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DateLine Sunday, 18 May 2008





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

My poetry is all about love - Malinda Seneviratne

Q: Compared with your earlier works which are about turbulent student life in the pictorial Universityof Peradeniya and your numerous love affairs, your recent poetry is almost philosophical. In some of the poetry that you submitted for the Gratiaen and in your unpublished “Book of Answers” you look at ‘love’ from an entirely different perspective. Please comment.

A: We do not live in the same landscape always. We move to different social, geographical and emotional locations. So what we see, feel and experience in those different places makes us write different things.

This does not mean there is less romance in my life now or that I am less committed to social issues. These things have acquired different colours, that’s all. Maybe I have matured or maybe I have become more innocent.

Back then I was a typical young man, drunk on the notion of everlasting love. I see love and relationships differently now. I do not entertain the notion of being madly in love forever. It is possible to be deeply in love, but that is something that has less to do with romance than with understanding, patience, respect and sometimes very material things like family and children.

‘Madly in love’ on the other hand, is brief; it is but for one splendid moment. Philosophical? No. I am a just a describer of things, that’s all.

“When we wear the clothes that is demanded of us, do we stuff our unhappy skins in a trash can or turn them into drums beaten to unfamiliar rhythms?”Society demands individuals to fit into roles that sometimes don’t fit them, that are painful to them. Yet, individuals are hapless given the constraints imposed on them. Is this all about the plight of the modern man?

This has always been the case. Marx said men make history but in the circumstance of their choice. Pierrre Bourdieu talks of structuring structures and structured structures. So there is structure and agency both. Society does inform but we are not helpless recipients of structural dictates.

We can shape things and it is a choice that we have to make. I do not think everyone is powerless. I think everyone has agency. We do not live in ideal circumstances but I am optimistic that I can help change things. I have no illusions about my ability but I am not going to stop me from trying.

I wear the clothes that I like to wear and that I feel comfortable in; but this does not mean I can come naked to office even if I like that. So there is give and take. I just try to expand the horizons of my mobility.

I cannot tell my heart all this, for I too am an unbeliever, I refuse to accept that the heart that gives the world its colour has chosen to die for me.

Q: In “Impasse”, what do you try to depict? Is it the passing away of a loved one or an eternal struggle between ‘heart’ and ‘mind’ and a bold declaration that ‘the heart that gives the world its colour’ has breathed its last?

A: There are frames of logic that we reference. One is reason and it is mind-born; the other is feeling and that is heart-born. Over time I have come to trust the logic of the heart more that the logic of the mind. You cannot draw a hard line and beyond this is mind and this side is heart, but if I am forced to choose, I will pick the heart any day.

“If you are love, then let me be its tear drop and smile.” The passionate and rather poignant poem “You and I again” depicts the bliss of re-union of loved ones. However, here it is clear that ‘reunion’ has not taken place and the poet’s agonizing pain is expressed in no uncertain terms and in a way, is a submission of ‘soul’ to the bliss of deprived love. Please comment.

Everlasting love is untenable. Love can be destroyed by the slightest thing, a wrong word, not being at the right place at the right time and at the wrong place at the wrong time. There are human frailties. So love, relationships...they are scripted to end. But this doesn’t not mean we should not love or seek or desire that moment of magic.

Love is about two people becoming one, two entities ‘I’ and ‘you’ becoming ‘us’ for a moment. I have reconciled myself to both that beauty and the pain that has to follow. That is the part of the equation. You cannot define love but you can recognise it by the unbearable sorrow that it produces and the inexpressible joy that it gives.

People sometimes think it is one or the other. If something causes so much pain can it be love, we wonder. Or we think it must be love because it gives so much joy. It doest not work like that.

We all know that. From the beginning of history, people who have loved know this. How can something be at the same moment a knife and a balm? The logic of the mind does not allow that. The mind cannot explain but the logic of the heart understands.

Q: In the poem “Preamble to the narrative of Illusion “, you deal with ‘illusive’ element in love.

A: “... yes, in the name of love.
You did not arrive and neither did you keep away,
you arrived not as yourself,
but as your illusion.
And faint recollection
that relic of the pera esura,”.

Q: Is it your interpretation of love? Or is it a grotesque description or a ‘narrative of illusion’?

A: We have only loved one person. All of us. It has to be one. Everything that came before cannot be love. If what came before was ‘love’, then that last person cannot exist. We look for the perfect love and we find its approximation. It does not last. Sometimes we never recover.

Sometimes it takes years for a name to be replaced by another. The ‘love’ I felt twenty years ago, when I look back on that moment now, seems mis-named. But at that time it was my world. Whatever came before was an illusion. That which I experience now, tomorrow will be an illusion.

