16 April 2015

Pasan Kodikara a poet lost in translation

'අනිත්‍යය' (Anithyaya or ‘Impermanence’) by Pasan Kodikara, author publication, 2008. Reviewed by Malinda Seneviratne.

He was known best as a translator.  An excellent translator.  His skill with words, for the most part, will be assessed in terms of what he did with texts authored by other people to make them accessible to a people those authors never encountered.  And yet, Pasan Kodikara will be remembered as much for his ways as for his way with words.  He was, as someone said, a category unto himself. 

It’s been two weeks since Pasan passed on (in a manner of speaking, that is).  In the days following his death there have been many accounts of this ‘strange’ man.  He has been described as the perfect Bohemian, a man who lived for and in ‘the moment’, a man who had actually ‘died’ a long time ago and who only lived (and continues to live) in the words he penned.   In short, his friends, associates and admirers have attempted, in all honesty of course, to capture his singular trace on this earth in terms of what he did and the way he did it, more so in the latter. 

Perhaps it is as well that very few knew that Pasan had made it easy for anyone interested in figuring him out.  That ignorance made for an interesting and probably stimulating exercise of trying to locate this unlocatable human being, a man who didn’t belong but nevertheless was considered ‘one of us’ by many.  Most importantly, in trying to pin down the human being called Pasan Kodikara, people probably discovered the perhaps uncomfortable truth of their own ‘unpinnedness’ a condition more sinister than that which Pasan inhabited because that’s the only residence he knew.  The rest of us, pinned by time’s seeming linearity, deceive ourselves about a non-existent wholesomeness of inhabiting a non-existent rootedness. 

It is in this context that the poetry of Pasan Kodikara invites review, forces reader to reconsider accepted truths and come to terms with the untenable nature of strongly expressed formulae of whose presumed and inalienable validity they swear by. 

'අනිත්‍යය' (Anithyaya or ‘Impermanence’) is a collection of poetry which comes with the subheading ‘පැදි වියමන්’  (pedi viyaman or ‘poetic text’).  The poet offers an English title too: ‘Poems of moods and thoughts’. It was published in 2008.  I would wager that anyone who reads this collection would vouch for the fact that for all the ‘living in the moment’ that Pasan was all about, the Pasan of these poems was the Pasan of all the years that went before and all the years after. 

He was acutely conscious of the poverty of expression and maybe this is why he could and would quickly disengage. 

ඇසින් ඇසට වැදෙන ඉඟිය 
සිතෙන් සිතට කිඳෙන හැඟුම 
තොලින් තොලට දැනෙන රසය 
කණට කියනු කෙලෙස!

The come-on glances from eye to eye
The feeling that sinks from mind to mind
The flavor that's savored from lip to lip
How impossible to tell from mouth to ear!

He was clearly and acutely aware of the illusions this world was made of.  His reflections on the subject are textually powerful even as they are rendered with sensitivity and finesse in his poetry. 

මායා නමැති කැඩපත ඉදිරියෙහි සිට 
දුටුවෙමි සත්‍යයේ අපමණ රූප නෙක 
වැදුනා කැඩපතට පරිනත බවෙහි ගල 
එහි සුන්බුන්වලට පිළිබිඹු මුසුව ඇත

I witnessed truth's forms countless and vivid
As I stood before the mirror named illusion
The stone of maturity crashed into mirror
And those reflections merged into the many shards.

What is most profound in this is the recognition of self itself as illusion.  He intimately understood that the breakdown of ‘self’ does not deconstruct satisfactorily but only serves to multiply illusion.  Deepthi Kumara Gunaratne has stated that in Pasan one sees two processes, that of affirming the pleasure principle and the other a constant death-wish.  The above four-line poem in the beauty of rendition is affirmation even as it is an expression of death-intent.  If Deepthi is correct, he is but pointing out something that Pasan himself acknowledged, an admission few were aware of.
The ‘indestructability’ referred to above he reflects on elsewhere as well.  Emptiness, he claims, is apparent in all things including time and death.   

ලෝකයේ කතර මත 
මිරිඟුවකි විනාශය 
කාලයේ නිරන්තර 
හිස් තැනකි අතීතය
පිපාසිත ජීවිතේ 
තොල් අතර ගැටෙන මුත් 
කිසිත් තුල නොමැත 
හිස් මරණයේ බඳුන

Destruction is a mirage
Playing in the world’s desert
The past is a blank spot
Encountered frequently in time.

It caresses lips
In the thirst of life
But there’s nothing within
Empty is the vessel of death.

The pages of the collection are full of such sentiments. One feels that this was Pasan’s constant grapple, a contention which made most things material, procedural and even social appear as meaningless to the poet.  He was, most agree, mostly a here-now-gone-now kind of person.  Transient.  Without fixed abode materially or socially.

ජීවිතය සඟලක් මිරිවැඩි 
කාලයේ මඟ මත ගෙවී යන 
කබල් වී ගැලවිලා යනු ඇත 
ලෝකයේ පාවලින් ඉවතට

Life is but a pair of shoes
Worn out on the streets of time
Decay it must and come apart
From the world's feet away

He ‘came apart’ a long time ago.  Indeed, it is as though the major part of his life was ‘worldless’ for the simple reason that the way he walked ensure that it did not take too long for his life to divorce the world or vice versa. 

And in the end, he died, this man who according to many never lived or, put another way, in the end he lived, this man who according to many died a long time ago.  Pasan wrote his own eulogy which was self-description as well as eulogy for those left behind, live and yet so dead.

ජීවත් වෙන එක් මිනිසෙක් 
බහාලූ පෙට්ටියක් 
මළ මිනිසුන් හතර දෙනෙක් 
ඔසවාගෙන යනු දුටුවෙමි

A live man
Laid down in a box
Carried by four dead men
This I did see. 

And he left us asking not so much ‘what did he see?’ as ‘what do we see?’  He left us, in this collection ironically titled ‘Impermanence’, some timeless lines.