09 June 2023


Some words just cannot be translated. Not in a word-to-word sense anyway. Like ‘vakkada.’ It’s that place somewhere along the ridge separating one liyadda (again hard to translate) from the next in tract of paddy or a vel-yaaya where the earth is pushed aside or ‘broken’ to release water from a higher liyadda to a lower one. That’s a lot of words, some of which would require more words to properly define.

The word ‘vakkada’ reminds me of three stories. Actually, I wasn’t thinking of writing something about ‘vakkada.’ The word is in the title of a song that contained something I wanted to comment on.

The stories. The first is a song and not the one that inspired this piece. Muthu varusavata themila (roughly, ‘having been drenched by a soft drizzle,’ i.e. where the rain drops were like so many pearls) was written by the incomparable Premakeerthi De Alwis. Victor Ratnayake sings it. Here’s the line: සිතක සතු වක්කඩ කැඩුවා වැනිය (the joy felt is like a vakkada being ‘broken’).

I remember another ‘vakkada’ moment. Happened about twenty years ago. A young girl who was married but strangely, yes, didn’t know the fact (she didn’t know that ‘registration’ is a legal bind!), but was in love with another man, explained the difference thus: ‘he (the husband) doesn’t hear the sound of water trickling through the vakkada.’

The third story is from a song that kept playing in the mind for some reason. Lyrics by the inimitable Mahagama Sekara. Amaradeva’s voice. ‘Vakkada langa diya vaetena thaalayata…(to the beat of water dripping from a vakkada).’ It is not that opening line which I wanted to write about but I had to bring in these vakkada stories simply because the song is referred to by this particular line.

කිව්වට වස් නැත
නිල් නිල් පාටින්
කටරොළු මල් වැට වට කෙරුවා  

‘It is not inauspicious to point this out: the fence was surrounded by the blue blue(ness) of katarolu flowers.’

It’s the නිල් නිල් or the blue-blue or blue blueness that fascinated me. I have not come across blue-blue or anything similar in the English language. Sekara could be referring to the flowers separately, as in ‘a blue katarolu flower here and another blue katarolu flower there and so on…’ He might have also wanted to stress the blueness and repeated the word to obtain that effect.

In this blue planet, there’s an abundance of that color, naturally. So much water, after all. We are blue-blessed as a nation and a people. We are an island and therefore surrounded by sea. Our heritage, if it must have a color, is blue, considering the amazing irrigation works all around us — the lagoons, massive reservoirs, innumerable canals and even the small ‘village tanks.’ There’s blueness in the hills. Blue-blueness in the sky at certain times of the day. Less-blue and yet spectacular dawns.

‘Blue’ just doesn’t describe it. Blue-blue is better, but to my mind නිල් නිල් (nil-nil) is perfect. And that’s what great poets do. The insertion of the right word at the right place. Caresses the mind in ways that the simple නිල් or blue just cannot.

I know two people at least who have the eyes to see a blue-blueness that others let pass. Tharindu Amunugama and Kasun De Silva. They are so blessed. And we are blessed because they capture blue-blueness in amazing photographs and share it with us. The sky belongs to all but is no less private, my father once said. Tharindu and Kasun know this and they remind us of the fact. Quite blue-blue of them, I think.

There’s poetry like that. Poetry coated in the singular music one could hear at a vakkada. Poetry that is blue-blue.
['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:

A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya

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