My Life in Verse

My ancestors were from the deep south, but I grew up in the suburbs of Colombo. It was a quiet neighborhood with lots of trees and beautiful gardens but nothing much happening, unless you made it happen. Before my parents build the house I live in now, we  lived in my grandmother’s house.

As a child, my grand mother’s garden with it’s beautiful flowers was a constant source of inspiration for me. It was like the garden of paradise; every possible plant grew there. The house was surrounded by beautiful flowering trees, shrubs and pots in plants at the sides. Little ponds with pink and blue lotus were scattered around. A shallow rainwater drain that looked morel like a little stream in the wild, wrapped round two sides of the house before it met a bigger drain that took refuse to the drain along the side of the road outside. A large mango tree stood at the front next to the gate and at the far end of the garden a large uguressa tree and several thambili trees in between. A guava tree hugged the side next to the driveway along with sour-sap and some other trees.

Being in that garden was like being in another world. There were so many stories hidden behind the rocks and shrubs waiting to be told; frogs croaking under ferns waiting to hop over my feet when I passed by and scare me, making us both jump, me to get out of the way and the frog to make that long leap to dive into the pond and hide under a lotus leaf. Butterflies roamed from flower to flower dazed by the variety and birds and squirrels would vie for the best fruits on the trees.  

Rajapakse (child)This poem looks back at that time of carefree childhood. It was published in Silver Birch on April 29, 2015. In the photograph I’m standing next to the mango tree. This was at my 4th birthday party.

 

Growing Up in the City

Climbing the mango tree in my

grandmother’s garden, going up as far

 

as the fork in the branches,

straddling a low branch I sit with my legs

 

hanging down from either side

like washing on the line

 

and gaze at the black cat staring

up at me. Sucking on the mango fallen

 

on the ground I’d picked up

before I climbed and put inside

 

my pocket for safety, I slurp through the

sweetness, both hands turned orange yellow

 

from squashed fruit pulp. Juice dripping down

bare brown arms spill onto my dress

 

creating patterns within those already

existing. I lift my arms up one by one and lick

 

away the dripping juices. Only in childhood

can you get away with things like this when adults

 

aren’t around to scold away bad manners.

A line of ants scurry along the branch

 

overhead to someplace else. I stare at them

moving as one, a long live chain, black,

 

like my aunt’s hair she braids so carefully

before leaving for work every morning. I’d watch

 

her dress and wonder how it must feel to

be all grown up, with hair as long as

 

my arms, falling down below my waist, or dress

in saree, volumes of silk wrapped around my

 

body. Sometimes I pick up her saree

from the clothes rack where she leaves it

 

to air after returning home.

I’d try to drape it but never quite get

 

to finish as it’s too long and although I get it

round my waist, pleats and all, I find

 

I cannot move; trapped in a cocoon

of silk that ties me down at my feet. I smile

 

at the recollection and swing my legs

up and down. The

 

mango is eaten to the last, there’s

nothing left on the seed, no longer the taste

 

of mango but something else, hard

and sour. I throw it down, my eyes

 

following as it disappears behind

a cluster of thick ferns at the side of the

 

compound wall. The cat stretches its

limbs and meows from below,

 

keeping an eye on me as if she’s been told

to babysit today. Climbing down’s

 

tricky, I guess there’s

a reason cats prefer to climb up and not

 

down. My palms bruised and my

knees feel sore. The taste of mango long gone

 

I lean back against the trunk contemplating

the best way to get down.

 

I still live here in the house next to my grandmothers house that was built on a side of the sprawling garden. But things have changed. A lot. The town has rushed to the future faster than it was supposed to, with rather unaesthetic results. I wrote this poem as I reminisced about childhood.

Nostalgia

When I was small I used to tell people

who asked me out of curiosity, that I lived

beyond the town, along

a wide quiet lane

that meandered past rubber trees.

 

The town ended at the bank.

 

We’d have to walk a long way to get

to the shops, but that didn’t matter.

Walking was good, besides, the pavements were

nice and sturdy, unlike pavements now;

non-existent.

 

The shops were small; just enough to hold

goods needed for the few folks

in the neighbourhood, and some space

for people to stand.

No browsing, no long aisles,

shelves stacked with food no one really needed.

 

But now the town has grown,

encroached on our lives like we

never imagined.

