Friday, January 22, 2016

The girl in the grey dress and white shoes

The first thing I noticed about her were her shoes. They were white patent leather, a heel of an inch or so. They were cracked and looked well-used. Her feet were at an angle that annoys me to great extent. One foot pointing straight, the other at a 45 degree angle. Her legs were thin and ordinary looking. But something about her footwear made me want to look at her face.

I was in a bus headed towards Colombo. It was a time between 8 and 8.30am, outside the Moratuwa station. She was walking in the opposite direction, in no hurry. Taking slow and somewhat clumsy steps, as if her shoes were uncomfortable.

So I looked up, at her body and then face. Her dress was a gray strapless dress that clung to her body awkwardly. Her body was like a plank. Her face...

She had short hair. Dark skin. She wasn't beautiful. But she wasn't ugly either. And yet, she was much more feminine and attractive than the transsexuals I have seen before. You look at her and you know she was a woman trapped in a man's body. You just knew. I could be wrong though, and if I am, I truly am sorry.

But I'm not writing about her because of who she is. It was her face that haunts me... And the way people reacted to her.

Her face wasn't completely void of emotion. She didn't look at all happy. But she didn't look sad either. It seemed as if she wasn't seeing the world around her. As if the people she walked past didn't exist. She looked like she wasn't just angry at the world but as if she refused to be part of it. Again, I could be wrong, and if so, I am truly sorry.

But I recognized her expression. I saw her face and immediately knew that's how I look most of the time, when I'm walking down some road. I erase the people around me, I pretend they don't exist. I focus on the ground or something in the distance, and I keep walking.

And I think this expression is a reaction to the reactions you get. As this girl walked past and the bus driver was waiting for the traffic lights to turn green, I saw how people reacted to her. And it made me so angry. I wanted to get off the bus and slap them, for being so goddamn cruel.

All of them turned back to look at her. Some of them didn't do more than that. Most, however, laughed or sneered. Most said something to whoever they were with. Most kept looking back.

I didn't hear what people said. I didn't see any of them try to reach for her breasts or ass. I didn't hear the catcalling or the crude words. But I could almost hear and see all of it, because I have gone through the same thing, for different reasons, every single day since I stopped looking like a child.

The five minute walk from home to the bus stand is mostly blank to me because I block out all of it. I just walk... And I look like I'm on a mission to kill someone, just because people, men especially, can't seem to resist the urge to say or do something when they see a female.

And what's awful is feeling so defenseless. I know females who can slap men who ogle or say something crude. I know females who will raise their voices. But not every woman can do that. Some of us can only walk away and ignore them. Some of us can't take an eye for an eye even if we want to.

And seeing that girl, I felt so sick and disgusted about this world we live in. I felt so sick that we continue to harass and abuse people and make it so difficult for some to live in this world.

Because life need not be so difficult. This world need not be so hard to live in. And if you stop staring, ogling, catcalling and generally treating people like objects to be used for your own pleasure, you can make life so much more nicer and better.

Yet, for some reason, we don't seem to be able to be better people. And so those who are at the receiving end of abuse turn into broken souls. And it's so goddamn unfair and it's so goddamn sad.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


Dear postman,
Thank you.
You didn't do anything extraordinarily nice or kind. You didn't even say much. But you gave me a reason to feel happy early in the morning.

Dear the driver and conductor of the morning bus,
Thank you for reminding me that people can be nice without expecting anything in return. Thank you for not only giving the balance of two rupees but also for offering to drop me where there wasn't even a bus stop. Thank you for giving me a reason to walk to office with a smile on my face.

Dear dude wearing too much perfume,
I wouldn't usually thank someone like you but your perfume smelled amazing. Thank you

Dear evening three-wheeler driver,
You didn't know De Silva Road. You asked me for directions. When we got to the road, you asked me if it was Silva Road I was talking about. The whole thing made me laugh. Thank you

Dear whoever is responsible for the traffic jam on New Galle Road's Moratuwa area,
Fuck you and your fucking parade. This fuck you is a combination of all 'fuck you's I've ever said. Please hold your parades when tired souls aren't on their way home.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Ho Gaana Pokuna

I easily cry but not many movies can make me cry, even if it’s just a tear or two. Ho Gaana Pokuna did make me cry and it was one of those rare movies that make you feel all these emotions. The movie is beautiful and amazing but there are a few issues I have with it.

This post contains major Ho Gaana Pokuna spoilers!!!

