Thursday, December 06, 2012

Heartfelt goodbye

Traveller, originally uploaded by halwis.

For all the times we parted
To be reunited in perfect ways
For all the cherrished memories
And countless long forgotten days
For all those times we leave behind
May this moment, forever be mine,
For, once again, we must say goodbye
Perhaps for the very last time.


Monday, November 19, 2012

For sun and clouds

This is for warm bright days that follow cool, starlit nights;
And for all the lonely clouds, scattered across November skies…
When a soft sandy beach beacons, from just beyond the hills
The chill of blue waves crashing, into a million foaming frills…
For sunshine lost to tinted panes, this measly ode I compose;
And for life spent earning a living, in an air-conditioned 'inpost'


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Summer is Here

Love bites, originally uploaded by halwis.

Summer is here, with its promise of blue skies, warm beaches, sweaty underwear, road trips, late night sunsets, fireworks, cricket on weekends, cold water showers and barbeques and beer with books on beanbags in the garden.

Summer has come dressed in green leaves and sunglasses, convertibles and sunroofs, basking in hammocks wearing short skirts and bikinis.

Summer is here with warm raindrops and dry winds, bushfires and camp fires, tents and portable stoves for heating up backed beans and stroganoff under clear starlit nights.

Summer is here promising Christmas with family, festivities, New Year revels and fragile resolutions.

Summer is here even though spring never came, and winter still lingers in the air. But summer is here, with her, and she smiles… and I smile back.


Friday, October 19, 2012

In Memoriam

Trinity College Chapel by Parakrama Ekanayaka

The Chapel is perhaps the most poignantly sublime symbol of Trinity for most Trinitians across the ages, irrespective of their faith. Though distanced by the years and geography, our memories often rest among those pillars, under the cooling shade of bare clay tiles with a view of Hantana nestled among the treetops. Even the quiet breeze rings with voices of friends and teachers of a time now bygone...

Yet the high roof resting on crafted pillars and adorned walls, the chimes of its bell tower and serene garden; is more than a marvel of architecture for Trinity’s choristers who sit on the elevated pews below the alter. As one who has spent many years there not so long ago, that beautiful space occupies a very special place in my life – not merely for its monumental impressions but also for the profound life-lessons, memories and inspiring people that I associate with it.

Among the dedicated teachers and inspired Chaplains who shaped our lives and nurtured our minds, Mr Ronald Thangiah remains a beacon of light that guides us still. A year and three weeks has passed since he left our midst, but I have no doubt his life will inspire generations of Trinitians to come. This was never going to be an eulogy but a celebration of the music of life that he so generously shared with us over four decades of service to our school and to God, so that we may continue to learn from the lessons he taught us.

He taught us how to sing: to create and propagate beauty by what we say and do, to seek out excellence and enjoy the journey that takes us to the pinnacles of our endeavours and aspirations. He taught us that it was more important to be faithful to ourselves and to God, even when that means we may sometimes have to deviate from the score to improvise. We sang Rutter and old folk songs, revelled in the Choir parties and the ‘paan parties’ and were lucky enough to count ourselves among his students.

‘Through all the changing scenes of life’, his family was his most sacred composition. The dignity and self respect that defined his life’s work was his masterpiece. The rhythm of his actions always held true to the beat of his heart and that was the greatest example of his life. Today we join our voices together with his family, close friends and loved ones in giving thanks to God for the life and work of his faithful servant.

We will remember the words: because he did not allow the allure of a melody to drown out the meaning of words. His words were deliberately meaningful and his actions had a creative purpose beyond the immediate concerns - to lead by example. He chose the most appropriate words and was a master at choosing the most suitable time. He was forthright but never harsh, nurturing and never authoritative.

We will remember the melodies: because he taught us that as much as the pitch of notes that wave across the score of a divine melody, so too must life also follow the same rhythmic rise and fall, to etch its sweetest memories. He reminded us that ears that are not repulsed by the cacophony of crows may never be bewitched by a symphony; and a life that has not known the depth of despair may never scale the heights of ecstasy.

We will cherish the harmony: of different voices, each tone swinging to a different tune but blending in complete harmony. He taught us how we would be richer - not merely for the diversity of our constituent tones and pitch, but more importantly for being able to combine our hearts and minds and voices for a common purpose. As each of us sang our own part, we were encouraged to listen to others. There was no individual or collective gain in singing louder than the rest. He was keen for us to understand that making beautiful music as a choir was a metaphor for life, of teamwork and coexistence, to realise the value of individual contributions as well as the joys of striving collectively for the greater good of all.

We will remember him: Above all, he was honest to himself and had the courage of his convictions to stand up and fight for just cause. His had a special place in his heart for the choir and choristers of Trinity. Soon after his retirement in 2006, he shared with me this solemn reflection: “I miss the choir and the choir practices.” he wrote. “The choristers have always looked up to me to deliver the goods and I'm proud to say I usually did. But when I failed to restore what was rightfully yours, I didn’t deserve to continue to be your Choir Master. It would have been undignified to do so.”

It was not only his genuine humility and sense of duty that made him an endearing teacher. The choristers and their choirmaster mutually held each other in highest respect. “As for me, the choir and choristers always came first” he continued. “Everything I did was because the choristers have always been a super, fantastic bunch of boys. Carol Services were a by-product.”

The worldview he shared with us, the attitudes he exemplified, the standards of dignified conduct he encouraged and the taste and appreciation of music he inculcated in us have all shaped our lives. For that we are eternally grateful. Perhaps that is why we shall not mourn, but celebrate his life; and hope that his example will live on through our lives also.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

On Love, Hurt and Forgiveness

Slope Dwellers, originally uploaded by halwis.

I used to believe that the key to solving any problem or misunderstanding was by effective communication that leads to a deeper understanding and empathy. Perhaps that’s only half true. Because, communication is a two way process and when one party or the other stops talking or listening or fails to muster the empathy and interest necessary to understand the other, don’t care enough to keep trying, or sensitive enough to use the right tone of words, communication fails all too easily. So, there are times such as when contact with a nuclear armed submarine is lost in Atlantic waters, or when hearts fall silent, or longstanding friends become too preoccupied or excited by shiny distractions; when communication is lost in a way that nothing we already know or trust about each other can transcend the gap it creates. Crisis ensues. Yes, even the Cuban missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of its destruction was, in the final analysis, nothing more than a breakdown of communications. (So, yeah... I was reading a paper on nuclear disarmament which sparked one thought that led to another that compelled me to write this post!)

