29 January 2023

The Book of Layering

There’s layering that can be seen at dawn and at dusk and sometimes at various moments during the day depending on the weather. Travellers know for they’ve seen. Those who have cultivated observational skills notice. And they are pleased.

One doesn’t have to have seen these very same dreaminess made of mist and in various shades of white, silver, blue and gold know that they rest upon and among mountains. The specific contours may require a dash of imagination to obtain, though.

Layers are everywhere, in fact. They are certainly found up in the hills. They do materialise in other places as well where open spaces allow the gaze to take in wider pieces of horizon. Layers are everywhere, actually. You find them in books, for example; a single sentence, phrase or ever a word can have many meanings.You find them in conversations where that which is said is overlaid with that which is not; silences add or subtract depth and help create layers for a more complex reading or a dive into a region of incomprehensibility.

Eyes and gaze — they are layered too. Facial expression — that’s another territory of flatness and ridges upon which truth can come intertwined with deceit. Music and art, poetry and prose, chronicles and biographies — all multi-faceted mirrors reflecting light, breaking it into constituent colours, refracting the sunlight of truth and encouraging the mind to wander into intricate labyrinths that are at once pathways to amazing adventures and portals to insanity.

Time perhaps is the most layered thing around. We can ‘see’ its passing in a clock but the meaning of a time-slice can be understood in so many ways that we need to consider the possibility of layering.

So what does it take to un-layer these horizons? Sunlight does it. So, time. That requires a bit of patience. Close reading of the text before you, in whatever language or form is comes in. Meditation. Mindfulness.

The mountains emerge, contours can be seen, things step out of shadow and silhouette. And then we see what’s there to be seen. Only, we are now confronted by a different kind of layering.

Maps, for example, detailed with contours, roads, rivers, estuaries, inland water bodies colour-coded to given average rainfall (for example), tell us a lot about a particular territory. A high mountain top or a high-rise will give us details too, perhaps of a different order but limited by what the eye can take. Says very little about human commerce, the structures of power, the triumphs and debacles small and great, opportunities seized, missed and deliberately shunned.

The weight of the past and the expectations regarding the future are layer-makers, they blur the present. On the other hand if moment is the fixation the ways in which yesterday and tomorrow define, help understand and chart any course of action plagued by the inevitability of error. 

Layers make for much philosophical reflection. But then again, perhaps the only relevant philosophical question is whether or not to seek un-layering.

You could piece with eye and mind and imagination the mist-laden landscapes of human existence. You could also choose to exist. You can theorise about love and you can love. You could think of time in linear terms, try unraveling the tenses or inhabit the moment. You can also allow mists to life and not be too perturbed if they do not or not at the pace you wish and not revealing the expected or, as the case may be, revealing the expected and therefore disappointing. Love can be pursued and wished for. It could arrive too, without prompt and in unexpected ways. No less magical.

No formulas. No guidebook that can be emphatically blurbed as THE Last Word on layering and unwrapping with or without human intervention. It’s an as-you-will kind of proposition.

Maybe the trick is to consider the possibility that un-layering is a cruel trick as pernicious as layering. For there are times when layers and that which is layered or covered by layers are as fascinating as the process of layering and un-layering. Put another way, mist-laden hills may invite meditation on the meaning of layers but it could end with happy abandonment: let the mists do what they will, ’tis noble to read the landscape as you will, never mind the inevitability of error and therefore the consideration of a revisit.

And if you’ve read all of the above, you could tell yourself: I need not have, for the picture tells many stories anyway. That would be as good an un-layering as any. 


['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below] 


Other articles in this series:

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart The allegory of the slow road