The plot is simple. There are so many movies like this. Someone is sent to a rural area and teaches at the village school. The villagers are at first skeptical and critical but the teacher manages to do something life-changing for the children and even the village.
In Ho Gaana Pokuna, the teacher is a female in love with the university student union rebel type. She gets the opportunity to teach at a rural village and takes on the challenge. When she gets to the village, the students don’t expect her to stay for long. No teacher has been with them for long. She introduces a morning assembly where each student gets to speak about any topic they like. At first, the principal is opposed to the idea but soon, he too realizes the importance of the morning assembly.

During these, we learn that one child doesn’t like being called Ukkung and wants to be called by his real name. Another child’s father is in prison and his mother is expecting another child. The son of the Grama Sevaka pretends to be sick on the day he has to speak at the assembly because his father has written his speech for him.
There is also a girl who is blind. She talks about the sea or the ho gaana pokuna. Her grandfather had described it to her and while she will never see the sea, she makes the others curious too. None of the kids, nor most of the villagers have seen it. All they have to compare it with is the wewa and the sky but they can’t grasp the idea of what the sea or ocean looks like. The teacher gets her boyfriend to send a picture of the sea but that’s not enough. They must see it.
So a trip is organized and the teacher takes the kids to Colombo. They play in the beach and there the film ends.

As I said before, I loved the film. It made me laugh, like literally, laugh out loud. But it also made me cry. It made me realize that there are so many things we take for granted. For us, we’ve seen the sea. We know what it’s like. But there are people who have never seen it and they can’t even understand how such a great and beautiful thing can exist.
The film is full of beautiful moments that show the innocence of children and the wonders of life.

But I had my issues with it.

When the teacher comes up with the idea to take the kids to Colombo, they face quite a few issues. The Grama Sevaka is opposed to it and since he’s the only one who owns a bus in the area, they need his help. But his wife pretends to be possessed by his father or grandfather (I can’t remember) and gets him to cooperate.
Then they find out the bus driver doesn’t have a license. So they teach him the road signs and somehow he passes the exam. He gets his license the day before the trip. To celebrate the event, he gets drunk and eats a lot of meat and falls sick on the day of the trip.
The kids are obviously disappointed. I mean, their parents got new uniforms stitched for them. But the teacher says she can drive the bus and takes the kids to Colombo. She drives a rackety bus and even manages to sing and turn around to look at the kids while driving the bus.
Sure, I understand that a film can’t be completely realistic but driving a bus can’t be easy. And you can’t just figure it out, all on your own. Right? I can’t drive so I don’t know how hard it is, but driving a bus doesn’t seem that easy.
Then the police stop them… They check her license and the kids plead with the police and the police let them go. Now I may be wrong but if I remember correctly, you need to take a separate test to drive buses. The police let her off though.

While I was telling my brother about the film, he reminded me that these little things can’t be excused, especially since it’s a children’s movie. When it comes to a children’s movie, the director needs to be careful.
The bus driver comes home drunk every night. His wife doesn’t complain. And the kids even make a joke about it. Since it’s a children’s movie, I feel that they shouldn’t have taken his drinking that lightly. And if they didn’t want to focus at all on alcoholism, they needn’t have portrayed the bus driver as a drunkard. It’s such a small thing and maybe most kids won’t think much about it but it can have a negative effect too.
Even the scene where the policemen let them go can give kids the wrong idea.
I’m not saying all children’s movies should be about teaching children a lesson in a direct way. But lessons can be taught in subtle ways. For instance, the principal hits the children but after the teacher joins the school, we don’t see such scenes. But the film makes it seem like hitting kids is nothing out of the ordinary. Sure, most of us have received a wewal paara in school but that doesn’t mean it’s okay.

And it's not like the film doesn't have its direct 'lesson learned' moments. Thanks to some government program, the school gets a piano. When the kids ask the principal what the 'big, black box' is, he tells them there's a fire-breathing dragon inside. One boy decides to find out for sure. The next day, he, along with another boy, gets hold of the keys to the music room and opens the door. He knocks on the piano but the dragon makes no sound. He looks inside and finds there is no dragon. He gets his share of wewal paara but he says that even though he was punished, he learned that there was no dragon.

So it's not like the film didn't want to carry those lesson learned moment, and these small issues made it a bit difficult for me to truly appreciate and love the movie. The only way I can describe how it felt watching the movie is as follows:

"Ho Gaana Pokuna is like... Okay, so you know how you meet someone and they are amazing? They are perfectly awesome and have the best and most interesting ideas, thoughts and opinions. And you thank your stars or whatever for making them part of your life. But then they say something incredibly stupid and you are shocked that such an amazing person can be so stupid, even if it was for a moment. And even though they continue to be as amazing and brilliant as they were, you just can't get past that one moment when they were so stupid...
Ya, that's what Ho Gaana Pokuna is like."

