05 February 2023

World’s End

Adults say all kinds of things, whether or not there are children present, not realising that they are heard, what they say is understood in various ways and remembered too. When I was a little over seven years of age, I heard some adults discussing the state of the world. One of them said, I distinctly remember, that the world would end in 1975.

This happened during the December holidays which, like all holidays of my growing-up, was spent with my maternal grandparents in Kurunegala.

Then, as now, I kept my anxieties private. A few weeks later, school would start and I would be in Grade 3. So I calculated that I had only two years left, most of it to be spent in school.

Grade 2 felt longer than Grade 1, maybe because there were more assignments and closer supervision. There seemed to have been more homework, perhaps because my mother felt I could do it on my own. So, even though the idea of the world coming to an end troubled me, I still felt that the time left was quite considerable.

The third year in school went by fast. When the fourth year began my anxieties grew. Throughout the fourth, 1975, I wondered when and how it would all end. Midnight, 31st of December, was anticipated with both anxiety and hope. Then there was relief.

‘The end of the world’ returned in the form of ‘Tintin and the Shooting Star’ in which a self-proclaimed prophet went around proclaiming it. It was fiction. I wasn’t perturbed. There was a calamity, but nothing apocalyptic. The ending was, well, like most endings in such books, pleasing. Nothing to worry about. Nothing to keep me awake at night, wondering, ‘what?’ or ‘when?’

The third ‘world’s end’ was the place I would visit frequently after leaving school, located in Maha Eliya, aka ‘Horton Plains.’ I was in the sixth grade at the time. It was an excursion during a trip to Nuwara Eliya. No one explained what it was or maybe someone did and I cannot remember. There were several adults around and a lot of adult talk. As a kid, I tried to connect the dots. It didn’t reveal a picture.

We didn’t make it to ‘World’s End.’ We had started out late and it was already late afternoon by the time we reached ‘Little World’s End.’ There was mist and not much could be seen. What was apparent was that there was a precipice before us. The rest was left to the imagination. I don’t recall imagining much.

THE World’s End was visited eventually. It was a clear day. Clear enough to take in much of the area south of this part of the central massif. There was no need to imagine. It was all there. Spectacular. A few years later, I would climb down to Belihuloya via two tea estates, Nagrak and Nonpareil. Twice. And I was old enough to know that the world didn’t end there. Or anywhere else for that matter. A figure of speech, nothing more, I realised.

Maybe because these ‘world-end’ moments never delivered on promise or what such proclamations made me expect, I’ve never taken too much notice of doomsday prophets and pronouncements.

This is why I was rather shocked to learn that one of the most optimistic poets I’ve read, Pablo Neruda, had written a book titled ‘World’s End.’ I found the book among a couple of dozen books my sister brought for me. There was also ‘Stones of the Sky,’ one of the last works Neruda produced.

But ‘World’s End’? By Neruda? Intrigued me. Here’s how Goodreads read the book: ‘Terrifying, beautiful, vast, and energized, Neruda’s work speaks of oppression and warfare, his own guilt, and the ubiquitous fear that came to haunt the century that promised to end all wars.’

Yes, that’s all there in the book. There’s also, as always, much to inspire full engagement and committed contestation, the will to make things better or make the best of bad times. The 20th century, like all centuries that came before and the two decades of the 21st that have passed is full of war, disease, destruction, ambush, humiliation, theft and all manner of oppression. It is also made of struggle and sacrifice, community and solidarity, reasons for hope that are as formidable as reasons for despair.

Will the world end? Who knows? Perhaps. What do we do, though, if we are convinced that this end is coming and is just around the corner? We live!

World’s End. It implied one thing: there was a beginning, a World’s Beginning which is framed by wild conjecture and as yet unproven theories of origin Speculation. Speculated beginnings and speculated ends. 

The world didn’t end in 1975. It might end tomorrow. I delight in opening a box of books and finding a couple written by a poem I love, make some ginger-tea and read, read and read, occasionally glancing out of the window and noticing that time is passing, light is fading and that this is how it probably will be tomorrow as well, and returning to my book, this time, ‘Stones of the Sky’:

Eyelids raise the curtain
of endless earthen time
until deeply buried eyes
flash clear enough again
to see their own clarity.  

I. Am. Fully. Empowered.

['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:

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

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