03 August 2011

There are oases of serenity amid the clutter desert of Colombo

A few days ago I tried to introduce a set of mid-career students to the world of poetry, pointing out that it helps grasp the idiomatic use of a language, in this case English.  I walked them through and walked with them through William Wordsworth’s ‘Upon Westminster Bridge’, which I heard for the first time more than thirty years ago at Lakshmi Jeganathan’s ‘Speech and Drama’ class.  Aunty Lakshmi taught me that poetry had to be recited and how it ought to be recited as well.  I was essentially teaching an ancient lesson to new students.

I’ve never seen the serenity of early morning London when viewed from Westminster Bridge and I am not sure if gaze obtains the same kind of calm and sense of peace that Wordsworth experienced almost two centuries ago.  I have seen however in years gone by that the squalor in and around the Pettah can be blanketed by a stillness that would evoke similar sentiments around the same time of day, daybreak.  Places have multimple characters. They wear different faces at different times of the day and under different skies and weather conditions.  Theoretically, then, there is no place on earth that does not have the prerequisites for serenity’s residence, even if such residencies are transient as is the way of the world. 

I’ve also known people who are at peace regardless of the clutter, cacophony and odour of location.  It probably takes a special kind of dis-attachment.  The city is like an accomplished pickpocket though.  People are regularly relieved of peace of mind and tranquility without any by-your-leave as such.  We are not only exhausted by the work we do but by the fact of city-sojourn.  And so we seek or are drawn to oases of calm in the loud desert of movement, smoke, dust and commerce we spend the major part of our days in.   

They are of different kinds, these oases.  Some come in the form of friend and heart-mate, some as temples, some as taverns, some as entertainment in theatres, film halls and open-air concerts, some in the form of cyber space conversations and browsing.  Bookstores are oases too.  I’ve heard that for some, there’s no better peace-giver than an iPod.  It takes all kinds, yes. 

A few months ago I received an invitation to the opening of a gallery.  It was a relatively quiet affair and quite tasteful too.  CasaSerena or ‘House of Calm’, backs off the busy Havelock Road, just opposite Police Park.  Launches attract a lot of people and I did not relish the idea of checking what was inside that particular evening.  I did visit a couple of times thereafter and each time I told myself that I ought to spend more time there. 

The architecture, interior décor, the elegantly laid out crafts, the crafts themselves, the gallery and what it held, a book corner, literally and metaphorically, as well as the books that were on sale, indeed everything about the place complemented the name of the place.

On both occasions I spoke with the creator of this place, Nisansala Karunaratne, who had studied fine arts at the San Jose State University, California, majoring in photography with graphic design as her minor.  She’s already held several photography exhibitions, both in the USA and in Sri Lanka.  She’s a painter too.  Her work, whether in photography or on canvass describes a person intimately and seriously engaged in the exploration of the eternal verities.  Nisansala said that nature inspires her. Again and again.  Not just the beauty, but harmony in form and colour.  That exploration is clearly informed by a deep appreciation of culture and tradition.

She believes that cognizance of root is an important element of who she is and what she does.  Serenity is evident and is touched by things familiar not just because we’ve seen it often but they speak to and of our bones, sinews and moments of deep reflection. 

The boutique and gallery are naturally signature by creator touch.  It has already hosted two exhibitions; Nisansala’s own exhibition of watercolours, oil painting and natural pigments, ‘Visual Formations of Form and Colour’ in February this year and ‘A Puerto Rican in Sri Lanka’, which showcased watercolour and woodcut prints by Rashid Abdur-Rahman.

Nisansala, in her quiet way, said that the boutique-gallery was designed to showcase a wide range of traditional and modern creations to enhance the art of living. ‘Some will be practical, some will be useful and some will just be beautiful,’ she said.  It is to stimulate the mind and the senses, she explained.  She didn’t have to. 

To this day, I am not certain if it is the view from Westminster Bridge or Wordsworth’s way with words that spoke serenity.  I wonder if someone will ever write a poem about ‘Casa Serena’.  All I know is that even in the texture of a random piece of art or the colour-arrangement in a neatly designed notebook cover or the cropped out extraction from a photograph of some piece of Sri Lanka deliberately left unnamed to spur exploration, there is serenity.  I felt blessed to have access, to see, learn and wonder. 

[Courtesy Daily News, August 3, 2011]


Anonymous said...

I liked this article not only because it is well written but also because Wordsworth is a great poet, one of my favourites. I have also walked this bridge, in spring summer autumn and winter and it brought back nostalgic memories.Thanks for the memories unearthed and which brought a tear to my eye.