12 February 2020

Kandy Lake is lined with poetry

Beautiful places make memories, inspire poetry. Things familiar also do of course. Very often that which makes places most memorable quite apart from what’s spectacular or exquisitely nuanced, are incidents, conversations, people, and moments. As such there could theoretically be thousands of poems about Peradeniya University, for example. Thousands about any university or school or place of work or city for that matter. 

There could be a verse for every drop of water that ever took up residence in the Kandy Lake. I am sure there are many written and many more that swirled in mind and heart and are lost forever. Here’s one that is particularly beautiful. Titled පොරි අහුරක් [pori aurak or a handful of popcorn], it was written by one of the best contemporary Sinhala poets, Ruwan Bandujeewa. 

ජින් බෝතල් තුනෙන්
නුවර වැවට
ඉතිරි ටික මට

වැව, නුඹ
වෙරි විය යුතුය

කතා කළ හැක

මතකද ඇය
පොරි අහුරක්
විසිකළ මොහොත
නුඹ මතට.

This poem, included in a wonderful collection titled මීළඟ මීවිත [meelanga meevitha or ‘The Next Wine’] could be translated as follows: 

Into the Kandy Lake
emptied I
of three bottles of gin
two and a half
the rest
for me.

You, lake
must get drunk
this day

For then
can we talk

Of that moment
when for the first time
a handful of popcorn
onto your waves
she tossed.

Not a trace of the pathetic fallacy that often marks place-related love poetry. Says so much. Such poetry abounds in, around and about the Kandy Lake. Some I’ve heard but most I will never know. But here’s a note for one yet to be written, inspired in part by Lakdasa Wikkramasinha’s poem titled ‘Nossa Senhora dos Chingalas,’ about which I once wrote, ‘for lyrical finesse, emotional control, narrative ease, simplicity of metaphor, and for informed and astute political commentary this was Lakdasa at his best.’ Simply, for me, in this poem Lakdasa restored to the human being her lost or rather stolen divinity.  

This story, a short one, is about love, sweat, faith and in the end respect for those who toil. 

It happened last Friday (January 31, 2020). A resident of Alawatugoda got off from a bus near the Kandy Lake. He was to meet old friends at the Kandy Garden Club. He could have bussed or ‘tukked’ it. He had considered these options because he was carrying a heavy bag and is not as young as he looks. 

‘I figured that if Jesus Christ could walk up a hill carrying a heavy cross, it can’t be impossible for me to go by foot. I stopped several times. It was all good. I felt good. It felt nice.’

Naturally. You can stop anywhere along the road that skirts Kandy Lake and be touched deeply by the beauty of the lake, the city, the hills, the Dalada Maligawa and of course history and heritage if such things matter or are known. All the more sweet and beautiful when carrying a heavy bag or a cross (metaphorically speaking). 

Dhammika has spent half his life in the USA. He ‘retired’ early so he can attend to the various needs of his parents, both in their eighties. He does all that and finds time now and then to meet old friends. He hasn’t emptied alcohol into the Kandy Lake, he has had no compelling reason to do so, literally or metaphorically, but his has been a life made of reflection. Carries more crosses than I have seldom seen people burdened with and yet is moved to tears at anyone loaded with the weight of circumstances, memory and responsibility. 

Who or what among the multitude that must have traveled on that road thought of poetry in that hour approaching dusk? I don’t know. A thought, a decision and a simple man of simple ways did, this I know. It was a drop of poetry, a handful of popcorn and timeless commerce with the Kandy Lake. If you want a name, Dhammika Amarakoon.

This article was first published in the DAILY NEWS [February 10, 2020]

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