23 July 2011

Paul Riesman came with intersection and justice last night

The man who introduced me to the subject of Anthropology was Paul Riesman. This was at Carlton College, Minnesota, where I spent a trimester along with four other Sri Lankans from the University of Peradeniya as part of a student exchange programme called ‘ISLE’. Professor Riesman was kind, understanding and an excellent teacher. I enjoyed being in his class.

I wrote to him a couple of times after I returned, the second time to request that he write recommendations to schools in the USA that I was applying to.  This was at the height of the bheeshanaya of the late eighties when the entire university system had collapsed. I still remember his response. It was warm.  He said he was happy to recommend me and I believe this is how it was possible for me to complete my degree. He said something else.  

‘If there is any justice in this world, our paths will cross again, I am sure.’

I never saw him again. When I got to the USA, I wrote to him. His wife replied me. She said that he had died of a ruptured pancreas a few months before. It had been sudden.

I thought of his note about justice and paths that cross. I wondered then if there was no justice in this world. Later it dawned on me that the relevant unit of time was not lifetime but samsara or the notion of lifetimes. In the plural.  It makes multiple intersections possible and therefore concedes space to the possible consecration of justice in terms of my teacher’s thesis. I also realized that not all intersections are of body encountering body but can include the intersections of and among thoughts, memories  and other related things.

Paul Riesman came to mind last night outside a fast food outlet.  I remembered him on account of an intersection, which I called ‘re-intersection’ and recounted thus:

Last night my love
of a different century
arrived at a take-away.
There was chit-chat and update
pleasantries as such are customary,
subtexts too,
slipped in and duly noted.
Last night memory intersected with memory:
two who had acquired journey weight
lightened for a moment,
stopped time.

'Chicken fried rice deka ganna!'
her order was ready.
She smiled: 'I have to go'.
The stable had bolted
leaving horse behind,
many centuries ago,

I already knew.
This intersection was not scripted;
but then again, perhaps it was.

There is justice in this world and I am certain that I have met Paul Riesman many times since I left Carlton College on December 1, 1997. I might have not recognized him and he might have passed by without noticing. Last night I saw him. Recognised. He was a wonderful human being. He is, still.