When words fail, I suppose it doesn’t help to go on talking, or to keep reaching out. Sometimes thoughts are best left unspoken, feelings unexpressed, demands not made, concessions not sought. Sometimes a gentle hug - if that - would suffice, or even that is best held back. Words unspoken can be more useful if given a chance. There are times when silence - if only one can muster the courage to take the risk of being consumed by it forever – is the best option.

But we are never strong enough to take a step back into the shadows and immerse ourselves in silence when we feel our loved ones drifting away. To love or care for someone mean different things to different people. But human bonds are all too often galvanised by insecurity and parasitic needs that make it particularly difficult to withdraw, even to create space. We need constant reminders to be reassured that we are loved, thought of, prayed for... to know that we matter to our loved ones as they matter to us. Those very bonds that sustain and nourish us, also makes us vulnerable.

It is not solely the affliction of those whose sense of self worth is dependent on another. The joy of knowing that we are loved and needed is at the very core of this lethal romance and wonder of being human. That is why we dread silence – not so much for its emptiness, because silence is never empty – but because of our addiction to the thrills and joys of fellowship, camaraderie and indeed love.

So it is that we are at our most vulnerable when our human bonds are strained or broken. The depths at which they shake our souls defy rational understanding or empirical analysis. The only way we are able to respond is at a spiritual level, and therefore such profound experiences of helplessness and vulnerability become defining moments in our lives because of the way they shape our spirituality. There are many spiritual responses to such situations, some almost opposite - yet equally valid and rational ways of dealing with despair. One is to choose to love in the full knowledge that it will hurt. Another is to detach oneself from all sources of love and hurt. Principally they both arise out of the same understanding: that love and despair, joy and suffering, are merely manifestations of the same feeling that is rooted in human desire. We have a choice, either to embrace desire or to elevate ourselves above want and need and break the cycle of dependence. ‘Redemption’ can be found at either end of the same path: one through the ‘perfection’ of love in practise and the other in its passive transformation into something else.

Anyone who has been hurt or forsaken by a loved one, can draw instructive lessons about the dangers of choosing to persist with love. It is not a common experience that people we love would knowingly hurt us. Yet, if the strength of the argument for detaching ourselves from forming close human bonds lie in how it empowers the individual to rise above worldly afflictions, the case for embracing them lie in the promise of a love that transcends our fear of being hurt or broken.

Perhaps that is why I have never lost empathy for those who place all their hope in God. Belief in a love that no human can sustain, unwavering in the face of denial, betrayal or abandonment; the kind of love that can be hung on a cross and yet remain untainted and undiminished has been my inspiration in times of distress. But the paradox remains; that the love of a God or deity is perceived and conceptualised based on historically unverifiable events - not physically felt like in the warmth of an embrace or empirically tested as mortal relationships are. The love of friends, parents and lovers that is part of our daily experience however, will always remain inherently flawed and often strained by egos, neglect, selfishness and lack of empathy.

So, regardless of how we choose to respond to the imperfections of our loved ones, the simple truth remains that only those close to our hearts can hurt us. The ones who we embrace the tightest will inevitably be the ones who will cause the deepest wounds. So it dawned on me, that it is not love alone that sustains human relationships, but our willingness - ney, our commitment - to forgive those we love the most for the imperfections of their love that will hurt us often, and equally seeking their forgiveness when we fall short of the ideals of love, for as long as we love and live.


Sunday, October 07, 2012


Reflections (c) Harendra Alwis

The tip of his stencil settled on a surface that had long ceased be canvas. The shade it carried did not contrast much with the countless layers beneath that he had painted over and over again, but he noticed her cheeks dimple and her expression intensify as the white horse-hair bristles stroked them. The movement caught him by surprise and he glanced over his shoulder, without removing his brush from the canvas, to make sure he had not left a window open for the sun and clouds to alter the shades.

And there she sat behind him, her stubby fingers clinging on to the pleats of that beige dress, the same one she wore however many years ago – he didn’t remember. All he wanted then was to paint the perfect portrait and she was the perfect subject. And there she sat with the same mischievous smile and accusing eyes framed by those luscious locks streaming down her shoulders as she had on that fist evening now but a fond old memory. Sharp, but not yet wise; mature, but not yet a woman; refined, but not yet a lady, her feet dangled restlessly – not because she lacked the grace to remain poised, but out of sheer will not to conform to the snobbery that has forced her to sacrifice far more curious pursuits, to indulge a master painter who had dare lay down a shadow of her immortal likeness on an already decaying canvas.

In all those years that have passed since the first time she sat there, her skin grew more radiant and her face saturated with the playfulness of youth. With each passing month, he noticed how the dance in her eyes intensified and the locks flowed thicker around her brow. Even then, he knew the exact length of her eyelashes and the shade of her tresses; he knew every wrinkle of every pleat in each of her dresses. His palette bore the colours that made up different tones of her skin from the light of dawn to dusk, in the light of a candle flame and under the moon and stars. Indeed each hair on her head had been counted.

Even as he noticed that the windows were shuttered, his brush felt reluctant to part with the canvas. He turned back almost reflexively – worried whether he had inadvertently made a mis-stroke, but before his eyes met hers on the portrait, or he had time to realise it was blushing, he was thrown back a few steps. The picture on the canvas was no longer the one he had painted, the face not the one he had tried to perfect over innumerable years. In the moment he took to realise what had happened, all those years had passed. The girl on his canvas was missing and in her place sat a woman, now perfect in every way that the artist was too flawed to recognise, let alone appreciate.

