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; “...to do whatever you do cautiously...” “...to 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!