07 June 2023

The soft rain of neighbourliness

May. It’s the month of the themagula. Hard to miss. Vesak is also the name of the month. In English, ‘May.’ It is the name of a month, a tree and its flowers: maei gas, maei mal. Brings to mind Milton Mallawaarachchi.

Phoenix Flower, Flame of the Forest, Flamboyant and Maei Mal. Appropriate names, all. It’s already June, but even the recent torrential rains haven’t exactly doused the flames. Flames, yes, but not the kind that burns. Delights instead.

Thanks to the majestic and flaming tree in the garden of my neighbours, Angelo and Nilu, I get a red carpet welcome as I come home. Sometimes I walk out of the house just to look at the redness that has tinged the gravel road. The tree, as I said, is majestic. It is beautiful. I am sure a good photographer with the right kind of camera and at the right time of day and angle could capture it well. I cannot. I just think of the blessings.

There are things that no fence or wall can contain. Good and bad. It’s all good in my case. I receive largesse intended and unintended, loveliness that reaches up and over the wall of my neighbours and droplets of delight that fall as though determined to paint the section of the lane just outside my gate.

This morning, I took some pictures of the red carpet. I couldn’t capture ‘welcome’ but felt it certainly. I didn’t call Angelo or Nilu. I don’t have to. They know.

One day, I was sitting at the back of his house (which is on a higher elevation with an entrance from a different lane), having a cup of tea with Angelo. This is what he had to say:

‘I come here and it is so soothing to look towards your house. It’s all green.’

True. There are the walls of course, but there are so many trees that our house is hardly visible. It wasn’t always like that. A largely empty property, overgrown with weeds, was transformed over the years thanks to the diligence of my wife. So many fruit trees, so many leafy greens, vegetables, spices, jak, breadfruit, coconut, puvak and all kinds of herbs. Some planted and some growing wild. Butterflies, bees, birds and other creatures too. And the occasional reptile as well.

Angelo and Nilu offer us red. My wife has given them green. We don’t say ‘here, this is for you.’ We don’t say ‘thanks for the colours.’ We don’t have to.  The butterflies, bees and squirrels don’t thank her for the mangoes, pinijambu, ambarella and other fruit. We don’t say ‘thank you for dropping by,’ and yet we delight in their presence, ever conscious that we and not they are the transgressors.

Another neighbour, the late T D K Dharmadasa, chatting with me not long after he moved into their new house, asked me about neighbourhood crime.

‘There are thieves. There are some kudukaarayas. Walls, however, will not stop them. It’s the hitha-honda-kama that might.’ Essentially, good neighbourliness. That was my contention. He smiled, understood and agreed.

Our place is flanked by two lanes. Angelo and Nilu lie across one of them, Dharmadasa Aiya and his family lived across the other. There are others too, all good neighbours. Their hitha-honda-kama doesn’t come with a shout, but there’s assuredness that’s unspoken. It is not stopped at the gate. It is not detained by a wall.

June will end. I don’t keep track of these things, but I know there are red-less seasons. No red carpet welcome. But I know Angelo and Nilu live next door. I know Dharmadasa Aiya is no more, but he is ever-present in his family, his home.

Hitha-honda-kama wafts over walls, dressed in green. It descends from above, soft as the softest rain, red-tinged and lovely. 

['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 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