• Tutes. Thalaguli. Tea.

    We discussed our tutes
    over thalaguli and tea,
    The cycle shop was still there
    grimy reminder
    of a ghostly dream
    but life rushed past in trishaws
    down Hampden Lane
    just outside padlocked gate. 

    We were smug
    on the front verandah
    curled in comfy chairs
    playing our verbal sonata
    spiced with ornaments and trills
    punctured occasionally
    by the raucous farts
    of a purging dog. 

    (February 1988)

  • Cremation 

    I stand behind this shelter
    human shapes around me,
    and watch the rain pound with fury
    on my car’s deep grey hood. 

    The drops burst
    splashing skywards
    into a million brilliant diamonds …
    head dress of a bridal train
    making pretty patterns in my frame. 

    Just beyond
    another group of human shapes
    huddled, sheltered against the storm. 

    And deep beyond
    thick, soft, dirt-brown smoke
    clings, fighting for release
    licked by frantic flames
    on wet sputtering logs. 

    I’ve been through it all.
    I know it all.
    The sadness, relief, guilt and remorse. 

    Deep(?)est Sympathies
    I’ve got to fly
    To read tonight’s News. 

    (April 1995)

  • Bastille Day

    The stewards patter silently.
    Le piano sings sweetly.
    And o la la they’re all there !
    white skins patronising the browns
    and brown skins pandering to the whites.

    Diplomacy at chic-est best !

    Blabbering polite niceties
    we devour smoked salmon
    with camembert-coated teeth
    and burp unashamedly (oui excusez-moi)
    flushing it down with champagne

    … and the party goes on ……

    The strains of Namo Namo Matha
    waft in to the ballroom
    but we Sri Lankans are still busy
    eating and drinking
    (No wining and dining – c’est plus elegant)
    but drop our forks for the Marseillaise

    PS : There’s a war up North
    but who cares for an Anthem anyway ?

    (14 July 1995) 

  • Autumn in Paris

    I sit by my window and watch
    the leaves
    beige – russet – brown
    decadent, drifting downwards
    stung by angry raindrops
    to wallow in mud and shit.
    The wind howls … hungrily,
    rabidly, chasing whores
    down deserted alleys,
    as stars lick the Eiffel Tower
    piercing, phallic,
    a glowering torch in the night sky
    gloating over darkened rooms
    where hired bodies writhe
    under wollen covers. 

    The Wap moon jeers… knowingly…

    (Paris. October 1989)

  • Birthday Party

    Crepe paper stuck on the wall
    stares garishly at me
    screaming “HAPPY BIRTHDAY”
    in technicolour

    Balloons hang like overripe fruit
    waiting to be burst
    by the raucous kids
    who skate on polished floors

    The sexes are neatly divided
    - women in the hall 
    discuss teledramas and soap queens
    - men in the verandah 
    mix paddy harvests with politics

    Others sit like zombies
    plates flooded with food
    watching wedding videos
    gasping, in turn, pretentiously,
    at bridal elegance
    and choking over yesterday’s cutlets, 
    while the deafening noise of kids
    soars into the night sky.

    I flee into the garden
    and sip iced coffee
    under the old mango tree
    slapping mosquitoes,
    trying vainly to make small talk
    with the imbeciles around me.

    The cars soon begin to leave
    with the cake-smeared brats
    their sweat-washed mothers 
    and rather tipsy fathers.

    The balloons now hang like limp rags
    sad, pathetic.
    The floor’s a gastronomic mess
    but, the gaude crepe
    still screams
    “HAPPY BIRTHDAY.............................................”

    (February 1989)

  • Burying Granny

    No tears.
    No pain.

    Just sorrow
    and a childhood memory.

    The brown clay pot
    with your soft gray ash
    tied at the mouth
    was still numbered.

    The sun beat down
    the priest prayed
    and we bricked you
    in the family vault.

    “Praise be to God”, he said
    “Amen”, we replied.

    (September 1986)
  • Memoirs of a Parisian Spring

    The rain beats down
    in dull, drab, drops
    dribbling from grey clouds 
    stretched across the skies.

    Weak, insipid, a sun feebly peers

    tremulously fighting snowflakes
    bathing the city in sick pallid light.

    I walk along the boulevards
    past quaint, cosy cafés
    clutching at an unyielding, unfamiliar 
    side stepping the dog shit
    mousse au chocolat’ on the sidewalks.

    Human traffic surges thunderously
    through the Metro, 
    vommiting out into the streets
    cold, impersonal, indifferent beings
    wrapped up in their ‘écharpes’ and coats
    lost in their own little worlds,
    as I, dark skinned stranger in an alien crowd
    search for identity.

    (‘écharpe’ – scarf, muffler)

    (Paris. April 1986)

  • déjeuner à l’indien

    kishna looks down upon us
    from his comfy perch up on the wall.
    ganesh greet visitors
    from his flower-bedecked altar

    and we,
    we regale in our kadu-fac days
    of undergrad dreams
    cucumber sandwiches
    and mayonnaise
    woodsmoke-flavoured plain tea,
    stringhoppers and yesterday’s gravy
    when we wanted to be
    one with the herd !

    the indian stewards
    wait on us
    with indian patience

    campus chatter
    chettinaad fish
    polwatte canteen
    prawn masala
    gamini hatha
    gobi manchurian

    the wicker basket overflows 
    with leprosy-struck, blistered
    yet heavenly naans

    her sari pota
    falls off her shoulder
    and sits cradled in her outstretched arms
    scene from a grecian tale.

    the indian stewards smile
    their white indian smiles.
    the hostess hasn’t changed in 30 years

    the woman by her side 
    flaunts her new Indian kurtha
    “trés à la mode”, she claims, hysterically

    incessant chatter, she keeps us entertained
    i stifle a burp lest she hears
    and pick my teeth aimlessly

    unashamedly we pose for photographs
    with ganesh
    his stony silence surveying 
    our rainbow garb

    the indian stewards
    return to their srilankan homes
    change into their srilankan clothes
    and finger their srilankan rice and curry
    while I go back home and crawl into bed.

