintage, try to capture their lives in 2000-3000 word pieces: the landmarks, the inspiration, the anecdotes and companions on their personal and professional journeys.  It had been a while since I ‘profiled’ anyone, but memory stirred; I introduced myself and told him that I would like to interview him. Soft spoken, humble and kind, he smiled and agreed. He gave me his number. I will visit one of these days and do my best to do justice to this remarkable artist.  For now, I’ll talk intersection.

There were two Wijeratne Warakagoda ‘moments’ in my life. The first was at the University of Peradeniya sometime in the year 1986.  Amaranath Jayatilleka’s 1981 film ‘Arunata Pera’ (Before the Dawn) was being screened at the Arts Theatre.  Warakagoda played the lead role, ‘Banda’. I remember walking out that night convinced that we will dawn a different tomorrow.  After almost two decades I wrote, ‘Why does the night of longing end not as dawn but night again’, in a despondent and perhaps cynical moment. That was a passing moment, for ‘dawn-hope’ is what makes certain elements of our this-nights sufferable. 

Back in 1986 things were pretty black-white. There was one night and therefore only one possible dawn. As the years rolled on I realized there are nights and nights and while some can and do end in dawns there are others that roll from night to night and night again, with disconcerting and crippling regularity.  It took time to figure out that there’s a difference between what seems and what is and that the pathways to comprehending the infinite universe of the to-be-known is not incremental gathering of data. There are other dawns and other ways of dawning, my surface-scratching reading of the Buddha Vachana indicated to me. 

‘Arunata Pera’, therefore, through the years acquired even greater significance for it persuaded me to read Jayatilleka’s script in metaphorical sense without limiting to the literal unfolding of social process. Wijeratne Warakagoda is the image that kept that film pinned to my consciousness.

Wijeratne Warakagoda

The second encounter was in the year 2000. I believe I saw him on Rupavahini. This was the day the much loved politician from Kegalle, Dharmasiri Senanayake died. The TV crew was interviewing his friends and associates. Wijeratne Warakagoda was one of them. I remember what he said. He spoke of his last meeting with his friend and how Dharmasiri had observed that the two of them would never grow old. Warakagoda’s voice broke into a sob. The camera moved, respectfully. 

More than a decade later, during an unscripted Monday night encounter, I realized that this man had resisted time, perhaps by simply refusing to try to do so.

And other things came back to me; another Peradeniya, another year, another performance. It was ‘Freshers Nite’ at Ramanathan Hall. The year was 1990. My sister was a fresher and resident at Ramanathan. I had left Peradeniya a couple of years before, but was visiting my batchmates, then in their third year. We were all at Ramanathan, watching the resident freshers do their thing: song, dance, skits and so on. I would have gone alone anyway, but there was the added incentive of seeing the kid sis perform. She sang ‘Forever Young’. That’s Joan Baez’ version of the Bob Dylan original, written when he became a father (subsequently half-plagiarized by Rod Steward who had agreed to share royalties with him, nangi informed me just now). 
Felt so proud of her that tears came to my eyes. And I whispered to myself ‘may you always be forever young, nangi’. She still is.

Maybe the sticker-man got it all wrong. Maybe life has no brakes and love is irreversible. I don’t know. Within a matter of five minutes I went to Peradeniya and back and also went back and forth across a quarter of a century. Some night rolled into a dawn, i am sure, although I can’t put a finger on it. Just as well, perhaps.