Reflections on bouquet, melodies and tapestries
Referring to something I wrote recently (‘There are republics I would
die for,’ Daily News of June 10, 2010), Indrani Peries recalls an
incident that happened decades ago. She remembered being annoyed an
Asian friend’s response to a remark made by an English female. It was a
reference to skin colour. She had been upset not by the racial slur but
the response, ‘we are not black, it is Africans who are black; we are
In her anger, Indrani had blurted out,’ If I had power over this
world, I would collect all nationalities into one basket, shake it well
and drop them just anywhere on this earth and ask them to start all over
again. There are enough divisions on this earth. Some are black, some
are white and others in-between, so what?’ Her point was that it was
unnecessary to create more divisions within divisions. Her comment to me
was that she now thinks that her idea was Utopian and foolish.
I don’t know enough to pass judgment on such proposals. There is
nothing to say that things that have not worked before will not work
later. Things happen at auspicious times. ‘Auspicious,’ I like to think,
has less to do with the relative location of heavenly bodies or the
whims and fancies of some divine entity as they are about the coming
together of individuals, processes and collectives to produce relevant
United in a diverse world.
Picture courtesy: mysapace.com
It is certainly not possible to collect nationalities as though they
are so many cans of paint and mix them in a cauldron big enough to
contain all. It would be nice to think of nationalities as threads and
the world was one huge tapestry, but then again the weave and verve is
never produced through consensus.
The article we have is not one to turn heads but one that would make
us look away. Indrani is not all-powerful. Even if she was, I am not
sure if she is good at paint-blending or weaving and as such there’s no
guarantee that the resultant would be angel and not monster.
What might help is in fact the idea, the ‘heartness’ that births such
a scenario. I remember someone asking Vinnie Hettigoda, the cartoonist,
what he considers is his greatest piece of work. This was in the early
90s when Vinnie’s cartoons constituted a rallying point for JVP
desperate to regroup. His ‘Sketches of Reality’ was a recruiting ground
for that party. Vinnie responded thus: ‘There’s nothing I’ve done that I
can be truly proud of, but if I could design a national flag that anyone
and everyone could identify with and feel represented by, then I would
feel that I’ve accomplished something’. This is exactly what Indrani
said. The heart-essence is the same.
I have passed what Indrani referred to as the ‘salad days’. I am not
sure how green I was in judgment and what of the greens that certainly
made me then still remain. I know that poetry inspires. It does not and
cannot by itself transform. If that were the case we would not have any
wars. Only resolute hearts, innovative brains and a strong sense of
responsibility and integrity will change the world. Anger can help but
only for a while, only to start engines that are believed to be dead.
After awakening we have to understand that only four fuels work on the
road to destinations that are different and better: Metta, Muditha,
Karuna and Upekkha (compassion, kindness, equanimity and the ability to
rejoice in another’s joy).
We are parochial creatures. We love that which is most like us (our
children, families, clans, familiar things, ways and places) more than
other things. Loyalty is good and even necessary, for we live in
collectives that are defined by lines, are made of members and defined
by the fact that there are non-members. However, as the Buddha said,
there is violence, disturbance and disruption of peace when there is
either hard grip or callous dismissal. Only caress produces wholesome
After reading Indrani’s email, I felt I should return to the
Karaneeyametta Sutra (‘The Discourse on Loving Kindness’). Inevitably
(it seems now) the following jumped out of the text:
Matha yatha niyam puttam
Ayus eka putta manu rakkhe
Evampi sabba bhutesu
Manasam bhavaye aparrimanam
Just as a mother would protect
her only child
Even at the risk of her own life,
So too may you cultivate
A limitless heart towards all beings.
There is a truth that we know but rarely understand and one which we
practise more infrequently (if we do so at all). We know that we can’t
erase difference. We can deal with it though. We don’t and cannot obtain
a happy outcome when our actions are constrained by guilt, a sense of
inferiority or superiority, ignorance, arrogance, sloth, hatred,
suspicion etc. We move forward only to the extent that our thoughts and
words and actions are compelled by fidelity to the Sathara Brahma
Viharana. This alone makes it possible for us to employ reason. This
makes embrace possible. This alone makes a blending possible, a mix that
gives a different hue but does not negate original colour.
Imagine someone tasked with making a bouquet out of 30 different
flowers and 5 different ferns. How many possible combinations? Imagine
the number of possible melodies that can be made of the 12 notes in a
scale. Now imagine a process by which all flowers are reduced to one,
all fragrances blended into a single perfume, and all notes grinded to
make a single toot. I am not going to be happy in such a world.
The answer to cacophony is not outlawing music. It is about a
different composition. It is possible. As long as there is compassion.
As long as caress is not outlawed.
e-satta Bhavantu Suki-tata (may all beings, without exception, be