25 October 2014

Seven years old for 87 years!

The last light streamed through the window.  Soft light deflected off walls, filtered through leaves – the kind of light that has a way of silencing day-end’s inevitable cacophony.   It entered a small room in the way truth enters our hearts – without announcement or fanfare, naked as innocence and in utmost silence.  We don’t ask questions, we don’t demand identity cards or request credentials. We just know.  It was that kind of late afternoon, and I thought to myself, ‘blessed indeed is one who experiences such visitation on a daily basis’.

She lives alone.  She’s 87.  Lonely is probably a condition she’s never known.  She hasn’t aged in 80 years.  She’s 7 years old but you won’t say that if you are encountering her for the first time.

I met her for the first time about 12 years ago.  I’ve seen her many times since.  She has not aged.  I encountered her more than 40 years ago.  Sybil Wettasinghe or rather her heart which she made public through word and illustration is one of my earliest memories.  It’s the same for thousands upon thousands.  Those words never age.  And she keeps writing them even now, with the very same colors and lines and yet it’s as though you are reading them for the very first time.  That’s how she has remained 7 years old for eight decades, I am convinced.

She stands by her drawing board.  It’s full of ink marks.  There are no ‘splashes’ though.  Names, thoughts and telephone numbers are all over the square before her but it’s all so neat.  Like her house. Like her life. Like her heart and mind. 

I went with my two daughters, one almost 14 and the other just 11.  She gave them signed copies of her books.  They’ve known her all their remembered lives. They are not fully conscious of the ‘legend’ element of her persona but that’s a burden that comes later.  For now, they were fascinated by her and her books.  We talked. They read.  They looked around.  

Sybil Nanda says the most wonderful things in the simplest ways possible.  I was wondering who took care of her.  I wouldn’t have had I understood her better.  She said, ‘When I am alone I become my friend and I feel so beautiful!’  Nothing I’ve heard in my entire life has rung as true.  She is truly beautiful and so very young.   She has all the curiosity of a 7 year old.  Her eyes are as full of wonderment at the world around her.  Part of it is the architecture and the chance intersection of room-location, room-feel and the built and natural elements outside.  But most of it has to do with the eyes.  Not everyone’s eyes light up on the ‘feel’ inscribed on a place by the particular ‘weight’ of sunlight at a particular time of the day.  She smiles all the time and her voice seems eternally coated with the chirpiness only a child can have.  

Now someone might see narcissism in the claim ‘when I am alone I become my friend,’ but Sybil Nanda I feel was saying something deeply philosophical.  What is friendship after all if it is not about knowing, about empathy, about comfort, about rejoicing and commiseration?  We seek all these things outside because we are a species that really finds it tough to deal with our solitude.  This little girl, on the other hand, seems to have sorted that one out without breaking a sweat.  Perhaps this is because she is a little girl who didn’t grow up or couldn’t grow up or wouldn’t grow up because she saw no reason to do so.

It reminded me of what Jesus of Nazareth said: ‘Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to me – for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’  Growing up, then, amounts to disqualifying oneself from entering heaven or put another way relinquishing birthright. 

About 30 years ago, in a fit of frustration at my father’s ways, I blurted out probably one of the unkindest things I’ve ever said: ‘you are in your second childhood!’  He smiled and responded, ‘that’s ok…children are innocent.’

There was sunlight streaming through a window one late afternoon.  Whatever science might say I am convinced that it was drawn to a child who has the rare gift to illuminate in much the same way – without announcement or fanfare, with utmost innocence and in words so soft they might be mistaken for silence. 



Anonymous said...

I actually wept having read this emotionally-charged piece.

Anonymous said...

"The last light streamed through the window." - reminded me of a poem you once wrote. This was the most beautiful article, and about such a beautiful person I love. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

How do you do that??? Putting others'thoughts into words?

Malinda Seneviratne said...

All I do is write down my thoughts.