04 June 2023

The loves of our lives

This happened almost two decades ago. It was a game, one could say, that a father played with his daughter. He was no special father but for him the little girl was special. A princes, no less. He adored her and would want to smother her with kisses all the time.

The problem was that the little girl wasn’t too interested in that kind of affection. The father, in a weak moment, insisted that it was his right to hug her whenever he wanted. The girl, just two years old, wasn’t pleased and her displeasure showed on her face.

He noticed. He apologised. And then he explained.

‘It’s like this. I know that you don’t like being cuddled, but I can’t stop my body. Look, look, see how my hands reach out to you?’

Then he slapped one of his arms and said, ‘hey, body, this girl doesn’t enjoy being cuddled, so just leave her alone, ok?’

She was amused. So he said, ‘shall we teach the body how to behave?’

She liked that. So the father lectured his body thus:

‘Now this girl may allow you to hug her, but only when she wants. You have to ask her permission, understand?’

She was chuckling.

‘Let’s demonstrate. Watch how I do it.’

Then he said, ‘Baby, I would like to give you a hug, would you mind?’

She didn’t. So he held her close. And she was happy to be showered with love.

So they played this game for a while. And then, this girl who was more mind than body, preferring conversation to hugs and kisses, asked him, ‘Appachchi, now you are holding me; is it you or is it your body?’  

‘It’s me, baby, just me,’ he said softly, looking into her beautiful eyes.

Maybe it happened a few hours later or on the following day or perhaps not long after this question was put to him, but she had a follow-up query: ‘when you hug, is it me you are holding or is it my body?’

He was naturally amazed by the levels of abstraction that his two year old daughter was capable of inhabiting. He just laughed. He hugged her (without permission) and she let him have his moment of bliss.

So the years passed. They had their quarrels, they had their moments, this father and this daughter. He didn’t stop wanting to hug her but he held himself back most times. Her mind raced well ahead of his. He was slow and slow-witted. She was sharp and quick. Together they found ways of expressing objection and remorse without saying the words. He indulged her no end and she made sure her tears were for the most part private. He knew, but didn’t tell her.

‘The love of your life!’ That’s what her mother thought it was. Only partly correct. For he had another daughter, younger to Ms Cerebral, ever ready to be cuddled and absolutely uninterested in the metaphysical aspects of demonstrating affection. Until of course she became a teenager and probably preferred to hear the words ‘I love you’ from someone else, preferred to be held by someone else, as it happens all the time.  

There were moments, however, when she relented and permitted a hug, moments when she wanted to talk about relationships, the attendant minefields, the tricks and traps of language, the million and one ways in which things can be wrecked and the fact that you can salvage something beautiful even from a wreck.  

She was a listener for the most part. Her mind raced but she kept most of it to herself. And she would say ‘listening to you is like watching a documentary.’  

And that’s when he slipped. He expressed his undying and infinite love for this second girl. He just couldn’t stop. Until she stopped him: ‘now you are like a sitcom!’ He just couldn't help it. She provoked the clown in him. She knew, though. For all the antics, all the clowning, the slippage into sitcom mode, there can be no purer love. Nothing more tender.

So, two decades later, this father watches these two girls with as much pride as he did when they were less ready to protest his love and with the same anxiety.  From a distance. From distances determined by the loves of his life. They know. He knows. And there can be no greater poetry, he feels. 
['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 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