Monday, December 31, 2007

snippet (3)

(c) Harendra Alwis

... Perhaps if you listen on a silent moonlit night, you may hear it whisper to the ocean the stories it has witnessed of lives that had condensed along the banks of its fertile path, lives it had sustained, nourished and sometimes forcefully taken. Perhaps it boasts of how it flooded low lying plains after heavy rains, or cascaded like a misty veil down the face of an ancient rock on a mountain side. The ocean makes no attempt to hide its amusement as it listens to stories about bridges and dams, about animals that drank cautiously at the river banks and ferries that crossed it many times a day. The ocean consoles the ailing river which proudly deposits the burdensome sediment of its memories on the shore; like offerings of flowers and incense with the prayers and confessions of the faithful at the feet of a motionless statue of a deity. Rich sediment that had been ripped off hills and flooded plains, during times when its waters were young and raging with passion, settle down into fertile islands at the river mouth where it is impossible to know for sure where the river ends and the ocean begins. The calmness of the river now, ridicules any suggestion that it was once a powerful force that violently hurled large rocks in its path and ground them, reducing them with the passage of time to harmless pebbles that little children could play with. Now at the end of a fruitful journey, the river dissolves into the setting sun, with its many arms absorbing the powerful calmness and boundless wisdom of the ocean...

Sunday, December 30, 2007

snippet (2)

(c) Harendra Alwis

...The raindrop that dived out of the cloud was in fact made up of a multitude of tiny droplets; some whisked away by the wind from the boundless ocean, one was robbed from the leaf of a withering plant, a few from rivers and another from the white shirt that belonged to a schoolboy that was washed and hung out to dry by his mother on a bright warm afternoon.
For seconds that lasted an eternity, it careered freely through the cool damp air until suddenly its flight was rudely obstructed by a tender leaf that was perched at the tip of a lofty tree. The shock splattered and dislodged the briefly acquainted droplets and dispersed them in unknown directions into a world full of strangers again.
Some of them almost miraculously avoided further confrontations with the thick green canopy of the forest and fell on to a blanket of rotting leaves. Others unwillingly crawled along the spine of a leaf to its edge, where they dangled nervously for a few seconds and fell onto the lap another, only to trickle down a similar path and saturate in the heavy downpour until they were ready to leap back into the unknown. Some droplets, including the one whose memory was still fresh with the soapy smell of a schoolboy’s white shirt, was caught by a broad mature leaf along which it dripped back towards the stem. From there it began a slow crawl through the valleys and ridges of the bark, passing on its way stranded insects and trails of sap that the great tree had bled.
There, at the end of its pilgrimage, at the root of the oldest, wisest and the most magnificent tree of the forest, the tiny raindrops silently seeped into the bosom of mother earth...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

snippet (1)

(c) Harendra Alwis

... One of the early symptoms of my infatuation was an irrational jealousy. As I watched her from the distance of my dreams and perhaps frustrated by how little of her attention I was able to win, I felt jealous of her dog which had the pleasure of indulging lavishly in her company, which I was wholly deprived of. I felt it a grave injustice that a dog was not only allowed to brush carelessly against her, but she would also gently caress it, whereas I needed an elaborate excuse even to shake her hand. I would be jealous of a dress that hugged her delicate body, bangles that teasingly dangled at her wrist or a necklace that occasionally had the pleasure of playfully wrapping itself around her delicate fingers as if in a maypole-dance. In my secret thoughts, I gained reprisal over the little pendant that, despite its innocent brilliance, was shadowed in oblivion by the radiance of her face. But I could not conceal my envy for the hairpin that breathed in her shiny black hair every day, that despite my irrepressible (though un-confessed) love for her, I had been unjustly denied...

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


I spent my fourth consecutive Christmas alone – away from the warmer, more familiar sights and sounds of home. Christmas this time around was a bit different. Even though I had to work on Christmas day, I decided not to make an issue of the desolation and hopelessness of the situation. Unlike previous years, I did not yield to the temptation of writing a poignant letter or poem detailing my woes despite knowing only too well that I may never get used to spending Christmas this way.

A few days are all that is left of another year. Perhaps years are just numbers we use to catalogue and file away memories. Does that really make them more accessible and searchable amid their volatility in our minds archives? My Christmas gift is perhaps this rare moment, to reflect on possible answers to such mundane questions.

The number of our revolutions around the sun is undoubtedly a fitting way to keep track of time. It offers useful annual reminders of events that have shaped our lives and the life of greater humanity. But when I look back on my life and on the year that’s about to end, I am amazed at how my mind has compressed a whole years worth of memories into a few seemingly inescapable images that act as cover-pages to vague memories that are bound to them.

Some of those images are of people and things that made the past year memorable. Some of them are pixelated renditions of decisions I have made, each one within a random mix of courage, blind faith, hope, desire, helplessness, grief, ecstasy, ambition...

Yet those images and memories are impoverished in their lack of detail, their inability to recollect the name of a stranger I encountered in a tram, with home I chatted for half an hour about a book I was reading. I am unable to deconstruct the 525600 minutes that made up 2007, let alone recapture even a few that stood out because they were starkly different from the rest. The simple pleasure filled minutes that the past year was studded with, like those I would have spent reading a long, personal letter from a friend, or lying on a little tuft gazing at the stars. My mind vaguely remembers the weeks I spent lost in unbearable grief, but my eyes have forgotten the steady stream of tears that flowed beneath them and flooded my heart.

The gentle flow of time has eroded most of the memories that the past year had created. It has blunted the edges of others and tinted even the most gruesome with a mild hue of romance.

Perhaps it is fitting that memories only offer hopelessly abbreviated and overly romanticised visions of the past, because there is little to be gained by fixating ourselves on the bygones of life, or for that matter on what is yet to come. While the wisdom of the past is meant to be consulted and the promises of the future summoned to inspire us, they can be meaningful instruments only when they are infused in the present moment; for ‘now’ is the only place where the wonders of life unfold.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

it's warm and raining

It’s warm and raining
If I wasn’t working
I’ll be walking
Walking in the rain, thinking
Jumping over puddles, dreaming
But I am not complaining
Because I know the stars are blinking
And my heart is flaming...
Whenever it’s warm and raining

Sunday, December 16, 2007

silent reflections

The night is quiet. The silence has lulled a city to sleep, but the stars are wide awake. If you listen carefully, you might even hear them whisper little secrets among themselves. A crescent moon has just dipped below the city lights, making way for an empty crimson glow to flood the tired streets below. I may have been dreaming, because I thought I saw your reflection in the window. My eyes searched for your deep brown gaze along the streets. My heart traced the forlorn absence of your footprints on the wet pavement. Did I catch a whiff of your dark curls in the cold air? I can’t be sure. Perhaps you walked away in silence. My thoughts followed you through the quiet streets and returned without you. As the stars limp westwards across a cloudless sky, another night will pass, like many before it. I will not dream tonight, so I will not see your beaming smile or hold your hand. But my heart still reserves its throne in the hope that you will come soon. I will lease my eyes another moment to imagine, how tiny sinews will part your lips and dimple your cheeks, to adorn a smile that is already sparkling in your eyes... and that moment will last... until I see your silent reflection in the window again.

Monday, December 10, 2007

4. TIME - The economics

(c) Harendra Alwis

As a resource that is becoming increasingly scarce in a busy world, the value of time has been on the rise, obeying the laws of supply and demand in classical economics. So it may seem obvious to an unsuspecting mind that the notion “time is money” was born out of the haste of our modern, industrialised and computerised world, but it is not. The economic value of time has been acknowledged even in ancient Greece where Antiphon, a Greek speech writer, is credited with the first use of the phrase as a maxim, when he wrote in 430 BC that “The most costly outlay is time.” The notion of time's monetary value has appeared thereafter in many cultures and has been expressed in many different ways.

Despite the value of time being acknowledged as way back in history as ancient Greece, it was not until the dawn of super fast computer networks in the last few decades that time has actually become a publicly traded commodity. To be considered a commodity, time had to be mass produced in sufficiently large quantities, chopped up into measurable chunks, price-tagged and transported to open markets. It was only recently that the technology that enabled the production of time has combined with market forces that demanded it, to make the trade possible and economically viable.

