The burner drip pans are clogged with carbonized spilled over food. Burned boilings of rice, parippu, porridge, pasta, left over from well before early August. The liners are soaking now in hot water and detergent – to be scrubbed clean with all my might. And after months I can see the surfaces of my counter tops. I have found a new place to make tea. On the counter that is close to the stove; leaving more space on the counter where I do the cutting and the chopping and the prepping. The one next to the sink. More space to do things. More room. Tiny change, huge impact.
It is shortly after mid-day. But outside there is no sun. It feels like evening already except there is no sunset because the sun is still riding high in the sky — except invisible. The light is pallid, a curtain hiding everything we don’t want to see and do and think about. A last chance to indulge in the dubious pleasures of procrastination. There are no children who need new shoes, late summer jackets, pencils and pens for when school starts tomorrow. No university fees to be paid for when the academy re-opens after its summer hiatus. No school lunches to worry about. Today is the third day of the last long weekend of summer. The next long weekend is in fall at Thanksgiving. And all I have done is stay home unwashed – and somewhat unread. Except when I stepped out for an hour yesterday for a sanity walk Eastward on Soudan until well after Soudan morphs into Parkhurst Boulevard and onto Leaside.
I have forgotten laundry altogether. And its stingy pleasures. Clean clothes somewhat crisp and definitely fresh. Folded. The laundry better get done today. To wear musty clothes would be a sad start for the new year. Last night I did my delicate hand-wash items and they are hanging in the washroom and some are draped over the back of a chair in the messy place I still call my living room. My apartment has been completely neglected since well before August started. I must bring it back to ship shape like it was Christmas; because Thanksgiving will soon be here. I want to have a glorious thanksgiving; better than Christmas. The best ever Thanksgiving. Our American neighbours give thanks in late November. But because the leaves fall off the trees, leaving them bare, well before it happens south of here we have ours in early October. I want this to be the richest thanksgiving ever. Rich from everything I experienced during twenty days in August.
Every exchange and every encounter I took in to be savored – some sweet, a few bitter sweet. I welcomed all of them. Even that iconic barren tree in Peradeniya. I hope someone either cuts that tree down or that tree better start bearing leaves again, fast. A barren tree that is dead yet upright is an absurdity and should be seen by no one. It justifies unjustifiable conduct — like inexcusable self imposed misery, negativity. Here in the cold North we rarely ever see bare trees as barren. They are merely waiting for spring. And new leaves will appear. We wait for time to pass and for something new to begin again. Geography and climate does affect our lives as it affects what people do to each other. At the cusp of summer’s tarrying end and autumn’s lazy beginning something for me to think about when trying to understand those we care about. Yes trees.
Trees are curtains, covers, refuges of safe harbour; shelter. I see no other role for them. I look out my window to count the number of trees in near vicinity outside my apartment. I can easily count at least twenty large trees. Still clothed in green but as the days grow shorter they will start turning colour, likely yellow, and start to fall. There is a word for it; that moment when a leaf detaches itself from the tree. May be it will come back to me. But there are hardly any birds outside, actually not a single bird can I hear. Birds muted. Have they already flown south? Before August I heard many birds outside my window and thought I was blessed with rich bird songs. But Toronto is a cemetery even before the birds leave us when one recalls the thousand bird choir that performs all the time until well after nightfall in Colombo or Kandy. A boistrous imposing and insistent choir that shakes you to consciousness all the time — and then you learn to completely blank it out. Still, each morning when you get up thinking you are in quiet Toronto, the bird choir grabs you by your heart and ears and wakes up parts of you that you did not even know existed. You think a part of you is lost when you leave home and that you will have to search for it. But the bird choir does it for you right when you land. I want to remember their noise, their song. Never to forget. A ten year absence and a little heartbreak in between can blank out memories. But not this time. Yes trees and birds; constant companions holding me up. Not to be misused. But to honour.
Yes, trees and growing things. The air here is mercifully coldish – Nuwara Eliya like – not quite chilly but the kind of weather that encourages strenuous activity. Like raking leaves or putting gardens to bed — except that there are yet no leaves to rake, and gardens are still not quite ready for their winter slumber. When I used to have a garden this is the time when you milk your garden for all its worth and cling to it to make it last a little longer. To fool yourself that summer is still here. That last tomato, the last few beans, or greedily let a few beans ripen and dry so you have seeds for spring. You nurse the last basil to produce more fragrant leaves though the plant has turned leggy and un-tender. The worst is to think that you should bring some herbs or vegetables inside and make them last into the dead of winter. Inviting disaster and insects. It is strange what people do to make summer last a little longer in our lives. Letting go of summer is always hard. At first the realization that its over is a betrayal.
And then suddenly one day you are free of it and give up this push and pull between you and the garden, this struggle between summer and the coming of winter, and just let it all go. You get in there and crazily pull out the dying beans, tomatoes, aubergines and whatever else is there that isn’t going to come back up in the spring – and go on the rampage like a wild elephant. Not stopping till everything is out of the ground and in large paper bags we use for garden waste and which the city takes out to be composted — right off the sidewalk in front of your home. And then you are free of summer and its wildness, its lightness and fizzy pleasures and petty licenses and its untepid romances. You let go, like letting go of lost love and turn your mind to new things. New tasks.