 

It’s walked past the lane to my home taking

every space on the main road.

Big buildings with flashy exteriors, tall

glass windows in shop fronts to see

right through to the inside, music

blaring out at all times.

Nowhere to park,

not even for the old bicyclist.

People walking on the main road jostle

for space

with shiny new vehicles

whizzing this way and that.

 

Developments taken over, yet

people can barely afford it.

Tranquility is only a memory, as busses

screech past almost running us over.

 

The town’s growing, spreading its

tentacles in all directions while homes

disappear into the countryside.

 

They too may one day be lost forever.

I became interested in travelling because the family used to travel a lot. During the holidays we’d get into my maternal grandfather’s black Volkswagen Beetle and travel to Kandy to visit their ancestral home or we’d go down south to visit my paternal grandparents in Matara, travelling along the Galle Road with the ocean on the right. A License to Dream was also published in Silver Birch on April 26, 2016.

A License to Dream

If I took the wheel I wouldn’t see
trees standing tall lining roads,
a guard of honor as I
pass, bending branches to caress or
gently tap a strange melody on
the hood. I wouldn’t notice expressions
on pedestrians faces, bored, anxious,
wondering why the bus hasn’t arrived as yet,
some talking animatedly on phones
some staring into the distance
cooking the dinner inside their heads
or doing the daily accounts. I might not
catch the dogs lively discussion at
the side of the shop or the angry man
berating the bus driver who almost knocked him
down in his haste to gather commuters.
I wouldn’t be able to stare at people inside shops
wondering what they are doing,
admire the fancy window dressing
that tells me that would be something I
might need. I’d fail to chance on dreams peeping
out of the clouds inside my mind and
watch them unfold frame by frame
while I let eyes gaze at the blur outside.
I would miss the scenery rolling past
as I ride on out of town, mile upon mile
of green mixed with blue sky,
touches of red brown from houses
dotting the sides as I whizz by, sticking
my head out to let the wind play with my hair or
turn my face towards the winking sun,
stare up at the power lines
running faster than the clouds above,
count birds flying high and try to discern
their tribe, see flowers in gardens, gates open in
welcome, people standing outside homes
talking watching the world go by or
turn my head to the other side and gaze upon
aquamarine waters rolling in, in, in,
their white lace tipped frothy edges
a dancers skirt lifting up as she kicks her heels
to flop on golden sand,
admire the myriad shades of the setting sun
colouring the sky or spy the moon peering
through a curtain of creamy yogurt cloud trying
to join my journey. If I took the wheel,
oh what I’d miss.

 

I had two homes, one, the place where I lived and the other, Musaeus College, my school. In those 13 years I was a student there I spent more time at school than I did at home. In 2016 Musaeus College celebrated 125 years and a commemorative souvenir was published by the school. This poem was written for it.

Related image

Home

Will I recognize this place when I return in

a hundred years? Will walls now standing linger

 

to greet or would they have altered, moved

from here to there like they did this

 

past century or crumbled to the ravages of time,

modernity and the need to transform? Will

 

the pictures stay hidden behind crevices

in someone’s mind or fade away

 

like old photographs left buried between pages

in an album someone forgot to put away

 

and finding gaze upon our faces,

try to recognize, give us names?

 

Will we recall what it was like, how we

entered through the high gates?

 

Who will remember the little mud hut,

that humble start, the cinnamon trees? Where are

 

the films, poems of praise, the stories we

carried through these years? Will I be welcomed

 

as I once was and will this family that is mine

now be there as well? Will I see you

 

my friend, back again in the first grade, playing

the same games, singing familiar

 

songs or will those childhood

activities have changed

 

like they did when we grew up and left, our games

and songs lost as the next generation invented

 

things anew? Will we amble down the old

familiar corridors, talk about the same things

 

or will our aspirations and dreams have

become different? Will we stand on

 

a balcony at the top most floor and

shout out our dreams to winds

 

wafting down to meet us? Will I be able to find

this place when I come back?

 

Feel an old familiarity as I

step on the road leading to over here,

 

our home that once was, that once

again will be. When I return.

 

When you return.  We will seek out

this place once more.

 

A golden sun shining in a bright blue

sky leading the way. We’ll follow the light

 

that shines bright, forever bright.

Someday. When we return.

 

 

 

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