08 July 2023

Saji Coomaraswamy and rewards that matter

There are always rewarding moments in life. Rewards of the tangible kind and feel-good rewards that don’t arrive with a label. High points, one way or another. They tend to be the most resistant to the invariable forgetting that life and time layer on us.  

A question was put to me recently on this matter. I was asked about my most rewarding experience. Instantly, I remembered. Sometimes the question has to be asked and that’s when we know, for few people dwell on the years that have passed thinking of and then reminiscing about high points.

I remembered a friend. I remembered writing about my friend years ago. I dug up the piece and it made me smile as I am sure it would have made her smile back when it all happened.
It happened almost 10 years ago and this is how I recounted it.

‘I was leaving my office, carrying a bouquet of flowers.  A young girl asked me, “for whom are those flowers?”  I said, “for my girlfriend – it’s her birthday!”  I got a look.  There was incredulity, amusement and, I like to believe, a bit of jealousy too.’

I smiled and added, ‘She’s over 80 years old.’

I came to know Saji Coomaraswamy, as I wrote back then, ‘in the strange intersections of orbits set in motion by the hand of God, as she might say, or by reasons that really do not require investigation because what matters is intersection alone, as I would say.’

She had responded to something I had written. I replied. And that correspondence continued until she passed away a few years later. We met and became firm friends. Mr Coomaraswamy, Madam and later Aunty Saji; the evolution of address tells the story.  

She pointed out errors, she offered arguments that countered positions I took. She was always courteous, always civilised. As time went on we spoke about our lives, our families, the things we cherished and things we were confused about [Read For Menaka Thirunavakarasu, wherever she may be where I mentioned that Aunty Saji was like a mother to me]. She invited my family to her place, got to know my children, remembered their names and inquired after them. She told me about her life; her childhood, the time she was a student at Trinity College, Kandy (yes, she was!), her husband, children, grandchildren, in-laws, time spent in Zimbabwe and then, later, back in Sri Lanka. We discussed politics and religion [an article titled 'A note on doggerel and nonsense inspired by Charles Wesley' was prompted by a note she sent me], literature and the arts, whatever happened to caress imagination at the moment. She taught me much, especially the importance of humility, tenderness and integrity [A note she sent me on the beatitudes prompted an article 'A time to go down on my knees and show veneration'].

The most interesting discussions were about philosophy. She was a Christian, I was not. We didn’t step on each other’s toes, but we still danced.

I remember posting a poem on my blog. It was about love and about a singular kind of intimacy. Those who commented assumed it was about some woman and a romantic relationship. After a few days I added a comment: ‘this is about my daughter, she’s just 10 years old.’  

Aunty Saji said I was being very mischievous. I was. We laughed. We laughed quite a lot, come to think of it. She had a great sense of humour.  

Her daughter Amala called me one day and told me that Aunty Saji wasn’t doing too well. I visited her. Amala said that her mother was unable to speak. She seemed happy to see me.

I told her 'I've never come across anyone so at peace with who they are, where they have been and where they believe they are going.'  She smiled again.  I said ‘I love you so much,’ kissed her and left.  I like to believe she is where she believed she was going to be or, if not, in a place I believe is warranted by the way she lived and loved. [Read Saji Coomaraswamy was a small but powerful generator of love]

Yes, I loved Aunty Saji dearly and I will always cherish her beautiful ways and especially the way she smiled and said everything she was unable to say the last time I saw her. 

And yes, if a bouquet is deserved for anything I’ve ever done in the business of writing, well, I’ve already received it. I cannot think of a reward that is richer than having had the opportunity to meet, know, love and be loved by Saji Coomaraswamy.
['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: 

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


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful article, and even better, how I came to read it! I was minding my own business when out of the blue, you approached and asked for a lighter. You noticed the book I was reading and inquired, unaware of how much I admire your work. And then, you mentioned your blog. I can't express my feelings after reading this article. It's simple yet amazingly touching. It reminds me of a classy lady I knew who possesses the same sense of humor and exceptional knowledge on various topics, along with the ability to engage in decent conversations with empathy. Malinda, once again, thank you so much for sharing this. A rewarding moment for me

h. said...

So so so beautiful.