06 October 2011

I saw my future yesterday and laughed and laughed and laughed

Years ago, my friend Kanishka Goonewardena who was at that time an architecture student at the Moratuwa University told me something about art.  If I remember right he was repeating something that Tilak Samarawickrama had said at a lecture, or else a comment someone else had made about Tilak’s association with Dumbara Mats.  It was about the utility value of art.  The argument was that if there’s only ornamental value in Dumbara Mats, the art would die a natural death.
Kanishka mentioned a definition or at least an observation offered by Ananda Coomaraswamy.  It was in anecdotal vein and about a kattadiya who uses masks for dances associated with exorcism.  The man is said to go into the jungles, pick the right tree, obtain the necessary timber, craft it, paint it and use it for the dance.  The mask is thereafter abandoned and his wife would chop it up and use it as firewood. That, Kanishka quoting Coomaraswamy, is what art is about. 
I don’t know if that point had registered in my subconscious or whether it was because I have a fascination for used books stores, but about 7 years ago I wrote down a question which was in fact an answer, depending on which side of the punctuation mark you stand:  ‘Are novelists, poets and other writers aware that their final resting place is a dingy used-books store?’
I remember quoting this line in an article written some time ago in these pages, again on the subject of the future and the genesis and fate of words.   Last night a friend, Himali Liyanage, wrote to me saying she had translated a poem I had written from English to Sinhala.  The title was ‘Iron-made’.  She wanted permission to post it on the internet.  I wrote back saying that my words don’t belong to me.  She went ahead, after making a snide remark about my moods. 
It all came back last morning in Bambalapitiya.  I had come to have a late breakfast at a vegetarian restaurant opposite Unity Plaza.  String-hoppers, saambaru and an ulundu vadai.  Cheap, healthy and to my taste.  Such eateries usually have on each table a container with pieces of paper torn from newspapers.  That’s the ‘serviette holder’.   I eat, usually, because I am hungry and am more concerned about nutritional intake rather than taste.  I think I ought to focus more on the act of eating, but I tend to treat eating as a necessary evil, for better or worse.  I have a ‘bad habit’ of reading while eating.  It just happens.  I take whatever reading material is within reach and that’s for me the lunumiris or lunu-dehi or the pickle that others like their meals spiced with. 
Daily News.  I could tell from the texture of the paper, the appearance and the part of the illustration that remained.  Mine.  I could tell from a random sentence.  It was about a third of a piece I had written titled ‘A note on a singular  petal decorating the black bough of Havelock Road’, dedicated to one of my English teachers, Mrs Sujatha Dharmasiri. 
I couldn’t help laughing.  I know that Mrs. Dharmasiri read the article and I am sure some others must have too.  I doubt if everyone remembers what was written or who wrote it (readers skip bylines, I know).  The point was made.  The paper read. Discarded as papers usually are. They end up being sold for recycling.  Reminded me of a song by Sunil Edirisinghe where the ‘Sama’ and ‘Amara’ of our Grade One text book are used to roll a handful of peanuts.  The lessons were learnt, though.  Like that article.  Did its work and having done so, was employed in residual work.   We end up as serviettes and occasionally use our work to clean our fingers.  It is good to be reminded, now and then. 
Back-shelf of a used books store.  I won’t forget.  In my case, I was fortunate to actually see the book that I am, that my life has been and is. It came in the form of a newspaper turned into serviette in a roadside eatery. 
And this afternoon, writing this, I can’t help wondering if on the 25th day of February 2011, when she saw me and stopped to speak, tease, chide and hug as I was crossing Havelock Road and she was speeding past in a three-wheeler, Mrs Dharmasiri realized that I was one of the thousands of books she had authored as teacher. Only, it was not as a dust-laden less-read book on the shelf at the back of a used books store and neither was it as a serviette made out of a newspaper whose work was done.  Not a huge difference, though.  All things considered.  She continues to teach. I still write.  We are present tense people.  I saw my future.  That’s the only difference.  I laughed. That was important too, I think.



margarat said...

Dear Mr. Seneviratne
I have been reading your articles since two weeks now but I am happy to say that I m one of the privileged readers who got the opportunity to read the article that you have mentioned today that you have dedicated to your English teacher.

I really liked the article and I still remember the lovely way you have ended it.

I noticed that your ‘titles’ are generally unique and it is easy to identify from the rest of the articles but today’s title is not that attractive but the content is so useful.

mr. seneviratne 'Sama' and 'Amara' used them ( old newspapers)to earn a living and the little road side kade people use them as serviettes true but how can we forget that they are using them for the same purpose. there are many others like that.someone is using them for something useful.

'the song remind us of a retired school teacher' that is a good one.