22 March 2023

The sweetest three-letter poem

‘Whenever I think of the innocent ways of my mother, it is a tear that flows to my eye.’ Sunil Sarath Perera wrote this in an essay titled ‘Samadhura akuru thuna maha kava ammaa ya (mother, the epic three-letter poem),’ in his recently published collection ‘Mathaka Nimnaya (Valley of Memories).’

In this collection Sunil Sarath Perera, who belongs to that incredible category of great Sinhala lyricists less recognised or indeed left unrecognized (W A Abeysinghe and Mahinda Algama come to mind), has offered the reader a slice of the amazing cocktail of insights which eventually found expression as lyrics. A review will have to wait. This is about the three-letter poem. Amma.

The sweetest word and one that is quintessentially of the heart, he says, is ‘Amma,’ [for] ‘it contains the most precious qualities such as love, kindness, affection etc. Someone once claimed there cannot be a word for ‘mother’ in any language that is equal to what is contained in ‘Amma,’ but that’s just a cultural bias.
The author quotes Maxim Gorky: ‘All things in this world are made of the sun and mother’s milk.’ That’s the kind of elevation that ‘mother’ enjoys in human imagination. Amma. Mom. Mum. Mommy. Mummy. Ma. Mama. It all in the particular mother as felt by the particular child.

Among all the songs ever written, all the poetry and all claims of things precious, there’s nothing or rather no one referenced more than mother.  Love, perhaps, but then it can be argued (and we don’t need the Ummagga Jathaka or the Caucasian Chalk Circle to emphasise the point) that of all loves, that of a mother for her child is by far the most unconditional and precious. Premakeerthi De Alwis wrote (and Victor Ratnayake sang) ‘aadaraye ulpatha vu amma (mother, the source of love)’ and Sunil Dayananda Konara wrote (and Karunaratne Divulgane sang) ‘kalaa wewe nil diyavara ape amma (the blue waters of the Kala Wewa is but our mother).’  Same sentiments.

The author offers explication of several ‘amma-verses,’ among them Mahagama Sekara’s dedication in the epic poetical work ‘Prabuddha,’ where he acknowledges that it was she, his mother, who taught him that the enormous universe is in fact a pattern, i.e. there is order, there is some underlying dharmathava. ‘God,’ if you will. I would go with paticca-samuppada or dependent origination. An aside, that. What matters is the kind of dimensions associated with amma.

I remembered something that Sunil Sarath Perera told me years ago about the song ‘me maha kanda (this great mountain)’ he had written for W D Amaradeva. It was inspired by the mountain Alagalla as seen from the Rambukkana Railway Station and from his wife’s village. Life moves, he noted, things change, there are joyful days and moments of sorrow; the mountain witnessed it all. Unperturbed, he didn’t have to say. Like a mother, he didn’t have to say.  

He has said many things in this essay, about mothers and motherhood and his mother too. In fact it’s all about his mother. A beautiful tribute that makes any reader think of his or her own mother or mother-figure if orphaned at a very young age. And so, I will end this with a mother story.

A few days ago I ran into Dr Hemamal Jayawardena, Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF. He was a few years senior to me in school and being a ruggerite, was quite a hero back in the day. Humble to a fault, he stopped and we spoke for almost half an hour. Updated each other about our lives, spoke about our children.
‘If your girls are writing essays as part of applications for scholarships, I would be more than happy to help,’ he said. He’s helped many people over the years. I said I will and remembering that my mother had also helped countless students with their applications to foreign universities, I wanted to share the fact with him.

‘My mother…’

That’s as far as I got.

‘Your mother…’

That’s as far as he got.  

He hugged me and wept. And he told me how she had written his character certificate, that it had gone a long way making him the person he is today.  

There have been times when I think of her and a tear makes its way to my eye. This was different. Or maybe not. It was all about love, after all. The sweetest epic poem that can be written with just three letters, as Sunil Sarath Perera reminded us with economy that matches the sentiment. As he usually does.

['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:

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

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



Anonymous said...

Another great peice by more than a journalist. ❤️ HJ