And there she waits in a studio that the painter had long abandoned, together with his palette and the horse-hair stencils.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

කවි ගී තනු සම

අසරන වූ කවියක් ඔබ සිත තුල
හඬනු ඇසෙයි නිල් නෙත් යුග බොඳ කර
ගී තනුවක් රැව්දෙයි මා හද බැඳ
ඔබ සුසුම් හෙලන, හද ගැහෙනා රිද්මයකට

අද සුභ දවසකි කවි රස විඳිනට
බලනු හිරු සඳු යුග, අහසේ බබලන දෙස
වළා රොදක් ගෙන හිරු සඳු පිදුමට
හමනා කල සුළඟක් - සිසිලෙන් ගත දවටන
කවි පද, ගී තනු, ඒ සුළඟට මුසු කර
ගයමු අපිත් කොවුලන් ගී පරදන

හිරු බැස ගිය කල සඳ තරු නිහඬව
සිහින ලොවින් බැස අසා සිටිනු ඇත
මන රඳවන, හද සනසන, ගත පිනවන
සුමියුරු ඒ ගී නද

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


With you, much of my past slips beyond the reach of living memory and history recede into a crystal ball... I lose a love which I never had to win or prove myself worthy of. Though not always unconditional, it was wilfully blind to my flaws and exultant like no other in the most modest of victories.

In you lies lifeless the greatest storyteller and moulder of character that I ever knew. Yet in me lives your narrative; that most intimate of stories which is intertwined with our collective past and shared ultimate destiny. Your gifts to us linger on and we are yet guided by your practical wisdom. I see the world through your eyes. Your strength inspires me still. Even your weaknesses challenge me to continue the relay of generations, as we run each lap, not towards perfection or pure light, but with courage; out of the shadows of history.

So rest in peace, knowing that in me and others who bear the mark of your flesh, you will breathe, speak and act in ways you may never have imagined. And I may yet be bound to your legacy by a golden thread, forevermore!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Broken Promises

A faint promise of spring smiles through the blinds.

The wind is less repelling though not yet warm enough to be embracing. It feels like Kandy in December and makes me nostalgic. Long forgotten memories compel me to split a spent out bamboo torch in the garage to make a kite, but I am dissuaded by a grown up and rational voice within… Because just before I left home, the weathergirl warned me that this flimsy promise of spring will be broken by mid afternoon. She is sure that there will be at least one more weekend of hail and rain to endure before the winds can clear out summer skies. Though the weather gods often move to contradict her, this time she is probably right, because clouds have taken over already.

Except, for a lone, but brave and determined bud on a naked twig that had decided spring has come, and it’s time to bloom.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

For all those times...


Because, for every cold, cloudy, rainy day or two in winter that dampens your spirit in the slightest, there is also a day that just rises up to meet you at your most cheerful and energetic; for every barren tree that shiver in the cold winds, having submitted months before to the impending midwinter’s gloom, there is one that defies the ice and frost, whose flowers even dare challenge the battered sun to shine brighter when they bloom; and for every dark cloud that threaten to rain and hail, in whose dark shadows we are tempted to rug up with a warm cup, there is one that is tinted by the rising sun and cast behind a rainbow, that invites us to step out and play...


Thursday, July 05, 2012


There is something about a quiet early morning walk through the mist that whispers to us of secrets we have long ago let slip out of memory and thought. Trapped in a bubble that moves with us as we move, the 'immediate' seem pure and fathomable even as the air itself is haunted by grey shadows, and the world blurs beyond our near reaches.

If we are able to listen through the noise of rush-hour traffic, the mist may speak to us in muted voice, reminding us how we often ensnare ourselves in bubbles of our own perception or making. It is not only the opulent in a depraved society or the self-righteousness among the dammed that inhabit bubbles. We who cloak ourselves with the familiar - not always for the lack of empathy or generosity to connect and share with the unfamiliar, but for the lack of curiosity to cultivate an appreciation of the diversity around us - also seek refuge in an illusion of clarity in a world made obscure.

But as we walk, the mist gradually renders the invisible road ahead into view even as it dissolves the landmarks we have already passed into ever lighter shades of grey. Our memories may froth in a certain kind of nostalgia for what has passed out of sight.

To the extent that time is allowed to define the boundaries of our lives; we are tempted to choose friends by their proximity rather than trust or faithfulness. Yet, it is all part of the adventure of life that we often forsake the intimate and familiar in the hope of the glorious unknowns that an unknowable tomorrow may veil behind its haze for us. Perhaps it is part of the human condition that we are lured by the enigmatic and find just reward in the thrills of discovery. An insatiable desire to unravel that which seems mysterious is what often entice us to take the next risk, or step through the mist of time; sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.


Friday, June 29, 2012

The Oldest and the Greatest

 TRY by halwis.

A reflection on the Bradby Shield and what it stands for

History and tradition are great mentors. History assures us of who we are, and if we are brave enough, it can also teach us where we have failed or triumphed, behaved honourably or been disgraced. Tradition, for it to be useful, must be wisely chosen and morally crafted; because it is the conduit through which history’s best lessons flow down the ages. Great traditions are not always old, but the best ones are usually those that stand the test of time and like good wine, enhanced by age. Where it is not mistaken for blind ritual, tradition sets out an honour code on how we should behave as well as treat ourselves and others with dignity. As much as history and tradition helps chasten us and help preserve the integrity of our social fabric, they are also vulnerable to misinterpretation and exploitation. Sometimes, when history is ousted by myth and tradition is confused with petty ceremony, the manifest outcomes contradict every perception of who we really are and how we ought to behave.

There are historical facts that ground us in reality and historical fiction that deludes us. The often bandied about claim that the Bradby Shield encounter is the oldest schools rugby fixture in the world is - unfortunately - a delusion. In the possible absence of stronger contenders, the honour of playing the oldest rugby fixture - including alternating home and return legs - should belong to Edinburgh Academy and Merchiston Castle School in Scotland. Their claim to have played against each other annually without a break since 1857 remains unparalleled so far.

It should not sadden us Trinitians and Royalists however, to find out that our traditional encounter on the rugby field is not the oldest of its kind in the world, nor does it diminish the significance of the Bradby Shield in any way. Thanks to those who have worn the majestic red, gold & blue stripes and blue & yellow stripes with honour, we have a rightful claim to a proud history of playing the game and a great honour code associated with it.

A claim is also being made that the Bradby Shield is the “blue-ribbon event” in the Sri Lankan rugby circuit. Finding evidence for this claim is a much less strenuous undertaking. Even though each school is entitled to be proud of the long-standing sports fixtures they engage in against traditional rivals, perhaps none can match the fanfare and prestige associated with the Bradby Shield or the “Battle of the Blues” between Royal and St Thomas’. With a return leg and two weeks of eager anticipation, jovial sledging and hype in between, perhaps the Bradby Shield edges out all others. I wonder whether it would take nothing short of a Cricket world-cup fixture to dislodge it from its pride of place in the entire Sri Lankan sports calendar!

