07 June 2023

A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya

Pic by Tharindu Amunugama

I’ve read many Russian short stories that end with a short description of the landscapes in which the storied lives intersect. To me the authors are just taking the sentiments that torment the reader, elevating them to a plane soft enough for sober reflection.

‘The rain fell faster and the wind sang a sad and solemn dirge to the proud pair - Loyko Zobar and Radda, the daughter of old Daniel. And the two shadows whirled silently around each other in the darkness of the night, yet never was the singer, Look, able to overtake his proud, beloved Radda…’

That’s Maxim Gorky’s ‘Makar Chudra,’ a short story of a brief and tragic encounter. Of love expressed. Of being loved in return but sentiments expressed in the language of scorn and spurn. Of love unrecognised and therefore fuelling an insanity that could only be buried at knife point. Of an incomparable response; a smile that said what ought to have been heard and words that cut a heart to pieces.

There are sorrows that are not alleviated with words, these stories taught me. The dimensions are approximated through elemental description. The tenor of the wind blowing across the Steppes, the rain and its music, the dance of grass and such.

Consider this, though:

‘That township, enveloped in the disquiet of dust throughout the afternoon, by eventide found itself sneezing as it readied to settle down. The wind that swept across the Chandrika Wewa had become increasingly moist. A young moon resting now on one branch and now upon another of a Kumbuk tree on the far shores of the reservoir seemed to be searching for its more handsome form. Since darkness was close at hand, we set off to the place we were to spend the night. Night, spreading its long, dark wings, was preparing to take up residence in the town.’

A moment, a location, an environment. A feeling.

It could be any village or town close to or identified with a reservoir, large or small, irrigated or rain fed. Ratna Sri Wijesinghe, though, was describing a specific town and remembering a specific historical moment. The title of the essay (one of many written for the Silumina almost two decades ago and collected in a book titled ‘Aeth Pasura’): ‘Mee pup ladim - daru noladim.’ It’s a verse, a song and a story. The place: Embilipitiya.

The next line says it all: ran kaeti putha ko ko?  

And Ratna Sri takes us to Sooriyakanda and the avanaduva associated with that name. And to Ajith Kalyana Amarasinghe’s note:

Even though truth
was unearthed one day
from hidden recesses
at the foot of tall mountains
did it like snow on cold mountaintops
congeal thereafter,
when will the sun
rise over Sooriyakanda
for a resolute heart
its work to complete

There are places that uplift the heart. There are moments that are memorable. There are places and histories that break the heart. A poet can and will describe the truth of a place. A poet can succumb and often submits to the call of the pathetic fallacy, projecting upon flower, stem, root, mountain and dew the tremblings of the poetic heart. A poet can and sometimes does call forth a sun to direct its rays to bring to light earthed histories.

And so Ratna Sri reminds us of a tragedy that was planned, executed and covered up. It was made possible by the monumentality of the larger tragedy of which ‘Sooriyakanda’ was but one albeit singular manifestation. He cuts the heart to pieces, but not in the way that Radda shredded Loyko Zobar’s life.

The sunrise at Sooriyakanda is something to behold. The earth protects grave and brutality through its diurnal revolution. The sun does point to histories hastily unearthed, misread, mis-articulated and re-abused. For a while. Embilipitiya is beautiful. Sooriyakanda is spectacular. Somewhere at the foot of a mountain, there’s earth and heart patiently awaiting resolve and integrity.
['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:

The soft rain of neighbourliness 

The Gold Medals of being

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri

All those we've loved before

Reflections on waves and markings

A chorus of National Anthems

Saying what and how

'Say when'

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra

The loves of our lives

The right time, the right person

The silent equivalent of a thousand words

Crazy cousins are besties for life

Unities, free and endearing

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!"

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis

The revolution is the song

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins

The day I won a Pulitzer


Ella Deloria's silences

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable 


Deveni: a priceless one-word koan

Enlightening geometries

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