19 April 2020

Potters, named and nameless

My daughters grew up reading Harry Potter. They read. They watched the movies and one of them even indulged in fan fiction for a while. The younger one insisted that I read Harry Potter. I struggled through the first in the series and gave up. I told her I prefer ‘Lord of the Rings’ which I had read with great delight. They argued that I have to read the entire series to truly appreciate. Maybe they are right, but it hasn’t happened yet. 

My childhood, like theirs, was made of books. Long before we could get our teeth into the classics in the book cases, we were treated to lovely children’s literature that our mother purchased from the People’s Publishing House or at the various book ‘sales’ they organized. Then there were the ‘texts’ that Mrs Lakshmi Jeganathan made us read; she demonstrated amazing patience in teaching me, as she says, ‘the A, B, C!’ In the early years of those ‘Speech and Drama’ and ‘Effective Speaking,’ lessons she got us to read abridged versions of books written by English authors. I remember ‘Wuthering Heights’ in particular. What caught my fancy however were the books of Beatrix Potter.

It began with ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit.’  And so, Peter and his sisters Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail became part of my childhood world. Mr McGregor too of course. I don’t know from where our mother purchased the books. I do remember her giving me ‘The tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck’ and ‘The Tailor of Gloucester’ as a birthday present. We didn’t get all 23 of ‘the tales,’ but we read a fair number.

The illustrations, like the stories, were fascinating. I loved the details. They were treasured. 

Naturally, I wanted to share the joy with my daughters and when they were old enough I got them a few Beatrix Potter books. My mother had the same idea. I had forgotten that she had got them some of these books until I came across a few on my younger daughter’s table. They were neatly arranged. And so I re-read after many decades ‘The tale of the Flopsy Bunnies.’

The story that moved was not that one though. It wasn’t written by Beatrix Potter. It was something she had penned on the first page.

That page had a blank following ‘This book belongs to…’ which she had duly filled. She had added the following: ‘To my two beautiful grand daughters with a lot of love. Aththammi.’ And there was a postscript as well: ‘Read and keep this book carefully. Appachchi also read this book when he was a good little boy.’ 


I had diminished in her eyes over the years, obviously, or perhaps at the time of writing. She’s gone now and I should smile rather than frown at that interjection which the girls would have been too small to comprehend but which they probably do understand now.  They were small when she passed away but old enough to know her ways. They loved and miss her much.

Such books shape us. Such notes mark the shaping.

And thinking of shapes and shaping I was taken to a humble hut in a small village called Palugama, not too far from Galgamuwa. The villagers make all kinds of things with clay. One day, I watched a man making a pot. Before he started spinning the wheel, he brought his hands together. Worshipped the clay. And, by way of explanation, said softly, ‘the clay makes us.’  It was thus that this man distilled the wisdom of an entire library for me. That’s crafting too.

We are made by the books we read. We are crafted by people we encounter. Among them potters, named and unnamed.

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
The most beautiful road is yet to meet a cartographer