Indeed every Royalist and Trinitian is entitled to a share of that pride and prestige, but it is important that we understand who has conferred that prestige to the event and what we have done - and must continue do - to be deserving partakers of it. It is not an honour that is inherent in the institutions we represent and to an even lesser extent in us as individuals. The prestige of the Bradby Shield that we share in – be it as players, school boys or alumni – is an honour bestowed on us by the sports loving public of Sri Lanka. Perhaps, over the years they have come to notice something special in the way we play the game, and the care with which Royalists and Trinitians have upheld the dignity of the event. They may have recognised in our traditions - values worth aspiring for and honouring. Therefore, as much as it gives us cause for great celebrations every year, taking part in the Bradby Shield also calls for some introspection and humility on our part.

We must understand that the pride of place occupied by the Bradby Shield encounter as a premier sports event in Sri Lanka is not ours to take for granted – but a privilege to be earned and renewed every year. In an era where games are broadcast to all corners of the country and indeed the globe on national television, the responsibility on players and spectators to uphold those values and to augment the traditions we all profess to honour have never been greater. Events that took place at the Royal Sports Complex two weeks ago and our collective response to it as Trinitians and Royalists so far – if they haven’t diminished the decorum that is associated with the event - have done little to preserve it.

Indeed the history of the event is strewn with many images and memories of noble sportsmanship. However, if we look closer and with rose-tinted glasses set aside, there has also been some measure of ignoble behaviour both on and off the field. There is no shame in acknowledging the truth – only cowardice in failing to do so. This week, we have a chance to mend what may have been strained and to reaffirm our commitment to upholding and handing on untarnished the better traditions of the great institutions we represent and love.

Dare I say that it is just a game after all! The result of this year’s Bradby cannot aspire to anything greater than being ‘memorable’. So it will be each year, as both camps fight it out for fresh memories of glory. There is glory in equal measure even in defeat as in victory. What draws us to the hallowed turf every year is something greater than the hope of a thrilling win. I am tempted to call it the spirit of the Bradby Shield, but I am afraid that any attempt to capture it in words would make it disappear altogether. There are some things that one man’s memory cannot contain. They can only exist in the collective memory and aspirations of a great crowd. I have heard it in the roaring echoes of Bogambara and felt it years ago, in the moving silence of supporters and rivals alike when a crucial kick at goal was lined up in the dying minutes of a game.

That long observed silence of even rival supporters when a kick is lined up has been a hallmark of the Bradby that set it apart from every other encounter in the season; but no more. Those were some of the treasures that were entrusted to us who bear the names of Trinity and Royal in our hearts. We may have squandered some, but let us resolve anew, to be worthy custodians of that legacy today, so that when the time comes for us to hand it on to the generations that follow, we may do so with competence and communicate to them without words, the great responsibility that comes attached to it. It is only then, and with the cheers that roll, that we may remember our own great days and jolly days with solemn pride.

- As published on Groundviews

Monday, June 25, 2012

Birthday wish

Traveller, originally uploaded by halwis.

Dear Godchild,

Being probably the first person apart from your parents, grandparents and uncle, to wish you on your very first birthday, is a great responsibility. It is the sort of thing that keeps Godfathers up well past bedtime; not out of obligation of course, but out of duty.

Today, you mark the first of many wonderful way points in your life. On this day, for years to come, we will celebrate the perfection of God's creation in you. It will be a yearly reminder to renew our faith in you and trust in God's plan for you; which is just another way of saying 'trust what life has in store for you'. Some may call it destiny, some may convince you that you are the architecht of your life and all its fortunes. One day, when you are just about old and wise enough, I will show you how they are both one and the same thing!

In time, you will be compared to flowers that bloom and wither away, or to stars that seem to last forever. You will tread on pebbles that have been around for eons and sit under the shade of trees that will outlast you by many generations. But in all of creation, there has never been another one of you in this universe and there will never be. You are unique in creation and you alone have the power and right to define how. Choose wisely and always choose with love.

We also celebrate in you, the will of life to endure and thrive, but that is a gift you share with even plants and animals. Perhaps, one day, you will also be lucky enough to become an instrument of life’s longing to manifest itself anew. That would be something worth praying for.

Life is more than you and I can comprehend, but I hope we will be able to remind each other of that every now and then. Never give up trying to understand life deeply, because to do so would be to loose sight of its very purpose. Life is your opportunity to partake of all that is magical and wonderful and your parents will strive harder than anyone can imagine, to put as much of that wonder and magic within reach of your fingertips. Despite their best efforts however, there will be times when life doesn't seem so wonderful to you, when you encounter difficult choices, pain and suffering, anger, hatred and perhaps even the threat of violence.

And with time (but I hope soon enough) you will learn to appreciate the seasons of life. Most days will be unmemorable, but there will be those that will wrap you in bliss and others that drown in sorrow. There will be times when you will languish as days idly pass you by and then hasten with purpose. Like the seasons in nature, these times will be inevitable, but they will roll on; sometimes with you in tow and at others with you taking the lead.

I wish you friends who will be for all seasons. You won't so much find them as be blessed with them. If you must have any desires, try to be a good friend that others can depend on at all times. Cherish those loved ones who walk through life with you, strengthen you and make you laugh. Never forsake them or feel obliged to put up with anyone who takes you for granted. Be faithful to those whose love sustains you; and love them all your heart.

In your grasp is the power of innocence and may it be yours for years to come. Innocence is not the same as naivety, nor will it make you vulnerable. It is rather a sign of persistent faith in all that is good and a reflection of the strength of your imagination and endurance of your dreams. Should the years ahead threaten to make you cynical, or pessimistic, look back and draw inspiration from the indomitable love that has made you possible. You will also be, as your parents and theirs have been, a sprout in the fountain of life. Preserve the purity of your innocence and be chastened by it. Wear kindness as a chain on your heart, and let gentleness, like bangles adorn your hands. Grace shall be your crown.

Today, the gift we are thankful for is your presence in our lives. In years to come, you will add more meaning and reason for celebration and more cause for joy. What we see today are merely the first rays of dawn breaking in the horizon as we wait for birdsongs to break through the morning mist and the glory of daylight to set in. The skies hold much promise. So, this prayer is my gift; that you, your parents, elders and teachers will have the wisdom and strength to be guided through this day, till we all lie down with the stars, to a peaceful dusk.

