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The trip to Kataragama to see Manik off didn’t take too much time as Flowerbook is just over two hours driving – through Wellawaya and Buttala. The biggest bummer on the way was having to pass a few kilometers of decimated forest on either side of the Buttala – Sella Kataragama road – done ostensibly to prevent LTTE cadres from staging an attack under cover of the forest! And I thought the east was completely cleared!!! Anyway, there it was, in all its stark and hideous reality for all passersby to gape in disbelief – or, to be more accurate, in utter consternation – the ancient Palu (Manilkara hexandra), Burutha (Chloroxylon swietenia) and other priceless (in terms of growth and as part of the environment) trees chopped, their branches and other debris piled up and aflame – the main trunks no doubt hauled off to fill the coffers of some entity that thought up the sordid plan.

Hey maan, don it seem kinda weird to you dat now dem soldiers be like sittin ducks for snipers? Dey not bein keepin any trees roun dere bunkers even to give dem som shade from dat burnin sun! Mus be som genius behin dat plannin!

Java’s come up with another one of his ‘incisive’ observations, and he’s right, of course. The whole thing just didn’t make any sense at all.

Anyway, the rest of the journey went smoothly enough, although the road is in bad need of resurfacing. Not having been to Kataragama for a few years, I found the place to be quite changed – I preferred the older vibe. The Mandara Rosen was ‘surprising’, to say the least – and even though The Last Queen of Kandy had prepared us in advance for accommodation a bit above par for Kataragama, I wasn’t ready for the real thing. Not that it is special in comparison to the resort hotels, but for Kataragama, it was rather ‘posh’ – in a nouveau riche kinda way.

Around twenty rooms had been reserved in advance by The Last Queen – in the name of Manik Sandrasagara, as this was the hotel he frequented whenever he visited and the management knew him well. I checked in and settled in the room, making myself a cup of coffee. Java, in the meantime, found out that The Last Queen had just arrived, was busy preparing for the evening and wanted us to join him in his room upstairs. Getting there, we find The Queen quite agitated to realize that the IPL Cricket could not be accessed from the TV programmes offered by the hotel and so, after a bit of mouthing off about how primitive it all is, we ordered some sandwiches and started contacting the others who were either on their way over, or already there.

Not too much later The Queen was holding court – as the close friends all trickled in and settled down. Some had already met with Matara Swamy – a very old and dear friend of a few of us who had spent many good times with him over the years – and had sussed out the spot for the ritual by the banks of the Menik Ganga. Everything had been organized for starting off from the hotel at 5.30 am, so that it would all be done by around 9.00 am. And so the evening went on – just the sort of time that would have been right up Manik’s street, with good vibes and very high states of mind being achieved in his memory. Not much sleep was had by most, but we were all up and ready to leave for the river by 5.30 – just as the first shafts of light appeared.

Members of Manik’s family, most of who lived abroad, had made the trip to Singapore when they knew about his condition after surgery. They had taken care of the cremation and accompanied the ashes back, along with Lucy and the children. Most of his closest friends were also there and we all gathered around the selected spot to watch Matara Swamy and his acolytes prepare for the ritual. It was a perfect morning, with the fairly fast flowing river reflecting the early morning light – shifting light and shade as the shadows of the trees and glinting rocks added to the ambiance. The ritual itself was a trip – the chanting, the fire, the flowers and everything else took on a surreal quality as the celebration of Manik’s life came to its end with Matara Swamy and his assistant wading into the river with the casket and slowly releasing its contents into the water. And we all scattered the flowers that floated on downstream.

Just about then I looked across – and I could just see him there, sitting on a rock on the other side, watching it all in amusement, appreciation and eternal love.

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I first met him in the mid-sixties, when we were both fresh out of school and joined J. Walter Thompson’s almost together as account executive trainees. I was killing time waiting for my green card to confirm emigration to the States and he was trying to find his space from where he would go on to a life of adventure and higher states. We hit it off immediately, having so much in common – even though at the time the higher states we found much later in life that increased the bond between us tremendously had not yet manifested.

