08 July 2023

Revolutionary unburdening

Ernesto Che Guevara's ‘Bolivian Diary' and ‘Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War’ are perennial favourites among those who are convinced that peaceful social transformation is impossible and therefore armed insurrection is inevitable. Guerrilla warfare of course is not the preserve of revolutionaries; it is a strategy that has been employed by the world’s worst terrorists and also counter-revolutionaries of the worst kind.  

A lesser known account would be Omar Cabezas’ ‘La montaña es algo mas que una inmensa estepa verde,’ translated into English as ‘Fire from the mountain.’ It is the story of his life with the Sandinistas in the late 1979s. Cabesaz would eventually rise to be a commander in the guerrilla war against the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle.

I was reminded of Cabezas and ‘Fire from the mountain’ recently when I read a journal entry  written by Dennis Welton during a hike across Spain along an old pilgrim trail, the Camino de Santiago.

Welton comments on backpacks that travellers carry with them. He points out that sometimes one has to walk miles and miles with a loaded backpack in order to truly understand what is really important to carry.

Cabezas, I recall, wrote about the same thing. Typically, he wrote, younger or newer recruits would stuff their backpacks with all kinds of things including mementoes that helped them remember people and things they cherish. He mentioned that more senior and seasoned campaigners would watch out for moments when the younger comrades, unable to bear the weight, would discard cans of food. They would pounce on them.  They knew enough about what was useful for survival and what was discardable in the larger order of things.

The war or, if you want to be general about traveling and weights, the distance traveled, has a way of unburdening one and all. It’s not always about the weight, Cabezas points out. One by one those precious artefacts from a different lifetime were lost. A handkerchief, a photograph, a love note…such things are inevitable casualties in war just as a human life.

Welton, however, had an interesting take on ‘burdens.’ He claims we tend to pack our fears.  Consider the following paragraph from the journal entry:

‘Something I heard along the way has really stuck with me and I was thinking about it today. They say that "We carry our fears in our backpacks". In other words if you are afraid that you will run out of food and go hungry then you carry too much food. If you are afraid of freezing then you carry too many clothes. If you fear not being able to find a place to sleep then you load yourself down with a tent and camping equipment. Of course all this extra stuff is heavy, which makes us tired and sore and often causes injuries. The soreness and pain make us irritable and cranky and often that is what our fellow hikers see. They don't see the real us! They are seeing the result of the pain caused by carrying our fears and too much junk in our backpack.’

Welton extrapolates further. He suggests that much of the excess baggage we carry around with us in life is the product of our fears.

‘We keep lugging around things that we should have dumped long ago. The result is that the people in our lives do not get to see the real us. They don't get the best of us. Many times they are on the receiving end of the pain caused by the useless junk we are carrying around with us. Often, we have been hauling it around for so long that we have started to believe that it is part of who we are.’

And he recommends that we do what backpackers eventually do: ‘unpack the overloaded personal backpacks, examine each item honestly, determine if we actually need it or not and if it is really serving a purpose; if not, then leave it behind and move on.’

Fixations. Security blankets. Comfort zones. All related to some fear. All unnecessary burdens that weigh us down, slow us down, make us cranky and ill-tempered travel companions.

Let us not forget — it is not only revolutionary soldiers, guerrilla fighters and other such clandestine activists inhabiting gruelling landscapes and fighting seemingly endless battles with no end in sight that walk. We all walk. We all carry with us things we think are ‘journey-essentials.’ It wouldn’t hurt to actually walk sometime. Hike. Go into the hills with what we think are ‘bare essentials’ and then, as the hours go by and turn into days, perhaps, stop, unpack the overloaded backpacks and re-assess ‘essentials.’ 

That, now, would be unburdening of a revolutionary kind.



['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: 

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