30 January 2015

Ruwan Bandujeewa offers poetic drops of intoxication

BOOK REVIEW: මීළඟ මීවිත’ (‘Meelanga Meevitha’ or ‘The Next Wine’) a collection of poems by Ruwan Bandujeewa, an author-publication.

Almost twenty five years ago Krishantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta gave me a book titled ‘Rivers have sources, trees have roots’.  So much time has passed that I remember only the title but not the content.  Kris is an excavator.  He never gets excited about what is, but rather sees it all as outcome.  Therefore he digs out roots, follows waterway back to source. 

I remembered the title of that book as I read Ruwan Banjujeewa’s මීළඟ මීවිත’ (‘Meelanga Meevitha’ or ‘The Next Wine’).  The poems speak of history, the unseen, the hidden, roots and sources of things beautiful and celebrated, sad and lamented.  Indeed the poet acknowledges at the outset that this is what his work is all about:

Although from afar arm in arm they appear to be
’Tween every two mountains a gap there has to be
Streamlet, river and gust of wind from there must flow
Many flowers breathe therefore in the valley below.’

He sees mountain from a distance but perceives pass as well.  He sees flower at his feet and knows that color and tenderness are etched by winds that came from far away.  He knows that important and pleasing as it is to describe well petal and texture, fragrance and hue, important too (and equally pleasurable) is the deconstruction of the ‘seen’ to its constituent parts as well as processed that yielded it.  He says this in several poems.

ඇළ හොඳින් හැඳ පැළඳ
ඇවිද යයි කුඹුරු මැද

වැව අරෙහෙ නිදි නැතිව
මේ ඇඳුම් මහපු බව
කිසිම වී කරලකට
ඇළ කියා නැත තවම

The Canal

Well dressed
the canal moves
‘tween the paddies

That day and night
the reservoir toils
these garments to stitch
not to a single ear of rice
has the canal whispered

This is a succinct explication of the culture of silence related to the political economy of production.  Labor in short is not only unacknowledged, but is deliberately hidden.  The product is seen and purchased/experienced but the absenting of process is necessary for sustained celebration of product-marketer.  He says so much in the above lines. 
The world is bursting with metaphors that can be employed to talk of anything under the sun, but Bandujeewa uses these to speak of and to the margins and the underlying.  For example in ‘සේද මාවත’ (The Silk Road).
පෙර අපරදිග යන දෙපැත්තේ
කිමද කිසි සඳහනක් නැත්තේ
සේද මාවත ඔස්සේ  --සේද සළුවක් පොරවන්
ඇවිද ආ පටපනුවකු පිළිබඳව?

On either side of the East-West link
We find no mention, nothing at all
Nothing of a worm that made its way
Wrapped in garments made of silk
Why not?

The thought is fascinating.  The unraveling is sweet.  There is however untidiness in composition and this is a pity for the poet is so clearly equipped to smooth such things given the fact that he is endowed with the vocabulary and the ability to roll out lyric effortlessly.  This haste (what else could it be?) is evident in other poems as well but the poet in his maturing will no doubt sort out this niggle. That aside, he not only notes the ‘absenting’ but follows with the consequences for the absented.
මැරුණු පටපණුවෙකුගේ පැටියෙක්
සේද පිලිබඳ හීන නොදැකම
අඳුරු මල්බෙරි පඳුරු අස්සේ
ගැහි ගැහී හීතලට ගුලිවෙයි.

A baby worm cuddles to the cold
Under the dark mulberry bush
Shivers and shivers
Never dreams any silken dreams.

Labor is not privileged to consumer its own product.  Bandujeewa has captured in these few lines chunks of Marxist theory – the Labor Theory of Value as well as the complexities pertaining to the concept of alienation. 

Absence, the absent and absenting, as well as the residue yielded by the process, are obviously not the preserve of the broad subject political economy.  The poet uses similar metaphors and depictive instruments to speak of other kinds of loss.


ගඟේ මුහුණත්
මගේ මුහුණත්
බොහෝ කලකින්

මගේ මුහුණට එබී බැලු ගඟ
ඇඟිලි තුඩකින් කසා තම හිස
මාව හඳුනා ගන්නා ලකුණක්
හොයන බව මට වැටහුණා

සොඳුර ඔබ මා එක්ව වර මිස
වෙන වෙනම දැක පුරුදු නැති ගඟ
තවත් මොහොතක් බලාගෙන හිඳ
වංගුවක් ගෙන හැංගුනා


The river’s face met mine
It was after a long, long time.

The river peered into my face
Scratched with fingertip its head
Looking for a sign
Something to charge recollection.

