Boys fishing@ Dodanduwa
© Chulie de Silva
Now, this story “Yesterday is another country” has many sides. And I suspect there are many other stories attached to all those sides. And those stories also have many sides. Are you with me still? That’s a lot of sides to muse about and lots of tracks to wander off as you read the stories. Plus, of course this is a story about a story of the man who wrote it. Confused? You won’t be if you read it.
Yesterday is certainly another country that some of us yearn for with a gnawing ulcerating pain at the pit of our stomachs. It’s a life left behind that we try to hang on to through the slender threads of our writings. Our writings are more a justification to ourselves, of what we are, what we did or didn’t do, what moved us and who left indelible marks in our lives. In doing so do we bridge that generation gap? Devendra here, is really a master craftsmen throwing words together like a chef does with condiments to present to us a mixed platter delicately flavoured at times, strong and spicy at another time.
To me this at first glance was a disjointed set of stories culled from a life lived with exemplary values. Not the usual biography. Certainly not at all a problem as I could read it not from front to back but as I pleased. The journey in the sequence he had arranged begins with the “hat,” followed by “he is a good boy.” I am riveted to the book by the time I get to the “Family pot of gold”. My heart is heavy as I meander around the paths at Pera campus in a poignant stillborn love affair so typical of that era.– I suspect won’t make any sense to teenagers or undergrads now. We meet his relatives, friends and the unexpected Raven in Hawai — all the time touching raw spots in our conscience. I wander around the ancient Kandyan kingdom learning about myths that I didn’t know existed. Suffer with Wimal through the pain of being not loved and abandoned and unexpectedly enjoy a an interesting Internet encounter.
As side stories go, I put the book down to recall the last conversation I had with the Venerable Dodanduwe Dharmasena who called me one day to ask for help to safeguard the Kumarakande library – “be a true daughter of Hikkaduwa and the South” he said. Alas! never achieved that status as I never got around to doing anything for the library — not because I didn’t want to but because I let other family issues dominate my life . Mingled with this guilt are memories of happier times at Dodanduwa — how we as kids held our noses as an aunt who loved the smelly preserved “jadi” fish rummaged around giant jars in Dodanduwa.
There are more side stories to unearth. I call another aunt to check whether she knew the whereabouts of a teacher Miss Dantanarayana who taught me at “Sri Sumangala Girls’ School” in Panadura. Here I draw a blank.
The mind wanders off without any help remembering something I read about living today in an instant, just-add-water, push-a-button, microwaveable-in-under-three-minutes, zap-the-remote-control kind of a world now. Not everything about it is good. Realisation also dawns that the journey of life through the ethical conundrums and moral mazes is never an easy one. Sadly we’ve lost our appreciation for essential natural processes that need to happen slowly. We look for ways to hurry them as farmers do ripening fruits with carbide and we look for ways to depersonalise the injustices that we can see yet seemingly cannot influence.
But here is Devendra pushing us to look at these issues not forcefully but quietly stating in the typical non assuming, non boastful style of living that was extolled in years past “Do not expect too much of this collection … you will find no words of wisdom, no messages, no moral…”
That I must dispute, although I wished many a times there were some illustrations or the author had shared the photographs he spoke of.
Thank you Sir, for this rich tapestry of stories.
Yesterday is Another Country
By Somasiri Devendra
Author Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org