23 July 2011

Notes of a boat ride on a vessel of many names

One of my earliest memories is of boats in Tangalle. I can’t remember what the vantage point was. I think this was in 1971, on a family trip to Kataragama and Yala. Extended family, I should add. There were adults everywhere I looked; my brother, sister and I were the little people. We went unnoticed or at least that’s how it felt, from what I can remember.

I saw fishing boats.  Lovely ones. Moored. I knew next to nothing or boats or fishing or indeed of mooring or anchorage. All I knew was that the boats were moving. Wave and breeze made them toss a little, move a little. I remember wondering why they were so slow. I must have been as dumb as a kid as I am now, as an adult.

I remember smells better than I remember images. Conversations more than I remember faces. Those boats, fishing vessel, were small come to think of it but back then enormous to my physical dimensions and capacity to assess true size and relevance. They are associated with the fragrance of salt water mixed with freshly caught fish. I don’t how that happened because I can’t remember going down to the quay or being among the fisherman. It must have got added along the way. Remembrance, after all is a trickster.

I don’t know if it is because that early childhood encounter with boats stuck or if it is due to some other and more pertinent reason that eludes me right now, but boats, especially stationary ones, fascinate me. They make me think of journeys and not only because I’ve heard of Sindbad and Marco Polo and have read The Odyssey and other accounts of travel and adventure, myth, legend and history all.

Boats are sad artifacts of human commerce. To me, at least. I wonder how long it takes, how many wave-whips or wave-laps it takes, how many showers of rain, what volumes of rainwater and how many hours of sunlight, to erase boat-name.  How long, for example, for boat to forget boatman and vice versa.

A few months ago, as I was browsing through my dear friend Hiranya Malwatta photographs on www.flickr.com, I came across boats. Many of them. This is one. Hiranya captures our beloved land, its ancient places and fresh faces in ways I just cannot describe. I don’t have her eyes but I suppose it is enough that she has them. Her boat, which I would not have seen ever had it not been for a click of mind, heart and camera, took me to Tangalle and to other boats I’ve known, literally and metaphorically. Brought to mind the words of Matthew Arnold, almost a century and a half ago (1867) in ‘Dover Beach’. That’s England. I remembered the following lines thanks to the years I spent learning English and literature, speech and drama under the stern and yet educating eye of Mrs. Lakshmi Jeganathan:

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! For the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Arnold was touched by ebb and flow of wave and water, life and death, joy and sorrow.  Back then I didn’t associate these lines with Arnold’s deep contemplation of Buddhist philosophy.  They make more sense now, these words do.  Hiranya made me remember all this.  She took me on a boat ride that had little to do with Matthew Arnold or Dover Beach, or perhaps this was what it was all about, who can tell?  I chronicled that journey in the poor English I know.  I titled by little note, ‘Ode to a boat untouched by time’.

Between the visited and to-be visited
the embraced and the longed for
the place we came from and those which await
the before and after of wave-break and sunset
of dawning of death
love and solitude,
among yesterday’s archaeology
things traced and extrapolated
in the unexplored seabed of dream
amid thought-shoals unnamed
and currents that dodge anticipation
there is a moment that invades sand
examines the woodwork of being
where madness unites with sanity
lover with lover
where broken dreams scramble into awkward image
where random clicks and structured browsing conspire
to reveal, hide, corrupt and erase,
designed for indescribable grip
and cleansing
by abandonment.

This boat might take you to different destinations. It might make you want to stay put. We learn as we walk. We learn also by standing. We learn when our eyes are open. We learn when they are closed. I saw a boat. Reminded me of a childhood moment, took me to England, a class attended with dread, a learning I am grateful for, moments inhabited where I felt alive, dead moments and things that passed by unnoticed or on account of incapacitation.

There’s a boat moored to a window sill and a dream. Another anchored by word and longing. Yet another that has no name, next to one with a million tags.

We live in such a wonderful world.


sajic said...

Cant remember reading this. Beautiful Malinda. quite beautiful.