The Nikon D810 debuts:The Brown-headed Barbet

The bird call was different — rather monotonous and louder than the chorus of chirping of from the regular visitors that I knew so well.  So, I leave the computer, peep through the window and I see the rustling of a pair, but the green of the feathers and brown of the head is such a good camouflage.

Perfectly camouflaged. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Perfectly camouflaged. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

I take my new love in my hand and together we tip toe quietly, ever so quietly into the garden.

Oh! dear the pair are quarrelling. One shrieks and chases the other way — a lover’s tiff? Or a pregnant bird wanting the food for herself? The aggressive one sits on the branch a little pensive. I click, and that’s a good thing with this new love, the click is so quiet the bird doesn’t move.

A Brown-headed barbet, in my garden. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

A Brown-headed barbet, in my garden. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

My knowledge of birds is not something to crow about, if you excuse the pun — I need help here — so out comes the faithful “Guide to the Birds of Ceylon” by K.M. Henry. On page 127, Henry says the bird is also called Green Barbet by other authors. In Sinhalese, he is a Pollos Kottoruwa or Gabbal Kotturuwa and so must be fond of the tender Jak fruit — Polos. In Tamil he is known as Kutur, or Kukkuruvan.

In size, he is like a plump Mynah bird and for living  prefer village gardens, open woods and is not so fond of heavy forests.  He is not averse to be seen in towns and I suppose that’s how he came to my neighbour’s overgrown messy one with fruit trees! Henry says they live in pairs but do not associate very closely –doesn’t that somehow sound familiar — like a modern independent married couple. However, like the humans with mobile phones, this pair keeps in touch by means of their loud and frequently-uttered calls, a monotonous kuk’ra, kukra, kukra (which he says has several various renderings).

The Brown-haired barbet turns his head to feed on the berries. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The Brown-haired barbet turns his head to feed on the berries. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

This is probably the sound I first heard.

Henry describes the call in detail: “The bird commences its call with a rolling Krrrr-r-r on an ascending scale until it reaches its pitch, when the kuk’ra begins and continues for many seconds, to be answered by its mate, from a distance, in similar tones. While producing these sounds the beak is closed, and the head quivers strongly at each enunciation.

Happily munching the berries. Mate not in sight. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Happily munching the berries. Mate not in sight. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The Barbet even has a scold-note, says Henry. This is usually uttered in concert with other small birds when mobbing an owl, a cat or a tree-snake — I love this bird, especially if he mobs cats — an enemy of an enemy is always my friend. Then his call is a loud coarse sounding guffaw quo-ho-ho (o’s short as in ox).

This bird keeps his feet off the ground and is strictly arboreal, never descending to the ground and feeds on a large variety of berries and other fruits. When flying for any distance, it is supposed to proceed in a series of big bounds, alternately fluttering and sailing with wide spread wings.

For his nests, the bird works solitarily and hammers and pecks out a hole in a soft -wooded dead tree stump or branch, seeming to prefer those that are vertical. The entrance hole is about 2.5 inches in diameter, and is nearly circular. The cavity inside widens to an oval shape and the female lays about 3 or 4 dull white eggs. The young are fed on insects like green mantises as well as on fruit

Maybe I should go looking for a dead tree stump and a polos fruit . … and hope they make up and return.

Reference: Henry, G.M. A guide to the Birds of Ceylon 2nd ed.  OUP,1971

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7 Photos and stories within stories

“Shaken not stirred” was my first blog post in November 2007 — a result of getting copped in Bandarawela for photographing school children. It brought forth interesting advice from a very dear friend, writing as N.B.S. Silva ( this was his nom de plume and NBS stood for No Bull Shit Silva), who said if I had any sense I would take photos of old men and cattle.

I have taken his advice. 6 years later taking stock, I am reminded yet again how photos not only capture a transient moment but the untold stories behind the pixels. Then there are stories within stories, unseen actors of a landscape and fragments of conversations, tears, laughter and love embedded in a n image. This blog is an exercise to see if I can pick 7 all time favourite photos of mine. Not an easy task but the ones I have picked are significant ones which brings to my mind a bigger visual story of my wanderings in Sri Lanka.

An internally displaced mother carries her sleeping baby while attending a resettlement meeting in Jayapuram North, Sri Lanka. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

An internally displaced mother carries her sleeping baby while attending a resettlement meeting in Jayapuram North, Sri Lanka. 25 March 2010. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

On the tsunami affected but repaired coast road to Hikkaduwa 26 Dec.2008.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Sri Lanka builds back better after tsunami. The tsunami affected but repaired coast road to Hikkaduwa 26 Dec.2008.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

The reclining Parinirvana statue of Buddha, Gal viharaya, Polonnauwa . AD 1153-86. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

For me the most beautiful Buddha statue in Sri Lanka. The reclining Parinirvana statue of Buddha, Gal viharaya, Polonnauwa . AD 1153-86. 12 March 2005. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

A man takes his morning bath at the Mahdangasweva tank. Mahadangasweva, Sri Lanka. 19 Oct 2007. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

All the beauty of rural Sri Lanka. A man takes his morning bath at the Mahadangasweva tank. Mahadangasweva, Sri Lanka. 19 Oct 2007. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Cattle sleep on the warm tarmcac of the A9 road at night and moves to the roadside in the morning. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Cattle moves to the roadside of the A9 in the morning after a nights sleep on the warm tarmac. 27 March 2010. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

