04 December 2012

Rhapsody of blueness

There is water and there are water songs.  All kinds of water songs.  All kinds of water bodies in words and musical arrangement.  That’s not unusual, considering that no poet looking for a metaphor or moved by what his or her eyes chances upon can escape water; water after all covers most of the earth’s surface.  In fact we are mostly water-made.  It runs in us and through us.  Just like air, but unlike air we see water, we feel it and we feel its absence acutely.  Air, on the other hand, even polluted air, is there (for now). 

Water cleans.  Water heals.  Gives and gives.  We know it is scarce for all its apparent abundance, and so we price it and we steal it.  It is our first elemental touch and for some it is water that receives the post-death remains.
Some songs are about waters, some just descriptions and some have but a water-trace, a metaphorical dash to straighten out a crooked line or untidy thought.  Each song has its merits and demerits of course, but certain water songs are unforgettable when I think of social, cultural and economic dimensions.  Among them is Karunaratne Divulgane’s ‘Kala wawe nil diyawara’ (The blue waters of the Kala Wewa).  

Gamata kalin hiru muluthengeta vadinaa
E hitu eliye nena mal podi pipuna
E mal suwande ada lowthuru suwa vindinaa
Kala wewe nil diyawara ape amma

It’s about the worth of a mother.  She is the sun, the lyrics explain, that rises first in the kitchen long before that other sun casts its first rays on the village.  It is that sunlight which gives life to little blossoms of wisdom.  This mother is likened to the waters of the Kala Wewa, arguably one of the finest irrigation works in the country and in the world. 

Mothers are priceless and therefore the assessment of a mother’s worth is necessarily an exercise of approximation.  The sun cannot be priced and to a Sri Lankan with even the remotest sensitivity to root and genealogy the Kala Wewa too is priceless. 
The sentiments are echoed in other songs, perhaps few as eloquent as one from a different time, sung by Nanda Malini:

Kala weven gath diya dothak se
Vatee vatee oba matame vatee
It is not about ‘mother’.  It is about love, nevertheless; the romantic kind, another of those ‘priceless’ things that human beings encounter.  Again the reference is to the Kala Wewa.  The ‘love’ or rather the worth of love, is likened to a handful of water taken from the Kala Wewa.

If Sri Lanka is a corporeal entity of a kind its blood is blue in color.  And that’s not because a map showing the rivers of the country looks like a host of blue threads from a geographically central mountainous heart and draws along all directions to the surrounding seas.   It is also dotted by innumerable blues, from tiny ponds (polkatu wevas) to kulu weva, gam wewa, wewa, maha wewa and the biggest body of them all, the sea.   If blue is one color, green is the other.  We are and have been an agricultural people dating back to several centuries before that ace rascal Vijaya set foot in Thammannar.  When we are done with our industrial adventure, when the oceans have risen, and the rain that was once transparent, but now red, turns into other colors, when the finger-pointing over carbon emissions has run its course, we will once again look to the earth for the answers we erased from our handbooks of life and which our ancestors didn’t write down but knew and lived. 
We will look for water. 

A friend told me a few days ago about his childhood.  He had been born with a diyasuliya or one of those peculiar twirls atop the head read by the credulous as death-by-water.  As a child he would be perched on a tree, watching the waters of the Gin Ganga.  He would watch the rafts coming downstream from Baddegama.  He saw red flowers floating along not knowing where the currents would take them.  Years later Bandula Nanayakkarawasam, one of our foremost Sinhala lyricists, found many ways of working all these things into his songs.  Years later he would write a column which was part biographical where he described all these things.  And he would suffer the ignominy of having his nieces and nephews reading them, calling him a barefaced liar.  The Gin Ganga at that point was a mere trickle. Time and development had done all that. 

We are losing are water and what we haven’t lost is being purchased directly or indirectly by multinationals peopled by and serving  faraway lands and communities who wouldn’t care one bit if we lived or died. 
The world will one day finish fighting over oil.  Then the world will fight over water. 

