29 February 2020

Ever been out of Colombo?

 A view of Ritigala from Barnes Place, Colombo 7. Really.

Tharindu Amunugama, described by Asela Abeywardene as a wanderer and memory-keeper, lives in and out of Colombo. He knows Colombo. He knows what is not Colombo. And he says that he knows of people who go out of Colombo and yet do not see what’s out of Colombo. Simply because they carry Colombo with them, so to speak.

What does one call a place that is located outside the Colombo municipal area or even outside the district? Kandy, Kurunegala, Jaffna, Galle, Kegalle, Badulla? Well, they are all valid answers.  It could also be Pimburaththewa, Mihihagalkanda, Kaludiyapokuna, Maara Veediya or anywhere else that Tharidu has visited or is yet to visit. Let’s call it Ritigala, for reasons of convenience. 

Where is Ritigala and where is Colombo in relation to one another? Take a map and look. You’ll find both. Google the location and you’ll find how far away Ritigala is from where you are, the quickest route and how long it would take for you to get there. Suppose you do make a trip to Ritigala. Could you say “Here we are…Ritigala!’? Sure. It’t not Colombo and not any place between Colombo and Ritigala. It’s Ritigala. After all, the google lady would have confirmed, ‘you have arrived at your destination!’  

So what does Tharindu mean, really? In short, place is really a state of mind. You can take Colombo to Ritigala or you can leave Colombo behind when you take off to Ritigala. Take Colombo with you or summon Colombo in whatever form and way possible and you would be in Ritigala, geographically speaking, but you would still be in Colombo. 

There are photographs to take in Ritigala. There are sights that can get etched in mind or rather you etch in mind deliberately. Could end up being quite indelible of course, but still, Tharindu might say ‘I am not sure if you really got it.’ Simply, there are two ways for things, places, processes and people to get scripted in mind and heart. One, you do it. Two, you let such things encrypt themselves. The former would be Colombo-framed and the later would be Ritigala as Ritigala chooses to reveal itself.  

Shedding place so another place can get into bloodstream and play in concert with heartbeat is easier said than done, I am sure Tharindu will agree. The observer’s signature (dis)colors the observed, physics now claims what the ancients knew all along. Abandonment of frame, reference and received/acquired ‘wisdom’ is no easy task. We see constellations but not the stars, we name oceans and trap them on maps and we forget that the waves and currents are oblivious to naming and moreover disregard lines of convenience. We see a Ritigala in terms of what Colombo is not and not necessary as what it really is, OUT of Colombo. 

Why does ‘Colombo’ conjure notions of ‘urban’ and why is ‘Ritigala’ rural? Sociologists have pointed out the errors of false dichotomy and yet we take Colombo to be concrete and Ritigala as  foliage, mountain, ancient, historic and even mystic.  We might not say ‘dead’ but we classify, if only subconsciously, as ‘past’. 

You could flip it too. Ritigala is not a monastic complex, it is in Colombo. Colombo is a jungle and not one made of concrete. And it is a jungle not because you’ve brought Kumana all the way from the South East Dry Zone. It is a jungle in and of itself. It is as rural as Liyannagama, Galgamuwa and that’s not because you are framed by the Kurunegala District. 

When things are allowed to come to you and their own pace and in the forms, colors, fragrances, textures and music of their choice, distinctions disappear, theories vanish and truths appear in naked clarity. As beautiful as it gets. 

For the record, Ritigala is Ritigala as much as it is Colombo and Colombo is Colombo just as it is Ritigala. There’s nothing wrong in carrying Colombo with you when you travel. You can consider it as something as ‘essential’ as a toothbrush or something you can’t leave behind, like your heart. Sometimes things, places, people and processes drop out by accident. Sometimes by design. Sometimes they dissolve over time. Mists in their allurement can reveal or hide. Mistless days can do the same. If hearts are open truth enters, and if closed, keeps away. 

Happy journeys!

This article was first published in the DAILY NEWS [February 21, 2020]


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