14 yr old Konnes (14 yrs) the youngest of ten sons helps his farmer parents wto rear goats. North Sri Lanka. 14 Sep. 2008.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

14 yr old Konnes,  the youngest of ten sons helps his farmer parents to rear goats. North Sri Lanka. 14 Sep. 2008.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

After the sunset at Hikkaduwa. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

After the sunset at Hikkaduwa. Taken on a memorable reunion holiday with my elder son and wife. 20 Jan 2012. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Seenigama Devale and animistic rituals

Seenigama Devale at dusk. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Seenigama Devale at dusk. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

My father claims that he planted one of the coconut trees at this temple you can see on the old coast road to Galle, in a tiny hamlet called Seenigama. The little temple – a half a mile or so into the sea with a clump of coconut trees is a veritable treasure trove of stories. It wasn’t built on the sea. The temple was originally on the beach on a mound of sand built by villagers to venerate God Devol, who apparently was able to use his powers to change sand into sugar — local name  for sugar is “seeni,” and “gama” is village in Sinhala.

The sea ate the “seeni” beach and the temple is where it is now. The severe sea erosion was due to coral mining extensively carried out in this area. Kilns burning coral spewing pungent smoke was a common sight in this region when we used to pass this area.  Kilns were present till the 1970s, I think. The damage to the marine environment was so grave that even the Devol Deiyo the patron god of the fisher folk in this area couldn’t prevent the wrath of the sea in the tsunami of 2004.

Coast road to Hikkaduwa, still showing the erosion of the beach 30 Dec. 2008.Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Coast road to Hikkaduwa, still showing the erosion of the beach 30 Dec. 2008.Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Briefly Devol was a Prince from India who was put on a boat by his father and sent off to  Lanka or maybe he was thrown out of the palace. … Looks like this was a punishment route that many princes from the subcontinent were forced to take by their fathers. One legend has it that Devol’s father – a King had seven sons by seven queens in his harem , all born on the same day.  Unable to decide on who the Crown Prince will be he put all seven into boats and pushed them out to sea — an outbound exercise to select a survivor to inherit the crown? This I suppose was one of the first lot of boat -borne asylum seekers. Then the coast guards were a pantheon of island guarding gods and the  all powerful Goddess Pattini, put Devol’s skills to the test before allowing him to land.

Devol is worshiped as a dual purpose God. He can bless a person or as the Lord of vengeance from his seat of judgement decide on punishment to evil doers. Cursing with Devol is referred to as “grinding chillies at Seenigama Devale.” The curse is moulded on the anvil — stone chilli grinder provided by the chief of the temple the “Kapurala”. Chillies the hot burning ingredient that causes burns, irritation and pain when a paste of which is applied on the skin becomes the vehicle for the curse.

From left: Vishnu, Kataragama and Devol Deiyo/Gods at the shrine at the Welle Devale, Unawatuna. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

From left: Vishnu, Kataragama and Devol Deiyo/Gods at the shrine at the Welle Devale, Unawatuna. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Devol’s entry into Lanka was granted by Goddess Pattini , after she was given a boon to cure diseases by Devol. “On the strength of this he got himself a visa,” says Srilal Perera responding to my blog  “Shrine on the beach “Welle Devale, Unawatune”  written after a visit to Unawatuna. Srilal also pointed out that in the annual all night “Gam madu” rituals in the villages of Sri Lanka this episode is enacted.

Gammadu means literally a village shed and the Sinhala Drama evolved from these rituals “The drama is only a bi-product of activities seriously directed towards the sustenance of the entire life of the community, namely the propitiation of gods and demons, and the performance of magical rites which are calculated to prevent diseases, ward of evil, bring plentiful crops and confer in general prosperity in the village.”which included music, song or recited verses, costumes, drama and masks,” says Prof Ediriweera Sarachchandra in his scholarly work “The Folk Drama of Ceylon,”

This book (purchased for a princely sum of LKR 18/–, circa late 1970s) meticulously traces from the roots the rituals of folk religion and the fusion of village cults of exorcism with the culture emanating from Buddhism.

“Gam Madu,” “Pam madu” or “Puna Madu” are species of the same type of ritual with slight differences in each, says Sarachchandra adding that they are generally referred to as “Devol Madu.” All rituals are performed for general good luck and the expelling of evil.

Demons or Yakshas are portrayed as frightening creatures. A faded fresco at Welle Devale, Unawatuna, supposed to be of Agora. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Demons or Yakshas are portrayed as frightening creatures. A faded fresco of Siva-Vatuka with an elephant in his mouth at Welle Devale, Unawatuna.  Photograph© Chulie de Silva

So where did this evil enter the life of the Sinhalese villagers. Mostly from the belief that mysterious evil influences or evil powers of people and demons caused ill health, brought bad luck and caused hysteria and temporary insanity.

The prevailing concept Sarachchandra says is “vas, Vas or vas-dos,”  which affects people adversely preventing them from being healthy, successful in their undertakings etc. The malicious influence can come from people who have the ‘evil eye” (asvaha), evil mouth (katavaha); uttering envious words and lamenting over one’s good fortune (ando andiya) or from the entertaining of evil thoughts (hovaha). Evil influences can come from many demons — very colourful and too many to list here  but they can cause swoons, fits of insanity (murtu) and various types of hysteria.

