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Saturday, 26 February 2011






Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Note decorating black bough of Havelock Road

Some years ago a reckless act by my reckless friend Buddhike Navaratne, at the time working under me in the Special Media Unit of the Information Department, saw me visiting the Kirulapona Police Station sometime after midnight. He had not only been caught riding his motorcycle under the influence of alcohol, he had made matters worse by arguing with the Police. His friend (and later mine), Bharatha Mallawarachchi, who told me what happened and took me to the Police Station thereafter, said that although it might be possible to talk to the officers and obtain leniency, it would be very difficult to convince Buddhike to be beneficiary of Police generosity. He was right.

Our man had sobered down but insisted that he wanted to spend the night in a cell. There were others around us including another man who was demanding that he be remanded on trumped up charges of possessing heroin. He was there because he had quarrelled with his wife who, apparently, was having an affair with another man. He thought an extended period of incarceration would help dissolve his sorrow.

Buddhike said ‘Sir, look at all this. This is a teledrama. I like it.’ He rested his case. We rested ours. We left.

Beautiful faces

Since then I’ve learnt that entertainment is not place-bound. Life is more interesting than its depiction. Since them I’ve returned several times to a short Haiku poem crafted by Ezra Pound which Arjuna Parakrama introduced me to some 20 years ago. It was titled In a station of the Metro:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd

Petals on a wet, black bough

The visual that jumped out of the words was striking but Arjuna had to explain to me and a couple of other equally metaphor-challenged people what the petals represented: a flow of strikingly beautiful faces that stood out even though they were in the midst of hundreds of others.

I realized later that while it is true that some faces jump out of a crowd demanding gaze, it is also possible draw out petal from any random face to the extent to which the eye has been crafted to leave out blemish from the object it settles on. Buddhike found beauty (of a kind) in a Police station at midnight. I find it standing by the roadside. Any roadside would do, but mostly on Havelock Road, near the Perera & Sons outlet bordering Keppetipola Mawatha.

I have to stand there because there’s a pedestrian crossing which is ‘managed’ at times by the Police. People gather. Gathering people have faces. Vehicles stop. Vehicles contain people who also have faces. There are two WPCs, one efficient and the other prone to daydreaming. Things happen in such places. Faces appraise faces, glances are cast, deliberately and without though, some returned and some avoided. Petals, each and every one of them, or at least endowed with petal-potential shall we say?

This morning (February 25, 2011) I saw a driver jam his brakes in response to a policeman putting out his hand to allow traffic from Keppetipola Mawatha to turn into Havelock Road. The van driver just behind him was a fraction late in jamming his brakes in turn. There was a screech. There was grazing. Both drivers got off their respective vehicles. The policeman came over. Pedestrians stopped. A lot of faces and a lot of expressions. A random gathering of petals into a singularly striking flower on the long black bough that is Havelock Road. The next moment, with the discovery that graze had not dented or scratched, the vehicles moved. The flower scrambled, the petals flew in all directions. I crossed the road and crossing it, I remembered a flower that could have drifted by but did not.

English teacher

The previous day, I crossed this same road at the very same point and around the very same time. As I reached the pavement a certain familiarity captured the periphery of my vision. I turned and saw a face for a fraction of a second as the three-wheel taxi that was carrying face and owner whizzed past. The application of brakes and the natural screech of rubber on tar followed. From familiarity to recognition to smile and embrace took all of 15 seconds.

Sujatha Dharmasiri was my Grade Eight English teacher. She was in the university with my parents and as such was both fond of me and determined never to show it. She succeeded while she taught me but went from ‘Miss’ to ‘Aunty Suji’ the moment that strict year passed. She was with a friend who was also known to my late mother and she insisted that we have something to drink at Perera & Sons. I insisted that the two ladies flank me as we walked in, each holding on to an arm.

She had to express the fact that she disagreed with me politically (as she has done whenever we chanced to meet in the 30 plus years I’ve known her. She told her friend that I was a ruffian. I told her friend that I was innocent: ‘She (Mrs Dharmasiri) wrote my character certificate. Before that I didn’t have a character. She created one for me. Now she can’t complain that I am “quite a character”.’

She gets the last word a lot of times so in desperation I said ‘I will write about you for the Saturday paper’. ‘Don’ you write anything bad about me,’ she warned. ‘I will write that you threatened me,’ I responded.

She used to call me ‘My little Jerry Cruncher’ way back in the eighties and well into the nineties. I didn’t know who this Cruncher person was and was sufficiently respectful and scared of her not to ask. A drink, a chat and then goodbyes made a day and much more besides.

There are petals and flowers to be seen and whose fragrance touches and linger. This flower has stopped so many times for me, bathed me in perfume and has never once lost freshness. Unforgettable, therefore. Venerated too.

A flower wafted through traffic and conversation, wrecked destination and deadline. As beautiful, I am sure, as any other flower. None of the others kissed me, though.

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