03 April 2023

Architectures of the demolished

There’s always a ‘house next door,’ even in rural areas with a population density considerably lower than in cities. Often there are two. If you live down a narrow lane even the house or houses on the other side of the lane would qualify to be included in the ‘next door category.’

We lived down a narrow lane off Havelock Road. It's now called Gomes Drive, but was nameless when we were kids. There were lots of ‘next doors’ including one behind our house. Access to that house was from Havelock Road. The two houses were separated by a wall. There was hardly any interaction between the two families. We knew who lived there. We would see them occasionally walking down Havelock Road or at one of the retail shops close by. Knew the name. Knower. That’s about it.

Except for two things. A massive ehela tree a few feet away from the wall, clogging the gutters on the roof with dead leaves and showering the tiny strip of land that counted for a back garden with yellow flowers. And the music.

Brian Knower was a few years older than us. Someone said he played in a band called ‘Unwanted Generation.’ Apparently he did play in a band. It was called ‘Cancer’ and was led by Prasanna Abeysekera. We would nod in recognition and say ‘good morning’ when we ran into each other at the small boutique next to the Eros Cinema. That’s about it.

A couple of days ago I remembered Brian. I remembered the last time I saw him. His parents had passed away. I don’t know if he had any siblings and therefore even if he did I didn’t know where they were or what they did. The house was sold, I heard. Brian lived somewhere else. But on that day, while having a cup of plain tea in the boutique we both frequented, I saw him at the entrance to the small pathway that led to his house.

He had come on a bicycle. He had got off and was holding it, looking towards what had been ‘home’ to him. Then he got on the bike and left. I never saw him again. 
That was the day the Knower house was demolished.  I only saw some men and machines. I only heard demolition noises. It was not music to my ears.  

I remembered all this because a few days ago I saw a house being demolished. A small house. An old house. In fact, 24 hours later I saw that it had been razed to the ground and the house next door was also in the process of being brought down.

The location. As you turn into W A Silva Mawatha, earlier known as High Street, from the Pamankada junction, you’ll find an apartment complex on your left. Next to it is a retail shop. Next to the retail shop is a small restaurant. Sirisanda is the name. Next to it is a narrow lane without a name, leading to a house. A small house. Old. In disrepair. That house had to be brought down for any outsider to learn that there was another house behind it. And perhaps another one beyond.

The inhabitants had left. Had sold, taken their belongings and left. And I, an outsider, stood there watching someone manoeuvring a formidable machine to clear the rubble, watching some men moving chunks of concrete, watching some other men taking apart the roof of the second house. And thinking of Brian Knower. And houses that were but now aren’t.

Spaces that have suddenly opened up reveal skies never seen before, at least until a new building is constructed. In the spaces created only memories can remain of places that once existed. Thoughts of what was, who was there, what happy and sad moments there were, what tensions, what emotions and a resurrection of times, people, events, moments that had perished in the mind’s corners reserved for the less prioritised. They all must emerge as apparitions from debris and neglect, at least for a while, at least off and on. Just like they do in the case of places we’ve left whose historical trajectories thereafter are unknown simply because we’ve gone too far away in distance and time.

We don’t reconstruct anything perfectly. Indeed, we cannot. We remember and mis-remember, we get the names wrong, we imagine non-existent windows and leave out doors we’ve walked through hundreds of times. And so we reconstruct architectures of things that do not exist any more. Close enough approximations or things remembered out of proportion where you diminish what someone else might amplify and you magnify that which for someone else could be so inconsequential that it doesn’t even make it to the footnotes of recollection.

And when we are gone, they go missing. The world moves on. There must have been something in the space that used to be Brian Knower’s home. Another house, perhaps. Other people, perhaps. Or just some trees. Or a marsh, for that’s what Colombo was.  

Sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā. All conditioned, interdependent, relative things and states, both physical and mental, are transient.

['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:

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