05 May 2023

Enlightening geometries

Sunsets are delightful. Sunrises too. Many things in the natural world are pleasing to the eye. Rainbows, the movement of water, cloud formations, the play of wind on leaves, rain, waves breaking on rocks, dry leaves in a puddle, mountains, rivers, valleys. You could go on.

Not for everyone though. More than forty years ago, a splendid sunset over the trees beyond the racecourse did not move Ravi Arulnandi.

‘Hmm…,’ he said and explained: ‘maybe I find beauty in other things.’

‘Such as?’


Defensible. There’s movement, order, predictability, patterns, formulas and others that make a different kind of ‘dharmathavaya,’ in things mathematical. I did not disagree. We use mathematics to understand the natural world, calculate distances between celestial objects and to predict natural phenomena.

Maybe it’s just two different languages, two ways of seeing, understanding or trying to understand, and two ways of being delighted by such things. And sometimes these languages speak to one another. Much has been made of how the ancients understood geometry and used relevant knowledge to understand the sun, the moon, constellations and the earth itself.

That’s deliberate of course.

But sometimes it’s 'chance' with a dash of deliberation evidenced by 'decision.' For example in Mahagama Sekara’s epic poetic work, ‘Prabuddha,’ there’s a moment when the main protagonist notices a bright star shining in the sky above the Ruwanweliseya.

It was dusk. He wanted to turn it into an adornment. And so he walks around until he locates the spot where his gaze, the pinnacle and the star intersect. Thus did he obtain clarity, thus did he dispel gloom: 'deepena thama dhansinaa!’

There are geometries all around us. Sometimes we notice them. Sometimes we see and don’t take much notice because there’s nothing special about them. Sometimes we need to move a little, take a detour, look for ‘the spot’ that yields some unique, revealing and, in the very least, pleasant configuration.  

Of course it’s quite possible that geometry will not appeal to someone. Or many people, actually. We are not required to be delighted by the same things or in the same way. Lines and curves can be fascinating, but not for everyone. The spaces they yield, what’s contained in these spaces, the juxtaposition of objects and colours might very well be the least of someone’s concerns at a given moment. They might also cast light on the darkest regions of someone else’s mind, unravel the thorniest of knots, show pathways and answer questions that had not been noted hitherto.

In Arankele, a monastic complex in the Kurunegala District a few kilometres from Ibbagamauwa off the road to Polpithigama, there are lines and spaces, intersections and other geometries that I noticed a few days ago. There was a pond full of kumudu flowers, gently nodding with the wind’s work on the water, rhythmic ripples making for the glancing of sunlight in various directions. Stars that have descended on the water to cool off. Delicateness awaiting gaze and fingertips.

In Arankele, there are walkways for the ascetic bhikkhus. Walking along the sakman maluwa, I came across a vine that had doubled back on the tangle it had created for itself,  for want of space perhaps. Beyond it is a tree. Straight. Spaces thus defined made for reflection.  

We cut things into pieces without realising. We compartmentalise for ease of comprehension. We break unities and make new ones.

At night, they all disappear. And at dawn reassert presence. These things that were born one day, thrive now, will one day decay and perish. Prolonged drought may draw out all the water from the pond. There will be no flowers to decorate the landscape, delight the senses.

It will rain again, most certainly. New water, new flowers. Same pond? Yes and no. And thus we revert to more familiar equations transient though they too are. Geometries, in the end, are a means and not the end. Useful but ultimately required to be set aside or dissolved in the waters of comprehension. Pirith pan, you may call it.

['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:

Let's meet at 'The Commons'

It all begins with a dot

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone

On sweeping close to one's feet

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts...

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm

Who really wrote 'Mother'?

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing

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