27 December 2014

Yala is a call for meditation

Yala is about wildlife.  That’s the story.  It is not incorrect.  I first went to Yala in 1971.  Family trip. I remember seeing peacock and jungle fowl, deer and wild buffalo. And of course elephants.  The next trip was in the late eighties.  Friends. All of the above and leopard too.  Sure, there were birds and butterflies, trees and flowers and the odd wild boar and crocodile, but it’s mostly elephant, deer and peacock.  I had different eyes then and possibly better vision too.  This time it was different and not just because of changed ecological, social, political, cultural and economic contexts.

I have the deepest respect for the natural world; just don’t claim to know much about it.  I like photographs, but I am neither photographer nor photo-critic.  I like to watch animals, but neither have the means nor the knowledge to appreciate them the way I am sure a wildlife enthusiast would. So this is not an essay about wildlife in Yala.

There were more people in Yala than there were animals, or so it seemed to me.  Perhaps it was the wrong time of the day or wrong time of the year or perhaps because there were too many vehicles on the dirt tracks in the park but we saw very little wildlife.  Didn’t upset me. 

I went with family. A big party of people.  Lots of children.  Stayed outside the park.  Governor’s Camp is a nice place.  Lots of space, clean, neat, comfortable and thankfully none of the trappings of the usual tourist hotel/lodge. Abeysinghe and Ranjith, the two man staff, did the work of 10 people and I was told they had not had any rest since the beginning of December.  They cooked, cleaned and in my case provided excellent conversation about all kinds of topics for free.   That itself was your-money’s-worth in my book, but the place offered much else besides. 

This is rain-time in Yala (and almost everywhere else in Sri Lanka!).  That was a big difference from what I remember.  Things were green.  Not just not-brown green, but all-shades green.  A roll of gaze from left to right would in one sweep give me such colour variation that I wished I was a painter. Or photographer. 

One didn’t have to move around to find things that fascinate eye and provoke meditation, I found.  Well, that’s true of all places, even the most congested road, crowded market place or a garbage dump can ‘give’ in like manner; but these tidbits for the eye came clothed in a pollution free wrapper made of birdsong, breeze, brick-less surroundings and uninterrupted play of light and shade.  Made a difference.

I suppose everyone takes something and hopefully leaves nothing behind that is not biodegradable.  There’s a lot one takes from empty spaces and a lot from places relatively untouched by human beings.  Yala is a goldmine. Sorry, every square inch of that place is a goldmine.  This is not the moment or place to draw a map and mark in detail the treasure-filled spaces.  Indeed, I am not a surveyor equipped with relevant tools to do justice to such a project.  I will just write a few paragraphs about what made this trip different.

Stone.  On the beach.  From the finest grain of sand through pebbles crafted by the fingers of three accomplished artists – wind, sand and water – to the mighty sentinels that have greeted sunrise from who knows when and meet in silence the touch of the elements, the whip of wave and storm as well as caress of spray and breeze.  My most worthwhile hours were made of these. No, not at Yala, strictly speaking, but a few hundred meters from Governor’s Camp.

The universe and the eternal verities were all mapped out and etched on these entities.  The story of life, the vagaries of emotion, the ambiguities of the human condition and the timeless wisdom of the Buddha’s discourse on impermanence I saw in flashes of illumination as my uncrafted eyes dwelled on and moved from signature to signature, those chiseled over aeons in the peculiar union of moment and century with sun and rain and sea and wind. 

I’ve heard that the universe is contained in a grain of sand.  I can’t say that I saw universe or really saw grain of sand, but from my perch on rock, bathed by sky, sun, the arc of bay, wide expanse of water and the myth that is horizon, I figured that all things constitute a call for meditation, an invitation to get off the particular safari-jeep (metaphorically speaking) that we are loathe to leave and stand still.  

Yala is made of wildlife.  Yala is not made of wildlife.  Yala is located at the South-Eastern corner of Sri Lanka. Yala is not in the South-Eastern corner of Sri Lanka.  Yala is a rock that is right in front of your nose, in your pocket, in the eye that catches your eye and the entwined gaze such encounter produces. 

I wished I was a photographer. A painter. Or a poet.  It is something that I want to share, this experience I mean, but I lack word and wonder also if it would matter to others. 

Perhaps I should say, ehi passiko, (‘come, see’), the invitation to contemplate the Dhamma as expounded by Siddhartha Gauthama, and leave it at that.  

*This was first published in the Daily News of December 28, 2010

Malinda Seneviratne is the Editor-in-Chief of 'The Nation' and can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com


h. said...

Made me smile. And that's a big thing. Smiled for more reasons than one :)