02 May 2023

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation

Rukshan Abeywansha was a photojournalist at ‘The Nation’. Centuries ago. We worked together.  Although I called him Rukshan and he called me ‘Boss,’ we were friends.

Our ‘working together’ was not about assignments and delivery. There was that, sometimes, but for me and perhaps for him it was about an interesting exercise we would indulge in most weeks.

‘The Nation’ devoted an entire page in the features section of the newspaper for a photo essay. We mostly featured our own photographers but occasionally would accommodate outsiders, in particular students reading for a degree in Fine Arts at the Kelaniya University.  Rukshan, easily the best photojournalist at the now defunct Rivira Media Corporation (Pvt) Ltd., was naturally featured frequently.  

The exercise was simple. He would submit a set of photographs on a single theme. The layout designer assigned for the task would ‘make’ a page using all or some of these photographers. They always left a blank space and room for a headline. That was for me.

My task was to make sense of the overall visual and complement it with a poem that fit into the blank space. And so it went like this: I studied the ‘essay,’ started writing (conscious of the space available), somehow tied things up within the space, thought of some headline options and typed them out as well for the layout artist to complete the page.

Sometimes I had to struggle. Rukshan made it easy. He never failed to inspire. And I did my best to do justice to his artistry with the camera.

One of the essays was on birds or nests or bids building nests. Maybe it was just a single bird building a nest. I don’t know because I can’t remember. The only indicator is a photograph or a bird and a half-built nest. That’s the photograph I had picked out of the set to decorate a blogpost carrying the poem I had written for the page.

Now, years later, long after ‘The Nation’ was laid to rest and long after we were denied forever the magic born in the circle of Rukshan’s eyes, I realise that he was actually teaching me to see.

There was a nest before me. There was a bird before me. Both nest and bird and the act of nest-building were present and absent. Present because the photograph contained them, absent because they were symbols of something else.  

The building materials of birds and beasts  

Word twigs and mental notes
love letters and innuendo
discarded lines from forgotten songs
run-on lines and lost punctuation
a bit of sunshine
a moonbeam or two
pages from a favorite book
dog-eared days 
the smile of a stranger
and inevitable misinterpretation
the building blocks
of our sanities 
feathering of certainty
the strengths of fragility:
our lives and our eternities
woven in ignorance 
and the arrogance of knowing --
still pretty
still made for a music score.

Houses are made of brick and mortar. There’s sand and cement, pillars and crossbars, roofs and tiles, kitchens and washrooms, bedrooms and living rooms. There’s labor congealed in all these things. And if it does become a home it is because home-makers and residents fill in the gaps that even the best masons leave behind.

Nests. They are homes. Offices are nests. So too the company of special people. The intangibles decorate but they do come together to provide foundation and platform or plug the fault lines.

Whoever heard of word-twigs? Whoever heard of dog-eared days? How can inevitable misrepresentation be considered material suitable to build a dwelling?  I do not have answers, but I can tell you this much: Rukshan made me ask questions I never thought existed; Rukshan gave me eyes to see answers not readily available or came in disguise or were in fact invisible. 

['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:

'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