Always, Your Godfather.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Light in the Window

 Photo credit: unknown

He felt something formidable rise in front of him and paused; undecided, hesitant, unhurried but weary of languishing. The dark moonless night engulfed his senses completely. Not knowing which way to go, he just stood without any recollection of what he was doing there. He could no longer remember or imagine where the next step might land or where it will take him. What he knew had been driven into the wilderness of the unknowable. Most of what he believed in had been abandoned in the ever lengthening shadows of doubt. Shear strength of will and blind hope had conspired to bring him to this dead end. But he couldn’t have been standing there for too long, when a light flicked on behind a window in a sandstone wall not far from where he stood and the world around him began to lend itself to senses once again. The smoked glass panels cast a dim yellow light on a narrow, neatly paved mosaic of cobblestone that uncurled into the darkness beyond and the blurred outline of his shadow laid out on a manicured lawn beside it.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Make Different

Split Sky, originally uploaded by halwis.

Like the grains of sand on the seashore... the glittering snowflakes that float through the air and melt away in the sun... like the subtle prints on a fingertip and the intricate patterns of tea leaves in a cup, each of us are unique in creation. There are those among us who seek to be unique; we want to stand out from a crowd and be noted, to do things differently and create our own themes and styles in life.

In a country, and indeed in a world that is divided by communal, racial and religious differences, the notion of being different and unique is defined equally by the colour of skin; language and accent as much as by each individual's unique power to think and do things differently and create new things.

Would ours be a better world if a person's uniqueness was defined by talents and creations rather than where we were born and who we descend from? So what does it mean to be 'different' in a world where it matters whether you are rich or poor, man or woman, educated or uneducated? Does being 'different' mean that we should use our ethnicity, religion and caste to discriminate and differentiate one person from another or even react 'indifferently' to those social barriers? Will it rather make a difference if we broke down those barriers for better or for worse?

Indeed every human being deserves to be treated with equal dignity; some may argue that every living thing deserves equal treatment. Yet each of us are different in our own ways, the colour of our skin may be different even though that should not separate us. The blood that runs through our veins bleeds the same hue of red. We speak different languages; yet we share and express the same feelings and emotions.

We seek God in different places and the names we use to describe God and way we worship are unique; yet God's love has no favourites among us. Even though we have different memories of the past, we find their meaning when we share them with our friends and loved ones and though our dreams are varied we still need each other to make them come true. We share the same Earth and breathe the same air. The mountain springs do not quench the thirst of one man and deny another and the birds do not discriminate at whose doorstep they sing their early morning songs.

The sun and stars shine down on all of us and the rain from the heavens brings life and fertility to all living things with the same abundance. The fruits of the Earth feed both man and beast; the holy and the immoral; the hero and the scoundrel.

Though we may sometimes loose hope, we share the courage and faith of humanity in what is good and righteous and even though we sometimes doubt; we all have within us; the power to believe. Though we all fight with courage, yet all our daily battles are fuelled by the promise of peace and rest.

When we are sometimes defeated by fear and anger; we rise again, because in every heart is an eternal spring of hope and love. Each of us is unique, yet there are more things that bring us together than separate us and though we spend much of our time trying to be different, in truth it is the similarities we share that make us understand and respect each other.

The master painter does not portray the beauty of his painting from the uniqueness of its colours; but rather by blending them together.

Originally published in The Sunday Observer on 25th june 2006

Sunday, June 03, 2012

The calling

Photo credit: unknown

Home calls. Sometimes. Perhaps we share the longing with all of life – whatever it is that makes the Salmon persevere against raging white melt waters; birds migrate over mountain ranges; wildebeest cross perilous waters in search of the familiar green pastures – also draws us to the place of our birth, the memories of our childhood, warm winds, big rain drops, the luscious green of grass and tall trees, the gravel road along the foothills that leads us there… they all tug at our hearts urging, encouraging and cheering us on when we journey back. 

It is not just the comfort of familiar surroundings or the nurturing company of loved ones we seek, or a shallow indulgence of overly romanticised memories of bygone days. Home is more than that. It is the ultimate refuge of every traveller when all others are merely resting places. It is the assurence of safety and comfrort at the end of an arduous journey, the retreat where we renew and rediscover ourselves.

It is not a house or a place on a map. It is a state of mind, a feeling, a peaceful satisfaction. We glimpse it in what we love to do and in the people we love to be with. Perhaps it is the secret place in our hearts where we hope to find every happiness imaginable. It is the aspiration we all share, the warmth of an embrace, a thoughtful act that fills us with grattitude and the smile that confirmes we've reached our destination.

Home is where our final journey starts, the soil in which our lives take root, where memories blossom and life itself fades into eternity. Even as we flutter with the breeze and bask in the sun like leaves on a perched branch, the longing to glide back to the base of our roots churn within us; because home is where we dissolve in the rich earth, to be created anew.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Flame, originally uploaded by halwis.

Glory beckons;
Be humble at heart and graceful in your ways.
The moment will not be preserved in time's embrace forever,
But swept by its currents, a fragile memory, floating in eternity.
If you must vanquish others, deny not their inherent dignity.
Remember, only worthy adversaries make a worthy victory.

Failure beckons;
Be resilient and of indomitable faith.
Fail not your will to endure, to nurture hope and to dream again
No man won, or loved, who had never known the pain of loss,
Nothing beautiful, no precious ornament was ever crafted
But from melted, sawed, broken and worn out pieces

Happiness beckons;
Be thankful and generous in spirit.
Joy shall be yours, but not always or for your own keeping,
So share also in the joy of others, and yours with them.
Partake of their laughter and make it yours sincerely,
So that your heart may always be adorned with a smile.

Opportunity beckons;
Be perceptive and decisive in what you do,
Waste not the glorious sunshine of the breaking day
And let not faithful friends or moments of laughter pass you by.
Do not allow the treasures you seek to dictate your time and place
But lead your own life and roam free in its wonderful pathways.

Danger beckons;
Be ever vigilant, clever and when required; brave.
For even though predators must
sometimes be fought and killed,
They must always be spotted from afar and denied their prey.
Above all know where they come from and whence they pounce,
Because what imperils us often lie within, as much as brought about.

