09 February 2012

Have you seen the trees that stood on the road that takes you to bliss?

There are moments when we have eyes and moments when we are blind.   There are things we pass everyday on our way to school or work but we don’t notice. There are books that stare us in the face from bookshelf and yesterday but we don’t notice their names.  There are people who walk in and out of our lives whose names we do not know, and people through whose lives, hearts, minds and blood streams we travel without ever asking where they live, who they are or even if they mind. 

It is random. All so very random.  There is someone who saw me 19 years ago and remembered my face. I didn’t see her.  I didn’t know that she had seen me so many years ago or that she had remembered face and moment when I saw her about 4 years ago.  On that occasion, she did not see me.  And then a year ago, a flash, a moment, a click and an intersection. All random, All so very random. We say, though, ‘inevitable’.  I am not sure it is, although it is romantic to think that way, but that doesn’t matter at all. 

Flip it a bit and the reverse of the embroidery is as fascinating.  We pass loveliness all the time and we don’t see flaw, partly because we like to indulge the notion of perfection or are terrified to think acknowledge blemish.  But like how auspicious intersections of time, space, thought and human social intercourse reveals to us magic that we passed by day in and day out through moment and century without noticing, so too these flaws break out and raise their hands, announcing presence: ‘I am here, now what?’ 

Life can never be the same again once this happens.  Until the next flaw rises to the occasion, the next perfection, the magical something that we missed everyday until that one day when we got one minute late or arrived one minute early or was at the wrong place and the wrong time.  It is not just about human relationships, encounters, intersections, convergences, fractures etc., it can be about anything. A neglected garden.  A tree that you didn’t see until it shed all its leaves or when the first leaves pop out in the most tender green after the long drought ends.  A school wall that got a new coat of paint.

It can take the form of absence too.  The tree you didn’t notice until it was cut so that space could be obtained to put up a hoarding (outside the Dutch Burgher Union, for example).  The smile of a person who is not longer here to smile. The tear that didn’t move you in the eye that is forever closed.  The child whose request you ignored but you cannot attend to now because she is no longer child.  Such things appear from nowhere.  At the strangest places and at the most unexpected of times. 

Last night, that’s the night of July 7, 2010, I was on the land-side of Galle Road, between the Savoy and the Wellawatte Junction, waiting for my friend Jayanath Bodahandi, who had run across to the bank to withdraw some money.  Two things happened. First, I remembered being sent to banks to cash cheques written by my mother and sometimes by my father. Tokens. Waiting. Two hour chores that take just a few minutes now. We forget the inconveniences that conveniences replace.  Like the long queues of the ration-days of the 70s. Like the every-moment anxieties before the LTTE was defeated.

We forget, I realized, waiting for Bodhi, the trees we cut so that we can build a road that gets us from here to there and to nowhere and everywhere faster so that we can do something or everything, anything or nothing.  We don’t see the trees that stood on the roads we walk.  We don’t see the teachers who gave us words and thoughts and skills and ways of engaging.  We don’t see our parents when we look at ourselves in the mirror and we don’t see ourselves in our children or vice versa. We have seeing moments that are myopic and ‘blindnesses’ that illuminate.

I was waiting for Bodhi for a long time. I noticed a man seated on the pavement, his back against a wall.  ‘Mendicant’ I read.  I saw immediately all the beggars who’ve been mysteriously murdered over the past few months. I saw this middle-aged, emaciated man, scratching his matted hair, one leg raised and shaking uncontrollably.  I remembered amputees and how they are said to suffer terribly from the itch from the limb-part that’ gone forever.  I remembered that I have two feet. 

I remembered a line from Simon Navagaththegama’s ‘Sansaara aaranyaye dadayakkaraya (The Hunter in the Wilderness of Sansara).  Simon was describing place. The Mullegama Gal Kanda and the jungle that surrounded it.  It was jungle, he wrote. Then the jungle was ‘covered’ he said by civilization.  Then, yet again, civilization was re-covered by the forest. Time passes. Things immortal get obliterated. We all pass on although we are all convinced that passing-on moment is not going to arrive today. 

What is the name of the book that helped shape notions of good and bad and distinguishing lines?  No, not religious books.  Story book. I remembered Lassana Vasilissa (Vasilissa the Beautiful).  I remembered the chess game that I was winning but lost and all the lessons I’ve learnt from things that didn’t arrive, couldn’t arrive and were pushed aside in my ignorance and arrogance. 

I asked if I should look more carefully at what’s around me.  I realized this is silly.  Things have a logic of their own and sometimes will not visit just because we send invitation.  We have ‘eyes’ at particular times, not a moment before and not a moment after.  We could, theoretically obtain something on account of striving, but there will always be something else that we will forego as a result.

Right now I am drinking a cup of tea.  I am seeing tea leaf and bead of sweat. I am seeing a forest that existed and is not gone and the forest that will someday recover its traditional homeland or else the desert that will arrive to punish us for our greed and arrogance. 

Moments. Interesting things. They make us see things. Even when our eyes are closed.
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