The most perfect woman or the most perfect relationship is something we look forward to. We see something and based on our understanding of love, relationships and human condition, we name it ‘perfection’. Tomorrow it won’t be that. It will be something else. But this moment I will embrace it and it will not be an illusion. It is real.

Q: “REQUIEM (For Parami Kulatunga)” is perhaps, a fitting tribute to a battle-hardened soldier who left his footprint on the quicksand of a long-drawn conflict. I suppose you wanted to explore the hitherto unexplored territory in the life of late Major General Parami Kulatunga. Your comments please.

A: I have never seen him. Parami Kulatunga was a general but this poem is not just about Parami or about generals. It is also about the soldier at the Pamankade checkpoint. Everyday he checks hundred of vehicles, and one of them might explode in their faces any moment.

They know this. Their lives are different. How can we even comprehend what their realities are? The person who slept next to them last night, tomorrow might not be alive. How easy it is to say that they are mindless people blindly following orders.

They have hearts and they have families. This poem addresses these concerns. Can we let such a man die? Anyone who has, as part of his vocation, resolved himself to the fact of sudden and violent death any moment is a hero to me. I cannot let that person die not in a metaphorical sense. They have to be made to be alive.

Q: “And so I go”is also valediction or a parting poem dedicated to a loved one. Love has been a recurrent theme in your poetry. Any special reason?

A: Yes, it is a recurrent theme. There were two things that inspired me; love and social justice. Now I think even social justice is about love. I like to be passionate with things that I do whether it is demonstration or any kind of political activity or in a political commentary, I sit down and write it because I am passionate about it.

This does not mean that there is no employment of intellect in what I write outside of poetry. In all these things, there is love; love for the country, love for the way of life in this country. There is love for what we have been given by our ancestors.

This does not mean that we are or will be living in paradise; but by and large I did not and do not want to live anywhere else. So love is naturally a recurrent theme. It is the only theme for me when I write whether it is poetry or anything.

Q: In “Ode to Telephones” you have tried to define the broadest possible perception of communication and you state that “communication is about context,” and that it is not confined to an exchange of words. Your comments please.

A: Yes, you need words for telephone conversation. When there is physical proximity, there are many other channels of communication that are immediately opened. You can say something in ten thousands words and you can say nothing and express something more profound; in the way you look down, the way look away, the way you smile, the way you touch.

Q: In “Questions for Leonard Woolf”, you have tried to redefine the literary figure that left indelible marks on the Sri Lankan literary landscape. How do you perceive Leonard Woolf as a literary figure and a colonial master with a heart?

A: This was a poem I wrote for a feature on Leonard Woolf. It happens like this. At ‘The Nation’ newspaper we used to do a two-page centre spread on some topic and I would tell the lay-out person to leave some space for me to write something. When he has placed all the copy and illustrations, he calls me. I sit down on the computer and write a poem which goes with the rest of the material. These are not carefully crafted things; they are dictated by deadlines and attending copy.

About Leonard Woolf and the matter of him being essentially a colonial master, I do not think people are one dimensional. Sometimes you get dimensions that you can’t suffer. And sometimes certain things are forgivable. Leonard Woolf or Malinda will bring his own baggage into writing; our biases, prejudices and this becomes evident in what we write, however much we might want to disguise it.

We find this in most accounts; in the form of literature or sociological writing or historiography. I read the book thirty years ago and who I was thirty years ago is not who I am now. I tend to be kinder than I used to be. People are really mixed-bags. I find people insufferable for a lot of things.

A good example would be Rama Mani. She is a fraud politically, but that does not mean that I think she cannot understand or appreciate literature. Or take Sumathy Sivamohan. An extremely articulate and clever person. She understands the rhythms and music of wards.

Her politics, in my book, is utter crap. I can appreciate her at one level but this does not mean that I will give her a blank cheque. I do not give blank cheques to anyone. By the same token I do not trash people out of hand. Prabhakaran is a mindless terrorist but we have to appreciate the fact that he has an incredibly astute military mind. Woolf is problematic, yes. Not reason enough to toss him into the garbage dump though.

Q: “My Disabilities” is, I would say, one of the most effective ways of conveying the ‘mind-forged manacles’ and ‘conditioning of the human being ‘ in a modern society. Your comments please.

A: This was also for a feature on World Day of the Disabled. It occurred to me that we who are not labeled disabled also have certain handicaps, certain disabilities. Some of which are our own creation and some of which are conditioned by society. We see certain injustices and ignore others.

