31 March 2015

The curtain opens on the exit of the perfect bohemian

Pasan Kodikara’s mortal remains would have been cremated by the time this piece appears in print.  On Tuesday, in the funeral parlor, Pasan lay with a smile decorating the corner of his lip as though he was amused by the ins and outs around him.  One didn’t know for sure whether to laugh or cry. 

He was writer, a translator of several important works including Charles Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species’ and Boris Bulgakov’s ‘Master and Margarita’, a playwright and a university lecturer.  Those who associated him closely would recount hundreds of Pasan-stories.  Here’s one. 

Pasan and some friends ended spending the night at Udaya Rajapaksa’s house after a long session of conversation and alcohol.  The following morning when they awoke they were all reluctant to get off the mats they had slept on.  They were lying there, talking.  At one point someone said ‘we should get up now’.  Pasan had said ‘ha…ehema karala vath balamu hari yaida kiyala!’ (Ok, let’s do that and see if that, at least, works).  Wry humor.  Deeply philosophical Pasan Kodikara, through and through.

He’s gone now.  He has left a soft footprint in many hearts and along many pathways, literary and otherwise.  So soft that it will take some effort to obliterate or worse, it is so soft that we don’t know if he’s passed. 

Deepthi Kumara Gunaratne, speaking of Pasan, said that people talk about his (Pasan’t) drinking but don’t ask why he drank.  He offered that there were two parallel processes at work in Pasan’s life in a knowing or unknowing search for ‘The Real’.  First the pursuit of the pleasure principle and secondly a death-drive. 

Janaka Inimankada said that Pasan liked alcohol but was no drunkard.  He concurred with many of Pasan’s friends by observing that Pasan remains undefined and resisting of definition.  In this society, Janaka said, there’s no box or frame into which Pasan’s life can be fitted to perfection: ‘Every writer likes to think he or she is somehow out of the mainstream or is not amenable to definition but only Pasan was like that’.  He was ‘odd’ or, in Pasan’s own words ‘out’.   That was drawn from a blogpost authored by KK Saman Kumara aka ‘Sarpaya’. 

Once, while in Deniyaya, Pasan had been taking a walk with Sarpaya.  In Colombo, children tend to hide when they see Sarpaya, apparently.  That day there saw children hiding behind their mothers when they saw Pasan.  Pasan had said, ‘මචං අපිව මෙහෙට පොඩ්ඩක් අවුට් වගේ නේද?’ (we are a bit ‘out’ here aren’t we?).  A little while later, he adds, ‘කොහොමත් අපිව එහෙටත් අවුට්නෙ’ (in any case we are ‘out’ even there’).  He knew he didn’t fit in. 

Upul Shantha Sannasgala also referred to this ‘out’.  ‘People like Pasan who are counter-cultural cannot live in an “acultural’ social setting such as what we find here.  He didn’t fit in here. When his Russian girlfriend came here to take him back he didn’t want to go for he didn’t fit in there either.  He died a long time ago.’  Prasanna Jayakody said the same thing in different words: ‘In a corporeal sense he died a long time ago, he was alive only in the words and those aren’t dead’. 

He was for many the ultimate and perfect Bohemian.  Nandana Weeraratne opines that Pasan was the only person he knew who lived in and for the moment.  There was no before and no after.  He didn’t subscribe to anything that was ordered.  He was irreverent.  As Sisira Edirippulige noted, Pasan pursued only that which he believed in. One might add, ‘at that particular moment’.  He wasn’t scared to abandon things.  He wasn’t scared to be who he was.  No apologies, no caveats.

He pursued nothing, but things and people came after him.  His friends agreed that he always had to deal with some pretty unsavory debt-collectors.  They drove him to translation, i.e. not what he wanted to translate but what he had to do to get the money he needed.  He didn’t even want his name mentioned in the countless little translation assignments he undertook. 

And yet he was, according to many including Nandana, Janaka and Jagath Marasinghe the best translator of Russian works.  Whereas many used the ‘English hook’ to translate into Sinhala works in other languages, Pasan’s knew Russian like a Russian.  But translation was not his passion, theater was.  Unfortunately, as he had often mentioned, there were no actors in Sri Lanka for him to work with.  It was the wrong time for Pasan, perhaps. 

But then again, the moment, whatever it was and wherever it was, belonged to Pasan and he belonged to it.  This is why he could tell Sarpaya the last time the two had met, ‘අපේ හමුවීම සුන්දරයි. ආර්ට් කොච්චර කැත වුණත් මේ හමුවීම සුන්දරයි. ආයිත් හම්බවෙමු.’ (This meeting is sweet…however ugly art is, this meeting is sweet…let’s meet again’).   

And so they all came to the funeral parlor to pay respects, be with, reflect on, cry or laugh with and over Pasan.  No one really knew Pasan and he lived a life that was quite nondescript.  And yet, it was as though there was no one who didn’t know him or know of him.  It was a funeral parlor.  But as Ravindra Wijewardena pointed out, it was a මල ගෙයක් (funeral house), the stress on the second word.  The entire village had gathered to grieve, individually and collectively.

If Pasan had never lived, it is equally true that he had never died and maybe this is why we are still not sure how to take this moment of departure.  He knew moment, we did not and do not and perhaps never will know.  He was ‘out’ but he is ‘in’ in death but we are ‘in’ and yet so ‘out’ (of sorts). 

Some three wheelers have the following legend: ලිඳ මගේ නම්, මම ලිඳේ නම්, කාටවත් ඇයි වේදනා?’ (if the well is mine and if I am in the well, why should it bother anyone else?’)  Let’s put it this way, for Pasan: ‘මොහොත ඔහුගේ නම්, ඔහු මොහොතේ නම්, අපට ඇයි මේ වේදනා?’ (If “the moment” belonged to him and if he inhabits it, why do we grieve?’