04 March 2023

Completing unfinished texts

There’s a novel that floored me with poetry, the sociological explication and an ending that was tragic. 'Swarnavanniye Valliammalaaaa' by Simon Navagaththegama. Even now, so many years after reading this novel, which came out years after Simon died, I can’t decide whether or not it should have been published. 

It has Simon’s inimitable command of the language and his ability to say the simplest thing in exquisite poetry. It’s all there: the keenness of his mind, his grasp of social, economic and political processes and the almost inconspicuous and yet so very pronounced philosophical predilections that frame his work. And yet he leaves the reader stranded in the worst possible way: the story is incomplete. To be fair, it’s not his fault. He died before he could complete it and it is hard to think of Simon agreeing to an incomplete novel to be published, even though it would have sold like unu kemun simply because he is the author.

Now all this is understandable. Some stories are never completed, some never told and some impossible to tell. It is also true that stories, however neatly tied up with a plausible conclusion, don’t really end with the author’s insistence expressed with ‘The End.’ If they provoke reflection, they continue to live, long after the books themselves have made their way to dust-laden shelves in the dingy back rooms of used books stores and are replaced in the public imagination by newer if not better stories.

Some stories, paradoxically, are birthed with an ending and I’m not referring to the novels by Gabriel Garcia Marquez who begins most of his novels with a death or reference to death.  This is about stories or poetry, if you will, that need to be completed or, put another way, are left incomplete. It is about a Facebook post written by Chinthana Dharmadasa, a friend and a man with lots of opinions, often vilified and sometimes praised. It is about a young boy I had never heard of, Arya.

Chinthana says that he anticipated a time when Arya emerged as an artist. They were close or rather Chinthana felt he was close to the boy. So close that Chinthana was or made himself vulnerable to be destroyed by the boy.

‘There is a monumental life that does not end, I believe and in that valley I will meet you again. There’s an incomplete song that you and I need to finish. Arya, wait for me.’

Common sentiments at the death of a loved one, but written in an uncommon way.  

But it’s not only death that interrupts poetry. Indeed, there are times when we realise that poetry has been interrupted, when words abandon us and half-written verses get lost in the labyrinths of our minds and hearts, only to resurface at inopportune moments, crippling us with thoughts that begin with what-if, if-only, why-not and now-what.  

Some poems begin with a word and stop there. Sometimes we can’t get past the first letter, the first syllable. Thoughts get stuck in throats, love-ink does not quite make it to fingertips with which we can trace the contours of what someone or something has carved all over our hearts and minds.  

Then there are poetic completions that never get to join that which was written before. They remain in private archives. They cannot be added on to other half-written stories, poetic or otherwise, without wrecking the flow. Completion will not be obtained, not of the kind that would ensue in an organic, seamless narrative.

We must wait. We must wait for another meeting, in better circumstances, a moment where conversation is not only possible but is not interrupted. Just like Chinthana, hoping for an encounter in a different and happier landscape where poetry can be composed collectively, upon soft earth, under a friendly sun and in the company of winds that bring all the words that are now imprisoned, for one reason or another.

Sometimes, though, unfinished texts will remain that way. But there are no laws which forbid that which could complete them from getting written, from being tossed into the air and turning into petals that decorate waterways and inspire love and poetry hitherto thought to be impossible.

Simon’s story ends without an ending. We can end it as we will and liberate ourselves from the tyranny of suspension. And my friend Chinthana will, whether he plans to or not, write down things that Arya could read with a smile. It would make the exercise of poetic-completion that much more delightful.  

['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:

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

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