I remember a dry time in one of the driest pocket in the Dry Zone, a cluster of villages off the Ella-Anuradhapura road, about 3 kilometers north of Galgamuwa.  Each village had a wewa.  I spent a couple of months on a project to rehabilitate these wewas.  It was basically an exercise in repairing the bunds and the sluices.  One day it rained.  Hard.  The rain swallowed up the radiating cracks on the dust bowls these wewas had been turned into.  That ‘dry’ was nothing like the ‘dry’ of other parts of the world.  Our ‘Dry Zone’ is quite ‘wet’, in comparison to places labeled ‘dry’ by climatologists.  There was enough green in the shrub jungles and home gardens.  The rain re-painted it all in a deeper green all the more enhanced by a fresh bursting of light green leaves. 

Water changes the faces of people who understand it.  It rains and they break into smiles that are beyond description.  Asoka Handagama has captured it all, i.e. both the physical and social agency, transformation and determinant that is water in his teledrama ‘Diyaketapahana’, telecast about fifteen years ago.
We curse the drought.  We curse the end of drought when it is followed by unceasing rains. We don’t curse ourselves.  Even if we didn’t curse ourselves we still don’t do the can-do things, the little-drops  of the ditty that talks about how the mighty oceans are made.  We just leave the tap running while we brush our teeth, we leave un-fixed the faucet that leaks, we water gardens to add a shade of green when the dew would look after that ‘fixing’.  And we cut down trees.  And we say nothing when they are cut in the name of city-beautification or development for we can’t wait to go from A to B in half the time we used to.  We are too lazy to plant a tree.

Mothers carry us not just for the length of womb-time but all our lives. They give.  There comes a time when they are too frail and we are powerless to give them back the strength they lost.  The earth is like that.  The Kala Wewa is our mother.  Dunhina is our mother.  The Mahaweli is our mother.  The drop of water that was not noticed…that too is our mother.
Our mother is blue in color. She is beautiful.  She is not immortal. 

There is a thing called matricide.  There is a word called matricidal.  These refer to the murder of one’s mother.  We cannot have enough of ‘Mother’.  We can look at her forever. We can take pictures. We can write poetry about her.  We take refuge in her.  She takes care of us.  Not forever.  All things are born, they decay and they perish.  These waters too and so too the air we breathe.  That inevitability does not necessarily mean that our life’s goal is to hasten it. 
We are a young planet that might also die young.  At the rate we are polluting our fresh water that young-death might be sooner than we believe.  ‘Sooner’ here means within the lifetime of our children. 

The happiest days of my life are those spent watching water.   All the wewas I’ve been to and bathed in have cooled and healed.  Rivers and rivulets too. Irrigation canals and drains around the house have been ready carriers of paper boats and tossed leaves.  The rain, whatever the size of drop or rate of fall, has always blue-blooded my streams of consciousness.  The sea has dwarfed me many times, thankfully. 

Water is a song.  Water is for singing.  Dirge, though, is also a song.  We should not get to that kind of singing, but we might. 
[Pics by Hiranya Malwatta]


SANDIKA said...

a poem. poems within a poem. poetry within poetry. all the texts are made of water. an article a blue-full.

Hiranya Malwatta said...

This piece made me think of my father a lot. The mention of Gin Ganga brought to mind how he used to write about his beloved Bem Ganga often that flowed next to his village. He doesn't write anymore. But he is still a water person. So am I.

Sharing with you a few lines he wrote a very long time ago. This is the ending of a longer කවි පන්තිය.

බෙන්තර ගඟේ ඉඳ හිට ඔරු පැදෙනවද
ඒ ගැමි සොඳුරු බව ගම තුළ තිබෙනවද
වන පෙත් වැලි තලා මට අත වනනවද
මගෙ ආදරය ගම තවමත් සොයනවද?