14 April 2020

Eyes that watch the world and can’t be forgotten

It must have been more than thirty years ago. Ravin Gooneratne, then an architecture student at Moratuwa University, introduced me to Don McLean through ‘Vincent.’ Ravin was a man of many talents. He could sing. He could paint. And philosophize too. And he told me about Vincent Van Gogh. The song, also called ‘Starry, starry night’ after a painting by that name by the artist, is an all time favorite and one which I introduced to my daughters.

It comes back to me in strange ways. Watching ‘Loving Vincent’ was obviously a nudge and when the song was played over the credits, there were tears. A couple of days ago a poem, a portrait, a painting and my father brought it all back.

Here are the lines that popped up.

Portraits hung in empty halls
Frameless heads on nameless walls
With eyes that watch the world and can't forget

The poem was about a painter and a painting. The late Reginald Kulanatha Senadheera was with my father at Peradeniya, a couple of years senior to him and four years older. ‘Senadheera Maama’ was part of our growing up. Our father has related many anecdotes about this brilliant artist friend of his, some hilarious and some sad. He related this stories to us and he still tells them to his grandchildren. Senadheera Maama was a part of our household mostly however on account two paintings that he gifted my father. 

He called the first one ‘Fire Dancers.’ I never understood art but one day, during one of his random visits, he casually pointed to a blue circle in the painting and said ‘you can imagine the agony of the artist.’ That stayed. 

The other was a ‘head study’ of my father. In my father's words, '"Heads" was done one morning "after the night before"; I was the first up, seated on an arm chair with a cup of tea , when Sena staggered out, saw me, and inspiration lit up his eyes (naturally) and so...'

Both paintings were exhibited abroad and huge sums had been offered for them. Declined.

My father, who has been in de-facto self-isolation for years called me a few days ago. He was excited. He reported that he had found a copy of the first installment of ‘Poetry Peradeniya.’ The cover, he said, was designed by his friend Senadheera. He sounded even more excited when he said that he found what is probably the only copy in the world of Senadheera’s ‘Noothana chitra kalaave rasika sankalpa.’ 

And then, yesterday, he called to say that he had dug up a poem dedicated to his friend and titled ‘Heads.’  It’s all about portraits. Addressed to me (I figured), he makes some observations about framed photographs — one of me, one of my brother, one of us together, and one of our sister and mother.

As for himself, he has to say this.

I exist in oils
as a head study, ‘done’ by a drunk painter
who was my friend. The head
surveys you all but heads framed
in a warped frame, draw graphs on the wall.
As long as this head exists, it will watch
and as heads do, framed however, make no comment
however old they get to be.

My father, Gamini Seneviratne, will turn 82 in a few hours from now (it is 9.02 pm right now on the 13th of April, 2020). He’s watched the world. He’s watched and watched over us. Without much comment. As has Senadheera Maama, in his own way.

Senadheera Maama’s daughter Dilani recalls how the murals he painted at the budumedura of the Castle Street Hospital were mutilated, first by notices callously pasted and later by someone who just painted over them.  Maybe we ‘did not listen’ or maybe we ‘did not know how.’ Perhaps we will listen now or perhaps we never will.

Reginald Kulanatha Senadheera took his life in February 1987. He was 53 years old. Maybe this world was never meant for one as beautiful as he.

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News']   
Let's not stop singing in the lifeboats
When the Welikada Prison was razed to the ground 

Looking for the idyllic in dismal times    
Water the gardens with the liquid magic of simple ideas, right now    
There's canvas and brush to paint the portraits of love    
We might as well arrest the house!
The 'village' in the 'city' has more heart than concrete
Vo, Italy: the village that stopped the Coronavirus    

We need 'no-charge' humanity 
The unaffordable, as defined by Nihal Fernando
Heroes of our times Let's start with the credits, shall we? 
The 'We' that 'I' forgot 
 'Duwapang Askey,' screamed a legend, almost 40 years ago
Dances with daughters
Reflections on shameless writing
Is the old house still standing?
 Magic doesn't make its way into the classifieds
Small is beautiful and is a consolation  
Distance is a product of the will
Akalanka Athukorala, at 13+ already a hurricane hunter
Did the mountain move, and if so why?
Ever been out of Colombo?
Anya Raux educated me about Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)
Wicky's Story You can always go to GOAT Mountain
Let's learn the art of embracing damage
Kandy Lake is lined with poetry
There's never a 'right moment' for love
A love note to an unknown address in Los Angeles
A dusk song for Rasika Jayakody
How about creating some history?
How far away are the faraway places?
There ARE good people!
Re-placing people in the story of schooldays   
When we stop, we can begin to learn
Routine and pattern can checkmate poetry
Janani Amanda Umandi threw a b'day party for her father 
Sriyani and her serendipity shop
Forget constellations and the names of oceans
Where's your 'One, Galle Face'?
Maps as wrapping paper, roads as ribbons
Yasaratne, the gentle giant of Divulgane  
Katharagama and Athara Maga
Victories are made by assists
Lost and found between weaver and weave
The Dhammapada and word-intricacies
S.A. Dissanayake taught children to walk in the clouds
White is a color we forget too often