Sarachchandra gives an interesting alliterative phrase used by “Demon priests” as “asvaha, katavaha, hovaha, ando andiya turtu murtu pinum peralum avalum vevlum. I can remember this phrase among the many recited by our Dhobi — the laundry man — who would come at my mother’s bidding to get rid of of the Asvaha (or evil eye) from us.

The ritual called the “Dehi kapanawa” (cutting the limes) was performed in the mornings and is a lesser routine, out of all the animistic rituals. It is mainly performed if you had been falling sick often and is supposed to have got the “evil eye.”. For me usually this was performed on the back verandah of Siriniwasa. The Dhobi would be dressed in white with a white turban and he had a big basin of limes. He would take a lime and hold it  in the grip of an areconut cutter called a giraya.

Antique Giraya at my alter. Giraya is the metal instrument on the far right shaped  with a woman's head and legs. 24 Feb. Sri Lanka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Antique Giraya at my alter. Giraya is the metal instrument on the far right shaped with a woman’s head and legs. 24 Feb. Sri Lanka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Many many moons ago, when I had my last ritual, the Dhobi would hold the lime over my head, chant various phrases, cut the lime into two equal parts with a swift click and drop the cut lime into a basin. In this role he had a much higher status as a magician who can bestow good health. How much “Asvaha ” you had was measured by the way the limes floated or ended in the bottom of the pail of water.

Did my life get better or did I feel good after that? I must get another ritual done to check if lady luck will return!!! This time I will be armed with my camera and follow the ritual closely. As for the demons, they are a fascinating lot and needs a separate blog to write about them. The demons are supposed to loiter at twilight or early morning in grave yards, cross roads, lonely roads etc.  We were not supposed to eat fried food and run around at twilight as the “yakka’s” (demons) would get hold of us or enter our bodies. This theory, we did challenge and I have survived to tell the tale. Maybe I should attend a Gam Maduwa and experience it first hand before writing more about it but first to read more about the different Yakkas and then to visit a temple of the all powerful Goddess Pattini and follow up on her cult.

Thank you to my readers!

It’s been an amazing digital romp keeping this blog going the last six years or so. Through the thick and thin days, I’ve appreciated your feedback comments. Taking stock today I now have 225 posts, 734 comments and over 135,000 hits,

So this is to say a Big Thank you to all who have supported and encouraged me to write. I miss the comments and feedback which usually came with a good dollop of characteristic humour, I got from Mike Udabage.  Sadly he is not with us anymore, but I can still see his comments and smile.

The image of the school children that landed me in trouble. 10 Nov 2007. Photograph copyright Chulie de Silva

The image of the school children that landed me in trouble. 10 Nov 2007. Photograph copyright Chulie de Silva

I started this blog in 2007, November with the first post  Shaken not stirred and my first experience of being hauled into a Police Station and having a ride with Police escorts in a blue jeep. At least, I got off without having to spend a night at the Royal Boarding House.

Prior to this in 2006, on the second anniversary of the  Tsunami in 2004, I started the Hikkaduwa Chronicles . This was supposed to be a jumbled memoir of a family that has lived in Hikkaduwa for over a century. The original intention was to keep the two blogs separate – one on family history and one as a photoblog. But once our web aggregator Kottu took Hikkaduwa Chronicles off its list, and with limited time it made more sense to keep the Chuls Bits & Pics going as my main blog. Now, I reblog on to Hikkaduwa Chronicles, the relevant pieces, as I still have some readers who follow that.

The smiling eyes, one of my favourite photos. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The smiling eyes, one of my favourite photos. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Gold winner on hits is:

Degas Little Dancer. The All time favourite blog with readers. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Degas Little Dancer. The All time favourite blog with readers. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The next favourite is:

The 200 year old Sri Lankan house photo on the blog that gets second most hits. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The 200 year old Sri Lankan house photo on the blog that gets second most hits. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

And the bronze goes to:

Birthplace of Martin Wickramasinghe. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Birthplace of Sri Lankan literary giant Martin Wickramasinghe. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The posts on this blog that got more than 1000 hits are:

Degas’ Fourteen Year Old Little Dancer More stats 10,194
Age Old Charm of a 200 year old Sri Lanka House More stats 9,530
Martin Wickramasinghe’s house, Koggala, Sri Lanka More stats 4,437
Kandyan Dancers & Drummers More stats 3,183
Selling Bananas and Discussing Climate Change More stats 3,169
The Not So Hi! Ladies of Sri Lanka More stats 3,093
Goddess Tara Time to Come Home ? More stats 2,809
Tsunami 3 years on: Remembering Prasanna Kirtisinghe More stats 2,227
  Images of Jaffna More stats 2,201
Much ado about Hikka nudes More stats 1,893
Afghan Treasures Exhibition: a peep into a rich heritage More stats 1,860
Painful wakeup call@Lighthouse, Galle More stats 1,825
Colours of Dhaka More stats 1,231
Maugham, Miss Pretty Girl, Cabbages & Condoms More stats 1,162
Bomb in a Bra: Don’t Cry Baby, Don’t Cry More stats 1,137
Smiling Eyes More stats 1,075
The shrine on the beach “Welle Dewale,” Unawatuna More stats 1,043

For me it’s always interesting to see the WordPress summaries and receive comments from someone from a far away place. This interaction is what makes a blog more interesting, than even writing a book. It’s the icing on the cake.