Dear one, the river saw us
Never one of us, and un-used
to solitary reflection paused
a moment and then
turned a bend and hid.

Most of the poets one finds on the web (Bandujeewa in a way is a poet birthed by the website www.boondi.com where poets and poetry-lovers find one another, inspire, critique and learn) falls prey to the pathetic fallacy.  The irony is so lachrymose that it is nausea-inducing.  But here the engagement with context is refreshingly different.  There’s a straightforwardness into which is woven irony, an acknowledgment of loss that is almost accepting and yet lamented because the world will not recognize ‘the left behind’.  Similar sentiments are expressed in ‘ඇඳලා දෙනවද මතක හැටියට?’ (Could you draw as you recall?)

සුදු වලාකුළු කිහිපයක් සහ
කන්ද මුදුනේ උන්නු පුරසඳ
කපා ගත්තෙමි කතුරකින්

හෙන්දිරික්ක මල් වගේකුත්
කඩා ගත්තෙමි පඳුරකින්

කළු පැහැති කඩදාසියක් මත
ඉහල කෙළවර අලෙව්වෙමි සඳ
වලාකුළු සහ මල් ද අලවා
තබමි තැන තැන පුංචි පිනි කැට

පාට කූරක් අරන් ඇවිදින්
මෙන්න මේ කදාදසියේ මැද
අන්දලා දෙනවද මතක හැටියට
හිටපු හැටි අපි දෙන්නා සඳ යට

With a scissor I cut
out the full moon
as it rested upon a mountain
I cut out also a few white clouds

Gathered too from a bush
a bunch of hendirikka blooms

At the top corner
of a black piece of paper
the moon I pasted
pasted the clouds
and the flowers too
here and there sprinkled I
a few drops of dew

Now come with a piece of colored chalk
now as you remember
on this paper draw
right here in the middle
how under this moon
you and I lay

Now let’s consider ‘පොරි අහුරක්’ (A handful of popcorn):
ජින් බෝතල් තුනෙන්
දෙක හමාරක් ම
නුවර වැවට
ඉතිරි ටික මට

වැව, නුඹ
වෙරි විය යුතුය

කතා කළ හැක

මතකද ඇය
මුලින් ම
පොරි අහුරක්
වීසි කල මොහොත
නුඹේ දිය රැළි මතට    

Into the Kandy Lake
emptied I
of three bottles of gin
two and a half
the rest
for me

You, lake
must get drunk
this day

For then
can we talk

Of that moment
when for the first time
a handful of popcorn
onto your waves
she tossed.

This is so evocative of the Sufi mystics and their poetry that it is utterly intoxicating, especially for those who know that love is made of both ආනන්දය (‘aanandaya’ or bliss) and වේදනාව (‘vedanaava’ or pain).  Moment of encounter and its aftermath, both, intoxicate.  This the poet tell us.  Moreover, given that most people at one time or another have tossed out and drunk from mindless feeling, Badujeewa gathers a community.  That’s what poets and poetry does. 

Throughout the book, the poet shows a tendency to move back from moment and encounter, incident and history, to a point that yields perspective.  He would be an impressionist if he didn’t have a nose for history, the eyes to obtain nuance and most importantly the ability to excavate the absent.  It is not all sorrow and pain and solitude, though.   He is not prescriptive but clearly does not despair about the future for the post celebrates the agency of the ‘marginal’ or the ‘hidden’ or deliberately unrecognized, for example in ‘සැපකි - සතුටකි’ (A joy, a pleasure)

තවත් එක පඹයෙක් හදන්නට
ගිහින් එක්කහු වෙනවා වෙනුවට
උපත් කමතට පොහොර වෙන එක
සැපකි සතුටකි පිදුරු ගසකට

A single straw can join the rest
And help make yet another scarecrow
But greater joy it is to make fertile
the threshing field of its birth

Ruwan Bandujeewa, then, offers us a collection of poetry that adds to a growing corpus of wonderful Sinhala literature produced by his generation, empowering us to believe that the future of this country in all respects is in safe hands.  It is a collection of poems about faraway mountains which appear to be strung tight together but which contain passes for word-winds to flow through and down to a valley to touch readers and help them breathe. 

Breath.  It is important.  For a human being.  For a collective.  We await the next glass of poetic wine, even as we resist holding our breath. 

See also 'At the intersection of love and justice,' a review of Saumya Sandaruwan Liyanage's හැටේ වත්තේ මග්දලේනා ’ ('Hetewatte Magalena' or 'Magdalene of Colony 60'),