Sri Lanka Watch
Tuesday, 18 September 2018
Tuesday, 18 September 2018 | Sri Lanka Watch
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It’s the same scene. I try to avoid it for the minute but there’s no having it. Same car, same bricks, same streets, same shortcuts, same kids, same light. The tree outside the window, the flowers are in bloom. That’s new. On the way back from the airport it’s Mahinda and Mervyn, like welcome back. I read through De Botton – “I felt despair to be home. I felt there could be few worse places on earth than the one I had been fated to spend my existence in.” And he goes on to quote Pascal, “The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to sit quietly in his room.”

Indeed, one is hungry for experience even when one is full. I think gluttonous is the word. There is some adventure to this seeking but I wonder if, like many things socially commended, it is just illusion. All the people who actually found anything went and sat in caves or under trees, by themselves. The back of ones eyelids may contain all one needs to know. How much of travel is an itch? Just scratching away the images in front of your eyes? Can one really see anything from a train?

When we observe how some people know how to manage their experiences – their insignificant, everyday experiences – so that they become an arable soil that bears fruit three times a year, while others – and how many there are! – are driven through the surging waves of destiny, the most multifarious currents of the times and the nations, and yet always remain on top, bobbing like a cork, then we are in the end tempted to divide mankind into a minority (a minimality) of those who know how to make much of little, and a majority of those who know how to make little of much. (Nietzche, in De Botton)

What is this quality of sensitivity? That makes the mundane new? I am endlessly transfixed by light and liquid. I’ll dip my fingers in candle wax till the thing is taken away. Sri Lanka is serendipitous, there are random things to see. The undulating light paintings on the sea, the improbability of a water buffalo in traffic, the unblinking absurdity of political posters, the theater of a vagrant man nearly exposing himself on the street. I’m eating a woodapple sorbet on Duplication Road. I can see red tiled residences beneath glassy office buildings. I’m at my desk, the cats errant tail on my keyboard. The light bends into a glass of water, a spot of overexposed orange, garlanded by white.

On my desk there’s also an old burnt portrait of Mahalakshmi I found on the beach at Rameshwaram. It still smells like incense, I can see the image of the goddess and some Telugu lettering through the charred blackness. After getting ripped off by trishaw drivers all day it felt like God sent me a gift. And yet, like photographs, these things to take us home prevent us from ever leaving. I’m knee deep in the ocean trying to direct my thoughts across the strait, but the gravity of possession draws me back. Has anyone stolen my portrait? When does the transport leave? Should take some photographs?

I think one measure of freedom is the ability, at any given moment, to swim. My friend always carries swim trunks in his laptop bag. Down south I never change out of mine. On the beach at Rameshwaram I was in the water, but I could not swim. I worry that my clothes will not dry, I fear that I will brick my camera, wallet and phone. It’s like these pieces of identity and identification keep us from being naked and free. You need visas and money and stuff to get somewhere, you need photographs and SMS to prove you were there. But you don’t actually need anything to be there. Such is the paradox. The very act of getting away keeps us from leaving. Perhaps the only way to leave is to stay here.

By Indi

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