In this melee of blog posts, I’ve found another Chulie — Chulie Davey whose parents lived in Colombo in the 50’s and we exchanged Dear Chulie emails sometime ago; Dale from US who was a visitor to my parents home in the 1970’s and sends me links on classical music pieces to listen to and to read my blogs again; Klaus from Germany who was a great support to the family in the post tsunami traumatic times; nephews and neices who have found me on the blog and asked “Are you my Chulie Nandi?” …. and many more. such interesting virtual encounters.  Happy too that a couple of stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines.

So, my friends,  thanks again, wherever you are and do stay, and keep reading. The following stats are reproduced here with many thanks to WordPress — 3 more months to go for this year and I am looking forward to more blogging. Focus will be more on local history and travel stories. Do click on the Follow link on the blog and as always look forward to hearing from you.

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And the river sang. …

Eleven years ago, on the 31 August, death came silently taking away my father. More than a decade later, I still feel the events of that day with a stark loneliness that is hard to describe.

TPhotograph©Chulie de Silva

Photograph©Chulie de Silva

That morning at Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa there were no need for words. I sat holding his thin hands, stroking his head. I was the parent, he the baby. Our faithful mongrel Lassie was under the bed with her head on my feet.  My father’s face was thin and gaunt with a prickly growth of a faded beard. His breathing was laboured with a rasping sound. Tears were building under his eyelids and I felt he could hear my mother and sister-in-law chanting pirith at the foot of the bed. He had no words for us. A thousand images streamed through my mind and I kept them all to good thoughts of what he did not only for me but many others too. I watched him, recording to memory every breath he took. Then there was the this deep filling of the lungs, I waited for the breath to be let out. But none came. This was his last breath. Lassie raised her head and licked my feet.

From the Exhibition "My City of Unheard Prayers" by Sayed Asif Mahmud

From the Exhibition “My City of Unheard Prayers” by Sayed Asif Mahmud

Partings are poignant, never easy. Like Herman Hesse’s Siddartha my wound still smarted.

Many years ago, Thatha had introduced me to Hesse and his book Siddhartha. He himself was probably told about it when he was a dayaka  at the Polgasduwa Hermitage where there were German Buddhist priests.

Siddartha of Hesse is not Lord Buddha but a handsome Brahmin son who lived in the same era as Buddha. In Hesse’s story Siddhartha does meet Buddha and although very impressed by the revered teacher, he takes a decision not to follow Buddha.  A rare occurrence no dobt but notes to the novel say ‘it is in keeping with Neitzsche’s statement in Also sprach Zaruthuustra (Thus Spake Zrathushtra0 that … one repays a teacher badly if one always wants to remain nothing but a pupil’.

A damaged and fading frescoe of Buddhist Priests pay homage to Lord Buddha. Telwatte Purana Thotagamuva Rajamaha Viharaya. Telwatte. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

A damaged and fading frescoe of Buddhist Priests paying homage to Lord Buddha. Telwatte Purana Thotagamuva Rajamaha Viharaya. Telwatte. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

The story is about the conflict between the discipline and the heart, the desire to ‘go it alone‘, and the courage to listen to one’s own inner voice.  Siddharha’s search for spiritual knowledge tests the friendship between Siddartha and his friend Govinda, who “loved him more than anyone else.” In a very interesting dialogue in the last chapter of the book he tells Govinda “I learned through my body and soul that it was necessary for me to sin, that I needed lust — a reference to his long relationship with Kamala the beautiful courtesan.

Siddhatha’s wounds are self-inflicted, as in the case of many of us.

Yesterday, I turned to the balm of its beautiful  prose and the subtle distillation of wisdom in this novel. It’s hard to say which part of the story that traces Siiddhartha’s quest for spiritual fulfillment I like best. However, the images of a quietly flowing Hikkaduwa river and this book has been uppermost in my mind. Thus, it seems appropriate to quote here the passages of Siddhartha as he learns from the river and the wise old ferryman Vasudeva, following the death of Kamala and the parting from his son.

One day , when the wound was smarting terribly Siddhartha rowed across the river, consumed by longing, and got out of the boat with the purpose of going to the town to seek his son.The river flowed softly and quietly, it was the dry season, but its voice rang out strangely.  It was laughing, it was distinctly laughing!. The river was laughing clearly and merrily at the old ferryman.

The river flowed softly and gently. ... Photograph© Chulie de Silva

The river flowed softly and gently. … Photograph© Chulie de Silva

“Siddhartha stood still; he bent over the water, in order to hear better. , He saw his face reflected in the quietly moving water, and in this reflected face there was something in this reflection, that reminded him of something he had forgotten, and when he reflected on it, he remembered. His face resembled that of another person, whom he had once known and loved and feared. It resembled the face of his father, the Brahmin. He remembered how once, as a youth, he had compelled his father to let him go to join the ascetics, how he had taken leave of him how he had gone and never returned.”

This leads him to question his own behaviour and to the realisation that his father must have suffered by his departure as much as he was suffering now because of his son.

Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Desolate and depressed Siddhartha seeks Vasudeva to talk and confess to this wise guru. Vasudeva, a true sage who speaks only when necessary leads him to a seat on the river bank.

“You have heard it laugh,” he said, “but you have not heard everything. Let us listen; you will hear more.”

They listened. The many-voiced song of the river echoed softly. Siddhartha looked into the river and saw many pictures flowing in the water. He saw his father, lonely, mourning his son; he saw himself, lonely also with the bonds of longing for his faraway son; he saw his son, also lonely, the boy eagerly advancing along the burning path of life’s desires, each one concentrating on his goal, each one obsessed by his goal, each one suffering. The river’s voice was sorrowful. It sang with yearning and sadness, flowing towards its goal.