    (February 2011)
  • On the deaths of six Sailors – 27 August 1985

    Blasted bridges
    exploding roads
    and a shriveled truck strewn with quivering flesh.
    Warm, fresh, bloody flesh
    is all that’s left.

    “Landmine kills six sailors and woman in Trinco”
    muttered the newspaper
    detached, uncensored
    the next morning,
    for after all, a daily affair,
    it made yet another news item

    Unsung heros in an ethnic feud
    you’ve sailed the seas of discontent,
    the discontent of our time,
    sweet gall 
    on the bitter wings of Paradise,
    as power vacillates 
    fox trotting to an ancient tune
    of tremulous dischord.

    Terror lurks behind the cadjan fence,
    still, in the death-stricken air
    as the hunt goes on
    hide and seek with guns and grenades.

    Widows wail, mothers mourn
    the womb’s been given the lie
    the abortive lie of death;
    for never shall that swollen belly
    rejoice in the birth of the half orphan
    nor the old womb
    kindle a burnt flame.
    you die
    that we may sleep tight at night
    and everyone talks of a ceasefire.

    (28 August 1985)

  • Midnight in the Parlour

    The lamp plays hide and seek
    with the shadows,
    ominous, on the wall.
    Not a fly.
    Not a mosquito.
    Just the monotonous drone
    of a ceiling fan

    All is quiet
    save out muffled chatter,
    the toot of a lone horn
    the bark of a distant dog
    and the smell of morning’s formalin
    still viscous in my bowels.

    The boys smoke.
    The girls play cards.
    And I, numb
    gaze at death.

    Did I ever bridge that chasm ?
    I wonder – it’s now too late.
    Inviolable. Mute.
    Only you can tell.

    (April 1987)
  • the koha shrieks...

    piercing my ears
    vying valiantly with the crackers
    that burst under a harsh april sun

    my blood races 
    the mixed blood 
    of an ethnic hybrid
    wedged between two cultures

    erabudu blooms hang sad and limp
    dry, like yellow rags
    mournfully tossed in the breeze
    quite unlike the crisp rustling robes 
    of the bhikkhu
    whose feet I washed at ‘bana’ last night

    i touch but cannot feel.

    i still feel strange
    indifferent to the raucous knell of drums
    sickly, oily sweetmeats,
    new clothes –starchy – ill fitting
    and sheaves of betel for mock obeisance 
    at duly prescribed times.

    i’m smug instead
    listening the chopin
    munching cheese toasties
    as people gaze at me
    in disbelief,
    scrupulously, sneeringly
    while I faithfully jog,
    alien creature along the deserted highway
    during ‘nonagathe’.

    will there ever come a time
    when the koha sings sweetly,
    drums reverberate joyously
    erabudu scents the air
    and I feel one with either culture ?

    (April 1989)
  • tight rope

    we're tightrope walking 
    between life and death,
    survival and the cost of living
    that's the tragedy of our lives

    they've known it for years....
    - the tamils up north
    - the border village sinhalese

    it's been coming and going 
    for us in the capital, 
    but now it's here to stay 
    with bloody vengeance.

    charred flesh on the streets
    blood seeping into macadam
    and the whole bloody circus 
    of people fleeing amid screaming sirens

    we’re pathetically split
    blues – green - red - saffron
    each outsmarting the other
    and the party continues...............

    that's the tragedy of us - sinhalese

    (August 2006)
  • The New Year dawns.....

    My father died at 53 yrs. 
    I was in my very early twenties.
    He died on an April 12th morning.
    Shop were closing for the New Year.
    The Nonagathe was setting in.
    The cremation was at (Borella) Kanatte on 13 April at 6.30 pm
    My aunts (his sisters) from Ambalangoda were to attend the funeral.
    They all came, despite public transport petering out                            
    and rushed back to their homes the same night.

    The following morning as Sri Lanka rejoiced           
    celebrating the Sinhala and Tamil New Year,
    dressed in auspicious red,                                 
    crackers bursting in the hot April morning’s sun,
    and the koha shrieking........., 
    dressed in white,
    I was were at the crematorium
    collecting his ashes in a small earthern ware pot
    - the burnt bits of bone
    mixed with charred wood and mangled wire from the wreaths.

    A week later we took his ashes to Ambalangoda.
    At a rocky outcrop, where as a child he dived into the sea he loved so much,
    (said my oldest aunt),
    at that same spot, we threw his ashes into the water
    together with handfuls of jasmines.
    They twirled and eddied and vanished into the ocean.

    Ten Aprils later.........................
    Ten Sinhala & Tamil New Years later
    on April 14th 1997
    Rahul, my elder child is born.
    He came as the first light streaked the sky,
    and the New Year dawned.
    He arrived to the bursting of crackers,
    and the pealing of temple bells.
    Friends and relatives came with sweetmeats.
    We rejoiced. We celebrated.

    Egodage - our family name.
    We cremated with my father a decade ago.
    It lives in me, and a decade later,
    was bequeathed on Rahul.

    We are all visitors in Samsara.
    We just log in and log out under various names and in various guises.
    The aathmer (soul / spirit / consciousness) lives on. 

    (April 1987 and April 1997)

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