Life beckons; 
Be wise and of good courage.
Honour the wellspring of your wisdom,
Take time to understand the source of your courage
And be thankful for the places where you find unfailing strength.
Befriend them with all your heart and be true and faithful to them
And to yourself, always!


Sunday, May 27, 2012


An intimidating, plump book lay helpless on her lap; its spine pinned down on her right thigh. Stubborn pages of its chapters read were parted from those yet unread and held back by her slender fingers.

He kept the seconds with each blink of her eyes and minutes with the rhythmic flip of pages.

She did not seem engrossed in what she was reading. There was a slight hint of distraction in the way she played with her hair but she took no notice of him or his intent gaze on her long eyelashes. She never looked up from the book; if she did steal a glance of him, he never caught her in the act. Their eyes never met.

Bathed in an cosmetic fluorescence, they sat facing each other against a window that framed the pitch black of night outside as the train snaked out of its burrow from underneath the towered city, bound for the obscurity of suburbia.

Each station presented the possibility of a parting of these two strangers. Yet they spent time in between each stop ignoring each other and pretending not to care. Perhaps they had mutual friends and stories to share, but neither would ever know. Eventually, one of them would pick up a bag or place a bookmark on an unfamiliar page and disappear into the night, destined never to be spoken to, seen or remembered by the other.

Yet, that time had not yet come, so they remained two strangers occupying a single moment in a confined space. Bound to the fringes of another’s awareness for a fraction of an hour, they shared one of many countless and unmemorable journeys in life's unremarkable course.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

What does "Respice Finem" really mean?

Originally published in TCK Family News in June 2008

I am not a Latin scholar to define the actual meaning of the college motto with any scholarly authority, but a recent discussion between a few young Trinitians about the meaning of “Respice Finem” brought out a few interesting facts that I felt was worthy of broader contemplation. ‘The Gesta Romanorum’ or ‘Deeds of the Romans’ was compiled in Latin in the early fourteenth century by an English cleric and published in 1473. In its 103rd chapter is a verse that reads: ‘Quidquid agas, prudenter agas, et respice finem’ which means ‘Whatever you do, do cautiously, and look to the end’. Most of the authoritative sources that I have come across, also translate “Respice Finem” as “Look to the end”. Notably, most common interpretations of the phrase are limited to the borders of an action; “ do whatever you do cautiously...” “ consider the end result of your action”...

The simple question that begs to be asked however is; what would the founders of Trinity have intended when they adopted this phrase as the motto of this great institution? Would they have borrowed it from ‘The Gesta Romanorum’? Perhaps they did, perhaps they didn’t. Perhaps the founders of Trinity were more influenced by the 36th verse in the 7th Chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Holy Bible which says “Whatsoever thou takest in hand, remember the end, and thou shalt never do amiss” (King James Version).

Trinity College was founded on the Christian faith and its principles. Christianity’s strong emphasis on ‘salvation after death’ brought the concept of death itself and the mortality of life to the forefront of Christian thought and philosophy. It is also widely accepted that “Respice Finem” in the context of post classical European literature has been used as a “memento mori” – a reminder of our mortality and of death – just like the verse in the book of Ecclesiastes. Therefore in light of Trinity’s foundations on Christian values and philosophy, it seems likely that “...the end” refers to death itself. This may sound grim to the uninitiated, and an unlikely bit of advice for young schoolboy minds; however, it offers a most profound insight into life itself.

It is not only possible but most probable that the founding fathers of Trinity intended this motto to carry a much broader meaning; also as a reminder of the virtues of modesty and humility in light of the mortality of life’s glorious constructs. Standing behind a victorious roman General who is parading the spoils of war through the streets of Rome, would often be a slave who was assigned the task of reminding the General that though he is victorious today, death and destruction could only be as far away as tomorrow. Such a slave in chapter 33 of Tertullian’s Apologeticus tells his General “Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento!” It means “Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man!” Is it a coincidence that a similar message is found again in our adopted school song where it says;

“The stars and sounding vanities 
That half the crowd bewitch. 
What are they but inanities..”

“To speak of fame a venture is, 
There's little here can bide,”

“For though the dust that's part of us, 
To dust again be gone,”

The impermanence of material possessions, the superficiality of worldly glory and the virtues of following a 'middle path' is also at the core of Buddhist philosophy. This makes me stand in awe at the vision of those who adopted "Respice Finem" to be the guiding light of all Trinitians who have sought out a message that is not uniquely Christian, but one that is shared and understood by all.

Yet “Respice Finem” is not a pessimistic message of the futility of high ambitions and glory.

Perhaps it has been taken for granted that Trinitians will be natural heirs to 'glory' and 'greatness' and therefore, more in need of a reminder – like for victorious Generals - to "look to the end"; to the superficiality of Glory and fame in the face of the ultimate end; so that they may be inspired to be humble and modest, especially at the pinnacles of their life's achievements. Of course a phrase, poem or essay is only as rich as the breadth and depth in which it can be interpreted. The various interpretations or the phrase “Respice Finem” is perhaps the best testimony of its richness. I hope every Trinitian will be inspired to examine more critically, whether we have lived up to the highest meaning that the phrase “Respice Finem” holds within it. That - perhaps - would be the greatest of all lessons that Trinity has taught us.

Respice Finem!

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Potty Training

Life and work had got in the way of my reading for a while. Last year was probably one of the worst in recent memory. I did read the unabridged ‘Chinaman’ (four stars out of five) and ‘Tamil Tigress’ (also four stars) in the last quarter and even managed to squeeze in ‘The Lost Dynasty: Uncovering Sri Lanka's Secret Past’ (three stars) to the list while on holiday back home. But still, it felt like a year in which my brain was just left to ferment in a dark cellar. Between work, cooking, cleaning, sleeping and playing cricket, I had no time to read.

Except the time I spend in the toilet!

Of course, a sudden urge to pee does not usually afford the time to pick a suitable book. The relief of the ‘outflow’ usually drowns – if not douses – any sensation that could be had by the inflow of print. No, but the more patient requests of the digestive system do. On top of that, sharing a house with two other – if not excessively flatulent, I’d say 'uninhibited' - bachelors means that the toilet is not my idea of a quiet refuge. It is not for the lack of cinnamon and cloves in the food we regularly ingest, but we don't exactly distill rose petals in our stomachs - so the chamber pot bears no therapeutic aroma. The last thing I would want to 'pass' in there is my precious and finite time. But one has to do what one has to do and when you do, the time can be well-spent on multitasking and doing something useful - like reading. Reading is meaningful work. If only I was an editor or proofreader by profession, I would take all my work to the loo and claim tax rebates for my toilet paper, air-freshener and sanitiser costs as work-related expenses!

