23 January 2020

How far away are the faraway places?

‘Faraway’ is a word that makes one think of the most beautiful places, destinations minimally touched by human beings. Idyllic. In a sense it tickles that part of our beings that is unhappy, disenchanted or even disgusted with the places we happen to inhabit, literally and metaphorically. It nudges the urge to ‘get away from it all.’

Not everyone can get away at will. Often the diurnal gets in the way. Sometimes it’s about means. And yet, there are some among us who have discovered the secret of retiring material needs, pushing aside the burdens of familial responsibility in order to pursue a dream, indulge a passion and do what pleases the heart.  

Tharindu Amunugama, fitness buff and photographer, gets away from it all so often that the ‘faraways’ seem to be where he has taken up residence, the city and ‘home’ places he occasionally visits. Just going by the photographs he posts on social media, it is easy to conclude that he has traveled the length and breadth of the island, gone to less-visited corners, discovered, breathed and photographed more landscapes, people and ways of being that anyone alive. The late Nihal Fernando, also a photographer, might be the only one who has seen more. 

Tharindu on occasion posts ‘the immediate’. People. Faces. Work. Customs and rituals. And yet, gives us bigger slices of the ‘faraways’ in the main; island-beauty that doesn’t find its way to travel magazines simply because eyes cannot transport that which they have not seen. He essentially and perhaps unintentionally issues an observation: you haven’t seen a fraction of the beautiful island called Sri Lanka. 

There are faraway places about whose existence we now know thanks to the likes of Tharindu. Some who think ‘somewhere outside Sri Lanka’ when thinking about dream-destinations might pause and consider exploring Tharindu’s ‘faraways.’ A related question can be put to them. Or to ourselves, if that’s the case. 

‘Have you seen your neighbors, lately?’  Put another way, ‘how much of your neighborhood have you seen?’ We can zoom in further: what’s in your garden? That’s just one example.

Have you ever stopped to look at the grass or weeds defying pavement stones? What’s under the moss covered brick that is one of several lining a bed of roses? What lessons about cycles or the eternal verities pertaining to birth, decay and death does the Bo tree hold as it sheds leaves in the hot months, puts out new light green and almost golden ones, have them turn a deeper green later and make them fall, one by one? What is the politics that blares out in cityscapes? What is the resistance that whispers off the walls? What are the splendid treatise  on the political economy of survival, contestation, frequent defeat and and rare victory are written in the silences amid the cacophony of battle and celebrations of the victors? 

Are they all so close that they are out of reach? Are we farsighted or shortsighted? Is gaze too long or not short enough? 

There’s something mercurial about ‘faraways’. Clearly touchable and yet hard to hold. We know it’s within reach, but we let it pass. We delight in Tharindu’s photographs. We like. We share. We comment. We ask, ‘Where? Where?’ We make a mental note, ‘must visit’. We sit in chosen residences and keep our doors closed. And that makes the immediate something outside our doors as fascinating as Tharindu’s magical destinations. 

There’s magic. Near and far. We are an island. A small one. Endowed with such varied beauty. We don’t have to travel far to encounter something so elegantly textured that the caressing would change the way we see the world and one another.

That’s another album embedded in the many that Tharindu posts on Facebook. It doesn’t look like a collection of photographs. A blank box then. He could titled it ‘the unseen.’ We have to acquire eyes to see the unseen, he seems to be saying, for since there are ‘faraways’ there must be  ‘nearbys.’ To be seen or to be passed over. To enrich or, in the passing, leave us poorer.

This article was first published in the DAILY NEWS [January 22, 2020]


Other articles in the series 'In Passing...': 
[published in the 'Daily News' on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week]