15 July 2023


Looking back, I realise that my father was largely indulgent of my youthful arrogance (maybe one day my daughters might come to the same conclusion!). I have on occasion argued with him and expressed the view that he was showing signs on delayed adolescence. At least on one occasion I went further, insisting that he was suffering from delayed childhood. He was probably hurt as I was when one of my daughters once said ‘you are a glutton for suffering.’ But he was indulgent. He offered the following response softly, ‘children are innocent.’

They are.

This is a different innocent-story. It happened about 30 years ago in a place called Sinhapitiya, a couple of kilometres from the township of Gampola. It happened at the house of my closest campus friend, Nishad Handunpathirana. The house was about a kilometre from the Sinhapitiya Junction along the Ambuluwawa Road.

It was a quiet place. A lovely family. Kind and generous. I was treated like a son and a brother. The best of times in my university days were spent in that house and with that family, even in the worst of times.  

It wasn’t a quiet day, though. It was nevertheless the day I learned the true meaning of innocence. It wasn’t quiet because there was a wedding; one of my friend’s many sisters was getting married. The ‘innocence’ arrived after all the formal ceremonies were done, except one — the 'mangala sabhava'.

The family, relations and friends of both parties had gathered outside the house. Most of them were all seated. A few of us, my friend and myself included, were standing in a corner. There was a Master of Ceremonies but I can’t remember who it was. After some introductory comments, he invited someone representing the groom’s family to address the gathering.

I was close to the family. Like a son and a brother, as I said. It immediately occurred to me that next up would be someone representing the bride. I asked my friend, ‘who?’ He didn’t know. The most senior ‘family member’ was the husband of one of the older sisters. I asked him. He laughed and flatly refused. He fled, in fact. I was overcome with a sense of foreboding. ‘We’ would be shamed, I feared.

It didn’t help that the speaker was going on and on extolling the virtues of the groom. All true, probably, but it seemed a bit too much to digest for thirty minutes or so, each passing minute increasing my agitation, not about someone among us having to match virtue for virtue in a speech but the same, initial, question: ‘who?’

The speech ended and the MC announced that it was the turn of the bride’s party. I looked at my friend. We looked around and then proceeded to meditate on the gravel at our feet. No one said anything. There was no ‘designated speaker.’  And then her father, as fathers invariably do in such situations where the honour of their daughters are at stake, rose to the occasion.  

A retired railway shroff who was also a music teacher and in fact the inventor of a musical instrument, the Chaturadvani, a composite of four well-known instruments of the North Indian tradition (for which he was recognised with the state honour ‘Kala Bhushana’), this quiet and unassuming man got up, walked to the designated speech-making area and spoke.

‘අහිංසකත්වයේ සංකේතය, අහිංසකත්වයේ ප්‍රතිමූර්තිය, හාවා කියන සතා. ඒ හාවටත් වඩා අහිංසකයි මගේ මේ දියණිය.’

[‘The symbol of innocence, the ideal of innocence, is the creature we call a rabbit,’ he said. And then, after a pause, continued, ‘more innocent than the rabbit is this daughter of mine.’]

The key word here is ‘this.’ Not just anyone, not just any daughter but that particular daughter. He wasn’t lying. It was the shortest ‘mangala kathava’ or wedding speech I had ever heard. And I’ve never heard anything shorter since either. It was the sweetest, softest and the most innocent speech I have heard in my life.

Today, more than thirty years later, I can’t but help thinking that ‘Uncle’ could not have been more innocent than he was at that moment. Childlike. Honest. Absolutely. It was as much about his daughter as it was about him.

If I was in his position today, having to make a similar speech, I am convinced that all the words I know would abandon me forthwith. Rendered speechless, I would have to speak in tears. And that would be how I recover my innocence and obtain forgiveness for the unkind words I spoke to my father. 

A Sinhala version of this article was published in the now defunct 'රැස' newspaper under the title 'ෂෝට් ඇන්ඩ් ස්වීට් අහිංසකත්වය'
['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 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  


Pamodhi Kuruppu said...

I came across this article of yours accidentally when I was skimming through Daily News 2 or 3 days back. Haha. That arrogant part is just right. Sometimes you act as if you are treading earth a few inches above than others. :P Now don't get upset :D