19 August 2023

Gentle intrusions: the signature of 'Back of Beyond'

Pic courtesy www.backofbeyond.lk

['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 198th article in the new series that began in December 2022. Links to previous articles are given below] 

Pristine ecologies there very well may have been. Maybe there still are places untouched by human beings. That’s the qualifier: ‘human beings.’ One species but one of millions upon millions that have at one time or another inhabited this planet. We are human-centric whether we wish to be so or not. We can, at best, empathise with other creatures, try to understand them and their interests, leave as gentle a footprint as possible and hope for the best.

Hope for the best? That’s like leaving it to chance, isn’t it? Well, there’s very little we know about the universe, our planet, our fellow creatures and ourselves, even though we pride ourselves about knowing much. Arrogance mixed with ignorance generates tragedies. Humility tends to cause less harm.

Our planet was not how it is now. We don’t really know how it was aeons ago. We know a little and we extrapolate but the slightest error can lead us to wild conclusions. And we need to remember that just as our species has left and leaves footprints, so do all other species. We seem to have been the most arrogant and, despite our human-centric delusions of superior intellect, have demonstrated amazing degrees of ignorance, it is not the case that other species have by and large been benign. The play of relativity doesn’t give us an excuse of course, but let us not gravitate towards the opposite extreme, i.e. we are the only malevolent species this planet has known.

Throughout history our species, like all other species, have had to engage with the world around us, the ecologies we inhabit, the ecologies we move into and the ecologies we wreck, one way or another. Whether or not our actions are informed by what they may or may not precipitate, as individuals, communities, countries and as a global human family, act is what we do. What all species do, in fact.

Today there’s talk of carbon footprint. A long time ago there was no talk of carbon footprints, but the evidence stacks up to an irrefutable truth: the ancients knew more and were far more conscious of the impact of decisions made on the planet, then and later.

Can we go back to that time? I don’t know. Maybe we can’t or at least we won’t but we might be pushed into circumstances we probably would associate with a different era which we maligned as backward, unscientific, undeveloped, poor, miserable etc. The question we could ask and which some people do ask is ‘what do we do now?’ How do we conduct ourselves or how should we live our lives?

Non-engagement is not an option, because whether we like it or not, whether we are mindful of what we take and leave behind from and for the future, respectively, engage we must. We must eat and that involves foraging of one kind or another. We must breathe and breathe out, and that’s ‘invovlement’ too.

How, then, is the question.

There’s been a lot of debate on these kinds of issues. So much that it cannot be encapsulated. However, sometimes, there’s a small note or observation that makes us pause, reflect, nod our heads in agreement and compel us to reconsider how we live, the lifestyles we’ve chosen and the truths that have fascinated us. This is something that ‘popped out’ a few hours ago:  

‘"Eco" is more than a hashtag. For us, it's the very ethos of our work. We want to create truly sustainable spaces. From the materials we use, the food we serve, our activities and engagement with the community, our goal has always been, to be respectful and to cultivate that same feeling amongst our staff and guests. The truth is, any interaction with our environment has its repercussions. It is an intrusion. This is the reality. But we try our best, to make our intrusion, and be mindful and as gentle as possible.’

It was a note on the Facebook Page of ‘Back of Beyond,’ a responsible ecotourism enterprise launched in 2007 by Dr Yohan Weerasuriya.  

Yohan re-grows our nation. All the time.

[Yohan, an old friend, wouldn’t be too pleased with publicity. He works and that’s all that matters to him. In fact I’m pretty sure that most people who know him and have worked with him know only that particular slice of his life they’ve been exposed to. He will not be interviewed. It must have something to do with genes; it is only after a lot of persuasion that his father, the legendary photographer Nihal Fernando who passed away a few years ago, agreed to tell me his story. That was more than 20 years ago.]

There! Parenthetically footnoted to preempt an inevitable ‘you needn’t have, machang,’ from Yohan.

Just consider this line, which I extracted from the Back of Beyond website a few minutes ago: ‘Touch gently…   Yes, we acknowledge we are intruding … but we hope we touch our natural and social environment so minimally that it feels nothing but a gentle touch…’

Caress. Always better than hard grip or callous brushing away. In all things. Most certainly with regard to the earth we live in, which sustains us and which we take for granted. It is possible in the back of beyond and right here where we happened to be, all of us, as individuals and as a collective. 


Other articles in this series: 

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