02 May 2023

It begins with a dot

I had always taken dots for granted, like most things, when I was a child. I never knew they needed to be defined or indeed if that was even possible. I would have been about 11 years old when Mr Liyanage, who taught woodwork (lee vaeda) in my school and therefore earned the nickname ‘Vadda,’ offered the definitions.  As per geometry.

So I learnt that a dot, when it represents a location, is called a point which of course does not have any specific length, width, shape or size.

Then he moved to ‘line,’ again something I had taken for granted. Vadda duly informed me that a line is formed when two distinct points are connected. It had no width. It is made of an infinite number of points.

Vadda taught me these definitions and I had no reason to revisit them. I reverted to taking dots and lines for granted unless someone asked me to define them. No one has, so far.  

And then I met Gamini Abeykoon, an Art Director at Phoenix-Ogilvy who in his spare time produced exquisite line drawings. And this morning, I remembered Gamini Aiya when I chanced upon a line drawing of the standing statue at Gal Viharaya (that of the Buddha according to some and according to others of the grieving Agra Upasthayaka or Chief Attendant of the Enlightened One and the Dharma Bhandagarika or Repository of the Dhamma, Ananda Hamuduruwo).

Gamini Aiya exhibited his line art at the Lionel Wendt Gallery some years ago. By way of providing some publicity for the event, I featured one of his drawings every Sunday in ‘The Nation,’ along with a poem inspired by the particular drawing, the first published several months before the event and the last just before the exhibition was launched.

I vaguely remembered writing about him around that time. A quick search yielded the article which I posted on my blog (‘Gamini Abeykoon: inscriber of ‘exquisite’ into the humbler line’). Reading it for the first time since I posted the article, I came across his response to a question about the degree of control required in his work. Here’s the extract:

“‘Maybe I was born with some of these skills,’ he explains in his self-effacing way.  On further prodding, he elaborates, again slowly and rather reluctantly: ‘I think it is because I began by using dots.  I drew pictures with dots.  They had to be the right size, otherwise the effect is lost. That might have trained me to be extra careful and therefore acquire the requisite skills of control.’” 

Every great accomplishment starts with ‘a dot,’ so to speak. The grand edifices can be imagined and designed, but transferring blueprint into something on the ground begins with a dot. Someone must cut the earth to lay the first brick. Someone has to cut the earth to draw the clay that makes the brick. Come to think of it, blueprints don’t fall from the sky. The designer, the architect, the engineer and bricklayer have to learn the trade from scratch. A dot.

We forget that we begin with a dot. We quickly move to lines and from lines to innumerable configurations, geometries we are required to or are inspired to produce. And in the end, when we people these brick-mortar edifices of one kind or another, we forget all the dots that made them and all the dots that were connected by those who made them.  

The world in pulse
in inhale and exhale gives
movement and stillness
warm and cool
dust and sorrow
joy and departure
mendicant and mendicancy
a festival for perpetuation
but eyes can gaze like caress
stillness is learned
and learning
when stilled
yields truth
and finitude eternal
they say.

I extrapolated and in the process failed to see a single dot.

Gamini Aya’s line drawing began with a dot. In the mind of the unknown sculpture a dot must have materialised about what a rock face could yield. In both we see the image but not the individual lines and within them the innumerable dots. Not a crime of course, but if contemplation has some worth, reflection on the ‘dot’ could be immensely meaningful.

We can extrapolate from dot to sculpture and sculpture to line drawing. We can obtain a sculptor and an artist. We can extrapolate beyond the work of art and artist. We can learn of infinities, the constituent elements and perhaps, as Gamini Aiya might say, all the truths embedded in the definition that Vadda taught me half a century ago: a line has no width but is made of an infinite number of points, none of which does not has any specific length, width, shape or size,

We could travel from dot to line to a work of art. We could travel back and if we can find a way of moving from work of art to a line and a dot and ‘beyond,’ we just might chance on some eternal verities that may very well enlighten and make us at least as humble as Gamini Abeykoon.  

['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:

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