26 December 2019

The most beautiful road is yet to meet a cartographer

Nazim Hikmet believed that he hadn’t yet said the most beautiful words he wanted to tell his beloved when he wrote of seas, children, days and of course words. And yet, that verse about the unspoken is as beautiful a love note as any. 

The most beautiful sea: hasn't been crossed yet.
The most beautiful child: hasn't grown up yet.
Our most beautiful days: we haven't seen yet.
And the most beautiful words I wanted to tell you, I haven't said yet…

Reminds one of a highly philosophical observation in the movie ‘The Life of David Gale,’ where the main protagonist muses, ‘Fantasies have to be unrealistic because the moment, the second that you get what you seek, you don't, you can't want it anymore. In order to continue to exist, desire must have its objects perpetually absent. It's not the "it" that you want, it's the fantasy of “it.”'

David Gale quotes Pascal thereafter, ‘we are only truly happy when daydreaming about future happiness,’ and then concludes, after Lacan, ‘what it means to be fully human is to strive to live by ideas and ideals and not to measure your life by what you've attained in terms of your desires but those small moments of integrity, compassion, rationality, even self-sacrifice,’ because, in the end, ‘the only way that we can measure the significance of our own lives is by valuing the lives of others.’

It all came to me when someone, upon seeing a photograph of two young girls taken at the University of Peradeniya, remarked, ‘I thought of showing this to my husband and telling him about you, and then realized I simply cannot — you’ll always be in my past, not the present.’ To this, I responded, ‘You believe in tenses?’  Tongue-in-cheek, of course. 

‘Do you prefer “present perfect”?’ 

‘The moment, yes.’

All from David Gale, unconsciously.  However, if the metaphor is extended, it explodes like an orchard on the tongue or sunset clouds in your eyes. ‘Moment’ can be inhabited even if it is something that has happened or is yet to unfold. Nostalgia and hope are present perfect, indeed. 

Hikmet, now, arrived last Sunday. This most celebrated Turkish poet who spent most of his life either in prison or in exile, was as Sri Lankan as he was Turkish or Russian, is so alive so many years after he died, was standing by a road I’ve never taken and might never have if not for a wrong turn in a moment (that word!) of negligence. 

I knew a Trinitian chess player called Yatawatte, but I didn’t know of a village by that name. A desire to avoid Kandy on the way to Colombo from Elkaduwa took me along one of the most scenic routes in the country. The road took a sharp bend just past the Yatawatte Police Station. It was late evening. The sun was chasing the far off mountains. Mountain-blue grappling with sky-blue. Clouds, white and grey, in intercourse with the last rays of the sun. Gaze swept from mountain top to mountain top and down to the valley below, catching innumerable shades of grey. 

Poverty of description stops me now.  

Some places defy description. Certain moments are like that too.  The important thing here is the unknown or rather unknowing factor. The world is made of ignorances. We can never capture it all. There’s always something to discover, something to learn. And yes, although the knowledge-moment, after David Gale (or rather Charles Randolph, the philosopher from Vienna who wrote the screenplay) and Pascal, bring with it the immediacy of staleness, there are moments-after to look forward to, even though we don’t know what or who would arrive with it or arrive as. 

So. Roads. There are so many in this beautiful island that I’ve travelled, and yet I know that I’ve seen but a fraction of the beauty that abounds. That stretch in Yatawatte was preceded by lyrical geographies I hadn’t heard of before. The same could be said of that which arrived thereafter. 

If travel and holidaying is about serendipitous expectations, if they are about the collapsing or rather the jumbling of tenses, a sliver of the paradisal, a moment to think of love, the experience of meditational trance, then all we need to carry with us is this tiny knowledge-seed: Sri Lanka is yet to be explored. Yes, the most beautiful road is one which we are yet to walk. That seed breaks into amazing foliage from which bloom insights about giving and sharing. Significance you can’t purchase. 

This article was first published in the Daily News (December 25, 2019). 

Other articles in the series titled 'In Passing...' :

Katharagama and Athara Maga
Victories are made by assists
Lost and found between weaver and weave
The Dhammapada and word-intricacies
S.A. Dissanayake taught children to walk in the clouds
White is a color we forget too often