Regardless of the potential tax benefits, reading is probably the perfect distraction from all that is unpleasant in the potty room and a perfect way to while away that time - unless of course one has a special talent for counting tiles or making paper cranes out of toilet paper. When you sit there, your bowels just know what to do. They don’t need special instructions or cooperation from any other organs, so the brain is free to do whatever else it wants to do.

Not only that – unless one’s diet has a very large fibre content, it is very difficult to figure out exactly when your business is done and when it is safe to pull out the paper to sign-off the contract. Left without a more compelling distraction, the mind gets preoccupied in an infinite loop of the useless and mundane question of “am I done?” With a book in hand, you leave the mind to ponder greater mysteries – allowing the abdominal muscles to take their time. Once you remember to look up after a chapter or two, you are not only left assured of the completion of your business and relieved of your duty, but also feel mentally stimulated - though perhaps sensually numbed!

So I have dumped all excuses to read 20 books this year!

Friday, April 27, 2012


 Voyages (c) Harendra Alwis

It is never a question about moral or virtue, what is right or wrong; it is about being able to bear witness to your life and be proud; being able to say it and know you mean it; being able to give of yourself knowing it would be a worthy gift; being able to love and bear only the reflection of your lover - clear and beautiful without haunt or shadow - in your eyes.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Power to the People

Too Much Baggage 

Power to the idiots, power to the fools!
The tattered shed full of rusted, blunt tools
Power to the ignorant, obnoxious jerks!
To their misguided lives with unlimited perks
Power to the unimaginative and blatantly crude
Their bird brained followers and deluded brood 
Power to the beautiful, intelligent and wise 
Their desecrated hearts and dysfunctional minds

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Darkest Hour

  Blessings (c) Harendra Alwis

Go back to sleep, oh restless heart
Doze not in the abyss of fragile dreams
Mind the sting of that infectious dart
Add no more tears to brackish streams

Go back to sleep, dread not the night
Her eyes will carry the first rays of dawn
Wake not till that smile on her lips doth bloom
And the mountains echo her mermaid song

~ October 2011 ~

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Asymmetric Ode

Non-Geometric Asymmetry
Geometric Asymmetry (c) Harendra Alwis

I see you change form, take on a myriad faces
In my dreams, thoughts and everyday places
You are in every cup of tea and woollen sock
But most often I see you on the face of my clock
You are in everything I touch, from cradle to cemetery
So this is my ode to you, oh non-geometric symmetry!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Land like no other

Workbench (c) Harendra Alwis

Isolated by International and local travel bans because of a civil war raging within its jungles, the northern region of Sri Lanka offers contrasting views of life and adventure to those who dare cross the Forward Defence Lines (FDLs). This week, Harendra reports from behind enemy lines, about the lives of those who have been caught in the crossfire - both literally and metaphorically - for many years.

To say that ‘Sri Lanka is a land of contrasts’ would be an understatement that could get you thrashed in a night-club or run over by a three-wheeler. From the shacks of tea estate workers in its cool hills, to the luxury condominiums in the capitol Colombo, it is a country that shouts out myriad life stories, but perhaps none so forcefully as the stories of those who live in or near the war zone in the North and East of the country. Their stories are more elusive, so I went searching for them.

Starting off on my trail, I met Kandasamy (36) a local farmer and his family of five who welcomed me to their ‘earthy’ villa. The courtyard is lined by a rock garden on the furthest edge of their one hundred acre estate which coincidentally is also a minefield. Only last night, they were trapped in the middle of an exchange of heavy artillery fire, followed by Ariel bombardment. Despite the sleepless night, Kandasami and his family wake up early morning to start another peaceful day in the village of Kodikulluppu, just 236 kilometres north of the capitol Colombo. Kandasami’s family had spent the night underground in a bunker that they dug themselves. Despite the smoky morning sky and smell gunpowder in the air, Kandasami - a wine enthusiast - is optimistic about the future.

When the war is over, he plans to have his own vineyard and winery on his mine-infested land and of course, turn his underground bunker into a cellar. “I think Sauvignon Blanc will do exceptionally well on this land. The soil and weather is just ideal” he says with a sparkling smile that is iconic of the people of this tiny island off the southern tip of India. De-mining his fields however, could take many years even after the end of the war but that’s not going to be a problem for Kandasami. “I think the mines on the field will add an ‘explosive’ undertone to the taste of my wines, which will compliment the melon taste of Sauvignon Blanc, so I will not have to blend in any Semillions” grins the future entrepreneur.

As I make my way on cratered a landscape I am greeted by Periadorai who has just opened a coffee shop beside the esplanade. Its large French windows offer stunning views across the large man-made tank and what little remains of the main highway. Periadorai’s coffee shop is a popular hang-out for the social elite of Kodikulluppu, including the teenage boys and girls of the only International School in the area, who invade the place soon after school hours. Periadorai, who has received his barista training while living in exile in South India, offers me his speciality – a sublime Macchiato and a delightful bacon and egg sandwich, toasted, with Swiss cheese on freshly backed Italian Herb bread. It leaves me wondering at the end, how good his lemon cheesecake or cinnamon doughnut would have been if only I have been there for afternoon tee under a sky lit up with artilary and anti-aircraft fire.

If business is the lifeblood of Kodikulluppu, then art would surely be its heart. My next stop is at the house of a young and promising painter. Sivagi, a child prodigy who began drawing on the dusty floor when she could barely crawl, had already sold her first crayon painting at the age of 6. Even though her first buyer was her uncle who bought his portrait for a mere Rs. 5, she (was) literally ‘shot’ to fame when she lost her arms to an unexploded shell. She miraculously survived and so did her love of art. Now she draws with a paint brush held between her toes and has since inspired hundreds, if not thousands of children like her, who has also lost their limbs as a result of the war.

Despite the occasional – albeit rare – claymore mine explosion and slightly more frequent kidnappings and just above average murder-rate, the northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka are a tourist paradise waiting to be discovered. It is a must see destination for every traveller, as any would soon find that the flat arid space and wide cloudless horizons that cradle the stars at night, the white sandy beaches that stretch for miles and the tall palms are only a fraction as delightful or fascinating as the people who live there and their warm embracing smiles.

