22 June 2023

Sarinda’s eyes

Sarinda Unamboowe, it can be argued, always had his eyes on the ball. He kept wickets for his school and that should say it all. He was also the wing three-quarter of the rugby team. He had to know where the ball was and where he had to be to collect it. He was an athlete and that also called for focus.

But there are eyes and there are eyes. Seeing and vision are not exactly the same thing. ‘Having the eye on the ball’ refers to focus. It’s about knowing what is most important. It is about determination and courage, regardless of the odds stacked against you. Sarinda has such eyes.

Those close to him would know best how these eyes have gazed upon them, upon the world around him and the lives and livelihoods he encountered. His indefatigable efforts with the Wheels for Wheels Foundation way back in 2014 was far more public.

Sarinda, along with 11 others decided to ‘go around the pearl,’ i.e. Sri Lanka, cycling some 1350km in 10 days to raise awareness and funds to purchase 1000 wheelchairs especially designed for children suffering from Cerebral Palsy who were from rural areas and belonged to poor families. Just to make their lives a little bit more comfortable. By the time they completed the ride, they had received enough money or pledges to obtain 700 wheelchairs.

Sarinda said at the time that he had never cycled for more than 80km in one go. I still remember the daily updates he faithfully posted on Facebook. He captured the terrain, travels and trials vividly.

Two years later, along with Nathan Sivagananathan, Sarinda organised the second of two marches, from Point Pedro to Devundara Thuduva (the first was from Devundara to Point Pedro in 2011). The first was to help build a cancer hospital in Tellippalai, Jaffna and the second to build a 'twin facility' in the Southern Province.  Literally tens of thousands of people accompanied Sarinda and Nathan on these journeys.

Back then I wrote about the second journey as follows: ‘“The Trail” is an exercise of love, loving kindness, reconciliation, unification and a lot more besides; in other words much more than a long walk from the Northernmost point of the country all the way down to the Southern tip to raise money for a cancer hospital.’

It took eyes. Sarinda had them. And he would be the first to object. ‘Not just me, I was one of many,’ he would say I’m sure. Indeed. I couldn’t find a single picture on Facebook where Sarinda was alone, except for some photographs taken at a media conference. He brings people into pictures. He brings pictures to people.

There’s enough written about the Sarinda of ‘The Wheels’ and ‘The Trail.’ What made me think of his eyes had nothing to do with fund-raising. Spirit-raising perhaps, but it had nothing to with money. The Facebook post was as delightful though and as revealing of the man’s enduring celebration of all things wonderful, hopeful and laudable in this world, of his steadfast refusal not to be brought down by squalor and decrepitude, deceit and skullduggery. A ‘Mixed morph Paradise Flycatcher.’ In his garden.

There are lots of birds in this country and in the gardens of almost all homes. Not everyone notices. And not everyone who notices dwells on these winged wonders. And even if they did, they rarely take pictures and share, rarely delight in telling someone, ‘I saw and it was beautiful.’

Sarinda did. Here’s the caption: ‘Today needs a beautiful birdie…’

Poetic. Philosophical. So simple and so profound. Captures among other things the very remarkable eyes of Sarinda Unamboowe. Simple, unpretentious, beautiful. And funny, come to think of it. Yes, Sarinda can be quite the clown, his friends will tell you that. That’s how he was in school and how he is now.

There are days and moments when ‘a beautiful birdie’ would help. There are birds all around us, but we don’t see them, let me repeat. Sarinda does. He has the eyes for such things. The positives. The possibles. Happily, he also has the heart to turn possible into probable and probable into reality. Not alone of course, but sometimes it takes a man with eyes to open other eyes. Sometimes it takes a man with vision to live his life in a particular way because it makes others think, ‘that’s possible, I see!’

It comes down to a lot of self-reflection, much contemplation on the world we live in and the human beings who people it, their strengths and weaknesses, exceptional qualities and invariable frailties, and resolve not just to see but to do.  

Such a beautiful birdie, yes. 'Today' needed it. I needed it. Maybe others did too. Sarinda Unamboowe has given this world a lot of birdies. The world is privileged.

He would probably dismiss it all, as he did when I texted him a few hours ago to get permission to use a picture to go with a story about him: ‘monava kiyannada bro (what's there to say)— [just an] old bugger living quietly in a corner of India.’  

['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:

Poetry and poets will not be buried

Sunny Dayananda

Reunion Peradeniya (1980-1990)

What makes Oxygen breathable? 

Sorrowing and delighting the world

The greatest fallacy 

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi

Beyond praise and blame

Letters that cut and heal the heart

Vanished and vanishing trails


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