Our next meeting was many years and experiences later, and although we had been in common cities around the world at around the same time over the years, we never met until both of us returned home in the late seventies. Our mutual friends were a select band we had caroused with over the years and included more than a few outstanding minds that had left what the Buddha referred to as the life of the ‘householder’ for a life of reflection, meditation and relative solitude. Most of the others were creative free spirits in search of beauty and truth, but having wonderful times in the process.

A raconteur par excellence, he could hold forth on a myriad subjects, his one-off raspy voice adding to the effect and with his humour being second to none. His delving into a variety of subjects that included Cultural Anthropology, Philosophy and Religion (among a host of others) resulted in him being somewhat of an expert on the life and writings of Ananda Coomaraswamy and allowed crazy insights into the dogmas he discussed.

Liberal to the core, he made more than a small impact when he pioneered efforts to bolster the case for the legalization of Cannabis Sativa in Sri Lanka by moderating a debate of sorts at the Lionel Wendt theatre sometime in the early eighties. He was also a film-maker and had to his credit a number of Sinhala films, as well as English films which involved foreign actors and Directors. He worked with Lester James Pieris, Mike Wilson and just about all the well known Sinhala actors that included Gamini Fonseka, Joe Abeywickreme, Vijaya Kumaranatunge, Swarna Mallawarachchi, Malini Fonseka and others, too many to mention. He was commissioned to make a documentary on Sirimavo Bandaranaike and worked with David Attenborough on a pilot for a television series. And his foray into local theatre included lavish productions of My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music.

His interest in the ancient culture of Sri Lanka led him to pioneer efforts that have resulted in what is now known as cultural or eco-tourism and his love for nature led him to develop his own ‘riverine reservation’ principles which he applied to his most recent project, alas, now in a state of unfinished effort.

There’s so much more to the man that could never be even partially described to complete the picture that has made such an indelible impression on the minds of those that associated with him – and for us, his near and dear, the vacuum his passing has caused will be difficult to come to terms with.

All I know is that he understood completely the phenomenon of ‘attachment’ and that ‘letting go’ would not have been all that difficult for him.

Watching Sanath Jayasuriya demolish the Chennai attack in yesterday’s IPL Cricket Tournament was a one-off thrill that brought into focus some thoughts on this format of the game. I have friends who are ‘purists’ as far as cricket goes, and for them, even the fifty-over game is a bastard they could clearly do without, so one could well imagine their collective reaction to the twenty-over game, which they regard as a ploy by the organizers to commercialize the game even more than they did with the fifty-over version, corrupting it to an even greater extent.

All right then, let’s look at the implications for all concerned and try to figure out if the IPL format is ‘good’ for cricket, or, as the purists would have it, a bunch of crap, not to be confused with the pristine form.

Judging from the comments of the players I have seen on television so far, and this includes the international players, every one of them have had only positive remarks about the format. I heard Kumar Sangakkara opine that this would add a whole new dimension to cricket and he was of the view that test cricket would also be positively influenced by it and predicted that run-rates would increase.

Another aspect that drew very positive comments was the combining of the international players with the lesser known Indian cricketers. I heard many players remark on how much they appreciated the exchange of information – particularly the young Indians who had the chance to partner greats like Glen McGrath, Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan, Santh Jayasuriya, Adam Gilchrist and Shawn Pollock and to receive tips and hints on how to improve their performances. Although the relatively simple matter of being on the same team as their heroes was more than enough for the youngsters, the added dimension of the interactions between them all made for the experiences of a lifetime.

Then there is the new-found camaraderie between old rivals who sledged each other and appeared to hate each others guts in the not too distant past, now seen embracing and cheering each other on – a new found spirit that will surely hold the game in good stead in the future. This also enabled us to get to know many of the cricketers better. For instance, I always thought Graham Smith to be a bit of an asshole, however, from some exposure to his personality it seems I was wrong and he is a more than okay guy with a great sense of humour to boot.

The commercial aspect is another part of this phenomenon that can not be overlooked, as the cash the cricketers earn is not to be sneezed at and will, in all probability, kill off English County Cricket sooner than later. And what timing for blokes like McGrath, Warne, Jayasuriya and Pollock – all of them, for all intents and purposes nearly over the hill, but reappearing to accolades deserving of their performances and rising to the occasion more often than not. The format is perfect for them as the bowlers need to put out for only four overs a game and the cash they earn post-retirement is like so much icing on the cake, who can blame them for loving the format?

