26 August 2023

A canvas for a mind-brush

['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 the 204th article in the new series that began in December 2022. Links to previous articles are given below] 

 Years ago I made an observation: open wounds are for blood-letting, open words are for love-letting. Word play, nothing more, one might say, but probably a victim of the timeless trap of writers falling in love with their words, I used it as the title of a collection of poetry published in 2014: ‘Open words are for love-letting…’

Six years ago I named an album made of photographs taken during a clan trip to Maha Eliya or Horton Plains, ‘Open words are for love-letting; open spaces a canvas for a mind-brush.’

Memories are made to pop up in social media and those images returned wrapped in the coolness of the place and the warmth of the company. Those landscapes have I, along with good friends, inhabited off and on many times. We soaked it all in. One particular night the skies we so clear that we just lay down outside our tent, identifying constellations and being awed by satellites  and shooting stars.  

Maybe it was just one satellite and a single shooting star. Maybe we were just ignorant, but it was very much like the following verse in ‘Home on the Range,’ the Kansas state anthem since 1947 composed by violinist Daniel Kelley to lyrics penned by Dr. Brewster Higley:

How often at night, when the heavens were bright,
With the light of the twinkling stars
Have I stood here amazed, and asked as I gazed,
If their glory exceed that of ours.

The poet Ruwan Bandujeewa had already known, long before I did, that there were canvases that anticipated mind-brushes. And this is how he painted it:

එක්තරා නිම්නයක....

ගඟ දෙපැත්තේ
බොහෝ කල් සිට
ප්‍රේමයෙන් බැඳි
කඳු දෙකක් ඇත

උනුන් වත දෙස
බලා ඉනු මිස
මෙතෙක් කල් වෙන
වුනු දෙයක් නැත

නමුත් ඉඳ හිට
කඳු ඇසින් වට
කඳුළු කැට කැට
ගලා පහළට

සිහින් ඇළ දොළ
ලෙසින් පැන නැග
ගඟට එක්වෙනු
දකින්නට හැක ...

I transliterated thus:

On either side of the river
from a long time ago
two mountains rise
bound in love

They cast gaze
on the other’s face
and nothing else
have they done

And yet now and then
from mountain eyes
tear drops roll
down to the river below

They burst out
and as thin streams roll
and gather at the river,
this is apparent. 

I had seen those tears while making my way from ‘World’s End’ to Belihuloya with my friends one rainy afternoon. Kanishka Goonewardena, Jayantha Jayman, my brother Arjuna and two AFS students from the USA, Cameron Shaw and Ethan Shauer and I trudged along the narrow path that took us to the Nagrak and later Nonpareil estates and eventually to the Haputale-Colombo road. The rain relented, the mists lifted and we could see silver streaks rolling down the mountain sides.  Only, we didn’t think ‘tears.’ We didn’t see ‘faces.’ We saw the river into which they rolled, the Belihul Oya. Now I know what I didn’t know then, thanks to Ruwan Bandujeewa whose worlds must have got lodged somewhere in the mind and surfaced quietly to be extrapolated into this line, ‘open spaces [constitute] a canvas for a mind-brush.’

Come to think of it, all spaces, open and otherwise, can be painted. Those things that seem cluttered (in contrast to the faces of mountain ‘streakable’ with tears for example) can be repainted. The objects, crude though they may be, can be rearranged. There are no barriers to imagination. We can turn anything and everything into a canvas. The entire world if we so wish. Societies. Political economies. Even doctrines can be (and are!) doctored, after all.

Perhaps the more sensible course of action is to use the mind-brush to un-clutter simply by sweeping away imperfection, impurity and defilement. 

There’s another way. Simply close your eyes and you can if you so wish call upon all the canvases you need along with a full palette of colours and brushes to paint with.  In other words, we can create the spaces we need and manufacture the instruments necessary for (re)colouring. 


Other articles in this series: 

Sybil Wettasinghe's shoes

Love is...

A stroll with Pragg and Arjun along a boulevard in Baku

Meditation on tree-art

Daya Sahabandu ran out of partners but must have smiled to the end

Gentle intrusions 

Sleeping well

The unleashing of inspiration

Write, for Pete's sake

Autumn Leaves Safeness

 Sapan and voices that erase borders

Problem elephants and problem humans

Songs from the vaekanda

The 'inhuman' elephant in a human zoo

Ivan Art: Ivanthi Fernando's efforts to align meaning

Arwa Turra, heart-stitcher

Let's help Jagana Krishnakumar rebuild our ancestral home

True national anthems

Do you have a friend in Pennsylvania (or anywhere?)

A gateway to illumination in West Virginia

Through strange fissures into magical orchards

There's sea glass love few will see 

Re-residencing Lakdasa Wikkramasinha

Poisoning poets and shredding books of verse

The responsible will not be broken

Home worlds

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