08 May 2020

Homeward bound

Pic, courtesy Daily News
‘Homeward Bound’ is a Simon & Garfunkel song that’s all about the solitude of a struggling poet-singer in a strange city. It speaks of nostalgia for ‘home’. It is claimed that Paul Simon wrote it at a railway station near Widnes waiting for the early morning train to London. ‘Home’ apparently was a woman called Kathy Chitty. For him. At that time.

‘Home is where the heart is,’ we have been told. That’s true. Home is also family. It is village or community. It is nation. It is also, well, home; the place you live, the place you grew up in, the place which more than anywhere else holds the most and most poignant of memories.

Covid-19 has either forced people to inhabit home, either physically or through that interesting device called nostalgia. Much more than they did before. Some are homeward bound, as in they are on their way home, and others are home-bound for they can’t leave and are possibly learning that some binds are not easily severed.

‘Home,’ in Sri Lanka, is still something that pulls. We may work far away from what was ‘home’ before studies, work and preferred lifestyles took us away, but come the aluth avurudda, this home-pull is what empties Colombo. People go back to the gama, the ‘village’ that is coterminous with ‘home,’ in our cultural sensibilities. And wherever we choose to set up residence, we try to implant bits and pieces of ‘home,’ things that remind us of a different place and time.

Everyone wants to go home now. Those who have left village to ‘make it’ in the city or were compelled to find employment far away because income earning opportunities were hard to come by, want to go home.

Take the case of Vadivarusan, a resident from Hatton. He’s married and has a two year old son. He’s stuck in Colombo where he has been working as a laborer, earning Rs 1300 a day. Now had he worked on a tea estate back home he would be earning 500 rupees less. Of course he ought to be getting at least 1000 rupees per day but that’s a different story. So it makes sense for him to work in Colombo.


What is the value of being able to spend time with family? How does one calculate the worth of a son-father relationship marked by immediacy? Clean air, familiarity, proximity to family and friends -- how do we measure such things? Why don’t we detract from the Rs 1300 things such a loneliness, frustration, the inevitable discomforts of shared living quarters and poisons breathed and consumed? Can we put a value on such things? And is it because such things are hard to calculate and categorized that we consciously or unconsciously leave them out of the equation? Isn’t this why it becomes easy to compare 800 with 1300 and pick the latter as the better option.

And there are people living abroad, young and old, out there for studies, work or because they wanted to migrate for whatever reason. They want to come back. That wish is understood. We all know the pull of ‘home,’ and we can’t and indeed don’t want to resist.

It’s a good thing. Anything that has anything to do with roots has the potential to yield something wholesome.

This, however, is a crisis situation. It falls under categories such as unprecedented, unexpected and overwhelming. In a word, extraordinary. We don’t know if we will ever get back ‘ordinary.’ I’ve always believed that significant transformations happen with earth-shattering events or with the most delicate and even imperceptible acts — a mind-finger dipped in heart-ink writing a single word, ‘love’ or just three words, ‘let’s just be,’ for example. Covid-19 in what it is and what it has done probably falls into the former category.

We don’t know how things will play out. Maybe we will get back to the poisons that we embraced in our ignorance and arrogance. Maybe we’ll just go home or, if that's where we are in body, mind and conviction, stay home.  And therefore, let me finish this note with the words written by Dayasena Gunasinghe and sung by Gunadasa Kapuge and Sandya Bulathsinhala. It is one of Kapuge’s lesser known songs. The first line is ‘වියලී ගිය දෙතනේ නැත කිරි බිඳුවක් එරුනේ (not one drop of milk seeped into the parched breasts…).' Here is the last verse.

මතු යම් දිනක සිතුවිල්ලෙන් සිටින සඳ
දෑතක පහස සිහිනෙක මෙන් දැනේවිද
සිතියම් පොතේ ලොව විමසා බලන සඳ
කඳුලක හැඩය මහා සයුරේ දකීවිද


If there comes a day when when deep in thought
as in a dream will the touch of a hand be felt
if gaze was cast across the map of the world
will (you) notice in the Indian Ocean a tear-shaped isle?

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