Indian cricket will, no doubt, reap rich dividends from the concept – not only from the experience and practice the cricketers get, but also from the huge income the tournament has generated through ticket sales, sponsorships, advertising and television. And of course the income generated from the betting must be reaching astronomical proportions.

The Bollywood slant is another brilliant idea, as the production and hoopla has attracted a whole slew of new fans – most of them ladies. Sharukh Khan and Preethi Zinta are not only bringing in a lot of attention, they are also reaping the rewards of their association with the teams. The ‘family’ is another important element for, as Sachin commented, the format, being short-lived entertainment full of action and surprises, is perfect for a family’s evening’s entertainment and he proceeded to exemplify this with the fact that his wife and children were together at the game for the first time, and probably for not the last.

Judging from the matches that I have managed to watch, I found the standards of fielding to be very high and the cricket, in general, to be extremely entertaining. Okay, so there may not be the classic strokes played with the monotonous regularity that we see in test cricket that the purists among us go ga-ga about, but Sanath’s innings last night had nary a false move in there, with his brilliance being enhanced by really super cricket strokes.

And so it seems that everyone is happy – the players, the organizers, the owners, the advertisers, the vendors, the fans – both old and new, the BCCI, and perhaps even the ICC, who may have picked up a trick or two from the BCCI.

Ooops, I nearly forgot about the purists – muttering under their breath about the bastardization of their holy grail and refusing to be part of the experience. Too bad for them, for if they love the game of cricket, what’s there to bitch about? After all, nothing is static and evolution is part of the natural process – for cricket too, as it is for everything else.

RD’s at it again – he’s on that tagging spree he gets on occasionally when he has little to blog about and then involves whoever he can try to embarrass by getting them to join the trip. And there are some of us who like to humour his butt and get into the spirit of his joy and there are others who fall into his clever trap and bare their souls for all to see. Fortunately for me, I don’t get fooled all that easily, but Java is a whole other entity and often gets suckered into RD’s little universe. So, in spite of my warning him about such silly shit, he tells me where to go and proceeds to expose himself. What can I say, except that it will serve him fucking right when RD proceeds to use all that personal information to do one his exposés and then the shit will hit that fan he loves so much. Oh well, what can one do about compulsive personalities…???

Hey maaan RD, don pay no tenshun to ol stick in da mud. He be digging yo trip deep down, but he be on dat ‘don play games’ trip of late, so jus shine his ass on. Here be ma list of dose ‘ten random thangs dat make ol Java happy’:

Grass
Getting ecstatic
Our kinda music
Our dogs
Flowerbook
Trippin’
Love
Frens
Lovers
Spacin’ out

..an in no particular order, okay RD?  Now I guess we be makin’ yo day!!!

Later bro!

Have you ever paid attention to the background sounds and noises in a natural environment – as opposed to a city environment? If you have really got into it, you may have found that it is an excellent meditation – one way of stopping that incessant voice in your head that keeps on its chatter, bringing up all manner of stuff that causes shifts in moods that are often counter-productive to equanimity. The night-sounds are particularly loud and go on virtually ceaselessly through the night, as the crickets, cicadas, frogs, night birds and other nocturnal critters get their cycles going. And if you’re like Java or me, you will find a kind of rhythm and music in the sounds as you try to separate the cacophony into the individual parts. The natural ‘orchestra’ has all the elements of the conventional one, with crickets diminuendo-ing and fading out whilst the cicadas’ crescendo and the staccato-timpanic call of some frog species serve as cue for the Fish Owl’s bassy hoot solo. It really is quite a trip and we find it pretty musical and entertaining, often remarking on a particular sequence in wonder at the beauty of it.

Then just the other day we come across this piece that added another chunk towards fitting it all together so that it makes a little more sense of this theory we have about vibrations.

As Charles Q. Choi has written in his ‘Special to LiveScience’: ‘Earth gives off a relentless hum of countless notes completely imperceptible to the human ear, like a giant, exceptionally quiet symphony, but the origin of this sound remains a mystery. Now unexpected powerful tunes have been discovered in this hum. These new findings could shed light on the source of this enigma’.

