06 April 2023

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling…

I am not someone who listens to the radio. I was never fascinated with music or songs in that I didn’t look for them, collect, reflect and discuss. What songs I know and have come to love have for the most part been those played by people around me or what I heard over a radio switched on by someone else. Random, mostly.

And there’s a random line from a random song that I heard, with a twist, on an unforgettable afternoon over a car radio where the press of a button had connected to someone else’s choice of frequency. That line was the last of a lot of things Kingsley said during that programme on Sirasa Radio.

I was at the wheel, returning from my sister-in-law’s homecoming in Matugama along with mywife, pregnant with our second child, our first who was just two years, and some relatives. ‘Dan chithakaya dalvana mohothai…samugena yanna apen thava mohothai…nododa inne ai [It is now time to light the pyre…there’s only a moment left before you bid us goodbye…why are you silent?]’ It’s a line from the duet that Gunadasa Kapuge and Malani Bulathsinhala sang, ‘dam paatin laa sanda basa yanava…[the moon, in mauve, is setting].’

Sirasa moved onto some other programme. The words, the man who was no more and what he meant to me and of course to thousands of others, stayed. There may have been other listeners who too went silent, who too could not stop the tears, I don’t know. It’s been twenty years since that day for he passed away on the 3rd of April, 2002; it feels like it all happened a few days ago and it also feels like it never happened at all. Maybe that’s how it is with artists and others who touch many lives deeply.

Kapuge stays, not just with songs, but the things people have to say about him. Little things. Acts of kindness and compassion. Thoughtfulness. The things he valued far more than money, accomplishments or fame. Too many to recount, but I wrote down a few, around ten years ago in a piece titled ‘The lost songs of Gunadasa Kapuge.’ I had forgotten what I had written, so I looked it up and found a comment which too I had forgotten about.

Chathura Sachith Weerakoon remembered Kapuge aș a great friend of his father, who he says wasn’t a fan. Kapuge, apparently would visit their place in Ratnapura on his way to concerts without bothering to check if anyone was home.

He remembered that Kapuge treated their maternal grandmother as though she was his own mother. Once he had brought her a Glucometer because he remembered their mother’s response to his question over the old lady’s blood sugar level. He never bypassed or passed through people’s lives; Kapuge stopped, stayed and that’s why he remains in people’s hearts even today. 

‘He cried at my grandmother’s funeral.’

There are many ways to describe the life he led, but perhaps the most poetic capture could be drawn from the song sabanda api kandu novemu (let us not be [like] mountains):

වියරු ගිනිදැල් නොවෙමු
වනය අවුලා  තබන
මිහිර දෙන වැස්ස වෙමු
දැවෙන කැලයට වසින

‘Let us not be like intemperate flames that set fire to the thicket, but instead be the rain that delights by quenching the burning forest.’

He was like the softest rain. He simply sang with us, sang of us and for us and, as I wrote so long ago, ‘mirrored mirrored the rhythms and rhymes that make up our lives and took us to places where we could see ourselves and therefore understand where we should go.'

He wasn’t singing only about the ways in which our world trembled, shattered and burned, but was also healing our senses with a balm that can only be produced by someone who was acutely aware of what had happened and had suffered the same losses, same sorrows.
He is gone. He stays. Why then is he saying nothing, I must ask myself the question Kingsley asked twenty years ago. I don’t have to wait long. There’s a voice that arrives. It is a call, an andaheraya, untranslatable but easily recognized by hearts that have known or desire heartbeat. It’s Gunadasa Kapuge.  

['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:

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