“‘Do you hear?’asked Vasudeva’s mute glance. Siddhartha nodded. ‘Listen better!’ whispered Vasudeva.

The river's voice was full of longing.... Photograph© Chulie de Silva

The river’s voice was full of longing…. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

“Siddhartha tried to listen better. The picture of his father, his own picture, and the picture of his son all flowed into each other. Kamala’s picture also appeared and flowed on, and the picture of Govinda and others emerged and passed on. They all became a part of the river. It was the goal of all of them, yearning, desiring, suffering; and the river’s voice was full of longing, full of smarting woe, full of insatiable desire. The river flowed on towards its goal. Siddhartha saw the river hasten, made up of himself and his relatives and all the people he had ever seen. …”

The many voiced songs of the river echoed softly. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

The many voiced songs of the river echoed softly. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

“. … He was now listening intently, completely absorbed, quite empty, taking in everything. He felt now he had now completely learned the art of listening. … He could no longer distinguish the different voices – the merry voice from the weeping voice, the childish from the manly voice; the lament of those who yearn, the laughter of the wise, the cry of the indignation and groan of the dying. They were all interwoven and interlocked, entwined in a thousand ways. And all the voices, all the pleasures, all the good and evil, all of them together was the world. All of them together was the stream of events, the music of life.”

“When Siddhartha listened attentively to the river, to this song of a thousand voices, when he did not listen to the sorrow or laughter, when he did not bind his soul to any one particular voice and absorb it in his self, but heard them all, the whole, the unity; then the great song of a thousand voices consisted of one word: Om perfection.”

… His wound was healing, his pain was dispersing; his self had emerged into unity.”

‘From that hour Siddhartha ceased to fight against his destiny. …”

Vasudeva seeing the serenity of knowledge reflected in the eyes of Siddhartha, says that he has waited for this hour to come, and bids farewell to the hut, the river and Siddhartha and retreats into the forest.

Life is but another threshold for a monk, waiting to be crossed over. Photo©Nirvair Singh Rai

Life is but another threshold for a monk, waiting to be crossed over. Photo©Nirvair Singh Rai

 Note:  Extracts are from a copy I have of “Siddartha” by Herman Hesse, translated from German by Hilda Rosner.

The full text of the book is available at The Project Gutenberg EBook of Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse. Translator: Gunther Olesch, Anke Dreher, Amy Coulter, Stefan Langer and Semyon Chaichenets Release Date: April 6, 2008 [EBook #2500] Last updated: January 23, 2013.

Thanks to my two friends from Drik, Dhaka days Sayed Asif Mahmud and Nirvair Singh Rai for the use of the two photos.

The Art of Travel … creating Flemish Masters at 30 000 feet.

Campari and Sofa

lav6Nina Katchadourian has a unique way of whiling away long plane journeys: she locks herself in the lavatory and styles herself as a 15th Century Flemish portrait. She uses whatever materials are around – paper towels and cups, loo-rolls, seat protectors, eye pads … snaps away quickly – and leaves the bathroom as she found it.

The project began,as Nina tells it, on a flight in March 2010:  “While in the lavatory, I spontaneously put a tissue paper toilet cover seat cover over my head and took a picture in the mirror using my cellphone.”

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Ritigala, where Gods are smiling

The excited voice on the phone said “Chulie I am in Sri Lanka, are you here?” Sadly I wasn’t – I was stuck in a hospital in Dhaka with pneumonia. The caller was Nirvair Singh Rai, a young Indian friend I met while working at Drik. Today, we caught up on GChat.  “I am in love with your homeland, and the people. Everything about it! and Ritigala always calls me back.” He pays tribute to Ritigala in his blog and says:

Life is but another threshold for a monk, waiting to be crossed over. Photo©Nirvair Singh Rai

Life is but another threshold for a monk, waiting to be crossed over. Photo©Nirvair Singh Rai

Deep within the heart of Sri Lanka, a monk treads softly on a path that has been walked on since as long ago as 1st Century BCE. Monarchs, kings and rulers have come and gone, but this humble monastery situated in Ritigala, the highest peak in northern Sri Lanka, still stands in all its austerity and simplicity.”

“The monastery does not feature any of the traditional symbols of Buddhist temples, it does not have bodhi trees or stupas. All it has to offer is the honesty of its scarlet robed monks, and the kindness of their hands—some, as weathered and wrinkled as the terrain itself, and some, as young and as unlined as green saplings.”

Kindness lies in the gentleness of hands, and wisdom, in the quietness of a gaze. Photo©Nirvair Singh Rai

Kindness lies in the gentleness of hands, and wisdom, in the quietness of a gaze. Photo©Nirvair Singh Rai

  “Somewhere  along the way, we have forgotten how to navigate the ardous terrain of life. But in this hidden land, the map to the pathways of the heart and the mind, as well as the nimble grace needed to walk them, still lives on. This series is my attempt to share some of Ritigala’s purity and wisdom. It is merely my effort to make you feel what I felt—bliss…”

 Read and see more on his post: The Gods are Smiling

Nirvair copy

Nirvair hails from Bathinda, Punjab, India and is currently studying photography at Pathshala, the South Asian Media Institute, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Ritigala the ancient Buddhist monastery and mountain in Sri Lanka is located 43 km away from the UNESCO World Heritage city of Anuradhapura.