Investigators, we are told, suspect that this ‘music’ could originate from the ‘churning ocean’ or the ‘roiling atmosphere’ and further investigations from listening posts in the very quiet Earth-Listening Research Station at the Black Forest Observatory in Germany, with supporting data from Japan and China, led to discovering that the oscillations making up the ‘music’ are shaped like ‘rings’, which added to the earlier analysis that the oscillations that made the hum were ‘spheroidal’. So now they have discovered two sets of different oscillations – and who knows how many more are yet to be discovered?

It’s all very interesting to Java and me, as we tend to find rhythm and music in most natural systems – whenever we are clued in enough to give a close listen, that is. And as we listen to Gustav Holst’s Planets Suite, Java’s got his doob going and is working on his symphony of night sounds.

The conversation was between the Last Queen of Kandy and Java, when The Queen visited us at Flowerbook a few days ago. The subjects that cropped up were varied and the humour was delightful, as The Queen was in top form and eventually the stream of conversation drifted from the role society plays in determining social values, to what is considered to be sexual impropriety by the liberal folk in this country. And, as the discussion flowed from what they considered to be the sexually-sublime to the ultimate-kinky, ‘incest’ reared its head. Now considering that both Java and The Queen are just about the most liberal, anything-goes kinda folk, it came as no surprise to hear their takes on the subject. My views on this and other sexual practices may well be known to some of the readers of this blog, as we blogged about the morality-quotient quiz and also did a follow-up to it, so that those who checked us out would know that we are like at one extreme of the chart.

Anyway, The Last Queen was of the view that incest was pretty much a common occurrence in ancient Sri Lanka and that it was the bogus ‘Victorian’ morality of the colonizers that made the difference in our society. He spouted all sorts of accepted cultural practices where inter-marrying within families from generation through generation kept the wealth in the families and ensured the purity of caste. It was a similar to the practices in ancient Egypt, Europe and in Asian countries as well, he said, and then, in order to confirm his statements he got Wikipedia on line and came up with the following:

In Sri Lankan folklore, there are at least three significant instances where incest is mentioned. The forefather of the Sinhala race, “Sinhabahu”, is a king who married his own sister “Sinhaseevali”. Incest is again mentioned when King Vijaya’s son and daughter fled to the jungle together in protest of their father’s second marriage. Also, the brother “Dantha” and the sister “Hemamalini” who brought the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha to the island, seemed to also have a married relationship. Despite the liberal mentioning of incest in folklore, Sri Lankan culture regards incest as a taboo. Then again, contemporary Sri Lankan culture is heavily influenced by the cultures of former colonial rulers, during the last couple of centuries.

Java wasn’t really concerned about the folklore part of it, as for him, mythology is to be taken with a whole load of salt and he just shines most of it on. And even though he considered incest between consenting partners to be cool, what he was concerned about, he said, was the number of children, particularly girls that were reported to being sexually abused by members of their families – invariably their fathers. A little more Googling got us more information on this phenomenon that has got a lot more press and publicity in the relatively recent past than it ever has.

A report datelined January 2004, indicates that a study conducted by the ‘Center for Women’s Research’ (CENWOR) revealed that “…each year a staggering 10,000 girls face sexual abuse by their relatives in families where the mother has taken up overseas employment, with more than half the rapes committed by fathers.” It goes on to state that “..during the past five years, 512 cases of incest were reported – 54.5 percent of them committed by fathers”. In the same report the Chairperson of ‘Protecting the Environment and Children Everywhere’ (PEACE) is quoted as saying “..the worst sufferers are girls in the age group of 10 to 14”. The report concludes that the primary reason for the sudden upsurge in incest among fathers and daughters is due to many mothers leaving for employment in other countries, which result in the eldest girl taking over the household chores, often the money being sent back is used for alcohol consumption and many drunken fathers have been convicted of raping their daughters. The country’s Social Service apparatus is not equipped to deal with the victims of this abuse, so except for a few NGO’s like Sarvodaya and PEACE, who run facilities for the young girls, most of them have no one to turn to. All in all a pretty sad state of affairs.

