Fare thee well Jean, the snow white Rose from the hills!

We sit in your quiet hallway; introducing ourselves to the curious you. I look deep into the eyes that have seen uncounted pasts of numerous lamenting souls put kibosh on to the bleeding soil of a failed land. The eyes of the heart that witnessed wars and blood love and hate, feathers and thorns, wrath and mercy, chagrin and the ancient eyes that reflects the haunting, indelible memories of generations. Thanks to Guy de Maupassant, I come by a metaphorical reasoning for those "Unfathomable eyes, which hid their secrets under the undisturbed serenity of majestic repose, like a mountain lake, whose waters seem black on account of their depth."

Your red cotton dress adorned with yellow and purple flowers, gleams like a radiant dawn against this turbulent noon. Serene and tranquil, the bubbly you sit in an old chair, one of the very few furniture in the unconventional setting of this gracefully aged house, seems like to be born to the majesty of the vintage to modern books inhabiting in every corner of it.

Like a cello music born in the hands of Rostropovich set on fire, you continue speaking. Ethnicity; the undeniable pain that we carry dissolved by the joy and encounters of being mixed, journey of the poetry that melted into magic of words in over fifty books through decades, the unshakable affection of the kith and keen, the mosaic memories with the clans of Peradeniya and Kandy, the intolerable burden of the wounds emanated from the civil war, vivid passages of literature that had touched different grounds from political-religious turmoil to self-realization and the flora and fauna of world literature are consumed with the cup of tea. I watch the selfless being in front of me, as Prof. Ashley Halpe once wrote, gradually gave herself to the ironic possession of it, from not herself a Tamil, but a stranger watched from afar’.

"...If I remain
There’s no escape
My dreams slide through
My brain like silent knives
Sharp blades

As I live through
So many nights
So many deaths"

Exile 11 – Apocalypse '83 (1984)

The deep involvement with the pain and horror went through by the victims and exiled of 83, deepens through the passage of time and your works.

"On the face of the sky a grimace of stars
The moonlight congeals like fat
spattered over with darkening gouts
on bodies lifted with their wounds
Vanishing into the forest,
into night."

The death Carvers – Reddened Water Flows Clear (1991)

As I read you, I smell the aroma of spices and herbs and the bouquet of ghee and fresh milk blended with the smoking hot of sizzling pans come from the busy kitchens; I hear the sound of cracking firewood in the stoves and my eyes catch the splendid site of vibrant sarees graced with silver and golden borders wrapped around the bodies of women whose long wet hair got tucked into white jasmine garlands. I smell the fragrance of rose beds in a courtyard kissing the roaming winds coming from the primeval forests full of mythic plants, bossed leaves, tawny furred spider stems of fern and wide plains that stretch to white horizons. My lips drink the silence of dark waters traveling through ancient bedrocks and taste the ripe mangoes pressing their juice against the bursting skins. My fingers trace the vibrant kolam patterns that weave through the famine of those old women's age.

"A language you could eat and drink
In that rich ritual of feeding"

Metaphors of History - Reddened Water Flows Clear (1991)

As I go through each passage woven by your pen of mourning, I see the piles of bodies; one up on one, the weeping of the remained , the once straight heads with pride bowing for the food and or clothes in those long queues at the refugee camps, the leaving of the land which no longer ready to belong them, the ‘nobodies’ with no land and hope in the exile , the return to the dead land where only the new signposts are set and the beggars stretch their hands to you, the unshed tears petrified in the bleeding veins of mothers, and breathless landscapes once were the grounds of harvest and prosperity.

"I didn’t know the country was not mine
Never could belong to me never could be

Aftermath-– Apocalypse '83 (1984)

I smell, I hear, I see, I feel the language that could eat and drink; the culture, the rituals, the landscapes, people, the skies and the soil that call my name. I scream as I hear the crackling flames, yawning wide open pits of hell and the sharp knives cut and slash, peeling the skin off like a rinded fruit.

In a few hours we part, with a promise to see again soon in Colombo.

Time passes through thy hand as a river, they say. Conquered the paths by the life battles, we climb on the mountains of life mysteries. Having your unpublished translated poems in hand; carrying a broken promise in the heavy heart, I walk through the years. On that hard run, we are subsidized with something exquisite; the path of self-realization. Then young as the truth, at the age of eighty six, you blossom with ‘The Life of a Poet’ again.

"I carry my maps with me on my journey
Maps of self-discovery, set up my own landmarks,
explore the past, become my own historical cartographer,
confront unfordable waterways,"

Maps of Self-Discovery – The Life of the Poet (2017)

And now you have de-coded the symbols of the hieroglyphics claiming your absolute freedom; reached the mountains of your solitary pilgrimage to plant that flag, the sign of your immortality and fame to mark the heroic images of intrepid conquest on those steep, wind-blown peaks.

As you wrote in the end, "We are all poems" which you create and read in our faces.

Nothing’s forgotten. Nothing will ever be forgotten.

Fare thee well Jean, the snow white rose from the hills!!☐

Kalpana Ambrose


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Seeing Each Other: Remembering Jean Arasanayagam (1931-2019)


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