04 June 2023

Reflections on waves and markings

There are trends and they are referred to as raeli in Sinhala. A back translation would give us ‘frill’ interestingly, like the frills of a kite, sarungale raeli. When I think of waves, it’s always in relation to water.

And when I think of waves, I think of the marks they leave on the sand. Ocean waves do that. Waves rush in towards the shore. Waves recede. And a line is left behind, marking the end point of the particular wave. And this line, so distinct in separating the wet from the dry, relatively, is made for erasure. The next wave obliterates and replaces. New wave, new line. Another wave and this is gone too.


Looking back I feel the poem ‘Dover Beach’ by Matthew Arnold lodged something in my mind that persuaded me to consider waves and lines. He wrote ‘of pebbles which the waves draw back and fling upon the high strand at their return.’ This reminded him of Sophocles hearing the very same roar on the Aegean and which brought to his mind ‘the turbid ebb and flow of human misery.’  

Misery is not what comes to mind when I watch waves and notice the marks they leave on the sand. Rather, it is the vicissitudes of life. The highs and lows. Profit and loss. Moment of glory and moment of vilification. Joys and sorrows. Praise and blame. The waves: they rise and fall. They roar as they crash in but there’s not even a whimper as they recede. The lines they leave say ‘present’ but they are quickly ‘absented.’

How frail these lines are although so powerful are their makers! What marks then do the movers and shakers leave, what signatures of arrival and departure? Not everyone who rides a wave is a professional surfer. When waves collapse and perish upon inevitable shores they are left upon the sand, much like driftwood.

We are human and humanly frail. Being subject to the vicissitudes of the human condition we get excited at times by waves, especially those that are high and arrive with a roar. We are human and therefore remember. We can think back on all the waves we’ve ridden and ask ourselves where they are now, which oceans they move around in, upon which shores they break or, indeed, if they even exist in a way that we can identify them and say with conviction, ‘yes, THIS is THAT wave.’

We are human so we can take note of the lines left by receding waves. We might remember believing fervently that these lines were indelibly etched on a process or a social, economic and political geography, that they would surely bear upon futures. We might recall that things didn't exactly turn out that way. And then we can rush into the water in search of yet another wave that we think will change our fortunes for the better. And we do this often enough.

There are lines that can be drawn and which will take a lot of effort to erase. Such lines are not drawn on water, such marks are not left on sand. There are lines which appear and we know they should not be crossed. There are marks that arise and we know they cannot be ignored. There are moments that make us decide, ‘this, now, is what should be done.’ And then, most importantly, there are indelible truths as expounded by Siddhartha Gauthama the Buddha.

But we walk through unhappy streets, hoodwinked by a streetlamp and a thief, misled by profiteers who come wearing the garb of prophets, we laugh with comedians not realising that we are being laughed at, we sheer politicians who are really jeering at us.

We embrace lines in the sand and let wisdom slip through our fingers. Things are conditional and conditional things are impermanent. It is not advisable to read conditional as indelible and erasable as permanent. Perhaps this is something to think about on this Poson Poya day, which is when you would be reading this: there are waves and the marks they leave and we, upon the shore would do well to observe their respective movements.

['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 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