| by Sunanda Mahendra
( January 8, 2014 - Colombo - Sri Lanka Guardian) The true or genuine creative writer of the calibre of a sensitive poet writes not for the entire public but for a self expression of some of his intimate feelings and experiences for one's sake. Perhaps he or she writes for a particular reason, for a vanishing few admirers. This may look a paradox difficult to gauge as heart tells his own most intimate experiences and expects the world to listen to him.
I felt the 'intimate universality' in the poems of Basil Fernando translated from English to Sinhala by Radika Gunaratne. The volume of poems is titled as 'Handanu Mena Desaya' (2013) with a long preface by one professor Sankarapillai.
As I read the Sinhala poems, I had the very feeling of a particular type of intimacy linked to any social experiences, which I miss in the commonplace Sinhala poems published in most collections, inclusive of those bestowed with awards.
The main driving force for the poetic creative pulse as I felt is a sort of a feeling of social injustice. These, as the poet reveals, come from his own observations, and experiences. He feels that a weeping heart is seen in the observer as an onlooker.
Out of the seventy-one poems included in the collection at least 10 poems are most outstanding creations. Take for example the allegorical poem titled as 'Usaviya', the central theme is the varying aspect in a courthouse situated in an imaginary country packed with corruptions. People come in search of justice, but what they get is the negative effects where the law is a varying barometer.
Some deem justice as white and for others it is black. For some it is intoxicant, as for some others it is a bribe. The poetic persona in these poems is an invisible saint-like character, who sees things as they are. But the underlying factors are graver than they are seen. The scene then shifts onto an imaginary believably an unguarded city where the poem is titled as 'Kisivek Nagaraya Maru Nokarathi'.
This unguarded city is full of robbers and plunderers. There are also visible killers and rapists. Some kill others and laugh as merrymaking. This goes on as the onlooker persona sees the king too is silent.
He just visits the deadly scenes and silently walks back to the palace. Then we come across the same poetic persona visualizing a war-torn city. He sees how the soldiers are recruited and trained. He sees the various songs sung to attract the young men to join the regiments. Things remain just as they are. The poet does not make any comment. Instead makes the reader feel that the he is hurt to the point that he should weep. The reader comes across yet another scene, where the harmony of the living creatures are anticipated.
The poem is titled as 'Aha Cham Janayage Diviya Ketarama Sundarada?" (Oh how beautiful are the ways of the oridinary masses?) In several interconnected sequences, the poet depicts the ways of living in several creatures such as turtles, birds, fish and the humans who play a musical instrumental and singsongs. They are juxtaposed as one living entity.
All these are seen by an old couple who adore their guard dog fondly. In the poem titled 'Samaharu Anugnge As Ugullati' written in memory of the poet Rabindranath Tagore, the experience embedded is sensitive. What the poet Basil tries to express is that in the name of Tagore, the very humanism he tried to spread to the whole world is being forgotten.
The humanism that enveloped in his creations too are misunderstood as spread for one's own gain and glory. As such what the poet tries to say is that the very creator Tagore at the juncture should meet and wail for humanity's sake. This I felt is a wonderful tribute paid to the late great poet, on his 150st birth anniversary.
There are few poems of brilliance written in memory of social reformers, social activities and noteworthy humans. But they come not as mere tributes, but as creative rediscoveries of one's own self. I visualize these poetic creations as subtexts for social events, clamouring for a social change and an inner sanity. These poems are created with a vision.
The poems represented in the volume, in translation, are simply not meant to express where emotions are. But they are visions simply not content with mere worldly existence at any cost, and demand the right for justice and to be faithful to oneself.
This right, the poet exercises creatively by the careful scrutiny of social events and the embedded dhuman experiences. What the poetic persona in each of the poems says is the search for mening of existence and the human justice, which presumably originates as a personal quest but is meant to be communicated in manifold ways. Some poems for the reader may look like treasure maps leading to untold wealth - not in money, but in human existence.
Basil, via his poetic persona in each piece, will not allow the reader to tuck the experiences away and forget them. The reader is pressed to question the significance and the meaning as to how events happen. I am often reminded of e e cumming's memorable line: 'Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question'.
Though the original poet is stated to be living in Hong Kong, nevertheless his poetic creations are made to exist with the Sinhala readers of the day by the translator Radika Gunaratne, who should be commended.
"We are human beings, for whom birth is a supremely welcome mystery. The mystery of growing the mystery which happens only and whenever we are faithful to ourselves." - e e cummings (preface to collected poems).
( The article originally appeared in the Daily News, a state own daily news paper based in Colombo)