Daily News Online

Wednesday, 1 December 2010



Listening to the quietude

The Times building was abuzz with its staffers walking to and fro. This is sometime in the 1950s, the D B Dhanapala era of Lankadeepa. No one seemed to notice the presence of master and disciple. Save Chandrapala, though. He was an office assistant with a pleasing look.

"We are looking for Sri Chandraratne Manawasinghe." Master explained.

Sri Chandraratne

"That's him over there. He is busy right now. But I will sure let him know when he is done, ok?" Chandrapala said, pointing his hand towards a small cubicle in which someone went on writing with his head bent low. He didn't lift his head even for a second.

Outside where they stood was a bo-tree. Master and disciple were gazing out the window for a few seconds.

The bo leaves have turned pale, while some were freshly green. It was simply amusing how this giant tree, though getting frail and fragile day by day, has survived decades and centuries weathering all kinds of weather. Above all, the tree sheltered a man who conquered the human sphere, many centuries ago. How exponentially lyrical that felt, discipline thought.

"Enchanting, yes?"

Both master and disciple turned back to trace the voice. It was Manawasinghe to whom the world just didn't exist a moment ago.

"We didn't disturb you, I hope."

"Not at all. Anyway I was finishing the article as Chandrapala came to my room."

Saying so, Manawasinghe stepped back in the direction of his cubicle. It was the silent signal for master and disciple to follow him. Seeing them, Chandrapala dragged two chairs into the cubicle. As they sat down, Manawasinghe gestured something to Chandrapala who left the cubicle that very moment.

"So you were both engrossed with the Bo tree, I saw."

"We were, Mr Manawasinghe. I remembered your song Velithara Athare too."

Manawasinghe smilingly nodded.

"I saw those leaves dance with each other just as in your lyrics." Master said.

"Those bo leaves resemble life to me. No wonder Buddhists like it so much." Disciple said.

"People think it's a Buddhist devotional song. But if you give it a listen once more, then you will realize it's not just that."

"Then?" Master and disciple asked in almost chorus.

Manawasinghe's gaze changed. Master and disciple noticed Chandrapala has brought tea on the tray with a sugar bowl. As master and disciple were serving themselves, Manawasinghe spoke up. "I still remember that day - a poya holiday. I didn't have much work to do. So I stood up by that window, and, just like you, I was gazing out at the tree. Breeze was so mild in that afternoon. Just like today, those leaves were slowly falling one by one. Sometimes two or three at a time. Some have turned saffron, some yellow, and some were freshly green. They all fell down in a rhythm. I tried to feel the rhythm. It had coherence, but it changed too. I realized there was some coherence, and it's something I cannot quite understand."

Manawasinghe paused to take a sip. Neither did master nor disciple want to chip in.

"Then I remembered this tree has been revered for centuries. Slowly I sighted a different movement in the rhythm the leaves fell down. They danced. Again I slowly observed the rhythm. This time I saw several: those leaves rustling, branches moving up and down, leaves falling down, them touching the ground and movements on the ground - everything slow and quiet. All this composed music to my thinking of that moment."

Manawasinghe shifted in his chair, leaning against the back-rest. He shut eyes and continued as if speaking to himself.

"I can't remember how long I had been there like that. Afternoon was slowly wearing into evening. Far and far away the sky touched the earth. There I saw the Neranajana river and over its bank a man striving hard in a meditative moment.

I could still see these leaves rustling against each other, falling to the ground and then being swept away. This has been the work of nature, I eventually realized, for many centuries, millenniums and eons; for a moment I felt paralyzed. Yes I was dazed in that momentary muse."

He opened eyes.

"And then I tried to write it down. I came to my table and wrote it down. I made a few changes afterwards, but I don't think I experienced that moment ever again."

Sri Chandraratne Manawasinghe was silent for a while. Master and disciple could hardly think of anything to say.

"Wonderful, Mr Manawasinghe. Simply wonderful. Something we all can understand." Disciple said, looking sideways at the master.

"I have written somewhat heavy lyrics too. Those songs are a little hard to understand. But I believe your own feelings and experience make your writing simpler and touch the heartstrings of your audience." Manawasinghe stood up and slowly walked towards the window. Even amid the bustling environs, master and disciple realized, the bo tree continued to be the sight for sore eyes with its slow and quiet rhythmic inspiration.

- Sachitra and Samodh


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