30 July 2014

There are countries that wait for us if we want them to…

Pic by Tharindu Amunugama (Thabbowa)
Places are made of people.  They are also made of songs and melodies, words and lines.  Moments are also similarly made. ‘Times’ too.  We hear a song or a particular configuration of words and immediately something is triggered and for a moment we take flight to an individual, an encounter, a place or a particular period in our lives; we realize then that all these things are signature and that signature can come in the form of melody or fragrance, poetry or conversation fragment, a glance or gaze.   

A few days ago my friend Harith Gunawardena, compulsive song-giver, sent me a link.  Milton Mallawaarachchi’s ‘Aetha Ran Kelum Atharin…’. Took me to Boston.  Took me back to the late80s and a time of divorce, depression and frustration on account of being away and being unable to stop a time and a process.  Those were bheeshanaya years, terrible times for anyone who was unfortunate enough to be young, had eyes and friends who were marked out for slaughter.  Terrible time for the victims too of course.  And their loved ones.  

Far away in Boston, I was visited and revisited by the real and imagined. There were fragmented telephone calls, code-word conversations and the sighs only the helpless could sigh.  Studies helped. Classes, assignments, exams and deadlines were good distractions of course.  But true consolation, I now realize, came from occasional gatherings of Sri Lankans where conversation would be laced with familiar flavors and singing.  That’s how Milton’s song arrived.  Suranga Fonseka brought it to me.  

Suranga, with whom I later shared a flat, had a guitar. He had and still has a lovely voice.  And smile.  It was a simple melody that touched.  Simple melody and simple lyrics.  On the face of it, a man expressing feelings for/to a woman.  A man wanting a woman to return his love.  The ambience was rural, familiar and one might even say something bound to prompt nostalgia for places visited, histories conscious of and ways of life longed for.  

Maybe it was all that, the ‘embedded’ part of the lyrics, that struck.     Two lines stand out.  
මගේ පැතුම ඔබේ පැතුම් මල් පූදින්නයි  (My wish is to see your wishes fulfilled)
මං එනතුරු දීග නොයන් මගෙ රන් මැණි්කේ (Wait for me, my love)

That’s transliteration of course. The metaphoric reading perhaps a product of political and ideological predilection persuaded me to think that this was about nation.  It was, in that interpretation, a love song of a patriot.  All for the nation.  It was about a nation held hostage and for this reason was less ours and therefore an entity we did not belong to in the ways we would have liked.  It was therefore an appeal for a land (and everything pregnant in that word) to be patient. It was a pledge to self: I will return.  I will be claimed by a nation and I will reclaim birthright of belonging.  

That’s stretching it, one might say.  This is Sri Lanka. This is the year 2014.  That was Sri Lanka and the year was 1989.  Different?  In a way, yes.  And yet, we are still reading a book of pledges and unfulfilled promises, flowers that were meant to bloom but have not. Yet.   

But let’s forget all that.  It’s still a love song.  A song that brought back memories.  A song that asserts a moment that has endured through tumultuous events and the twisting of times.  It was a slower time, some might say.  But time is slow. Always.  Perhaps it is because we don’t have a pulse on the pulse-rate of a society, culture, heritage and other things that can be footnoted, but not erased that we get the reading wrong, thinking ‘fast’ when in fact it’s neither slower or faster.  The song moves slowly from line to line and maybe it’s because of this that it entered without intruding, stayed without invitation and delights, inspires and calms even now, just as it did a quarter of a century ago.  

Harith tells me that there’s only one recording of that song.  It’s enough.  It is enough because it is a song that was written long before Milton was born and has not died although it’s been 16 years since Milton passed on.  

පාලූ පැලේ පැල් රකින්න මට තනියට කවි කියන්න මං එනතුරු දීග නොයන් මගෙ රන් මැණි්කේ ….the lyricist beseeches.    There are songs, indeed, that  keep us company in our chosen and forced solitudes.  There are companions who we want to be in our lives.  We don’t want them to leave.  Ran Menika could stay. She could go. Countries are not like that.  The going and coming is our choice.  If we stay, there will be music.  If we leave, there will still be other songs of course.  Not ours.  Suranga sings very well.  He introduced me to James Taylor and returned me to the Eagles.  Those songs live with me.  But others live better and among the more comfortably resident is this, Milton Mallawaarachchi’s ‘Aetha ran kelum atharin…’

රන් කැලූම් අතරින්,
සිහින තරු කසුන් යායේ 
මගේ පැතුම ඔබේ පැතුම් 
මල් පූදින්නයි 

පැලෙන් එහා ඈත කැලේ, 
දං බෝවිටි හිබුටු කැලේ 
හවස තනිව යන්න එපා, 
මගෙ රන් මැනිකේ 

පාලූ පැලේ පැල් රකින්න,
මට තනියට කවි කියන්න, 
මා එනතුරු දීග නොයන් 
මගේ රන් මැනිකේ


h. said...

I really really love this piece. and lakes. and boats on deep lakes.