02 August 2017

The bodhisatva prerogatives of love

Pic courtesy 'Vintage Posters of Ceylon,' by Anura Saparamadu

Dhammika Bandara is a man with many hats.  Probably best known as a ‘tuition sir,’ Dhammika is also a poet, a lyricist and a theatre person.  Naturally, he’s also a good story teller.  Last Saturday night, he told a story, after being invited by another well-known lyricist and presenter, Kelum Srimal, to do so.  

It happened at the Nelum Pokuna.  It was at a concert called ‘Esala Tharu Paana’ organized by a group of lawyers practicing in the magistrate courts and featuring Amarasiri Peiris, Nirosha Virajini and Victor Ratnayake.  Kelum wanted Dhammika, who happened to be in the audience that evening, to tell the nidhaana kathaava of a particular song: Hanthanata Paayana Sanda (The moon that shines on Hantane).  It is one of the more popular of Amarasiri Peiris’ songs.  

Dhammika told a story.  There are many ways in which songs get written, he said. This song was essentially a weaving together of three separate experiences or stories.  

Dhammika, then a student at Colombo University, had visited Peradeniya University to meet the inimitable Gamini Haththotuwegama, widely known as the Father of Street Theatre in Sri Lanka.  The magic of that university wears off after some time as far as resident students are concerned.  Dhammika was a visitor.  He spent hours at night walking around the university.  He saw the moon rise.  He would have seen the glow on the Hantane range above the campus.  He had always wanted to write a ‘Peradeniya Song.’  

As a ‘tuition sir’ later on in life he had encountered many young couples in his class.  One couple had caught his attention.  They would sit at the corner of a bench during a break and share a packet of rice.  A few years later while he was walking along the road, a van had stopped near him.  It was the boy.  He was a salesperson and was driving a delivery van.  Dhammika had inquired about the girl.  

The boy explained: ‘She got 4 A’s and went to Peradeniya.  I am a mutt, I do this job.   She’s better off without me; it wouldn’t have worked, sir.”  Dhammika didn’t buy it.  He asked if the girl was in agreement with the boy’s thesis.  Apparently not, but the boy had been adamant; he felt it was the best decision as far as the girl’s future was concerned.  ‘You are a bodisatva!’ Dhammika had laughed.

That day, reflecting on the conversation, Dhammika’s thoughts had strayed to that classic 1976 film Hulavali.  It was a particular episode that had come to mind.  Dhara, discovering that his woman Subha was having an affair with the trader Bibile Aththo had attacked the latter. Subha, distraught, had chided the assailant saying that violence was all he was capable of.  

Dhara is overcome with remorse and decides that Subha should be with Bibile Aththo. He orders her to boil some water, treats the wounds of the injured man, and tells him that he should take Subha with him and take care of her, warning that if he does not he will pursue Bibile Aththo throughout sansara from lifetime to lifetime.  Bibile Aththo had not been looking for a life-partner, but he was left without a choice.  He takes the low-caste woman with him, but suggests that she sheds the clothes that identified her in terms of social status and wears something else.  The clothes are thrown into the river and are later found by Dhara.  No comment.  Just a song composed by Dharmasiri Gamage and sung by Sunil Edirisinghe.  Just a simple observation alavadana yana theruma bosathkama saki (The true meaning of loving, my friend, is to exude the qualities of a bodhisatva).  Dhammika related it much better of course. This is just gist.

And so, right then, the three rivers came together: the moonlight streaming through a particular night in Peradeniya, a boy and a girl whose togetherness was interrupted by an exam result that made them go in separate directions, and the memory of an old film.  All about love. All about the quality muditha embedded in the Sathara Brahma Viharana, that of rejoicing in the joy of another.  Love that overcomes selfishness, love that vanquishes envy, jealousy and possession. Love that gives and in giving rejoices.  And so, in the gathering of waters, the collapsing of eras, Dhammika Bandara came up with a Hantana song that remain long after all the characters involved in its making are gone.  

Kelum Srimal didn’t have to invite Dhammika to tell this story.  The song is beautiful even without the nidhana kathava.  The song, for those who were present, is richer now.  Life is richer.  Some of those who were there if not all would see connections and commonalities between incidents, words, a particular sheen created by moonlight and such things, where previously they would not have.  Time is not linear, some may conclude.  That boy and that girl in that tuition sir’s class have many, many names, someone might think.  

And somewhere, who knows, there will be a lover someday who will rise above his or her circumstances, vanquish jealousy, affirm the paramitas of giving, and with the unguent of a tender melody alleviate the pain of terrible wounds that take so long to heal that they seem incurable.  And there'll be a Dhammika Bandara who will tell the story, hopefully.  

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