In fact, the industrial scale production of time is perhaps the most lucrative business opportunity that opened up in the 20th century. Predicting the future of markets is at best a guessing game, but considering the growing demand and healthy prices on offer, it will probably continue to show a healthy growth well into the foreseeable future.

Machines that do things faster than us ‘save’ time. So faster cars, faster toasters, microwave ovens that cook food much faster than conventional ovens and barcode readers that process our grocery list faster at supermarket counters have all ousted their slower and therefore inferior predecessors. Among this flood of faster technology, computers are perhaps the closest that comes to being an embodiment of time as a commodity in the material world. Faster computers that presumably carry out more tasks per unit of time are more expensive because they perceivably ‘save’ time. Given the rate at which their prices change however, it is reasonable to believe that the price of time in the open market can be very volatile.

Most computers can only do one thing at a time. Yet they can give us the impression that they can do many things at the same time by switching between each task at speeds that we will never notice. Yet, by letting you type out an email while downloading a movie, while listening to music, while talking to a distant friend on VoIP telephony, computers have become mini-home-based time factories that let us accomplish multiple tasks in one single chunk of time. Late 20th century consumerism is feasting on tempting treats for those of us who want to save time; such as toasters that consume thirty seconds less to toast a slice of bread than its previous model and ‘Door Close’ buttons on elevators that on average save 0.8 seconds of its passenger’s time.

Machines that substitute for us ‘create’ time by freeing us even momentarily from time’s unrelenting grip; so that we may do ‘something else’. Computers today, squeeze in roughly ninety times more work into one second, than they did ten years ago, essentially creating more time than they did then. Washing machines, coffee makers, bread makers, mixers and blenders have unhinged the metal grip of time that held pre-twentieth century housewives captive to a multitude of household chores. They not only allowed the expansion of the economy by allowing the fraction of the productive workforce in society to double, but quantitatively increased average family incomes resulting in an explosion of the middle class. The political as well as socio-cultural revolutions that tore the class-based social structure apart was- in the final analysis - enabled by the spare-time that automation had created in the lives of common men and women.

Thanks to technology that can transport time into the remotest of places and in small chunks, trading time has become ubiquitous and user-friendly interfaces have greatly simplified these transactions. Certain advertising models on the Internet offer payment or other rewards of monetary value for anyone to trade in seconds and minutes of their time to watch advertisements and fill out surveys. Mobile phone calls are billed by the second. Millions of ordinary people in front of computers around the world buy blue-chip stocks, and sell them within minutes for a hefty profit.

It is the paradox of the age we live in however, that as we try to save time by inventing machines that create and add seconds, minutes and hours to our lives, the pace of our lives inevitably accelerates to keep up with them. The vast quantities of time we save and create are ironically spent trying to create and save more time than we can ever spend. It is perhaps the elegance of life’s design that no matter how much time we save or create, they cannot be added to our lifetime. Despite the profits we earn by trading time we are becoming increasingly poorer for not being able to spend any of it on the truly enriching experiences of life. Birds sing outside our windows and flowers bloom and wither in our gardens without being offered a moment from our vast reserves of time, for their music and vivid colours to uplift or inspire us.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

3. TIME - The power

(c) By Harendra Alwis

As much as governments today rigorously guard their atomic clocks and dedicate their best infrastructure to the dispersion of the most permissibly accurate reading of time, kings and emperors of the ancient world commissioned their best mathematicians and astronomers to fine-tune their Calenders. The narrative of the calendar has its humble beginnings over six thousand years ago in Egypt. The Egyptians had a cleverly calculated calendar that was divided into 365 days which consisted of 12 months of 30 days each, three weeks of ten days in each month and 5 ‘wondering’ days.

Calendars held much more significance in ancient China than merely as a way of accounting time. It was a crucial instrument of governance for consecutive dynasties. The first decree that a founder of a dynasty set forth was to pronounce the calendar of the new dynasty together with the element and the colours corresponding to it. At a time when civilization was not technologically sophisticated enough to invent the mechanical clock, it was the calendar that synchronised the lives of their subjects who were scattered across distances that took days, if not months to cross. Kings and emperors of the ancient world therefore, partly derived their power to rule through the calendars they endorsed. It is only the logical transition of history that decrees governments of today to spend as much effort on regulating the clocks that synchronise the lives of their subjects.

It is only narrow judgement and naivety however, that would scorn ancient kings or democratic governments for subjecting their people to the unforgiving rule of clocks and calendars. Synchronisation is a critical necessity for life in organised communities. Our lives today are synchronised by the faster and more conspicuous ticks of a clock than the slow progression of days, weeks and months of our ancestors. Life in their age would have been different from ours, but only by the degree and scale of their obsession with time compared to ours. They would have consulted their Calenders to find days, weeks and months, as we consult the clock to make sure we are in sync with its seconds minutes and hours before we embark on even the most trivial of our daily tasks.

The tragedy of our slavery to time lies not in the fact that it has synchronised our lives with the greater community, but in the fact that perhaps some of us gaze at the clock face far more often than we do the faces of people – even those we love and care for - and for longer. We not only wear the time on our wrists, but even assign high status to those who wear the most sophisticated and expensive watches. The tragedy of our modern conception of time is that even though we erect clocks at the busiest street corners and ration the time we share with loved ones, we fail to even notice how intimate and ingrained our relationship with time is. That is perhaps the only reason why it is not surprising, that the seconds, minutes and hours that tick away on a clock face has more control over our lives than anything else or anyone. Time dictates the function and pace of the organizations we work for and especially in a country that is obsessed with astrology – even the governments that we elect.

2. TIME - for geeks

(c) By Harendra Alwis

If the rising of the sun, the changing faces of the moon, seasonal rains, red autumn leaves and blossoming buds of spring made time’s first impressions on the emerging human conscience, the earliest and most primitive manifestations of our time-consciousness was through song and dance. With it, we could capture, embody and express time as a form of art and art in the form of time. The sweetest songs and the most elegant dances reflect the natural frequency of the human body, the varying speeds of the human mind and the mysterious rhythms of the soul. The precise reading of time is however more critical for governments, business and the military, than it is for musicians and dancers whose biggest loss as a result of a mistimed beat or step would be a song being labelled as ‘hip-hop’ or a dance partner tripping over.

That is why, one of the fastest loops of electronic communication networks in the world are dedicated to the simple task of keeping time. Busily talking to each other through fibre-optic veins that carry infinitesimally short pulses of light and checking, rechecking and correcting each other many million times each second, are atomic clocks, which an ordinary person would probably mistake for a stack of computers. Inside them, vibrating Caesium-133 atoms split each second into 9,192,631,770 parts – conforming to our absolute definition of time. They announce to the world with sureness and authority, the single piece of information that they preserve within – the absolute and most accurate reading of time available to mankind. These are the timekeepers of the world. Heavily armed soldiers that stand guard outside the buildings that house these clocks can only hint at the importance and value of what is contained within. They are protecting an element of the universe that none of them can see or touch, yet it is not an exaggeration to say that time has become perhaps the most ‘valuable’ and critical among all of humanity’s inventions.

If such an accurate reading of time was not available, the first noticeable changes that would debilitate the hastened world we now live in, would be a breakdown in radio broadcasts and telecommunications. That is because radio and TV broadcasts as well as telecommunications operators are trapped in the tight grip of the hands of time, because broadcasts from adjacent towers must be synchronised with great precision to avoid the signals – which are electromagnetic waves - from cancelling out each other. Given the speed of light at which they operate, their clocks have to be constantly synchronised with readings from a network of atomic clocks.

Computers more than any other device are defined by time. With processor speeds doubling almost every eighteen months, modern computers are capable of splitting each second into many millions of parts. Together with fast broadband communication networks, even a simple home computer can be used by a skilful programmer to exploit the time difference of a few millionth of a second between two servers of a bank’s computer system, for money laundering by making double withdrawals from the same account – seemingly at the same time. Unless computer systems in banks and stock-markets around the world are not synchronised with the precision of atomic clocks, most of the largest financial assets of the world will instantly become vulnerable to vandalism and fraud.