Note: All story text of “Gods are Smiling” and photographs copyright Nirvair Singh Rai. For publication of full story with high res images please contact: nirvairrai@gmail.com

A love for photography marries a love for the past – Luther Gerlach

Very interesting – “The results, be they portraits, nudes or landscapes, possess the warmth of the sepia tones, the dreamy notes of times gone by but seen through the eyes of a 21st century artist: they can be magical and unsettling at the same time.

Campari and Sofa

“Quite often I feel as if my soul is in the past and my mind is in the future”.

To say that Luther Gerlach is in love with the past would be too reductive. It might be more accurate to say that Luther Gerlach is in love with the photographing technique and equipment of the past that allow him to take photographs of modern subjects as if it were still 1850.

In his words: “By reducing subjects to their essence, and using the journey of process required to produce them, I create photographs that reflect an emotional state. This journey of process involves the use of large-format cameras and lenses dating from 1850 to 1920, which I have been collecting and restoring for many years.”

In our digital world, devoid of worries for wasting film or wasting time, with airbrushing and apps, and everything in between, that can elevate mediocre…

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Bawa’s Lunuganga – a masterful self portrait

It was on a rain-washed morning like today, that I drove to Bentota to see for the first time Geoffrey Bawa’s famed Lunuganga Estate. Bawa is Sri Lanka’s legendary architect and Lunuganga has been described as his “first muse and experimental laboratory for ideas.” Michael Ondaatje, the writer, poet, is quoted as saying the gardens were “self portraits” and leafing through the photos I had taken in 2007, and reading again about Bawa, I couldn’t agree more. Hiidden within the many stories and this beautifully landscaped garden of Lunuganga lurks a visual autobiography of the man himself.

The red terrace, so named after the naturally occurring red laterite at  Lunuganga. Photo Chulie de Silva

The red terrace, so named after the naturally occurring red laterite at Lunuganga. Photo Chulie de Silva 

The red terrace was what I saw when I first arrived. The trees, the leaves, the red earth all were imbibing the soft rain that was falling.  This was 2007, the time of the Galle Literary Festival and my first opportunity to see the estate.

Finding where Lunuganga was not easy. I had stopped past the Bentota bridge at a small roadside cafe to ask for directions. The man I asked, looked blank and dragged the “Mudalali” — the head honcho out to speak to me. Lunuganga made no sense to him too, but a smile dawned showing his betel stained teeth only when I mentioned Bawa’s name. “Ahh. …. Bawa mahaththaya’s watte” ( Bawa Sir’s estate) said the man breaking into a broad grin and directing a spew of betel cud carefully into the drain he gave me the directions.  I finally arrived, clambered up a slippery muddy slope clutching my new camera.  We were still strangers – my camera and  I, but became good buddies by the end of the day.

The red earth was unexpected. So was the news that I read recently on the Bawa Trust website that the building to the right was once a chicken coop. Bawa having kept chickens in a beautifully proportioned and designed chicken coop is not a surprise. what was amazing was the news that the chicken coop in proportions and structure is almost a miniature model of the National Parliament Geoffrey Bawa was to  build in 1982.

A first glimpse of the estate seen through a lush cache of trees and foliage at the Lunuganga Estate. Photo Chulie de Silva

A first glimpse of the estate seen through a lush cache of trees and foliage at the Lunuganga Estate. Photo©Chulie de Silva

Lunuganga means salty river. The most striking for me was the view of this salty river seen through a huge branching frangipani — Araliya tree. The tree apparently was planted in 1947 — the date is questionable as his biography says he bought the estate in 1948 — unless of course it was there when he bought it.

View of the lake  through a large frangipani tree dwarfing the garden statue, The island in the back ground was purchased by Bawa in the 1970s and is a official bird sanctuary. Photo Chulie de Silva.

View of the lake through a large frangipani tree dwarfing the garden statue, The island in the back ground to the left was purchased by Bawa in the 1970s and is an official bird sanctuary. Photo©Chulie de Silva

Bawa used to hang weights on the branches for it to spread wide and trained peacocks and peahens  to sit on the tree, to effectively make it look like a Chinese painting. If your imagination can get to those days, you would see Bawa having sundowners on the verandah with his brother Bevis, maybe friends like Donald Friend, the famous Australian artist whose diaries mention his stay with the Bawa’s at Lunuganga. Friend left behind a rich legacy of art work in Lanka. Some are in private collections here. A couple of striking work I have seen at the John Keels main office building and some at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

Bawa was born in 1919, and his father was a wealthy and successful lawyer, of Muslim and English parentage, while his mother was of mixed German, Scottish and Sinhalese descent. An awesome lineage that probably gave rise to the creative genius he was. Bawa read English at Cambridge and then studied Law in London and was called to the Bar in 1944.  Back home in then Ceylon, he wasn’t happy as a lawyer and set off on travels for two years. Bawa contemplated settling down in Italy.  However, his plans to buy an Italian villa didn’t work out and he returned to Ceylon in 1948.  That’s when he bought Lunuganga, an abandoned rubber estate, hoping to create an Italian garden out of it.  However he soon realised that “his ideas were compromised by a lack of knowledge” that led him back to England to qualify as an architect.

The portico ( the porte`cochere ) and the Glass room above itt were part of the 1980′s additions, which replaced an earlier coconut thatched carport there. Photo Chulie de Silva.

