21 April 2023

Heart-dances that cannot be choreographed

‘Dancing with daughters’ is the title of an article I wrote a few years ago. It was inspired by a a school friend dancing with his younger daughter at her wedding to the song ‘I loved you first,’ a debut song recorded by the band Heartland in 2006, a song written by Walt Aldridge and Elliott Park. Watching them I remembered two ‘dancing photographs’ of a mother and her son. My mother and my brother. The first when he barely reached her shoulder and the other at a time she was at his shoulder-height.

Father-daughter and mother-son dances and photographs are iconic, but then there are dances that are unseen, dances not accompanied by music that can be heard, but are nevertheless endearing, priceless and unforgettable.


Consider the following description of father-daughter dances:

We dance with our daughters when they are tiny and need to be entertained at every turn. We dance when their mothers are exhausted and need to rest. We dance with them for no reason at all and even if we don’t have an iota of rhythm in us. We dance, even though we’ve been spectators admiring those who could. We dance when they chide us, when they are exasperated, when they are out of control, when they simply don’t listen to reason, when they best us at  argument, when they surprise us with wisdom, when they triumph, when they fall. We dance with them when their eyes and thoughts are elsewhere. We dance with them when they are asleep.

Love, one could claim, is a dance. All loves in fact, include that which a father feels for his daughter or vice versa. You could think of others. Some kinds of love are obvious, but even in obvious love there are elements that are not only unseen but are resident in places and ways that even those who love are unaware of or cannot really describe.

A few days ago, reflecting on parental love, I remembered the last verse in ‘Sinhabahu’ the lyrical theatre production written and directed by Ediriweera Sarachchandra where it is claimed that a son cannot truly comprehend the love of a father. Sarachchandra, in that verse, proceeds to elaborate the nature of this love and locates its possible residence.

"පුතු සෙනේ මස්‌ නහර හම සිඳ
ඇට සොයා ගොස්‌ ඇට තුළට වැද
ඇට මිදුලු මත රඳා සිට දුක්‌ දෙයි නිබන්දා"
යි පොතේ ගුරුන්ගේ මුවින්‌ ප්‍රකාශ වීමට මා සලසා ඇත්තේ මේ හැඟීම්‌ ම ය."

The love of a father towards a son
pierces skin and having pierced skin
seeks out bone and cut through bone
finds residence in bone-marrow and yields endless sorrow

Crude translation. The meaning is clear, though.  

Years later, Sarachchandra confessed to Gunasena Galappaththi that the thought had taken root in his mind ten years before he wrote the play. This he mentions in ‘Pin aethi sarasavi varamak denne.’

The seed had been planted when he had read a comment in the Mahavagga Pali of the Vinaya Pitakaya, recounting an encounter between King Suddhodhana and the Buddha. The king speaks of his sorrow at his son Siddhartha’s flight in search of the truth, his sorrow at his second son Nanda being ordained and his grandson Rahula as well. He requests that the Enlightened One decree that those who wish to be ordained should first obtain permission from parents. He backs this request with an explication of a father’s sorrow: ‘The love of a father for his son is something that pierces skin, having pierced skin sinks into flesh, having gone through flesh, passes through veins and sinews, then cuts through bone and in bone marrow comes to a stop.’ Such sorrow, as he had suffered, he did not wish upon any parents, the King said and hence the request to which the Buddha agreed.

Not all sons and daughters contemplate parricide, not even in moments of extreme anger, frustration and disappointment, and even though who may wish to be unfettered from parents do not turn thought into action.  They are conscious that hurting can and does happen both ways. Maybe the love of a child for her father is as deep and profound and on account of which similar sorrows are experienced.

Only one thing needs to be remembered, I feel: hurt of the kind alluded to by Suddhodana and lyrically rendered in ‘Sinhabahu’ by Sarachchandra can only be possible on account of love of the deepest and most precious kind. Its dimensions cannot be determined and therefore it cannot be described.

A dance it is, of a kind that can never be choreographed to a point at which someone can say ‘perfect.’ 

['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:

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