26 November 2015

The ‘undersiding’ of an embroidery

A telephone conversation floats down from the year 1990.  I can’t remember whether I made the call or if Kanishka Goonewardena did.  He was in Los Angeles and I in Boston.  We were both students and both having a tough time with respect to heart-matters.  I think we discussed how one cannot really articulate sorrow or be talked out of it.  ‘Kaniya’ insisted, though: ‘Give me a word machang, just one; or give me a thousand pictures!’

We laughed.  I think that helped us trip sorrow at least for a while and long enough to talk about other things.

Kanishka was twisting a well known phrase, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’.  Word captures so little of landscape, I’ve often lamented.  So little of all landscapes, I should add, for words try to gather river and mountain, rock and pebble, sky and cloud, light and shade and also the articulation of these things in people, their interactions, in their tenderness and volatility, heart and heartlessness, togetherness and self-absorption, the sharing and selfishness, dream and dreamscape, reality and distortion.  There are times when the images are so vivid and numerous that I wonder why I bother to use word.  It is more noble to be silent, I feel, considering how flawed word-representation can be, in the representing and in the misreading it feeds. 

I think of cartoons and political commentaries and conclude that the accomplished cartoonist is a superior article than his/her column-writing counterpart. I am not talking about those any-old-joker types who can play with line and space, throw some witticism and believe they are producing political cartoons of course.  I am thinking of exponents of the art such as the incomparable Wijesoma of ‘Punchi Singho’ fame, Shantha K Herrath, Dasa Hapuwalana etc.

It is the same with photographs.  I see a photograph that cuts my arteries even as it unclogs blood-stream and see in the play of object, line, space, colour, light, shadow and frame a poem or a piece of exquisite music.  They make me want to write a poem that makes it ridiculous for me to ever write again and I try to too. I fail again and again.  I feel that one cannot write a poem to describe a poem and that certain photographs are so poetic that they resist poetic rendering in the form of word. 

A picture is worth a thousand words but even the most versatile word-smith would be hard pressed to gather the thousand words in an order that does justice to the image in the matter of ‘equivalencing’.  Of course one doesn’t have to use all 1000 words; I don’t think that was what was meant. I think the line refers to the fact that you need a 1000-word pool to work with in order to get the 5 or 10 or 20 or 100 or 999 needed to ‘capture’ image in word.  Or even all of them, yes. 

I’ve wondered if words, not one but say 5-10 or even a book-worth of them, can conjure in the mind of a reader images as sharp, vivid, colourful, made-for-meditation etc as would a singularly profound photograph in the mind of a viewer.  Words are image-generators, there’s no doubt about this; but just as wordless music can take one to places that are beyond description, so too does the image make irrelevant the word. 

These are days of digital-assistance when it comes to photography. These are days of Photoshop and other software made to play with whatever one ‘gathers’ by viewing ‘viewer’ and clicking shutter.  These are days when technology can shave off the mediocrity-edges of a bad photographer.  Well, the connoisseurs will know, but then again, as long as sufficient numbers are fooled, the mediocre really don’t give a damn.  But then again there’s photography and photography, photographs and photographs.

I was stunned recently when I saw some photographs taken by someone who insists she is an amateur who is still in the baby-stage of photography.  Natalie Soysa’s Facebook album titled ‘Urban Fragments’ was truly amazing.  They made me see architecture with different eyes, taught me that the eye can frame in astounding and simple ways that turn the most ordinary thing into something utterly magical to behold.  Unfortunately Natalie is not around; I wanted to get her permission to share a couple of pictures with the Daily News readership. 

More recently, I was privileged to see the photography of Hiranya Malwatta.  I am not student enough to compare and contrast, but these photographs moved me in very much the same way.  There is so much to see around us. So much poetry, short stories, novellas and novels. There are so many screenplays waiting to be written, so many plays awaiting playwrights and philosophies patiently anticipating sages who have language and silence to obtain, synthesize and share. 

I cannot render these things into poetry that does justice to photograph, photographer and the object(s) captured.  Read the following therefore as the underside of an embroidery, the poor transliteration of a great work of art by an unqualified translator lacking fluency in both languages. It is the best I can do.

There are worlds out there
in colour and shade
contoured and free
made of elements
named but unseen;
there's a universe
that pours from your eyes 
that draws mind wave
from the depths of the deepest oceans
to break at your feet,
with penitence and request
for residency 
in that singular vantage point
of heart-mind intersect;
to see the ways of re-mapping
and to inhabit the most ancient lands
with paint so fresh
it is 'news'.

Kanishka will prefer an image fragment, I am sure.


This was first published in the 'Daily News', November 26, 2010