25 July 2023

Home worlds

I am not sure if Ghare Baire (The Home and the World) was the first Satyajit Ray movie I watched. It may have been Ashani Sanket (Distant Thunder), based on the novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, where Ray graphically presents the political economy of famine and hunger, focusing on entitlements and lack thereof, as or more powerfully than the (later?) theoretical work of the economist Amartya Sen.  

I believe it was a festival of Ray films screened on consecutive days at the Peradeniya Arts Theatre. I vaguely recollect watching Apu Sansar (World of Apu), also at the Arts Theatre, but I could be wrong.

The home. The world. Two words, dimensionally different, and yet so synonymous. There's the pithy Sinhala observation regarding the disjuncture between one’s persona as home and in public, ‘ලෝකෙට පරකාසේ ගෙදරට මරගාතේ,’ which translates as ‘a curse at home but acclaimed by the world.’ Ghare Baire embeds ‘worldish’ conflicts within a household. At the same time, we are struck by the commonality of themes: love, betrayal, the intersections of right and wrong, good and bad etc. The one throws light on the other not only in terms of impact but their mutually embeddedness, the broad strokes, nuances and the unwritten.

All that was absorbed uncritically. Things weren’t filtered too much back then. But years later I had the opportunity to consider more deeply and seriously the terms ‘world’ and ‘home,’ their intersection, their commonalities too often dismissed by the claim of proportionality, dimensions that don’t match and, interestingly, ‘economies of scale.'  It happened when Susan Buck-Morss, teaching a class on how economies work, grow, collapse and are replaced by other political economic edifices different only in name, suggested that her students examine the etymology of the word ‘economy.’ 

We didn’t have smartphones. There was no dictionary in the classroom. She explained: “It comes from the Greek word ‘oikos’ which means ‘house.’”  From oikos to ‘oikonomos,’ meaning manager or steward, to oikonomia ‘household management’ to the Latin ‘oeconomi’ which is the source of the French économie, Spanish economia and German Ökonomie.

Thenshe spoke about cities (not countries) that controlled trade and about those who really wielded economic power. She asked, ’What was common to them?’  

‘They were all white,’ I said tentatively. The class erupted in laughter. She did too. Not in a bad way.

‘They were families!’

She mentioned the Rothschilds, ‘Mister Rothschild, Missis Rothschild, the Rothschild children…’ She may have mentioned other families, but I can’t remember. Households, all. Dynastic. Same as now.

But then again, there are worlds and worlds, households and households, things economic and things that can’t be broken down and sorted under economic categories, even though there’s an inevitable political economy informing what they are and how they work, even as these households in turn shape those structures that seem all-powerful and whose encroachment seems inexorable.

Amartya Sen, incidentally, titled his memoirs 'Home in the world,' and it is about, so the blurb on the dust cover tells us, 'a story of human empathy across distance and time, and above all, of being at home in the world.'  That's a bit different from all that can be squeezed out of 'oikos,' but the Nobel Laureate I'm sure wouldn't disagree that the necessity for frugality, the complement of entitlement and politics related to access aren't too different in both spheres.

We have households that contain the world. Households that consciously are crafted in the image of a world that is preferred. Households of affirmation that, simply by the very fact of affirming, contest realities and political economies that seem intent on robbing or in other ways seek to erase meaning.  

My sister’s house in Bala Cynwyd, Philadelphia. It’s a world. A world whose building blocks are words that come in the shape of novels, poetry, biographies, magazines, history, humour, children’s stories and other literature from all parts of the planet, all walks of life, all political preferences, ideological orientation and lifestyle choices.

There are wisdom-drops, carefully and consciously collected, that have been neatly and appropriately arranged so the walls seem to be in constant conversation with one another. It’s a world made of words, but also light and shade. It’s made of line, space and colour. It is fragrant. It has a pleasing voice.

It’s a magical household where fingertips can test the textures of landscapes yet unseen — all one has to do is to open a book, glance up or sideways or just let pieces of the world’s music graze the senses.

An incomplete world. An incomplete household. Yes. Just like the better known ‘world’ and the ideal ‘household’ that beckons, trips, tramples and laughs at the tragedy and the horror of those particular aspirational pathways that lead not to bliss but often enough despair. Incomplete. Still a home, still a world. A home that is a world. In and of itself.

It’s a home that is warm with love. As the world ought to be. And is, in so many ways, in so many places.
['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: 

Ownership and tenuriality of the Wissahickon

Did you notice the 'tiny, tiny wayside flowers'?

Gifts, gifting and their rubbishing

History is new(s)

Journalism inadvertently learned

Reflections on the young poetic heart

Wordaholic, trynasty and other portmanteaus

The 'Loku Aiya' of all 'Paththara Mallis'

Subverting the indecency of the mind

Character theft and the perennial question 'who am I?'


A degree in people

Faces dripping with time

Saji Coomaraswamy and rewards that matter

Revolutionary unburdening

Seeing, unseeing and seeing again

Alex Carey and the (small) matter of legacy

The Edelweiss of Mirissa 

The insomnial dreams of Kapila Kumara Kalinga 

The clothes we wear and the clothes that wear us (down) 

Every mountain, every rock, is sacred 

Manufacturing passivity and obedience 

Precept and practice 

Sanjeew Lonliyes: rawness unplugged, unlimited 

In praise of courage, determination and insanity 

The relative values of life and death 

Feet that walk 

Sarinda's eyes 

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
The allegory of the slow road