21 April 2023

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing

Among writer there those who see what everyone else sees and yet can describe it all so beautifully that the reader is compelled to ask the question, ‘damn, how was it that I didn’t notice all this poetry around me?’ Two individuals come to mind. Simon Navagaththegama and Mahinda Prasad Masimbula.

Among writer there are also those who notice things that others miss, compelling readers to ask, ‘now how was it that I didn’t see this?’ Two individuals come to mind. Ariyawansa Ranaweera and Jayatilaka Kammallaweera. Ranaweera is a poet. Prose is Kammallaweera’s preference, the short story arguably the genre he has a better and of course exceptional grasp of. Highly acclaimed, both. And prolific too.

Kammalaweera has published two collections of poetry, ‘Kaageda vasanthaya (Whose spring)’ and ‘Ae sihin gee nada (That faint music),’ the latter launched on Thursday. What struck me as I flipped through the pages is that in poetry too Kammallaweera demonstrates exceptional sight, literally and metaphorically, to note that which goes unnoticed. The thirtieth, untitled, for example.

ඔහු කියයි අපට
පිළිගන්න ම ඔනෑ  නෑ මේ වදන්
එහෙත් සවන්දෙන්න හොඳින්
සවන්දීම ප්‍රගුණ කරන්න
එය අවශ්‍යයි යහපත් සමාජයක්

සවන් දී හිඳිමි මම
මහත් සැලකිල්ලෙන්
වචනයක් වරදින තැනක් අල්ලා ගන්න
රිදෙන්න දෙන්න ඔහුට  

He tells us
we need not necessarily
accept these words
but listen nevertheless
develop listening faculties
which is necessary
a wholesome society
to build

I listen
with great attention
waiting for a slip
a word out of place
so I can hurl it back
and hurt

No one has to say ‘listen!’ We listen. Carefully.  With bated breath. In anticipation. Not always in expectation of pearls of wisdom. That’s what Kammallaweera has noticed. Filters are used, not always to draw the positive essence but to pick out error.

Now there’s nothing wrong in critique. Criticism and self-criticism are essential in the matter of decent discourse aimed at building a yahapath samaajaya. Looking and waiting for slippage is something else. When the objective is to pounce and bite or grab a word-brick and hurl it back at the speaker so hard that it has to hurt, a lot is missed. Indeed, it is essentially a confession that one is not interest in healthy debate. One, instead, is in the business of collecting debating points. Victories of a kind are possible of course. A feel-good-about-myself kind. Poor consolation.

Kammallaweera is not dismissing the worth of listening of course. What he’s suggesting is that it may be prudent to ask ourselves why we decided to listen in the first place.

So there are many reasons to listen carefully and not all of them are wholesome. One might believe that looking out for clash-points is necessary to put down someone or some ideology that one feels is a roadblock on the way to a better society, but all that is predicated on the belief that one knows, completely, everything that’s there to know. A tad arrogant, that.

There are humble people in this world who wish for a better tomorrow for one and all. There are arrogant people in this world who believe they alone have the roadmap to a better tomorrow whose blueprint they alone have. There’s no way to know which group will effect change for this world has seen tragedies precipitated by the best of intentions and this world has seen villainy, arrogance, self-importance and people with superiority complexes launch movements that have yielded decent enough tomorrows albeit not at all resembling the architectures they envisaged.

It’s in the process. It’s about listening to learn, if not anything, the truths someone else believes in even if you may not agree. It’s about resolving to question that which is seen to be error, not to hurt but to clarify, to obtain other ways of seeing, other dimensions of reading the world. The world or a society or even an individual. 

Kammallaweera, in this poem, is not throwing a brick.  He’s merely opening some eyes. Gently. And so we see that which we have not or else have seen but have as quickly forgotten. A melody, in fact, faint and yet not beyond hearing. 

['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:

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember

On loving, always

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal

When you turn 80...

It is good to be conscious of nudities 

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday

There's a one in a million and a one in ten

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature

Pathways missed

Architectures of the demolished

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts

Who the heck do you think I am?

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha'

The Mangala Sabhava

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

The most beautiful father

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

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