There are even more critical reasons that necessitate accurate timekeeping than the synchronization of radio broadcasts, stock-markets and banks. Governments and especially the military depend on the most accurate timekeeping devices ever made to coordinate military operations. The measurements of these clocks are not available for civilian use as the most advanced precision weapons systems including missile guiding systems and aircraft bombers depend on the accuracy of their clocks. It is the accuracy with which they can read time, and thus the accuracy with which they can derive their exact position and velocity aided by the time-stamped pulses of GPS satellites, which ultimately guides them and their deadly cargo, to their intended target. The precision with which time is read by a bomber aircraft can mean the difference between life and death to those who live in warzones.

Civilisation in essence has created a world that is more reliant on time than any other single factor. If we were to be deprived of the simple yet extremely critical wisdom of the atomic clocks for any significant amount of time – paradoxically, perhaps as short a duration as a few seconds - life on earth, or at least a significant portion of the technological and economic advancements we have achieved, will immediately be pushed back by many decades. These atomic clocks directly or indirectly influence -if not regulate- the actions, lifestyles, decisions and choices of individuals and governments, including war and peace.

Monday, December 03, 2007

1. TIME - for laymen

(c) By Harendra Alwis

Time both as a concept and a construct of the human mind, has gripped our lives with it's many tentacles that run through our minds. A majority of decisions that we make in the course of our daily business is at some level, influenced by time. The only way we seem to be able at least have an illusion of breaking free of the grip of time is to talk about ‘saving’ or ‘managing’ it.

Time saving devices and time management philosophies has taken the fore because we have come to think of ‘Time’ as a limited resource. Therefore as any other resource, we trade time in the open market in many ways and forms. We trade hours that add up to days and in days that add up to years, more often for monetary rewards rather than satisfaction or fulfilment, but overall it is a fair trade.

Time is indeed limited because in the grand scheme of things, a lifetime worth of time is all each of us really have. Whatever we gain or lose in life is a result of how well we trade our time for whatever we think it is worth. In the process, some of us loose time here and there on poor bargains or by spending more time than we can afford on things that don’t add any meaning or purpose to life, and with each second we perceive to have wasted, we worry over the scarcity of time and the acceleration of life.

I was mistaken at first to assume that the industrial revolution which started in the 18th century was responsible for sparking off this rapid acceleration of our lives by forcing us to synchronise ourselves with machines and thus get caught up in a never ending struggle to keep up with them. I was wrong, because the acceleration of life actually started a millennium before the industrial revolution, with the invention of the mechanical clock.

Before the invention of the clock; which is believed to have been in the later years of the 8th Century, civilization kept time with the daily cycle of night and day, the changing faces of the moon and the changing seasons. While the heavens kept time for us, our minds would have been free to gaze at the stars without having to feel guilty about ‘wasting our time’ ‘doing nothing’. But the clock changed our perception of the flow of time from an effortless and unhurried motion of the planets and changes that followed the four seasons, to a quickening, hurrying, intensifying feeling that came with each striking second on the clock-face.

It was only with the invention of the clock that we could accurately account for hours, minutes and seconds and could arrange a meeting at 1700 hours and expect all participants to be there ‘on time’ and also expect to be angry when anyone failed to be there on time. That was when life began to be synchronised with machines. The mechanisation of time is however, a creation of the human intellect and it has almost always been in conflict with our biology.

The human heartbeat is almost always out-of-step with the ticking seconds on the clock. The heart feels and responds to our feelings, beating faster when the body demands and slowing down when we are calm and rested. But the clock ticks on coldly with an even beat and we are reminded that time does not wait for anyone, because it does not know or care for anyone - as life does.

Friday, November 30, 2007


I woke one morning to an aching world
The sky was empty and the land was bare
Walking on a street that was paved in gold
Was a hungry man, but no one would care
I met a child, who was orphaned and maimed
A generation walked past in gloom and despair
Their hearts and minds by a darkness claimed
Weary with an emptiness they slavishly bear

I wandered to an impassable forest’s edge
Where trees grew dark, without life or light
Where to bring me ‘peace’ as his solemn pledge
A soldier marched in and out of my sight
I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder rest
The voices of history urged me to fight
I looked at their faces and humbly confessed
That I shall only do what I think is right

Every day unfolds a myriad of new stories
To be yelled out loud for everyone to hear
Stories of love, laughter and old memories
And those of courage overcoming mortal fear
Even as I weave a handful of them in verse
In a shared experience that draws us near
At a distant corner, of an unknown universe
A helpless God sheds another silent tear

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


A magic carpet is woven with rays of sunlight,
Moon beams and starlight...
A dream conceived under a clear blue sky,
With the sparkle of an eye...
Bubbles of thought floating in the breeze,
Over the mountains and above the trees...
A drop of freedom trickles down the brow
For the weaver, right now must plough...

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Another clear night has ended
Stars swept away by a brighter sun
Another broken heart mended
Sad thoughts and tears undone
Another new day has rendered
Peaceful dreams, a thread of hope spun
Another brave heart has defended
But weaker souls may have been overrun

M(Y) Generation

I belong to Generation Y, as most of you who would read this probably do also. Generation Y is a term – and now a cliché – that has been used in popular American and European literature to loosely describe those who were born in the 80’s and 90’s. I can't be sure whether it is used to describe Sri Lankans, but I use it anyway.

Generation Y in Sri Lanka has grown up in a nation at war. I was only a couple of years old when violence and death became a part of daily life in this land. We belong to a generation that has grown up without a clear memory of a month or even a week in which the blood of a man or woman has not been expended in the name of freedom, independence or national security. An average of seven lives has been lost everyday in our country since 1983 (7.6 lives if you are a statistician, but how can you factor a life?). There are no statistics about how many dreams each of them had or how many tears their loved ones have shed since. Nobody knows how many meals their families had to skip because they had lost the sole bread-winner.

Life in our time has taught us that the way of violence is indeed an acceptable mode of resolving differences among us. So we brawl each other on the roadsides, in classrooms (and in nightclubs or parties if we are unfortunately lucky enough to be able to afford them). Even though a few often gets more publicity when a minister's son is involved, such brawls are – it's fair to assume – a daily occurrence.

But we resort to violence because it helps us escape the fact that we are also helpless and aimless. If violence has not been bred into us, then thousands of us have been snatched away by it, denied of our childhood by the thrust of a gun onto our hands and forced to kill and get killed so that old men could claim the land that is stained with our blood. More than 250,000 under-aged children are estimated to be engaged in armed conflict around the world as I write this (and at least three thousand five hundred to four thousand of them are Sri Lankans – depending on whose estimates you believe and whether it matters to you and how much). Almost all of them will suffer for the rest of their lives as a result of their exposure to violence and the horrific images of war. Countless others – it's odd that I have to use the word "others" to describe our own – have been maimed and orphaned because of war.

Chief among the grandiosities of our inheritance is the notion of a romantic past, a grand history. It shields us sometimes from the insecurities of a misty future. What's more alarming is that it instils in us a false notion that the past is something we have to protect even at the cost of our very lives. It plugs our minds of independent thought and wisdom that would give us the courage to ask simple questions. Who are we fighting for? Who are we fighting against? The man or woman I am about to kill – would we not have married each other if we had not been forced to perpetrate such violence against each other?

We spend anxious hours thinking about a future that is approaching us faster than ever before and leaving us behind even faster. Yet we are told that we are the guardians of the future – a brighter one at that. We are urged to correct the mistakes of past generations and some are confident that we will. Some of our own are confident that our generation can change things for the better. Thomas Jefferson once said, "It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world." We don't have time for Jefferson because we have too many problems to solve and too little time. We imagine for some reason, that we are wiser than the generation that went before us.

The world today is fast-paced than it was yesterday and constantly accelerating. Some of us will keep up, some will fall behind. Some will slow the world down to their pace and others may speed it up even further. It is perhaps a futile exercise to speculate how successful each of us will be in overcoming the challenges of the present – let alone those of the future. Sheer optimism on the other hand, leads many to assume if not blindly hope, that the future generations are capable of solving, and therefore will solve, today's problems.

