28 January 2020

A dusk song for Rasika Jayakody

Rasika Jayakody is one of the finest writers of his generation. His Sinhala prose is exquisite. So too his poetry, both in Sinhala and English. Rasika launched his first book last Saturday (January 25). It is collection of articles — mostly what he had written for the now defunct ‘Rivira’ newspaper between 2007 and 2001 and some from his contributions to ‘Irudina’ (defunct as well). He titled it ‘Dawasak daa haendaewaka’ or ‘Reflections at Dusk.’  
As one of the speakers at the launch, Anuruddha Pradeep Karnasuriya, put it, the most compelling aspect of the collection is Rasika’s ability to script in deep philosophical matters upon the architecture of the everyday. His gaze pauses at things and processes that rarely stop most of us. He draws from then insights that don’t shout out, ‘here I am, come write me!’ 

The book will delight. Let me stop there without spoiling potential reading. 

This is about something else that Anuruddha said. During his short speech he briefly spoke on radicals and radicalism. Drawing from the Buddhist parable of the bowl moving upstream, Anuruddha made an interesting observation which I will paraphrase as follows: 

Udu gan balaa (deliberately going upstream or ‘swimming against the current’) has become so fashionable that there’s way too much traffic in that direction. It seems to me that the radical thing to do is to go downstream.’  

Rasika, he believes, is radical simply because he goes with the flow. He perceives things as they are, doesn’t scream and shout, stops when he has to, skirts the cataracts and gets to his destination. 

There’s another element to all this. There are upstreams and upstreams. You can name waterways and destinations. You can imagine non-existent currents. You can make everything sexy. You can swim with a crowd or swim alone. You can advertise the decision. There are lots of frills available and you can dress yourself as you wish. It might work. It might not. In the end you have to decide which way to swim, you have to figure out if you need an entourage, you have to ask yourself if advertising the fact of swimming and direction chosen is useful or not. Of course there could be some in the herd who are not conscious of company, care little about frills and go about the business of swimming without much fanfare. I feel they would constitute the exception. 

Anyway, does this make the person who resists the herd instinct or goes about things quietly a radical? Well, if ‘radical’ is doing what’s unusual, then yes. On the other hand, there could be lots doing ‘A Rasika’. There could be traffic in that direction as well. Then there’s the possibility that the Rasikas have chosen poorly when taking the plunge or wading in as the case may be.  

I believe Anuruddha was not talking of an entire population, but a segment that is fascinated with ‘the radical’. Typically it is not always those who would principally benefit from ‘radical change’ who are ‘radical’ and advertise the fact. It’s the ‘do gooders’. It’s not that they are in want, but they feel for those who are, or rather say they do. There’s nothing wrong in taking up someone else’s battles. There’s nothing wrong in marketing the particular project. There is however the danger of the need to market displacing the act(s) of objection and/or the revolutionary project.

Since we are talking waterways, quests and words, perhaps it would be good to end with a literary reference. Herman Hesse’s ‘Siddhartha.’ Siddhartha is the main protagonist. Govinda is a friend, a shadow in contrast to the shining Siddhartha. It’s Siddhartha’s story. Govinda is like an alter ego. It’s Siddhartha who picks ‘upstream’. They part ways. There’s resolution at the end of the story. Interestingly, upon a river and a raft. 

Labels. They are dangerous sometimes. Fixation with labels can detract and we can err in direction and destination. Such things come to us now and again. When they arrive at dusk, they are more poetic. Poets can write the moments. Rasika has.

This article was first published in the DAILY NEWS [January 27, 2020]

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

[published in the 'Daily News' on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week]