The portico ( the porte`cochere ) and the Glass room above itt were part of the 1980′s additions, which replaced an earlier coconut thatched carport there. Photo©Chulie de Silva.

“Concrete tiles reflecting those that are inside the Garden room visually connect the porte`cochere under the Glass Room to the Garden Room itself. This is an affectation often seen in the work of Geoffrey Bawa which helps to connect the inside of the spaces with the outside and make them appear as seamless spaces, only some covered and others uncovered.” (Bawa Trust website)

The water garden was one of Bawa's favourite places. Photo Chulie de Silva

The water garden was one of Bawa’s favourite places. Photo©Chulie de Silva

The water garden with the wind rustling the clump of bamboo was where Bawa often had lunch served.The Black Pavilion at the end of the central path across the waterways marks the eastern edge of the Garden.” ( Bawa Trust website)

A little canoe waits for the master as time and space stands still at Lunuganga Estate. Photo Chulie de Silva

A little canoe waits for the master as time and space stands still at Lunuganga Estate. Photo©Chulie de Silva

A C B Pethiyagoda writing in The Island in 2004 said “The whole complex is 50 acres in extent inclusive of two small islands in the Dedduwa lagoon, which borders two sides of the property. This was planted in cinnamon in the eighteenth century and in the 1930s was replanted with rubber. Both islands are preserved in their natural state and are today bird sanctuaries. A little over fifteen acres round the house on the hilltop is artistically landscaped with dozens of levels of varying sizes; the lowest with two large ponds, a fresh water well, sun dial and a rain fed paddy field of 10 liyaddas. From which ever part of the land one views the vista, close or distant one feels, as if by some charm, an instant sense of peace and contentment.

The fragility of the tender paddy contrasts with the gnarled old tree standing like a sentinel at the edge of the field. Photo Chulie de Silva.

The fragility of the tender paddy contrasts with the gnarled old tree standing like a sentinel at the edge of the field. Photo©Chulie de Silva.

Ming jars add to the timeless tranquile beauty of Lunuganga Estate. Photo Chulie de Silva

Ming jars placed around the garden add to the timeless tranquil beauty of Lunuganga Estate. Photo©Chulie de Silva

A view from one end of the garden. Photo Chulie de Siva

A view from one end of the garden. Photo©Chulie de Siva 

“In my personal search,” Bawa wrote in 1958, “I have always looked to the past for the help that previous answers can give.” He found this, he said, in Anuradhapura but he was also prepared to look at the latest building completed in Colombo. He would look for the answers he sought from Polonnaruwa to the present day. Geoffrey referred to this great spectrum of building as “the whole range of effort, peaks of beauty and simplicity and deep valleys of pretension.” (Neville Weeraratne.)

The Cinnamon Hill House, the last addition to the gardens of Lunuganga Estate

The Cinnamon Hill House, the last addition to the gardens of Lunuganga Estate.Photo©Chulie de Silva

This part of the estate was a former cinnamon plantation, hence the name Cinnamon Hill. “… he whittled away at a hill, Cinnamon Hill he called it, until he could view the lights on a temple far off reflected in the lake below his garden. Then he placed a huge Chinese stone jar in the middle distance to draw all three elements into a single perspective, says Neville Weeraratne.

A close up of the Blue doors of the Cinnamon Hill house. Photo Chulie de Silva.

A close up of the Blue doors of the Cinnamon Hill house. Photo©Chulie de Silva. 

I had first heard about him and the house he built for Ena de Silva, where a tree grew inside a courtyard and every family member had their own space to carry on their individual interests. This was the time in Colombo when Ena’s and Anil Gamini Jayasuriya — Ena’s son’s batik art and Barbara Sansoni’s handlooms were the rage.

Bawa’s architectural designs were uncommon then. We knew of the inside courtyard — “kotumidula” in old houses and verandahs but seeing these incorporated to new houses, extending the garden to the inside of a house were new concepts. Old was fashionable, old was gold.  He caused a run  on old doors, windows, lattice framed woodwork, old wrought iron fanlights and even the salted fish stored jars.  Hotels Kandalama, Triton and Galle Lighthouse are my favourites and bought Bawa’s work to be admired by the public and foreigners.

On top of the stairs to the left partly hidden by the foliage of the Gate House ( see photo below)  is a magnificent wrought iron panel which was actually a fanlight from a 18th Century house in the now demolished Jaffna Fort.

At the bottom of the Cinnamon Hill nestling among a grove of trees is the Gate House. Photo Chulie de Silva.

At the bottom of the Cinnamon Hill nestling among a grove of trees is the Gate House. Photo
©Chulie de Silva

Neville Weereratne, in an article titled “Geoffrey Bawa: a valediction for a colossus said:If there are any secrets in the art of architecture as practised by Geoffrey, it was his constant effort to co-operate with nature. If, however, nature was not always prepared to lend itself to his purpose, Geoffrey was quite happy to bend it to his will. …”

 “He manipulated nature. He knew precisely what he was doing when he hung weights on the branches of the araliya trees outside his house so that their limbs would fan out, extend and become expansive patterns of flowers and foliage.”

“Lunuganga is a masterpiece which, Geoffrey once said, had grown over the years, ‘a place of many moods, the result of many imaginings, offering me a retreat to be alone or to fellow-feel with friends.’ A lorry driver who once walked around the garden while his bricks were being unloaded exclaimed: “But this is a very blessed place!”