That is why it is worthy of our contemplation on the other hand, to consider how the violence we helplessly accept in daily life – the violence that has conscripted us, maimed us, orphaned us and made us insensitive to the value and beauty of life and the injustices we take for granted and the inequality they perpetuate as a result, has debilitated our generation. Even the most optimistic among us may find it difficult to deny that the racial and religious bigotry that divided previous generations has extended and spread its poisoned tentacles into ours as well. Each of us needs to take an almost blinding leap of the imagination – one that may even undermine what we think we already know – that would break us free from the dogma and falsities we have inherited. Perhaps justice, peace, prosperity and unity are only the collective effect of each individual's pursuit of truth, and an intellectual bias towards broad understanding instead of narrow judgement.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Heartbeat synchronizing time

Has the clock parted us by another hour,
Or synchronized our lives a bit tighter?
Two lost souls wandering through time
That has vanished through the void
Between the ever present now
And a distant meeting place

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Muted wails
On windless sails
Brings an empty hull to port
An eternal race,
Through infinite space,
Has battered the mighty boat
Though in number few,
Its faithful crew
Which endured thunderous smote
Are singing an old song
To welcome a new dawn
Whith brand-new oceans to float

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Our battle...

The most recent highlight of my Facebooking adventure is the group "Unite to Solve the Sri Lankan Conflict". It was a highlight, not only because it was a refreshing drift away from the "Wipe out da LTTE Terrorists by Force" group invitations i've been getting once too often, but also because the group seem to have an intelectually driven discussion about an issue that haunted Srilankans for at least an entire generation and a half.
It is heartening to see that we as a generation realise and accept the responsibility we bare to correct and compensate for the errors of the past that we have unwittingly inherited. I have no doubt that collectively, we have the talents, resources and intellectual capacity required to carry out this undertaking and at least a few of us also share the will and resolve to commit ourselves to that cause. It serves us less however, to drown in self-congratulation, but to look inwards at ourselves and realise our own weaknesses and the numerous other challenges we face en route to this “common goal”.
We as a generation has grown up, taking many cultural and ethnic divisions for granted – in a society that – throughout our formative years – have not only justified but endorsed violence based on those differences. Most of us have only known a society that draws clear and impassable borders around these differences and therefore take them for granted – perpetuating the divisions that plague us as a nation. Perhaps the biggest challenge we may face as a generation will be to make that leap of the imagination that is necessary to break free of dogma and falsities that we have inherited through two millennia of cultural evolution and forge a new road towards truth and social enlightenment. For this common goal of justice, peace, prosperity and unity are only the by-products of a collective pursuit of truth and an intellectual bias towards broad understanding instead of narrow judgement.

Monday, September 03, 2007


"Your writing is getting political" commented one of my friends in an inquisitive tone. "Is that an accusation or just an insult?" I asked her jokingly. "Neither" she shrugged, "you should write about what matters to you, what’s close to your heart." I wanted to disagree, to make a counterpoint which would have led to another interesting discourse, but for once I couldn’t. It made me think more deeply about what I write and why.

I suppose as a writer, I have made the mistake of thinking that writing was an outlet for the thoughts and feelings raging in my heart and mind. I thought of writing as a mode of expression and a way of shouting out my silent thoughts at a noisy and sometimes deserted street corner. I found my rewards whenever my words caused a ray of laughter, or a heart to warm.

But i no longer think of writing as just an expression of ideas or feelings. It is an exploration of how I relate to the world, the universe, to trees and wild flowers, to individuals and nations. In a string of carelessly punctuated words that seems an expression of intimacy, satire or political activism, the writer in me finds a seamless connection, between different elements in me and in the world i live in, the common elements that make up love and politics, raindrops and war. They sketch out a pattern... about how I relate to the world... and to life.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Floodgates of time

Growing up in an old city and passing buildings that were centuries old on my way to school everyday, I have often wondered how those whitewashed walls would have seen countless other little boys walk past them, grow up to become men, their age whither and make way for fresh naïve faces.

A few weeks ago, I was seated next to my grandmother after a break of two years and knowing that I only had a few weeks before I had to leave again, I eagerly listened to the stories of her life, the most interesting parts of which it seemed I had never heard before. As vivid memories of her childhood and youth flowed out with colourful descriptions, I noticed her wedding ring which would have shared in her labours for sixty two years of wedded life. Now it lies in isolation having lost its partner a few months ago. As I held it in my hands, I tried to imagine the tales that a pound of gold would tell me if I could listen and understand.

Most of what we perceive as history is actually derived from lifeless objects. Firsthand memories available to a generation usually don’t stretch for more than a century. The rest of our history is sourced from second hand accounts, ranging from those bearing detailed stories and verifiably accurate accounts, to scraps of scrambled information. Those accounts of ancient times seem respectable mostly because they are narrated by archaeologists who in truth can only fill in the gaps with educated guesses at the best of times and at other times their imagination. The spectrum of sources and the accuracy with which they recount the stories of our past and of whom we are - can, and in fact must - be debated.

But this is not a debate about the authenticity of what we consider to be historical fact. It is rather about how history is taught, what is remembered and what is forgotten with time - which forms our perception, not only of who we are, but what we ought to do. History teaches us what is important and what is not; to some even the difference between mortality and immortality.

Personally for me, history was by far the most boring of all the subjects I learned in school because I simply failed to see the point of learning what I was taught. The general idea was that learning history is about knowing the year in which a certain King died (or was killed – more often than not, by his own son or brother) or being able to name a few designated ‘national heroes’. Perhaps boredom was the only way that the soul of a raw schoolboy could protest the atrocity of reducing the invaluable experiences of a nation into the memorization of mere numbers and oversimplified facts, with no regard for their actual implications.

Yet the critical mind probes history in search of richer lessons. Even though the text books on history glorifies wars and rebellions and illustrate their leaders as national heroes – though some of them are to their credit – the history of a country is not built on wars and violence. History and human civilization itself is built on less glamorous things like the labour of farmers, the work of artists, writers, philosophers, builders and musicians. The engineers who designed and built the monuments that belong to the ancient world that stand to this day are silent and forgotten as the credit is usually attributed to the kings. The proportion of hard work that the 'unknown' scientists, mathematicians, doctors, teachers and spiritual leaders have contributed to building the grand history of human civilization has been quantitatively more than that of the 'Unknown Soldier' whose statue has always attracted a disproportionate degree of adulation. I say so, not to undermine the sacrifice of the soldiers but to make the point that great advancements in history have been made by creative men engaged in the creative process. The destructive forces of violence that have always been a part of human nature - and therefore even in its 'civilization' - have only undermine what is civilized within us together with every value that we hold sacred within it.

The grand history of nations and of human kind in general, and whatever artefacts that remain as testimony to it, was built by the farmer that gave humanity the confidence to settle down in one place and build cities and who fed the nation with his surplus. History remembers too few names - and those too far in between - of priests who strengthened the social fabric and repaired it when it was torn, the engineers and builders who channelled rivers to nourish the land and built eternal monuments.

Yet it surprises me how easy it is to stand among the gigantic monuments in the ancient cities of Sri Lanka and be reminded the name of a king who in some cases didn’t even live to see those monuments completed, yet not the creative genius of the faceless architects, engineers and builders who’s names history itself seem to have forgotten. It would sadden me, if future generations who look back on mine, also remember us for the war we endured and the violence we perpetrated on each other. It would be a catastrophe however, if they forget how it destroyed lives and crippled a nation to celebrate one side's victory over another as we were taught we should.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


A smile floats from a silent dream
Like a six-winged snowflake, falling
Music flows through a waning night
I listen to a quiet heartbeat's calling

Sweet melodies flow through empty space
And we stand still in a timeless world
A secret wish fights to escape my heart
And rest in another exposed, unfurled

Two hands toil for that silent dream
And a heart is hopeful, though weary
Two unknown eyes in soft moonlight
I imagine, asleep in innocent reverie

Monday, August 06, 2007

Signing in

I have not blogged in a while, for which this is no apology, but a finely brewed cocktail of the silent thoughts that stirred within me during the past three months. Last June, I flew back home after spending two years in exile and returned just over a week ago. Perhaps I should start where my holiday ended.

