04 July 2023

The insomnial dreams of Kapila Kumara Kalinga

Kapila Kumara Kalinga is best known for his highly acclaimed work in theatre and television. Brevity is his strongest suit and this fact is best exemplified by the sobriquet he earned for himself, ‘Paeye Raja’ or ‘King of the Hour’ meaning the one-hour, stand-alone stories he wrote for television. 

He has a considerable reputation as a short story writer, having published several collections, but the awards he’s so far received have mostly been for novels with one exception, the short story collection 'Nirodhayana charikava (The quarantine journey)' which secured the Godage Award for the genre last year. Outside of all this, he’s known in journalistic and advertising circles as well.  Versatile and prolific. That’s Kapila Kumara Kalinga, a man who also sets high standards for himself.

Few would think of Kapila Kumara Kalinga as a poet, even though he did publish a collection of ‘environmental poems., ‘Dumburu Walaakulu (Brown Clouds). His second collection, ‘Keti vunath e kavi,’ a Surasa publication, came out last year.

The title intrigues. It could be translated as ‘poems, even though brief.’ However, one of the hundred short poems, the 100th in fact, clues us to a different message from the poet:

කෙටි වුනත්
ඒ කවි
කියවන විට
හරි දිගයි

Brief they are
and yet when read
quite long
these poems

It is as though he has decided to meticulously affirm the economic signature of poetry. They are brief and yes they are long. ‘Long,’ as in deep. They stop you. They make you think. They may even persuade you to reconsider the order of the universe and abandon received truths.  

Kapila Aiya pens thoughts in ways that make me tell myself, ‘explication would require several hundred words.’ Or more. That deep.  

Perhaps it is because he has so many words at his disposal and because he was in so many ways used them in innumerable combinations and patterns that he can condense in this manner. Perhaps it’s a function of longevity and life-ways. Not everyone ages well, and not all people become better or wiser with time, but I think he was talking about the entire process and where it has brought him in the following:

"මට වචන
දෙක තුනක් ඇති"
මහලු කිවි පැවැසී
තුරුණු කිවියෙකුට

“I can with words,
just two or three
get by,
to the young poet
said the poet of many years

Of course such brevity doesn’t necessarily require the distillery of time. Kapila Aiya’s poetry reminds me of the work of Ariyawansa Ranaweera, perhaps the most productive of the two-three-words poets writing in Sinhala. This collection, at least in terms of style, is interestingly quite similar to Lahiru Karunaratne’s  recent collection of short poems, ‘Noim’ (non-existence, boundless, infinite). Lahiru, quaintly, calls them kavithi (‘poemlets’). Again, distillation.

Of the 100, some are clearly inspired by and are of personal encounters and attendant emotions. Reflection of these, to be more correct.  

ඇය එන දවසෙම
ගොළු වූ සැටි
දොර සීනුව

The bell,
it had to go silent
the day she arrived!

Wrong time, wrong place. Buses missed. The moment’s gone and it does not, cannot return, cannot be called or refashioned. How deftly he says it all!

And then there’s reflection on eternal verities where he uses the abundant metaphors in the natural world to draw, capture and hold the reader.

යලිත් හමුවනු ඇත ඔබ
වැසි බිඳු සමඟ
වැව කියයි වාන් දියට

Among raindrops
I’ll see you again,
said the reservoir
to the spill waters

It’s not just the water cycle. It’s about the unities of human things, their seeming transformation and enduring samenesses.

The following, to me, is the most remarkable.

නිදිමත නම්
නිදා ගන්න
සිහින අවදියෙනි

if sleepy
dreams are awake

That’s a deft flip at so many levels; it twists and untwists the mind. In fact it is this poem, mentioned in a Facebook post by Priyankara Nivunhella about this collection that prompted me to look for the book. I just had to take a look. Kapila Aiya said Prem (Dissanayake) would have it since it was put out by Fast Publishing (Put) Ltd. I called Prem Aiya. He said ‘come over.’  

Now, I can sleep if I wanted to. But here’s the sleep-poem that’s relevant to the poet and also reveals the secret of Kapila Kumara Kalinga’s indefatigability:

"නිදිමහ නැද්ද දැන්?"
දොර දෙසින්
නැඟෙයි හඬක්
"එපා මා දමා යන්න"
පෑන මුමුණයි සෙමින්

ඇඟිලි තුඩු මත දැවටෙමින්
A voice is heard
from somewhere near the door
“Aren’t you sleepy?”
And the pen
snuggling up to the fingers
“no, don’t leave me.”

And thanks to pen and fingers, dream and slumber exchanging places surreptitiously, passing a baton made of words back and forth, I cannot sleep either. I don’t want to.


['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 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