Note: No article on Lunuganga can be comprehensive. This is only a brief memoir of mine and readers should follow the links below to learn more. I would like to acknowledge and thank the writers featured below for many interesting comments and analysis of Bawa’s work that I have enjoyed and used for the compilation of this post.

Website of Geoffrey Bawa Trust

http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~lkawgw/gbawa.htm

http://www.geoffreybawa.com/lunuganga-country-estate/virtual-garden-tour

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoffrey_Bawa

Sri Lanka Style: Tropical design and architecture by Channa Daswatte, photographs by Dominic Sansoni, p. 154-163.

For more images see: http://pinterest.com/freepin/geoffrey-bawa/

Random Clicks and Musings at Dupont Circle, Washington DC.

It’s hard to believe that the now posh cosmopolitan neighbourhood of Dupont Circle was once home to a slaughter house and a brickyard. There had also been a creek, Slash Run, within a block of Dupont Circle, but the creek has since been enclosed in a sewer line.

I loved to stay at Dupont Circle whenever I got a chance to go to Washington, courtesy of my former  employees. Early morning before work or after work I’d wander around with my camera and took a large number of photos. Some I’ve misplaced but here’s some from the ones I have found.

From the vantage point of my hotel room sipping my Sri Lankan tea, I’d watch the people saunter in for their quintessential brew at Starbucks. Everyone kept more or less to themselves — in their own capsules, not talking, not smiling, basically minding their own business as they do in big cities. Not quite like our famed “kopi kade” where anybody’s business was everybody’s business.

Starbucks Cafe from my room at Jury's hotel. Dupont Circle, Washington DC.  Photo Chulie de Silva

Starbucks Cafe from my room at Jury’s hotel. Dupont Circle, Washington DC. Photo Chulie de Silva

The Circle is named after Samuel Francis Du Pont, in recognition of his service as a rear admiral during the Civil War.  The surrounding area is full of historical houses, cafe’s, Museums — like the Phillips Collection with its Renoir’s famous “Luncheon at the boating Party” plus works of many other famous artists. A bit further away on Embassy Row is Gandhi’s statue. I remember spending hours trying to get the light right on some buildings and the Gandhi statue but just can’t find them now!

One section of the traffic lights at the Dupont Circle. Photo Chulie de Silva

One section of the traffic lights at the Dupont Circle. Photo Chulie de Silva

A popular haunt of many Kramerbooks & afterwards cafe was just across the road. Photo Chulie de Silva.

A popular haunt of many Kramerbooks & afterwards cafe was just across the road. Photo Chulie de Silva.

The Dupont Circle Farmer’s Market held every Sunday morning is very much more posh than our humble farmer’s “Pola” but the concept is the same. The farmers’ come  early to set up shop and offer for sale fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, fresh cheeses, fruit pies, Jams, breads, fresh pasta, cut flowers, potted plants, soaps and herbal products etc.

A lady stoopes to pet a dog as she walked out of the market. Photo Chulie de Silva

A lady stoops to pet a dog as she walked out of the market. Photo Chulie de Silva

The bread queue was the longest but most orderly and reminded me of the mid 1980’s in Sri Lanka when we queued up as early as 5:45 am to make sure we got ahead in line for our fresh loaves of bread. We took our own cloth bag kept solely for the bread, no plastic bags then. Here in DC, it was either wrapped in brown paper or you held out your own bag. Something else was different – In Lanka we spoke with others in the queue while waiting for the shop to open — we grumbled about the high cost of living, the current political issues, illnesses and deaths in our families and laughed at the expense of the politicians. Putting aside these thoughts, I would get fresh bread, very sinful, very fatty but absolutely delicious almond croissants and then cross over to buy fresh goats cheese and tomatoes for my lunch.

The variety of bread for sale and the fresh baked smells was mouth watering. Photo Chulie de Silva

The variety of bread for sale and the fresh baked smells was mouth watering. Photo Chulie de Silva

Well, a hard job picking from this lot! Photo Chulie de Silva

Well, a hard job picking from this lot! Photo Chulie de Silva

We don’t have fresh made soaps at our Sunday markets but we do have good old Sri Lankan specials like Kohomba (using neem — my favourite) and the other long time best seller the Rani Sandalwood soap now has a gorgeous shower gel too. I suppose its all about packaging and customer relations as this seller knew his customers and had a friendly word for everyone.

Home-made soap seller at the Farmer's Market Dupont Circle. Photo Chulie de Silva

Home-made soap seller at the Farmer’s Market Dupont Circle. Photo Chulie de Silva

In place of our Sri Lanka”s Virindu singers who sing improvised poems to the beaten melody of a rabana, on trains and bus stands to earn a living, here there were these two gentlemen providing the music and the case open on the ground for the contributions.

Entrance to the Farmer's Market. Photo Chulie de Silva.

A mother encourages a toddler to put a contribution to the musicians at the entrance to the Farmer’s Market. Photo Chulie de Silva.

Te fresh produce for sale is displayed very attractively. Photo Chulie de Silva

The fresh produce for sale is displayed very attractively. Photo Chulie de Silva

No, its not quite the same as our village sunday markets — the displays, the temporary tents of the sellers, at Farmer’s market sets them apart from our village markets but then who knows — paddy farmers now come to their fields in motorbikes in Sri Lanka, and we now have clean streets, so maybe — just maybe in the future our humble “polas” might go posh too.