(Published in The Sunday Times - Mirror Magazine (25/11/2007)

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Half Life

Paddling accross the Milky Way
Paddling accross the Milky Way (c) Harendra Alwis 

Time’s flow carried her, half drowning in its currents, half buoyed by bygone memories, projected from the recesses of her mind, with a blue tint, until she found herself washed up on its western bank, half conscious, at a bend half way in its path, just before dusk on an ordinary day, indistinguishable from any other, and there she lies still, awake, but half asleep, waiting for dawn, as time, flows on by southwards…

(From March 2008)

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Virtues of News


Bad news makes good news. This is quite true for mass media, but only because people consume bad news better and more willingly than good news. Bad news is sensational by itself and has a slightly longer shelf life.

What do disaster warning systems, SMS messages about bomb-blasts and network monitoring tools have in common? They all alert us to bad news and can potentially save lives and property damage including intellectual property and information stored in computer networks. Not only governments and large corporations, but even individuals invest in technology that can warn us of impending dangers and threats and more often than not, they bring dividends – because bad news has tangible utility than good news.

We take it for granted that the surf is calm at the beach and don’t need to be alerted to that, but especially those who live by the sea will definitely pay to know if a Tsunami was imminent. We install network monitoring tools, not to flood our mail boxes every five minutes with messages that the Network is safe but to warn us of much less frequent infiltration attempts.

To be fair by the mass media, consumers are far more willing to pay for bad news than they are to pay for good news, but why?

The bad news is we can’t yet know for sure why bad news is more important to us than good news. Perhaps that’s how our brains are wired; perhaps that’s how we have evolved – because access to bad news is far more critical for our survival than access to god news. It is also bad that as a result, much of the good news never gets reported.

So what’s the good news? Well, there is plenty of good news all around you, if only you would bother to look. I could tell you what the good news is, but if you can’t see it yourself; there is little hope that anyone else will be able to show you.

(Published in The Sunday Times - Mirror Magazine (20/01/2008)

Friday, March 30, 2012

A feeble defence of 'etiquette'

One of my primary school teachers used to say that three words – ‘thank you’, ‘please’ and ‘sorry’ – if more frequently used, could solve all the problems of the world. I wasn’t so sure, because despite her infinite wisdom that could apparently solve all worldly problems, she couldn’t even count that they actually totalled four words. Erroneous word-counts notwithstanding, the importance of good manners remains one of the more important lessons I carried with me from school.

More recently, I got entangled in a ground-breaking conversation between two friends about the profoundly enlightening thesis that "ado" is not an appropriate way [for a gentleman] to address a lady. Some ladies are themselves conducting seminars for aspiring executives on how to shake hands, when to stand and sit at business meetings. It seem that ‘etiquette’ is back on the agenda. So I decided to cast the first stone, even under threat of “aspersions being cast” on my own fallible soul.

The problem with words like etiquette, manners, chivalry and courtesy however, is that they sound irrelevant in a world where we barely even notice the insolence of bus conductors and helplessly ignore the loathsome self-gratification of politicians. The demands that those words place on us seem cumbersome, because the busy lives of our generation of Brittney and 50 Cent followers cannot afford to have patience, self control, sensitivity to others and a respectful awareness of their dignity as well as our own.

Historically, good manners and etiquette has been wielded by the wealthy and snobbish upper classes as a bar that divided and elevated them from the so called lower classes. Traditionally the rules that define good manners and proper etiquette were drawn up in the drawing rooms of western aristocrats. They were standardised and comprehensively coded in books by rich upper-class ladies such as Emily Post and planted in diverse cultures all around the world. Being of good manners according to these rules, included cues for hosting extravagant dinner dances and using multiple envelopes and engraved paper to send out invitations; luxuries that most of the poorer classes could not afford and therefore could never adhere to them. For centuries, poverty had denied them the dignity of status that they deserved. Yet despite all the emphasis on etiquette, a majority of primitive tribesmen and forest dwellers are profoundly more human than some people of ‘good breading’ would ever care to be.

Until the early half of the 20th century, tradition had intricately detailed instructions to educate members of “best society” on where to place an oysterr fork. However, that world of silver spoons and embroidered serviettes has since been swept away by a flood of disposable plastic cutlery and paper napkins. The world changed, and tradition offers no timely advice whatsoever on how to comment on a photograph that a friend had just posted on Facebook. Even though there were generations worth of good practice advocating that a gift or an epistle must always be appreciated and acknowledged appropriately, they are conspicuously clueless on whether a text message saying “m :-( 4 U” is an appropriate way of offering condolences to a friend whose grandfather had just passed away.

Unfortunately or not, these antique traditions became a perpetual reference on good manners and acceptable behaviour until promiscuous celebrities, reality TV and Australian cricket fans destroyed any semblance of a memory we had about decency, good manners and common courtesy. But it has been said we often resort to crude behaviour more out of irreverence, than ignorance. The argument goes that our dull apathy towards socially unacceptable behaviour is more a symbol of our generation's protest against the class system that once unfairly segregated and locked entire sections of society based on little more than a birth-right.

Lame excuses for bad behaviour cannot undermine the fact that good manners contribute positively towards a functional society. Two and a half millennia of ‘civilisation’ has taught us nothing specific about the appropriate volume for playing DOOF-DOOF music in a three-wheeler, but they do offer guidelines about common courtesy. Gentility and polite behaviour do reflect an inherent goodness within a person even though they are not an accurate indication of a person’s moral fibre.

Commuters on public transport and those who depend on government services may say that chivalry and common courtesy are running their last race on feeble feet. Indeed it may even be practical, if not excusable to push someone away to squeeze in trough an elevator door (unless you are the one being pushed away).

However, there is a pleasure to be gained as much as given, in sharing life’s little delightful gestures with others. In highlighting the need for good manners in modern society, no one says it more eloquently than Lucinda Holdforth, the author of “Why Manners Matter”. She offers a cold drink and massage for etiquette’s feeble feet. “Good manners don’t merely preserve everyone’s dignity; they actively enlarge the social space...” she points out. “Beautiful manners expand the radius of human co-operation and potential. I think that’s why witnessing a gracious gesture can unexpectedly fill us with joy”.