In that poem I refer to all the senses; things we hear and things we chose not to hear; the moments when we stand up to speak and the moments where we chose to be silent.

There is a certain not-doing in that; being passive. Those are all disabilities. It is not about not having a hand, not having a leg and not being able to see. So that poem essentially is self-reflective and questions what right we have to be condescending or generous to people who have been labeled thus.


Malinda on the Gratiaen Prize and Sri Lankan Literature in English

One submits certain manuscripts for assessment; one has to live with the assessment. I didn’t win the Gratiaen Award. Is there disappointment? Yes, who after all does not want to win? But then again I am not a poet. I don’t teach literature, I don’t move around in literary circles. I don’t do literature. I do other things. So yes, it would have been nice had I won but I am ok with the fact that I didn’t. I have no quarrel with the judges or the winner on account of that decision.

That night, however, I was accused by the Gratiaen Trust of indulging in incest. This was over a review I wrote. I had thought that the evening was to be about the celebration of literature, of sensibility and sensitivity. What happened was positively crude and not in keeping with the spirit of the Gratiaen. The Gratiaen Trust passed judgment on me. As always, it simultaneously passed judgment on itself. I don’t think I ended up looking small-minded or a literary-pretender.

There was also some comfort, however, in what the chairman of the panel of judges had to say. He said that perhaps the Trust should consider getting down a foreign judge who would be, one surmises, immune from the petty and yes, incestuous, politics of the English literary scene in Sri Lanka.

Yasmine Gooneratne Creations with a homely touch

Novelist, poet and critic, Yasmine Gooneratne, a past pupil of Bishop’s College, went on to graduate from the University of Ceylon in 1959, and received her PhD in English Literature from Cambridge University in 1962. Yasmine became a resident of Australia in 1972.

In 1981 she was the first, and remains until now, the only person to receive the higher doctoral degree of Doctor of Letters ever awarded by Macquarie University. She now holds a personal chair in English Literature at Macquarie University, New South Wales.

From 1989-1993 she was the Foundation Director of the Universities Post-Colonial Literatures and Language Research centre. In 1990 Gooneratne became an Officer of the Order of Australia for her distinguished service to literature and education.

Yasmine is married to Dr. Brendon Gooneratne, a physician, environmentalist and historian. They married in 1962 and have two children, a son and a daughter who currently live in Sydney, Australia.

Gooneratne has published sixteen books. She has written volumes of literary essays as well as a poems, short stories, a family memoir and two novels.

In 1991, she was awarded a Writer’s Fellowship at Varan Writer’s Centre where she edited the final draft of one of her novels, A Change of Skies. This novel later won the Marjorie Barnard Literary award for fiction in 1992 and shortlisted for the 1991 Commonwealth writers prize. Her second novel, Pleasures of Conquest, was shortlisted for the 1996 Commonwealth Writer’s prize.

She has also contributed various articles, poetry, short stories, and other writings to many different anthologies and journals. Many of her works have been presented on television, radio and at public readings around Australia and many other parts of the world.

Gooneratne encompasses various themes in her writing. One theme that continually appears in her works is reflection upon how the past affects the future.

She relays many of her points more personal memoir that is based on interviews with her family members and on her own memories of her family’s life. She takes her family’s post and ties in how her wellknown family has affected Sri Lankan’s history.

A Change of Skies, which deals with a Sri Lankan family moving to Australia, focuses on the experiences of Asian immigrants and how they adjust to living in the new environment of Australia.

Changes in history are also themes of her works. Gooneratne’s second novel, The Pleasures of Conquest, deals with relationships between Europe and Asia as Ceylon undergoes a transformation from a British Colony to an independent Sri Lanka. Her poetry also has many different themes. One major theme of her poetry is poetry itself. She refers to different parts of poetry, like verses and lives, in many of her poems. she makes the words seem powerful and alive.


My girl asked
What do you want?

A drop of blood
Your purity
Why do you want it?
To show it to tradition
Who'll require it?
My mother

(After few months….)

I asked from her
What is the specialty of today?

Today's the women's day
Why do you seem to be in disgust?

No. I'm thinking of male domination.
There are lots of crimes
Done by males

Is that so?
What about women
Like my mother

The Lark

The chirp of yours in the midsummer
Fills my heart with joy
The chirp of yours in the spring
Calls me to be gay
The autumn chirp of yours
Astonishes my feelings
The chirping in winter
How quaint it is
The chirp of a lark is an age old magic
Deep in the woods
I hear your vexed chirp
How queer it is
At dawn it's refreshing
At dusk it's a cry of sorrow
But it is you indeed THE LARK.



Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
Ceylinco Banyan Villas

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