Seated in the departure lounge at the Bandaranaike Airport with a friend who was also getting back with me – perhaps our sad faces being starkly contrasted by the excited throng of 125 senior scouts making their way to a jamboree in England – I looked up to see three supersonic fighter jets of the Sri Lanka Air Force take off with a thundering roar. I had dreamt of becoming a fighter pilot all my life and for a moment, that dream came back. As they banked shapely soon after taking off, I imagined the G-forces and the thrill of riding in one of those cockpits. As we strolled through the duty free shops, I wondered what their target was, as my friend commented about how he would dread to be a terrorist in whatever place they were going to attack in a few minutes. I briefed him on the science of it and that ordinary terrorist combatants on the ground don’t even hear supersonic aircraft until well after they have bombed them and turned around to go back.

Forty five minutes later, it was time to board our plane and an hour later as our aircraft was taxiing on to the runway, the three jets landed just ahead of us and almost magically disappeared in a few seconds. It was then that I realised the depth of what I had witnessed during that hour – that someone not too far away would have lost a parent, a child, a spouse or sibling, a loved one, a friend. They will cry, mourn, there will be a funeral if they could find the mortal remains of someone who was alive at the time I saw the jets taking off, but was dead an hour later. Out of the hundreds of friends and loved ones I met during the last seven and a half weeks, some will call it a victory over terrorism and rejoice, some will at least hurt even though they may not mourn the loss of a person who speaks their language and worships the same God. Some will not even know.

It is not easy – even after a week – for me to describe, let alone define what I felt then. What I felt about the country and people I was leaving behind, the faces of loved ones, the warmth of friends, the smiles of strangers, the emerald green treetops and gleaming paddy fields that never seem to change, the narrow cratered roads and the rickety vehicles that whistle past on them… but I had never seen a supersonic jet take off on a sortie before, so that image never came up in my mind when I thought about home… but it does now…

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Waiting by the riverside

I sat by the river and dreamt of the night
When you held my hand and I held you tight
A million stars fell down from their height
Yet the world seemed brighter
For a forlorn old fighter
And a kiss is all I remember
Of that night

I ran up the mountain just to hear your voice
Didn’t know how anyone could my heart so entice
You know there’ll never be too high a price
That I would pay just to hear
You whisper in my ear
And to see a happy tear
In your eyes

The wind blows promises from a far away place
I imagine the smile on your pretty little face
When we dance hand in hand
And dream of things grand
Our hearts will keep pace
And guide us through this maze
And I’ll wait for you by the riverside-
As we navigate time’s twisted pathways

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


I picture your smile
And hear the laughter
On a distant isle
Oceans crash in-between
I imagine your voice
At the edges of ever after
And descend those brown eyes
To a place I’ve never been

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Respice finem (6)

I grew up in a nation at war. I was only a couple of years old when violence and death became a part of daily life in this land, so I have no memories of peaceful coexistence among people in my own country. I belong to a generation that has grown up, taking all this violence and social divisions for granted as facts of life. I no longer have any illusions about the defects that plague the western world. However, as someone who grew up with a civil war, it took me a flight out into a different way of life in a different land, to understand how the war has changed us as people; our culture and values and the extent to which we have come to accept violence in its many forms in our society and in our lives. It took me only a few months of solitude, to realize how I have been taught to undervalue ‘human life’, by a war that reached my life through newspapers and the TV in the form of a daily death toll. Yet lives alone are often an inadequate expense, in a nation struggling to buy freedom and peace by pawning its soul. As a nation, so many of us have committed our liberties, dignity, honour, pride and even our very lives in a fight to break free of the shackles in our minds that divides us.

Australia it is a young and resourceful nation; its society is one of the richest, not only in terms of natural beauty and resources or the size of its economy, but also in terms of cultural diversity. As a result of what I have seen in my own country, I was in a position to appreciate the beautiful and harmonious blend of people from many different cultures and backgrounds where I hardly experienced anything that reminded me that I belonged to a minority. Yet I also realised that it is only the idealist in me that demanded a world that was free of hatred and unjust prejudices. There will always be those who will judge me before they know me, and some of those judgements will be based on the colour of my skin, the words I use to describe God or how I accent my words. I felt sad when racial violence marred the beautiful golden beaches of Sydney in the summer of 2005, but the people on Melbourne decided that day, to give hi5’s to strangers irrespective of the colour of their skin or the accent in their speech. It reminded me something I had learnt back home, that the world is indeed an amazing place that I could never tire of, because of how even destruction and violence can inspire reconstruction and peace.

I did not get the chance to travel much during my modest student life, but I have also seen enough of the world’s landscape to know that I would never be too tired to climb a mountain, wade across a river or look down from the edge of a cliff and marvel at its beauty. There is more land and relatively less people in Australia and therefore plenty of wide spaces to roam. The vast open spaces in its landscape always appealed to me because no mater where I am, it is never too hard to track the Milky Way on a clear night, stretching from one end of the horizon to the other. There are plenty of clear nights for me to lie down on a little tuft in the middle of a park and count shooting stars to my hearts content and the ocean is never too far away for a game of tap-rugby on the beach with friends or a quiet stroll.

In the rare but memorable occasions when we drove out from the city on impulse out into the countryside and sometimes even beyond, we came across an arid landscape that seemed harsh and dull on my first glance through the windows of a car. But the desert is a sacred place and it was not until I had finished my studies that I was ready to make my pilgrimage into its heart. It was a place where I completely lost the sense of independence I had worked so hard to gain over the years, because the desert made me feel helpless like no other place had done before. It made me rely so much on all the elements of nature that mankind has grown proud enough to think we can control and made me look at a dew drop hanging at the edge of a blade of grass from a whole new perspective. It opened my mind to the mystery of ‘life’ itself and being there alone in the middle of a desert. It was a spiritual experience hhere I met God face-to-face because the desert reminded me of my inadequacy and helplessnes and the reason why I always believed in a higher power.

Here in Australia, I have not yet seen the particular hue of deep, bright and refreshing green that I had taken for granted, looking down from the slopes of Kadugannawa on my weekly train rides from Kandy to Colombo. I have not yet found the cool winds like those that blow across the Kandy Lake or the same sweetness in a juicy pineapple. Yet, the moon is a lot bigger when it shoots up from the purple horizon and the night sky seems to have more stars in it now than I had seen before. The sea breeze still brings with it, memories from a place that I could never leave and of people who live on that distant shore.

So after a reasonably fulfilling education, I am still struggling to find my place in the world. My mind is eager to explore the hidden corners of the world but my heartstrings bind me to my home; the land, its people and the sincere smiles on their faces that I have not found elsewhere. As the hand of time is about to turn over a new chapter in my life, I look forward to the rest of my life with optimism. Looking back, the certificates, awards, diplomas and degrees I have accumulated mean less, now that I have achieved them, but it is the excitement and hope that I have preserved within, that inspires me to dream and live life on impulse and faith - the way it’s meant to be lived, because I know now that it will only make sense looking back.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Respice finem (5)

We perceive the things we covet in life as ‘wealth’ and for the better part of my life away from home, my wealth was ‘time’ and ’sleep’. Living away from home and having to manage my own affairs demands more than just the strength of will and good fortune. Having meals to cook, exams to pass and laundry to do and friends and family to keep in touch across the oceans, left room for only one variable in life – sleep.

Working as a waiter in inner-city Melbourne is now only a memory that I look back with nostalgia as one of the more wonderful experiences in my life. As anyone in the business of ‘customer service’ would find out on his or her first day on the job, the customer is always right and by implication, you are always wrong. Being a waiter was being at the bottom of the food chain. But even while I was wiping tables, filling buffets and carrying a dozen plates in one hand and their left-over food in the other, I could still appreciate the opportunities it presented me with to get to see and meet real people. Very few people, if any, would bother to put on a smile or consciously try to be polite to a waiter. So if someone treated me well, I knew that it was because they are actually nice people, and if they treat me rudely, I was always interested to know why.

