03 March 2023

Minds and hearts: loquacious and taciturn

One morning, as I was driving from Polonnaruwa towards Maduru Oya, I noticed a sign next to a dirt road on my right. It was one of those signs put up by the Department of Archaeology, indicating the location of an archaeological site. Peripheral vision. Nothing out of the ordinary, for those who like to travel acquire certain observational traits; we take in things, make mental notes. In passing.  

Just then, Tharindu Amunugama, travel companion, recounter of tales, knower of things visible and yet unseen, who was in the back seat of the car, said ‘machang…’ Before he could proceed, a right turn was made. He laughed. I did too.

How? Simple. I knew Tharindu well enough. Knew how his mind is mapped. At least when it comes to such exploration. He has an eye for off-grid wonders. He loves to explore. I saw a sign. I heard a word and a tone. Two plus two make four.

Some people claim that they can read minds. Sometimes, when pushed against a wall, they say ‘only on kemmura days,’ that’s only on a Wednesday or a Saturday when the gods, apparently, deign to possess those made for possession and speak through them to the devout. I suppose one could pick from a whole almanac of excuses to account for failure. That said, minds can be read. To a certain extent.

It is not hard to read the minds of people you know when it comes to certain things. It is a product of length and proximity of association. Minds find voice and voices are heard. And when many words have been spoken, they make it possible for minds to be read even when only a few words are said or, in rare instances, when nothing is said.

It is said that there are people who are really good at reading other people’s minds. They must have considerably trained the powers of observation. It probably enables the identification and recognition of patterns. A few strands can then be all it takes to extrapolate to the whole. Like ‘machang’ being read as ‘there’s a place called Kosgaha Lena in this area…maybe we should look for it.’ In a limited sense, of course. The true mind-readers can do much more than adding known personality and known predilections to a single word to come up with intention.

Minds talk and talking minds leave traces of thinking patterns which, for those who have not cultivated the art of reading minds, is useful. We do it all the time. All of us. Only, sometimes we get it all wrong. We read things that are not in the mind or at least not been thought of at the particular moment. So we misread. We read too much. Or too little. This is why it is good to ask questions, request clarification.  

What of the heart, though? There are words that are heart-born, but the heart says its pieces not only with words or indeed sometimes without words, in silence. The heart’s map leaves traces using gaze, gesture, expression and any number of simple, inconspicuous acts. It’s not that hearts want to be unread or unreadable, but then again some hearts are just like that. Wrapped in iron or a million ribbons of different width, color and texture which, in aggregate say: ‘Stop. Right. There.’

Perhaps the lips of the heart, like those of the mind, can be sealed with equal resoluteness, trumping both mind-reader and heart-reader. There could be passwords that open doors, but these are constantly revised and would-be visitors aren’t always equipped with code-breaking faculties.

There’s another way to consider such conundrums. Perhaps hearts and minds are never closed, only their apertures aren’t like any that are known. Perhaps the gates are recognisable but they are seldom opened on demand and would-be visitors have to be patient for times that are considered auspicious by the particular heart or the particular mind.

In general it’s the trivial that gets said. It’s the ordinary sentiments that the heart readily reveals. That which is significant, complex and of deeper meaning are harder to put into words or, as the case may be, make for greater degrees of reticence. And sometimes, we are not listening and therefore miss revelation. Sometimes we hear but only what’s said, missing what’s left unsaid or spoken in metaphors and riddles for defensible reasons.

The world is made of star gates. People, their hearts and minds are universes made of mind-shatteringly beautiful and tragic phenomena. One might think it’s good to enter a mind and a heart, but as the saying goes, such entry might very well be regretted. Simply, we really don’t know what we are asking for, we don’t know what we are getting into.

It’s better to just drive, eyes on the road, peripheral vision doing peripheral things, and, if and only if someone says ‘machang…’ make the right turn.

['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:

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