29 February 2020

Did the mountain move and if so, why?

Takeda Shingen, a powerful Japanese feudal lord in the Sengoku Period once advised his aides that in the event he dies, his death must not be announced for at least three years. At least that’s how Akira Kurosawa played it in his acclaimed film, Kagemush or ‘Shadow Warrior.’ 

‘Guard our domain, do not move from it,’ he insisted, warning that it they set out to attack, the Takeda clan would be destroyed.

He dies. Fortuitously a common criminal who had just been arrested was found to have a remarkable resemblance to the feudal lord. So he is tasked to impersonate. He is taught to be and think like the late lord. And he does it so perfectly that on one occasion when Shingen’s son tries to unmask him at a council of the generals by soliciting opinion on matters military, he simply says ‘A mountain does not move’. Until he is found out and duly banished.

The mountain does move, so the story goes, because the son believes it should. And the Takada clan is vanquished.

That’s one mountain story. Here’s another. 

Chandrishan Perera, cricketer and ruggerite, in a rare face-off with the Black Caps in a 7-a-side (if I remember right), found that his opposite number was Jonah Lomu. 

‘There was a mountain right in front of me. I moved. The mountain also moved.’  

Then there are people who, it is claimed, can move mountains. And we have heard that if the mountain doesn’t come to you, then you have to go to the mountain. And Bob Dylan once asked, rhetorically, ‘how many years must a mountain exist before it is washed to the sea?’ And an unknown writer once asked if mountains and seas exchange places in secret when no one is looking. Premakeerthi De Alwis in a song immortalized by Victor Ratnayake, miyuru kalpanaa (sweet musings), in sweeping confidence exclaimed, ‘himagira mata veil ahuraki (the snow capped mountains is but a fistful of sand, to me).’ 

In the theme song of ‘An Office and a Gentleman,’ written by Jack Nitzsche, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Will Jennings and sung by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes, the same determination comes soft. ‘There are mountains in our way, but we climb a step every day.’ 

Moving mountains. Conquering them. Mountains. Mountains of mountain stories. But here’s one that moved me. It’s from Palitha Senaratne’s ‘Haiku Mohotha’ or ‘The Haiku Moment.’ 

Dutuvemi kandak yanavaa 
an kandu atharin midee
Kandu nethi palaathakata

A mountain did I see
from other mountains freed 
heading to where no mountains stood

Haiku. A a Japanese poem of seventeen syllables, in three lines of five, seven, and five. Sinhala Haiku is essentially short verses that have flips, twists and reverses. Clever word play with little or no deference to stated format. But then again, what’s in a name, what’s a brand when poetry is what which suggests rather than asserts, a shadow rather than detailed sketch, a blur, a mist and a silken thread that soothes, agitates or blows the mind as much with style as with content? Will the mountain find the promised land desired? Will it stumble, will it fall? Will it lose its way and lose itself? Will it grow in stature or diminish? Will it be arrested by a cartographer and returned to a worn out map? And if so, will it be a poet or a mendicant who could and would set it free again?

Palitha’s book has gems. This one was an emerald or perhaps a ruby, depending on how you held it to which light and at what time.

Was Palitha talking of giants whose magnitude was lost among other giants and in an ego-rush was determined to look tall, stand heads and shoulders above everyone else, a Gulliver looking for a community of Lilliputs? Was it about claustrophobia? Was it about things that are but should not be so? A search for truths unavailable in the here and now of mountain range, perhaps? 

A departure, certainly. Or an arrival. Who can tell? A mountain that is a grain of sand and is resident in a particle. A poem. A poet. A book that can be read and which might, unbeknownst to reader and writer, be reading them both. 

Let’s go look for a mountain. Let’s follow one. Let’s be one. Or put it in a box lined with velvet and marked ‘love’. 

This article was first published in the DAILY NEWS [February 24, 2020]

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