I cannot over-emphasize the fact that it is often unfair to generalize observations about a nation or even an individual. However, I have to admit that at first, Australia struck me as a country that had a severe drought - not only in terms of the lack of rain which is still a matter of great concern in the eastern states, but also the lack of smiles on the faces of its people. Having grown up in a country where it was never hard to find a sincere smile on the face of a stranger - even among the poorest and down-trodden, I was disappointed at how many people here would be too cold and hesitant to return a smile. A significant proportion of smiles I saw on a regular day were found on the faces of tired shop assistants and I guessed that they were often cosmetic – it was either part of their elaborate sales and customer service strategy or they smiled because they thought I was paying them to do so. Working as a waiter though, I had the chance to meet the real people behind those cosmetic smiles, when they came for dinner at the end of their day. I would often talk to them about their work and about their lives and I could share with them experiences and thoughts from mine.

I soon came to appreciate the fact that “earning a living” was quite different from “making a living”. I had to do my own shopping and cooking. I had to manage my time, my own budget and savings, do my own laundry and maintain the state of the house at least in a way that made it a habitable environment for its occupants and a hospitable one for guests. It didn’t mater how long I had been working, what time I came home or what time I had to go back out. There were chores that had to be done, bills that had to be paid and meals that had to be cooked to avoid death by starvation. I was badly missing the feasts of good food and the people I was missing back home. This always made it particularly difficult whenever I had to spend Christmas alone on a hot summer day in the southern hemisphere watching TV.

Yet I had ridden on many hopes and dreams on my journey. I knew I did not have to fight the reasons that had laid many expectations on my shoulders, but chose instead to let them inspire and lift me to the heights I wanted to reach. My perception of learning and knowledge had indeed changed, but I was not naïve enough to dismiss the importance of doing well in exams and if nothing else, the commercial value of having a testimonial of my knowledge printed out on a piece of paper at the end.

Working part-time while coping with the pressure of studies and managing life on my own, I still had to be dependant on my parents all through my student life. However, I had always wanted to be independent much earlier in my life than I actually could and it bothered me. As soon as I found work, I decided to be independent at least in managing my personal expenses, but it did not take me long to find out how difficult it was going to be. I may never forget the day when I walked into the supermarket with my friend and found out that our combined ‘net worth’ was not enough to buy a loaf of bread, but I did not throw away my independence to use my father’s credit card. Looking back, I am proud of that day because I did not trade in my resolve for a loaf of bread. It also made me take my first step towards mastering the art of cooking a decent ‘Spaghetti Bolognese’, which we had for dinner that night instead of bread – with a touch of empathy for Marie Antoinette.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Respice finem (4)

I had left home three years ago, in search of a new experience and a new adventure. I sought new challenges that I had never faced before because I felt there was a lot left for me to prove about myself – to myself. Leaving the shores of home to enter university abroad was an old dream that I was finally actually walking into and I was pinching myself in disbelief.
When I left home, some of my friends had already commenced their university studies at home and I had heard their detailed accounts of the politics that they had to negotiate as part of their daily experience of university life. Therefore, I found the warm and festive welcome to university life that I experienced in Australia quite reviving. I cherished the chance I had to share my university experience together with students from many nationalities and backgrounds. I also felt lucky to be in a position from which I could appreciate the opportunities that lay before me and the will to use those opportunities meaningfully.
The celebrations however, did not last more than a week and the grinding routines broke in. It took me a while to realize the problems that were threatening the higher education system in Australia and to understand that the idealist in me has been forced to accept the fact that the world I have stepped into was never going to be perfect. With government funding for higher education being reduced every year, Australian universities are competing in the open market in order to be able to function and carry on with their research programs. Fee paying students are priced commodities in this highly competitive marketplace and universities place their highest bids especially on International Students who pay well over twice the amount of fees as local students. In a desperate bid to attract fee-paying students, some higher education institutions have willingly sacrificed their high entry requirements and academic standards and begun to trade in the intellectual wealth of a nation for more tangible monetary gains, just to remain functional – if not profitable.
If I was ever stretched to the limits of my ability or intellectual capacity during my tertiary education, that was more often due to my own carelessness or procrastination than as a result of a rigorous academic program. Yet I had access to all the resources I needed in order to broaden the horizons of my knowledge and understanding of the world. The Libraries overflowed with tools that I could use to tinker with my mind and the environment was conducive for the intellectual discourse of a broad range of topics that covered almost the entire spectrum of my imagination.
Living away from home alone as a student was probably the toughest and most educational experience I have had so far. There, I saw the world from a whole new perspective, the things that once mattered to me didn’t mater so much anymore. My priorities changed together with the things I valued and my expectations of life itself. One of the first lessons I had to learn in this new role as my own guardian was about knowing the difference between what I truly believed in and what I was made to believe, to distinguish good advice from bad advice and go back to my basic understanding of what was right and what was wrong. Each day would present moments that questioned who I was, and what I wanted to be, challenge me to live up to higher expectations while the very roots of my confidence were being shaken. I knew that these were challenges I have come in search of, but they also made me aware of the importance of faith and trust. Until then, God was a useful but mostly intellectual concept in my mind, but with greater awareness of my inadequacies and weaknesses in the face of adversities and challenges I had never had to face alone, I had to learn to rely on a higher power and to trust that everything will work out ok. Looking back, this was perhaps the most useful of all the lessons I have learnt.
When I left home, I was at the peak of my confidence; sure of my abilities and employability. But after three months of searching for part time jobs and being rejected no sooner than I had applied, my bank balance was running out faster than I thought. I almost broke down. I had lost all faith in myself and could see no reason to continue what I was doing. It felt so much like the time I was stuck in the thicket of thorn bushes halfway up on Hunnasgiriya with nothing else but two friends, unable to inch forward or turn back. I told myself that giving up was not an option and fought on, until finally, I got a job as a waiter at a restaurant.
Working as a waiter was definitely not the best job in the world, but it was one of the most insightful for many reasons. The culture and social hierarchy at the workplace was not what I had anticipated. I had to adjust myself to an environment where the hierarchy was not based solely on a person’s designation or the amount of authority he or she had over others. Each person was respected and valued for the contribution they made to the organization. I found the differences of this new social environment helpful because people weren’t judged by the title of their occupation, because there was no pre-assigned level of dignity or wealth associated with each occupation.
Almost all my co-workers who waited tables were tertiary students and I made more friends at my workplace than I did at University. My workplace was a hotel right next to the legendary Melbourne Cricket Ground and other major indoor sports facilities at the Melbourne Olympic park. I made it a habit to talk to my guests as I served them and was amazed to find a few famous names among them. My job gave me the opportunity to get glimpses into the lives of a wide spectrum of people ranging from sports personalities to circus clowns and farmers to chief executives during the time I worked there.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Priced words

"Money can't buy happiness but it can buy you the kind of misery with which you can live comfortably"

Friday, March 23, 2007

Respice finem (3)

Perhaps this journey actually started much earlier, on a quite walk to school around the misty Kandy Lake or in the silent chapel. Maybe I was completely transformed on the day that I found out what the word “introspection” meant. Even though I cannot recall the exact moment of its discovery, finding out that I could have an exciting, probing, painful and honest conversation with myself was, I think, a pivotal moment in my life. It happened while I was in school; at a time when one’s ability to dunk a lunch wrapper into a waste bin at the distant end of the classroom or being able to make a paper plane that would return to its point of origin was always considered a noteworthy accomplishment worthy of fame.

I was never prepared for my last day in school. We took silly bets on who would cry and who won’t. Hardly anyone won their bets that day. I wowed I won’t cry and I didn’t – until everyone started singing the school song inside the ‘cop room’ before we had to leave, knowing that we’ll never come back in our white uniforms. I am not particularly proud to admit this, but I don’t think I ever really left school. The friends, the stories, the tomfoolery and the fun still linger on in my days. I left school, armed with enough naivety and confidence, not merely to face the world but to change it.

It amazes me as to how things can change in such a short time, that within a few years, my outlook of life could change so much. That is why I feel this would be a good time to look back at the years of my life I have spent in preparation for life itself… to capture the magic of childhood in a time capsule and carry it along with me so that I may never forget that I was also a child once.

