16 August 2023

The unleashing of inspiration

Longevity alone can make legends for people are made of stories and the years invariably produce voluminous content. Making it to 98 is itself legendary. People who live that long are libraries, for their lives are made of innumerable stories and they are veritable repositories of history.

Summa Navaratnam turned 98 recently. Survived only by a younger brother with most if not all contemporaries long gone into the mysterious hereafter, his friends and admirers are probably a generation or more younger to him. Unlike most others who lived as long as he has and touched a century and gone beyond, Summa is known. His stories are known. Well, in the very least his exploits as a sportsman are known and not only to those who were involved in athletics and rugby one way or another or the history buffs in his alma mater, Royal College.

He filled the sports pages of newspapers as a schoolboy and long after leaving school as well. From time to time, newspapers ran stories about him. He was recognized as an exceptional figure in the various spheres he inhabited. A national icon, most certainly.  

I am aware that senior journalist Namini Wijedasa has almost completed a biography of this legend and that Hemamal ‘Jawa’ Jayawardena, the diminutive hooker of Royal’s rugby teams of the late seventies and early eighties, who adores Summa and associates him closely is planning to get it published. That’s as good a capture as any that can be drawn from a life lived to the fullest.

What prompted me to mention Summa is a photograph that Jawa posted. It is of a lone man in a wheelchair facing a pavilion that carries his name. It reminded me of a line from ‘The General in his Labyrinth’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The main protagonist, based on General Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios or, simply, Simón Bolívar, who between 1811 and 1824 led  revolutionary armies of South America to evict Spaniards from their former colonies, sails down the Magdalena River planning to reach Europe, sees a vessel named ‘The Liberator’ moving in the opposite direction and murmurs, ‘To think that I am that man!’

I don’t know what kind of thoughts passed through Summa’s mind when he saw the legend ‘Inspiration Unleashed’ under the name of the pavilion, ‘Summa Navaratnam Stand.’ Most people are honoured after they’ve passed on. Summa is an exception. He has lived long enough and has been showered with so many accolades over the years that while it may have made him feel good it is unlikely that he went overboard with joy. He’s lived a humble life and has been extremely generous in sharing his wisdom with young rugby players whenever called to do so. ‘Anything for Royal,’ has probably been like a motto.

Enough of Summa. My good friend Namini will tell you all about his trials and tribulations, regrets and how he exorcised them, the triumphs, the adoration and the years of quiet reflection. Soon, I hope.

Let’s think about inspiration and unleashing it. Does anyone plan to inspire? Do people unleash inspiration? There are countless moments of heroism and countless heroes. In sports, in times of war and resistance, in the long years of oppression and also everyday acts where the must-be-done is done regardless of costs. I pick, without any disrespect to heroes and their heroism, Ranathunga Karunananda.

This hero of the Tokyo Olympics finished last and long after several competitors had lapped him in the 10,000 m race. He was given a standing ovation. The winner of the race, Billy Mills of the United States would later applaud ‘Karu’ and state that he deserves a gold medal for upholding the Olympic Spirit. His story is in Japanese textbooks, ‘Uniform Number 67’ and ‘Bottom Ranked Hero.’  

‘Karu’ never set out to be a legend. He just wanted his little girl to one day know that he completed a race. That’s it as far as ‘inspiration’ goes. But he has inspired countless of young people. As has Summa.

Those who inspire never set out to do so. They just do the best they can. In the case of sports, on and off the field. They live exceptional lives, whether brief (Karu died under tragic circumstances at the age of 38) or long, like Summa’s. They may or may not receive hosannas. They may or may not be written about. Those moments have a way of being missed and are often only recollected with awe much later. This is not how it was with Summa but it was certainly how it was with Karu.

They live and in living they inspire. That is how inspiration is set free and having been unleashed it becomes public property. Anyone can access, anyone can incorporate it into their attitudes and approaches to matters at hand, sporting or otherwise.

Jawa too. What he saw that day inspired the capture and the capture in turn inspires. Summa probably has no clue about how and who his life has touched and empowered. Karu neither. Jawa, if he reads this, would know for sure that he too has unleashed inspiration. Again, without intending to do so!  


['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 196th article in the new series. Links to previous articles are given below] 

Other articles in this series: 

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