All this information unearthed in a relatively short space of time put an effective halt to the discussion between The Last Queen and Java. We were all pretty much aghast at the situation – and even though we are all about the most liberal folk around, rape, and abuse of children are major no-no’s. It’s one of the sad realities that is out there and that must be dealt with through social programmes and appropriate legislation, but whether this is at all possible in the environment we are, is a whole other question.

Meanwhile, back in the halls of governance the powers that be are mostly in c’est la vie mode.

It was another night of tripping out when the conversation meandered in the direction of karma and the kind of metaphysical clap-trap that we so often indulge in to exercise the old brain cells, when The Cherry Lady, just back from an extended sojourn in Sunny California where she was threatened – first by floods, and then more recently, by bush fires – steered the conversation in the direction of ‘death’. And I could see that Java, who was more than a little thrilled to see Cher return, was hanging onto her every word. Now although more than one of our friends have had their suspicions of how strongly Java feels about Cher, he has always maintained that they are just really, really close friends – an absolutely platonic relationship, he says, in spite of some of the little bits and pieces that make the rest of us think otherwise.

Anyway, to cut through the extraneous crap and make the story shorter, the next day The Sandman sends us this intriguing little gem by Woody Allen – one of Java’s top ten humour-mongers, which goes like this:

In my next life I want to live my life backwards. You start out dead and get that out of the way. Then you wake up in an old people’s home feeling better everyday. You get kicked out for being too healthy, go collect your pension, and then when you start work, you get a gold watch and a party on your first day. You work for forty years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement. You party, drink alcohol, and are generally promiscuous, then you are ready for high school. You then go to primary school, you become a kid, you play. You have no responsibilities; you become a baby until you are born. And then you spend your last nine months floating in luxurious spa like conditions with central heating and room service on tap, larger quarters every day and then Voila! You finish off as an orgasm.

How about that? Or would you prefer it to ending and beginning (or vice-versa) like this ?

It’s great being back up here since yesterday (Wednesday)  – the weather’s been just perfect, after many days of intermittent showers in between heavy rains. The Zippy’s – Mr. Z, Cici and little Esh are bringing the Dancer with them for the long weekend, so we’re ready for an (relatively speaking) action weekend. The dogs don’t care all that much for visitors but tolerate them until they get used enough to them to be petted. The trouble is that usually just as they are all close and stuff, the visitors have to depart. Fortunately, Java and Mr. Z are thick as thieves, and Cici, Esh and The Dancer usually manage to have a great time together, whilst I’m in the happy position of enjoying them all.

That was two days ago, and a good time has been had by all so far. We just finished a long walk to Green Valley and got back all hot and sweaty. The iced brews and assorted other cool beverages have made their appearance, RIFF on WorldSpace has given way to The Hop where Shakin Stevens is doing Great Balls of Fire.

The morning of the day after they arrived the visitors went into town for ‘shopping’ and returned with all sorts of goodies got at bargain prices from a couple of the ‘Fashion Bug’ type stores in town – nice looking casual wear that is ideal for this type of holiday out in the boondocks.

The afternoons are spent chatting and relaxing with the appropriate cool beverages and assorted goodies that get Mr. Z and Java spacing out. Then after late lunches, long afternoon naps were how things panned out. The IPL Cricket Tournament was also pretty high on the agenda, so the early matches were watched munching sandwiches and swigging hot cups of tea. No one even wanted to walk much this time, probably because of the cricket – so as the evening drifted into night and menus were discussed, hot baths happened, cold drinks were sorted and the evening’s routine watching the cricket whilst indulging in a spot of getting high before dinner took place almost automatically.

Most nights we watched the cricket until one by one nodded off and usually it was The Dancer who was last into bed and who would have to tell the others what happened with the match.

As always, the short sojourn ended before we knew it, so after a pretty substantial brekkers this morning, the crowd said their goodbyes and piled into The Zippy’s trusty transporter heading back for the city. The dogs, having seen the bags come out to the verandah, were a bit on the confused side as usually they associate bags with my departure and get all sad-faced, but I do believe they are now hip to ‘my bags’ as opposed to ‘others’, as they stayed perky whilst the bags were loaded.

And now the place seems a bit ‘empty’, as it usually does when visitors leave, but there’s always that sense of tranquility that soon banishes all other thoughts, as Java, the dogs and I get back to the usual…