On Friday the 23rd of August 2013, around 20 people gathered at a restaurant in Nugegoda, ‘Sanhinda’, to celebrate the 50th birthday of a man called Mohan Silva. Mohan Silva is a Chartered Architect. He has other identities too, not all of which are known to all those who encounter him. Throughout the night his friends shared with each other their personal encounters with Mohan and their tentatively definitive (no, that’s not a contradiction) view of the man.
Shiral Laktilleka who was MC-designate quoted from John Reed’s ‘Ten Days that Shook the World’, referring to a comparison of Russians and Chinese: ‘Religion is Opium for Russians; Opium is religion for the Chinese!’ Mohan (or ‘Mo Aiya’), Shiral obsvered, is a religion to man and this (he ventured) is because Mo Aiya is like Opium!There were people from all parts of the political spectrum. Diverse professional fields were represented. All these people were threaded (metaphorically and in more ways than one) to Mohan by a popular Swedish story, ‘Nail Soup’. It is about a tramp who is refused food by one and all. He changes tune and instead of asking for food, offers to share his meal. He asks for a pot and water and these are provided. He drops a nail into it, cooks story after story, saying that a pinch of salt might make it taste heavenly, and perhaps a few vegetables would make it fit for the priest, a cut of meat a meal for a king and so on. One by one, his host who professed poverty brought these ingredients out and they had the heartiest meal.
Mohan Aiya does that, everyone agreed. Just by being. Poverties are unscrambled, disparate things are stirred in a single pot of conversation, spirits are raised and something sweet, innocent and wholesome about common humanity emerges. It lifts.A hastily put together power point presentation contained the following observations about Mohan:
He’s from the historic town of puppets down south but criticizes puppets who serve whoever; although not a militant among university students he designed the memorial for those militants who laid down their lives defending truths they believed in; he means business and is absolutely professional, has no hang-ups about his gemi (village) roots, but finds more gamayas (villagers) than citizens in Colombo; he has read Marx and so he says that Marxists in this country have never read Marx; he values diversity and champions co-existence but never betrayed his nation.A few days before the ‘Nail Soup Party’ in Mohan’s honor, Bandula Chandrasekera told me that the organizers (that’s himself and Asanka Mahagederagamage) wanted to put together a slide show. He wanted me to write something. Of all those gathered, I am probably the least acquainted with the man, the last real conversation with him that I remember dating back to the early nineties, when we ‘post-mortemed’ a freezing night of little sleep and Mohan, true to form, insisted on getting the last word on everything, besting the best jokes told by fellow architect Athula. I said ‘Kanishka probably knows stuff’. Kanishka Goonewardena, classmate, architect, planner, scholar and eminently qualified to hold membership in this group, replied the email I sent him:
‘I am very sorry I cannot be there for Mohan's 50th birthday. I just moved to Berlin for a year last month, so I cannot even send you a few old photos of Mohan that I packed somewhere in a box in Toronto, especially those from our memorable trips to Horton Plains.'For the last couple of days I have been trying to think of a good joke that you could project on Powerpoint at the surprise party, but I have to admit that I have not been able to come up with anything even approaching the level of Mohan's humor. On some matters, he has indeed set the bar high, often while being high in a bar. So I thought: better to send no joke than a bad joke. I may have a good one ready at the earliest for his 75th, may be 100th. Until then, my very best wishes!
'On a more serious note, here's something written about himself by one of my favorite writes, Guy Debord, a great critic of capitalism, I quote these words because I know of no one else who could have written them except Mohan: ‘Even though I have read a lot, I have drunk even more. I have written much less than most people who write; but I have drunk much more than most people who drink’. Love, Kaniya.'
There are people like that. They conjure up amazing things, just by being; no, just by being who they are, being comfortable with who they are. People like Mohan Silva.