It was only in May that I was looking at Magnolia, Forysythia and the roses were not even in bud. The lilacs were lush. And now they are all gone. Whoosh. Like a sweet dream. And as fall shyly walks towards you like a pretty girl to her first date, autumn’s bounty fills the fruit and vegetable shops. Peppers, beans, squash, apples, and even tomatoes. Ready to be pickled and stored for winter for those who pickle. Stored like rain water in ancient wewas in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. And just like them I want to store and hold close to me every moment from those twenty days; as if it were rain water not to be wasted. Every drop a nourishment.
Frankfurt with its bells. The strange pickled cheese. My friend’s house in Colombo. Bathing from a well when the air is warm. Jabus jabus, godos godos. Marine drive early in the morning on a Sunday. Malinga’s third hat trick. Eating mango popsicles with vanilla ice cream insides. Drinking Lion Larger with family, with friends, with cricket. Yes that heaven where everything else does not exist, not even heartache – just cricket at Premadasa stadium in Maligawatte. The din of the crowd and the quiet when everyone waits for something to happen and when you think your team is in trouble. All in voices that make you feel like you never left home. Treasures. Absolute. To hold close forever.
Elephants, over thirty of them, uninvited, across the water in Panama. The fire dancers of Kandy Perahara. The freedom in the streets at the end of it when the shops in the heart of Kandy are open into the wee hours and life becomes a carnival. Traveling with three women across Sri Lanka from west to east. The tender and courteous considerations offered. The little and large irritations caused by me, ignored by all but most of all endured with pure grace. Like how I’ll throw out questions but not listen to the answer. And then ask the question again. And to look at with an observant eye in their company the devotions offered at an eastern dewale. The heavenly ocean waves near the sand dunes at Arugam Bay as the sun began to set. Like love lapping at your feet, never ever to forget. Such sweet sweet pleasures. Most of all the light in Panama. How it found me and kept me in its light, forever.
I came looking for me; who I had left behind long ago. And I found her and I found much much more. To bring it all back with me here, home, to Toronto. To witness whilst long tutored to believe that biology is no longer destiny, the desperation and devotion of purportedly barren young women offering Angapradarshanam to the Goddess Paththini. Women rolling in the hot sand, using only their bodies, thrice around the Goddess’ dewale. To come under her spell over several days while treading the hot dusty sands of the dewale with the villagers of Panama and my three women friends.
Most of all I feel marked. Like the pottu the kapurala from the ganadewi kowil placed on my forehead, in beige and brick red — marked forever by every encounter over those days in August. The sweet and the not so sweet. Singing “palay wasana ran malee” in the tuk tuk in Colmbo with a friend in the afternoon. The pleasure of my mother tongue, the way it is spoken. The pace and lilt of it depending on who is speaking and in what company and in which circumstances. The civil exchanges. The way even English is spoken; and the endearing Singlish. There is nothing more and nothing else that can make me happy.
The bird choir. The huge super giant mara tree on the way to Panama. The road from Panama to Kandy with the lovely and utterly courteous and talkative Bandara. Stopping in Bibile for indiappang breakfast in a bath kaday. Robbed time spent with unnamed others. Schoolboys on holidays playing cricket near where I stayed at Asgiriya a few days. The drive with probably one of the most amazing persons in Sri Lanka; from the Airport to Colombo. Being told by someone you love that he thinks he is going to die soon and that he can feel it and then in a few days never to hear his voice again. These things mark one like “sel lipi”.
Day one at Barefoot with Revel Crake unable to recognize me though we played in the same band. And running into Jean Vanheer at CRFC who remembered me as a really good singer; from the days when we all sang on the same band stand out at Pegasus Beach Hotel when I may have been twenty. All on day one. Well talk about finding that girl I left behind. Finding people who remembered me from so long ago.
I don’t want this to be too long. These are but a sprinkling of the memories I want to treasure. You find what you look for — well mostly. And you also find what you did not look for that will change you forever. Even the fascinating fact that there are no sketch books that can be purchased in Kandy, never mind how hard one looks or how far one walks. Memories, harvested one by one, leaf by leaf, like the finest tea by hand, to nourish this sterile life we live here in the West. A hybrid of home and non-home and always alien. Memories like tea, every drop to be savored and to feed and warm through the frigid winter that is sure to come. Its the dread of winter and the dread of reality at summer’s end that makes this long September weekend so fraught with sadness, anxiety and expectations. A postman told someone I know that in summer the mail they carry is minimal but come September it quadruples.
The laundry is done. The drip pans must be scrubbed. Vegetables have to be purchased because the children are coming for dinner before the new year starts. Tomorrow is really the new year. The day after labour day when the real new year starts when matters that are important that have been put away for the frivolities and short spanned dreams of summer get back on the agenda to be tended to with full force and fury. A new year, a new life. New goals and new changes. A new hybrid of the past and the present, losses and gains, all blended together to live a new reality richly earned and deserved.
So I keep tidying up my apartment as if it were Christmas. Inch by inch. Room by room. Table top by table top. Shelf by shelf. Turning it into a temple of solace. And come thanksgiving in October — I will start a new tradition. A form of Paththini pooja here in Toronto to say thank you for taking me under her wing — and ask her to watch over me through the long winter sure to come. And when its cold and dark and desolate and when the sidewalks turn to slippery ice rinks and when you cannot bear to go outside — I will just close my eyes and be back in that magic light of Panama.
Author’s Note: This was originally a note by me on Facebook from September 5, 2011.