06 September 2023

Thilina Kaluthotage's eyes keep watch

['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
215th article in the new series that began in December 2022. Links to previous articles are given below]       

There have been portraits that hang in empty halls. Frameless heads on nameless walls there must have been I’m sure. And eyes that watched the world and just could not forget. All these, long before the imagery was etched in the imagination by the lyrics and voice of Don McLean.

‘Starry, starry night,’ the song, is among my favourites. It has made me look closely at walls, portraits, ragged men in ragged clothes and eyes of all kinds too, those that see unseeing and those that watch the world. Intriguing always and yet I can’t think of any wall, portrait or eyes I’ve recently encountered that struck me deep inside as did a photograph by Thilina Kaluthotage.
He was apparently visiting parts of an old town submerged by the waters of the Moragahakanda Reservoir that had become visible due to the extended doubt.  That album, posted on Facebook, is an incredibly poignant photo-essay. What lives were lived there, he makes us ask ourselves.

And so we imagine people, families, children, the day-to-day, what it must have been like, what alternative futures were submerged, the joys and sorrows of the new life somewhere else, regrets and perhaps a sense of having been robbed. You just can’t stop when archaeologies manifest themselves and stand as though in accusation: you knew and did nothing, you saw and looked away. 

Of course it may not have been anything like that. And yet, there’s a portrait that the photographer had noticed and which he reframed, juxtaposing it with the present and what could be read as a distant future that had receded even further with the evaporating waters.

When was it painted? Who was the girl? Who was the artist? Where are they now? Or was it something painted after the waters retreated?

The eyes don’t look at the observer in accusation or disinterest. They look away, almost as though the girl has tired of answering question after question after question. There’s a figure by a window without glass or bars. Maybe it was art-directed, maybe that’s how it was when the photographer walked in and recognized immediately an intriguing composition. 

It’s a story. An old tale of abandonment and exile, the work of the elements and the conspiracy of seasons that conjured ruins that cut through time and laid waste yet once again a valley that must have been home enough to be remembered as being more beautiful than the village it used to hold. 

Simon Navagaththegama, in Sansaraaranyaye Dayayakkara, describes how the jungle and civilisation alternate, one yielding to the other only to be evicted and reoccupied by that which was usurped.  Again and again.

And I ask myself: each time memory wanders to the lands, peoples and moments inundated, is it the same village that is obtained? Is it the same house, with the same window-frame, a wall doodled, a wall painted and a wall awaiting brush strokes, lines and spaces transformed? Are such things indelible or do they fade by distancing courtesy kilometres and years?

I ask myself: If reservoirs, submerged towns, relocated lives, drought and lost waters were all metaphors, isn’t Thilina Kaluthotage simply inviting us to peel back one year-lie after another and another and compelling us to face ourselves and determine whether or not we have the integrity to keep our eyes open just so we can comprehend and just so we can let the world know that certain things are unforgettable?

And I ask myself: What happened to a little girl, what happened to her parents, did she have brothers and sister, did she have a grandmother who told her stories, friends who turned backyards into playgrounds, did she have eyes and did she see, did she step out of a portrait and if so does she walk these desolate lands picking up broken pieces of life so she can with love put them altogether, re-create a community, place it on the virgin earth and make it fly with the softest command that is the slow closing of eyelids so it rises, rises and rises until it settles just above a full reservoir?

I ask myself: Thilina Kaluthotage, who gave you your eyes, in which nameless halls do your portraits hang and where are those nameless walls on which reside the frameless heads that know that which needs to be known and say nothing simply because all has already been said?


Other articles in this series: 

Those made of love will fly

Profit: the peragamankaru of major wars

Helplessness and innocence

The parameters of entirety

In loving memory of Carrie Lee (1956-2020)

Mobsters on and off the screen

Transfixing and freeing dawns

We're here because we're here because we're here

Life signatures

Sha'Carri Richardson versus and with Sha'Carri Richardson  

A canvas for a mind-brush

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