10 September 2023

What a memory-keeping wanderer foregoes

['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 217th article in the new series that began in December 2022. Links to previous articles are given below]        

‘A Wanderer and a Memory Keeper,’ is the title of a guest presentation by Tharindu Amunugama organised by the Photographic Society of Sri Lanka. It’s a perfect description.

Tharindu has, over the years, inspired me to write on all kinds of subjects. There have been many times when photographs turn into magic carpets upon which my thoughts travel to destinations I hadn’t previously known or thought of. At times they inspire me to write poetry. And sometimes, they make me go silent because they leave me speechless.  

That’s when he’s a memory keeper.

I have been privileged to travel with him. So we have shared memories, but more than that, conversations about things we love and worry about, places that make us stop and of course the timeless questions of being and becoming.

That’s from Tharindu the Wanderer.

The blurb from the flyer announcing the event is spot-on.  

‘Tharindu’s photography is about weaving narratives. He can feel this soil; hear the heartbeat of our people. He knows our vaevai, dagaebai, gamai, pansalai connection. His camera clicks by heartstrings which stem from deep-rootedness. There is depth, strength, substance in his art. “My photos are for others, not for me. When I hold the camera before my eyes, I forego a precious opportunity to experience a raw, beautiful moment,” Tharindu says.’

Of course he knows this land as much as anyone else. Probably better than most. He has captured, moreover, the natural beauty of our island. Hills he has climbed and valleys he has crossed. He has immersed himself in rivers and other water bodies, literally and metaphorically.  

He has captured what SinhaRaja Thammita-Delgoda calls ‘Eloquence in Stone,’ the title he gave a collection of photographs of Sri Lanka’s archaeological treasures by the late Nihal Fernando, a collection whose aesthetic beauty he completed with exceptionally crafted text. Tharindu has Nihal’s eyes and not just for the history congealed in stone.

He is fascinated by archaeology and history, and is a keen student of both. He is also a student of the present when it comes to things that are culturally associated with both archaeology and history.

‘In our country,’ he once told me, ‘what we have is living heritage.’ There’s life that is at once personal and societal that is evident in places that are primarily considered to be of archaeological interest, he said: ‘you will find even in the middle of a jungle, amid the ruins of a monastic complex, a clay lamp that has been recently lit, some wilted flowers and other evidence of intimate religious connectedness.

Tharindu delves beneath the surfaces that he captures with his camera. Recently he asked me about Kuragala and Kurundi. Drawing from what he has taught me, I told Tharindu that Kuragala is ‘living heritage’ and Kurundi is ‘archaeological heritage.’ That said, it occurred to me that when many of the atamastana ruins in Anuradhapura were discovered, they would have fallen into the latter category and later became deserving of the ‘living’ tag. While some may say that it is some kind of cultural invasion or appropriation (for example, Kurundi Viharaya) because it happens to be located in an area which today is almost exclusively the home of non-Buddhists, there’s nothing to say that Buddhists should be barred from venerating a Buddhist temple/monastic complex. That would infringe on religious freedoms.

Such things we discuss.

For all of the above, what really caught my attention in the blurb on the flyer reproduced above, was the quote, 'My photos are for others, not for me. When I hold the camera before my eyes, I forgo a precious opportunity to experience a raw, beautiful moment.’

This is his most admirable quality. Tharindu is a giver, a sharer. He experiences raw and beautiful moments. He knows our island has natural and human-made treasures that cannot be experienced in a single lifetime. He wants to make the most of the time he has. That, clearly, isn’t enough. He is a student of photography, always looking to improve his art, and yet I sense that the primary compulsion is to capture and share.

Tharindu is amazed by the photography of fellow wanderers and memory-keepers, to whose work he directs the gaze of his friends. The beauty lies in his transparent love for all that is wonderful in our island and the readiness to experience it all collectively, gathering people through photography, travel and conversations.  

I owe Tharindu Amunugama. I owe him for the next best thing to a raw, beautiful moment. The photograph. He has foregone many such moments and pleased many like me. I would wish him much wandering and less memory-keeping because that’s what he deserves. He would, I’m sure, smile, make a joke that is also a philosophical statement. He will not retire his lens because his gaze falls not only on that which is before him but that which is not privileged to be present.


Other articles in this series: 

Whitman, Neruda and things that wait in all things

Thilina Kaluthotage's eyes keep watch

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