I loved writing and I wanted my writing to matter, so I came to the big city to write a long letter to a nation. I walked the streets of Petah on my first assignment and compiled a story on the Dutch Museum that never saw ink on paper, but things caught on. I had full days to hang around with some of the most insightful, creative and interesting people I have ever met. I had all the time I needed to write what I wanted… whatever I wanted. I spent a few months walking the streets of Colombo, grooving myself to the rhythm of the city and writing about whatever inspired me. I covered the occasional press conference and those became my first glimpses of the real world that I had just stepped into. Those few months still remains as one of the most creative periods in my life. The magic of writing never lost its power to lift me into an elevated sense of understanding and could magically move my heart to dwell in the thoughts and feelings of another. I continue to write with passion and enthusiasm and I always want what I write, to matter.

My first step into tertiary education was a combination of coincidence and a battle with time. For reason’s I can’t logically explain, I made an early decision while I was only half way through school that I wanted to go abroad for my university education. I was never sure as to why I made that choice or how difficult it was going to be. I didn’t even know whether my parents would ever be able to afford it. I commenced my degree in Colombo without a great deal of conviction that it is what I really wanted. The way it worked out was even more mysterious, but owing to countless sacrifices and hard work that my parents invested in my dreams, I got the opportunity to reach out to the world for a new experience and a new definition of knowledge.

My destination was Australia, the smallest and the driest continent on Earth. Astonishingly, I was yet again in the company of some of my close friends. I remember how I was picked up from the airport by my friends – jet lagged, yet excited - and taken on a brief tour of Melbourne before being taken home to a pepperoni pizza and a poignant and alarming letter welcoming me to the ‘life of the international student’. But my imagination that day could not capture – let alone understand – the true extent of its contents. The three years that has followed since, have broken and mended me, taken me through poverty and abundance and some of the highest as well as the lowest moments in my life.

As I stepped with adulthood into a Darwinian world were only the fittest and the most adaptable survive, I wished I would never forget the innocence, humility and foolishness that made me expect so much more from the world than it could ever give me. I wanted to know what made me believe so much more then, than reason, better judgement and experience would allow me to believe now. It often makes me wonder whether I have lost faith in this world or rather in my own ability to change it for the better.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


A friend asked me why I named the recent series of articles "Respice Finem".
I grew up in a school which had chosen "Respice Finem" as its motto, but it was only after I left school that I learnt its true meaning. "Respice Finem" means "Look back to the end" and many scholars have argued about what that could possibly mean.
The "end" it refers to is "death" and the motto – even though it may be too heavy for a schoolboy mind – is a reminder of our mortality and the last and absolute end of all our life's journeys and pursuits. It's a necessary reminder to most of us who are occupied with the various battles of our lives that we will surely die one day.
It may sound grim to the uninitiated, but I have not found a better, more concise piece of advice for life.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Respice finem (2)

Among those strange faces I saw on that first day at school, would be individuals who would become my closest friends. They have enriched my life and taught me much. I don’t know whether to feel sorry for myself at the thought, but the most unforgettable day in my life was the day I climbed ‘Hunnasgiriya’ with two friends. We did not take the beaten path, but decided to cut through the grass and jungle because we found the prospects more exciting. But the climb was tough and it did not take long for us to realise how dangerous it was. We assessed the risks as best we could and decided to carry on. It wore down our spirits at times, but we always encouraged each other and never gave up even though there were times when it seemed practically impossible to carry on any longer. We cut through impassable jungle with limited tools and crawled through pathways in the jungle that wild boars had carved through the thicket. Covered in dirt and mud, bruised and battered by the terrain, we pushed on. Nothing prepared us for the thrill of reaching the top and no words could describe the view. For me, the whole adventure remains, perhaps the most meaningful model of life itself. That climb has since inspired me at the most difficult of times in my life.

The mountains we climbed on our spare weekends and the forest trails we trekked, elevated and inspired us and shaped our view of the world more than we realised at the time. Whether it was fighting the leaches through Sinharaja, camping out in Hantana to get a glimpse of an elusive leopard, or looking for a rare endemic lizard species in Maussakanda, the friends who trekked with me and the shadows of those majestic trees have taught me much. Those steep slopes and waterways have left their cool imprint in my heart. I no longer look at a mountain or the sea as things waiting to be conquered, because I respect them now. They overwhelm and inspire me.

I still revisit the years I spent in school to bask in the warmth of some of the best years in my life so far. The friends I made there are scattered across many time zones now, yet they remain as loyal and faithful as on the day we parted. Classrooms were strange places where boredom and laughter mixed evenly, where friendships were consolidated, ideas exchanged, fights fought; punishments were given and endured and experiments succeeded and failed unpredictably. Time in the playing fields sometimes had to be endured but almost always sought after. The corridors between the classrooms and playing fields are still brimming with tales of mischief and lasting memories. The great halls bore many legends about those who belonged to the years gone by and the traditions and the legacy they passed on. They belonged to a history that we in turn had to make our own.

There still stands a majestic chapel which lies on granite pillars on top of a silent hill, with its neat lawn and calm pond lying beside it. It was our refuge, a place of solitude and beauty; the most perfect link between the earthly and the divine I can still think of. It was this landscape as much as the people in it that shaped my early life.

School is also the place where I had my first encounters with ‘competition’ in its many forms, even though I have to admit; I never really learnt how to compete. Perhaps I bowed out of competition because I couldn’t handle its stresses and perhaps I gave up without a fight at times. Perhaps I didn’t see the point in competing – or missed the point completely. Maybe I didn’t like the person I had to become to compete. There may have even been times when I failed even to realise that I had to fight and win to get what I wanted. Now I am about to head out into a world which is competing with itself. Around me are people competing for the best jobs, the best real-estate and even the freshest bunch of bananas in the supermarket and the best seats in the theatre. I was always made to work reasonably hard in whatever I did, but never had to compete for most of what I have got in life so far, so I am yet to find out the real cost of my inability to compete, or how long it will take for me to learn how to deal with competition.

When I was young, I perceived the role of education as a process of learning facts – the knowledge of which I thought would make me employable and thus secure a decent and comfortable life. Perhaps this was a fair assessment at the time because it kept me reasonably motivated to do my best. I count myself fortunate to have had teachers and friends who also taught by the very example of their lives and the way they conducted themselves. I was lucky to have been led into the wonderful world of books, the magic of music, the glory of a mountain top and the beauty and timelessness of starlight. I am thankful to those who taught me that knowledge is not found in books alone, but also in timeless traditions, in men and women with grey hair and wrinkled skin. I was taught how to peel away the layers of my own understanding and thoughts to uncover the knowledge hidden within. I no longer search for knowledge as a means of securing a job and a comfortable life. I now see knowledge, not as an entity that can be conquered or possessed, but just an awareness of the deficiencies, desires and voids within myself. Now I seek an education that will help me rectify those deficiencies, grow beyond my desires and understand emptiness as well as fulfilment. I feel that the most I can ever hope for in life is a simple and lasting source of happiness and contentment. There are things that matter more than what I accomplish or how the world perceives me.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


I cannot hide the smile in my eyes, because I know you are with her again. We mourned her together – you and I. I will forever remember the tears I saw in your swollen eyes even on bright and sunny days – especially on those days, but now those tears are mine. I weep silently in my room, but I weep for myself and my own loss, even as I smile for you. I remember the fireflies we caught in glass jars, so many years ago. Once you knew that the wonder and magic of the world was imprinted in my heart, you let them fly back into the night with their soft green lights. I miss your soft light in my life and the love with which you taught me many hymns and choruses. I miss you more than I can grieve and my grief is deeper than my well of tears. Today, I am shattered and disgusted with myself for the first time in my life. Even as you have always taught and inspired me, I feel I have betrayed the very essence of all those lessons. Have I become a symbol of the decadence of all those values you stood for? I curse my own helplessness that has isolated me and taken me away from my loved ones. I wish you were here because you always knew how to simplify life – the very act of living. I cannot resurrect you, but help me honour you by resurrecting the thoughts and the spirit you embodied – that I have buried. Come back to me even in the words of a hymn we sang together or in the smell of a tea leaf, to remind me of the depth of love and the love for life… dear wise man with grey hair.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pursuit of happiness

