03 April 2023

Pathways missed

‘Magaerunu maga,’
or ‘A road missed,’ is the title of Lakshman Piyasena’s book onDon Baron Jayatilleka. The contention is that D B Jayatilleka embodied an option which the nation failed to embrace or, put another way, was deliberately blocked from pursuing.  

The book is filled with tidbits about the great leader’s life which give the reader insights into his thinking, being, activism and vision. Together they define an identifiable direction. That’s the gist of what those who read the book and offered comments at its launch on Wednesday the 29th of February, 2023 at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute said.

The author offered some introductory comments which detailed how he had come to take on the task of writing about D B Jayatilleka. He observed that the man had drawn heavily from the life, thinking and work of King Parakramabahu the Second who ruled from Dambadeniya from 1234 to 1269 and is better known as Panditha Parakramabahu Rajathuma for his scholarship, having authored the Kawsilumina and written an atuva or commentary on the Visuddhimagga. In fact he was hailed as Kalikaala Sahithya Sarvagna Panditha, i.e. erudite and fully accomplished with respect to things literary and scholarly.

Apparently, Jayatilleka, while in England, had chanced upon an important document written during the reign of Panditha Parakramabahu, ‘Kandavuru Siritha,’ and had edited and published it. Perhaps the king wrote it, but that’s of secondary importance; it was in essence the ideal daily routine of a king, perhaps of Panditha Parakramabahu himself.  

Dileepa Abeysekera, offering his thoughts, spoke about the quality of ‘sama karunaa’ that Jayatilleka cultivated and espoused, i.e. to demonstrate kindness equally, without favour, In other words, sama karuna as different from maha karuna which is a virtue that only the enlightened have; sama karuna as the highest trait that a pruthagjana could aspire to cultivate. It is something that is not forbidden to a politician nor a political society and yet hardly considered by either. In fact Lakshman mentioned that at one point the minister Deva Pathiraja had suggested that the king aspire to obtain enlightenment, to which he had responded saying that he cannot, like Vessantara, gift his children, hence sama karuna as a pragmatic objective for a lay person as opposed to maha karuna.

If we are dismayed by what is around us today. We can blame leaders who were ignorant of the Kandavuru Siritha or were incapable of ordering their daily lives along similar lines. We could also blame ourselves as a people for placing trust on such leaders, of being reluctant to walk the path so well identified by Jayatilleka or being ill-inclined or unable to remove the many roadblocks that stopped the nation from considering such options.

The title made me remember Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song,’ which has the following line: ‘How long shall they kill our prophets, while we stand aside and look?’ Jayatilleka probably would have dismissed such a title, but if we take the word as a metaphor, we are talking about a path, a way, a dharma that ‘they’ slaughtered. ‘They’ could mean those who were intent on the sustained subjugation of people and plunder of resources as well as those who were co-opted into this project, those who went along, those who even today hail those who slayed prophets as fathers of the nation and those who forgot the likes of Jayatilleka, what they stood for and what they did and, most importantly, what they refused to do because it was against the national interest.  

We missed so many buses. We opted for dead-ends. We did not have the eyes to see the cleared paths, avenues cleared by people like D B Jayatilleka. We strayed into jungles, got caught in thickets of lies and deception.

The veteran lyricist Lucient Bulathsinhala, Lakshman said, had observed that if this book had come out 10 years ago, we might have been living in a different country now. Too late, then?

No. There’s nothing to forbid us from looking for different pathways, exploring those made for us by people like Baron Jayatilleka, moving aside roadblocks, clearing them of debris and walking into a different kind of future.

We live in an unhappy land because we need heroes. We are unhappy because we have refused to acknowledge the heroic and have been foolish enough to confer titles on those who are undeserving. We slayed our prophets or stood aside and watched as they were slandered and slayed. We will remain unhappy until such time that we discover that the templates of heroism already exist, that we don’t need another Don Baron Jayatilleka and that all we need to do, first and foremost, is to study the man, his words, his work and life.  

‘Magaerunu maga’ is anything but a nostalgic narrative about histories denied or rejected.  It is an invitation. Ours to accept.

['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:

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