It’s almost too simple to call this a discovery, but I think what every one of us seek in life ultimately, is a simple and sustainable source of happiness. Some may call it “contentment”, others “fulfilment” or even “enlightenment”. Whatever it is called, it has to be simple because happiness by definition is simple - complexity leads to confusion which in turn makes us unhappy. The happiness we feel when we indulge our desires or in power or possessions is difficult to sustain because it is often not the object of our desires that makes us happy but the process of accumulating it. Power and processions have a definite shelf life and their value depreciates over time. They also involve complex economic and political factors that are impossible to manage - let alone be sustained. I say "sustainable" because happiness is not everlasting. Life obviously has its ups and downs and sadness is a necessary contrast that accentuates happiness. A sustainable source of happiness is one that you can rely on - count on - fall back on and depend on.
According to my outlook on life, I feel that the simplest and most sustainable source of happiness is found in people – in the faithfulness and love of family and friends… money and a good career are important as long as they are necessary to support them. But in pursuit of one, it is so easy to loose track of the other, and often I have found that self-sacrifice and service are integral components in the foundation of happiness. It is ironic, but often we find happiness in sacrificing our own happiness for another. I believe that the heart alone can lead us to happiness and for that, we have to be sensitive enough to hear its subtle and silent voice. To betray the heart is to betray all meaning and significance of our very lives. Yet it often takes more courage to heed the silent guiding voice of the heart – without drowning it in desire and clouding it with the opinions and aspirations of others.
I think I will face the test eventually, of balancing my heart’s desires with a sense of duty and responsibility to others whose lives are intimately intertwined with mine. At least I now have the confidence in knowing that I have a rough idea. The highest wish I have for myself and everyone else is that our lives may be filled with moments that make us feel “truly alive” – whether by a sincere smile, a whole-hearted laugh, a tear, a hug, by the sweetness of a kiss or the deep and overwhelming yearning that makes us reach ever further out into this beautiful world and its wonderful inhabitants.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


I cannot dream anymore
Because your dark glossy curls strangle me
And your words echo in my ears all day
I cannot think
Because all my thoughts belong to you now
And they drown in your misty brown eyes
I can no longer pretend
Because your long and slender arms catch me when I do
And it's hard to pretend
When my heart doesn't obey me anymore
I can no longer wait
Because I need you to sustain me
And life is too short, that I should spend another day
Without you

Monday, February 12, 2007

Respice finem (1)

I looked down through the clouds at a beautiful world stretching towards a horizon that was wider than it had ever been. The world beneath me grew silent. For the first time I could see the world and everything in it including myself – in proportion. Then it began to dawn on me how small and insignificant I was in this vast stretch of land and sea. The sun seemed brighter and the daytime sky was not bright and blue – it was dark. The stars at night didn't twinkle and there were more of them than I had ever imagined. I flew by towering castles of clouds into a world where I felt closer to God.
I was walking into an old dream and could feel the smell of boundless opportunities with the soft breeze on my face. This is where my story begins, because it is the moment that separated me from the childhood that I left behind. I was hungry for the knowledge of life and the wisdom that I could not gain merely by reading books or by taking a quiet contemplative walk around the Kandy Lake. Inspired by the stories of my friends who had left the shores of home, I reached out beyond the horizons into a new chapter in my life. I rode the winds to experience the romance of university life in a land many ocean waves away.

I always wanted to expose myself to a bigger world than the one in which I grew up. I knew it would be a world that was as harsh as it was rich with wonder, and I knew that I would eventually have to carve out my own space – my own little corner – in it. Drawn by a sense of adventure and freedom as well as accounts of the adversities that I would have to go through as a student in a foreign land, I sought challenges that would push me off the edge of my known universe. I could never have imagined what I was heading into and how that journey would change me. It would eventually turn out to be a journey of self discovery that tested the truth of what I had learnt and my flexibility in adapting to a new environment while maintaining the rigidity of what I stood for and believed in. I will have to learn to accept that I had to leave behind the innocence and incorruptibility of my childhood, to enter through the gates of adult life.

In a world where a formal education in itself is a luxury to many, I had the good fortune and courage to explore the marvels and romance of university life. I am doubly blessed now, to be able to look back at the things I learned as a student and how those lessons have shaped me and my aspirations of life. Now in the twilight of my student life, I want to take the time to remember the books and men that have taught me the lessons of my life so far, both at home and beyond the ocean waves. Soon my anxieties about building a career, family and mortgages may wipe away the lightness, laughter and legends of a time in my life when I was naïve, foolish and innocent enough to stubbornly hold on to ideals and dreams. I will have to wait patiently, for time to teach me how to make the compromises and trade-offs that I will eventually have to negotiate as an adult in the years ahead and how they would shape the course of my life.

School still holds some of the fondest of all my memories. The stories, laughter, waywardness and mayhem of course are too many to mention. Even though I have a slightly broader world view now, I have much less curiosity than I had on my first day at school. It scared me when my father left me all by myself in a strange place, among people I did not know. Sixteen years later, I was thrilled at the prospect of leaving the shores of home to explore the world on my own. Even then, I was not fully capable of appreciating the fact that 'education' was as much an exploration of myself as it was of my environment and of the universe.

Apart from a few embarrassing incidents that will remain never to be shared publicly, I don't have too many vivid memories of my first few years in school. The only reason that made me wake up early to go to school was the prospect of playing one of a dozen variations of cricket, inside or outside the classroom. We have lost more than just a game of tap-rugby, but also teeth and half a dozen spectacle lenses in the over-crowded and dusty quadrangle. I am not surprised that the most nerve-wracking moment in my life so far was not on stage at the BMICH with the deafening shouts of over a thousand people at the "Shakespeare Finals" or trying to survive a shiny red ball that was whistling towards me off the turf at Asgiriya, knowing that I had left behind a crucial piece of protective gear in the dressing room. It was actually when I had to carry my teary face into the headmaster's office during one of those early years in the junior school, to explain that I was partly to blame (along with a bat, a ball and my poor shot selection) for the fragments of glass that used to be a window pane at the start of the interval. The lessons learnt in those early days begin to make sense only with the maturing years of life. School made me who I am, but I had to leave home and the warmth of my loved ones and head out into the world alone, in order to discover that.

Monday, February 05, 2007


ඇසි පිය අතරින් සැඟවුනු නෙත් යුග
සයුරේ රළ මත බැසගිය හිරු ලෙස
ගිල්වයි අඳුරේ, නොනිදන මා හද
සඳ තරු නැති රැයක තනි කර...

සිත දැල්වෙන ආදර හැඟුමන් එක්කර
තනමි ඔබ පතන සිහින මාලිග
නොනිදන මාහට සඳ, තරු, සිහින කුමටද
ඔබ මා තුරුලේ සිහින දකින කල?

නොමැත ඉතිරිව වෙන කිසිවක් පැතුම් පතන්නට...
නොනිදන දෑසින් මා වෙන කුමක් කරන්නද;
නීල රොදකින් වෙලුනු හැඟුමන් දහසක් කැටිකර
ගොතනු හැර වදන් පෙළක් තව කවියක?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

big and small

I am smaller than the cloud that covers the sun
And the trees in the park that shade my path
But I am bigger than the bullet and its firing gun
That has drowned humanity in a blood bath
I am smaller than my little corner of the world
Its beautiful vistas, and the memories they hold
I am smaller than the happiness I covet and seek
And humility that elevates the broken and weak
I am bigger than the lion and the beasts it rules
And the aimless leader and his band of fools
I am bigger than the blame and false judgements
Their shallow thoughts and shrewd entrapments
I am bigger than wealth, or any price they can offer
I value the immeasurable; the quantifiable I scoffer
For I am bigger than desire that enslaves the selfish
Yet smaller than that which the heart always relish

Monday, January 08, 2007

Too tired to talk about freedom

My father has had an obsession with the word “freedom” and what it actually meant. I may have just been caught in his tide of thoughts, when I instinctively choose that name for my own blog. Somehow, I am really not in the mood to write now. I would much rather stuff myself with some pasta and go to bed hoping tomorrow will be a better day. But if any of you, like my friends, wondered why I call my blog “froodom” and what I mean by that, all I can say is Khalil Gibran’s take on ‘freedom’ remains one of the best and concise takes on the word that I have read, because it reflects and has also shaped my concept of ‘freedom’.