Despite this,
Was Ho Gaana Pokuna good: Yes!
Would I watch it again: Yes!
Should you watch it: Yes!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Playing the blame game

He leans against a wall and watches her. She ignores him. Sure, he's cute but he seems dangerous. And she doesn't know him. His friends notice him watching her. They tease him and tell him she'll only be his in his dreams. He spits on the ground and says, "she's just another whore." His friends laugh.

He is to blame.

She looks at her daughter's outfit and frowns. "Wear something else," she says. Her daughter protests, "There's nothing wrong with this outfit." "How can you walk on the road wearing such tight pants?" she asks. Her daughter goes back to her room and wears loose fitting clothes. They go to buy vegetables. She pretends she doesn't hear the men who whistle at her daughter.

She is to blame.

He holds his daughter's tiny hand tightly. He makes sure she gets to the other side of the road safely. He waits outside the gates until his daughter walks into her classroom. He gets into a bus, headed to office. A young girl in sari sits next to him. He stretches his legs so his thigh is against hers. She moves away. He crosses his arms, then, and reaches for her breast. She goes to another seat.

He is to blame.

She pretends she's not shocked to hear about the boy. She pretends she already knew he had a girlfriend, even though he is only fifteen. She nods her head as her friend tells her, "I saw them together. Seated under the frangipani tree. You wouldn't believe it, men. They were kissing." And she says, "I thank my stars everyday I don't have a daughter. Boys will be boys, can't stop that na. But girls... You need to be careful with them. You need to teach them right from wrong."

She is to blame.

He finds his son with another man. He beats them both. He swears and spits at them. He tells his wife it's time their son settled down in life. He finds a girl from a good enough family and spends a lot on the whole deal. He doesn't let his son have a say in the matter. As his son leaves with his new wife, not a smile on his face, he says, "Putha, forget all that nonsense from the past. Treat her well."

He is to blame.

She hears the phone ringing and lowers the flame of the gas cooker and walks to the phone. "Hello?" she asks. It was late in the night and she was just making a cup of tea for herself before going to bed. She hears loud breathing from the other side. "Hello," she says again. "Amma..." a broken voice says. "Duwe?" she asks. "Amma... He's hitting me, Amma. I'm coming home now." Her back stiffens. "What's that again?" "He's hitting me. He gets home late and then hits me. I can't live here anymore. I'm coming back home." She thinks for a while and then says, "Think about your future, child. And your daughter. We can give you a room here but after that what? No other man will have you no... Maybe you did something wrong. Or said something..." Her daughters says she didn't do anything. He was tired and angry about work and took it all out on her. "Just keep him happy. We all went through this. It's the curse of being a woman," she says.

She is to blame.

"Thathee, I got 2Bs and a C," she tells him. He smiles and pats her heads. "If I don't get selected to campus, I can always follow an accounting course. If I find a job in a bank..." He interrupts her. "Ah good good, duwe. But a degree and job... Why do you need any of that? No, it's a man's duty to provide for you. You are pretty also, so it won't be a problem. We'll find you a good boy and you can settle down." She opens her mouth to protest, but he says, "Now now, you are a good girl na. Listen to your Thathee. This is what's best for you."

He is to blame.

She laughs at him. She calls him names. She insults him. Makes him feel worthless. Why? Because he didn't want to drink. He doesn't get drunk like her friends' boyfriends. While they all danced and have a great time, her man sits in a corner, sipping lime juice. She feels humiliated. She looks at him and says, "God! Just have a drink. Be a man."

She is to blame. 

He looks at her stiff body. She looks so small in the coffin. People around him are loud. But all he hears is a muffled noise that seems to belong to a different world. He looks at her once-beautiful face. He feels a hand in his. It's his little brother's. The little boy starts crying. "Amma is dead," he wails, "Amma is dead." He lets go of his brother's hand and says, "Chih! What's this men. Don't cry now. Boys don't cry."

He is to blame.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Will you always remember me?

Two days ago, I made the mistake of reading Norwegian Wood right after reading Kafka on the Shore. I have read both books before but never the Kafka Sinhala translation and never two Murakami books one after the other.

One of my favorite Kafka on the Shore quotes is this:
"I want you to remember me, then I don't care if everybody else forgets."
The words are so powerful and yet, the request so simple. Norwegian Wood also has a similar quote.
"I want you always to remember me. Will you remember that I existed, and that I stood next to you here like this?"

And I'm sure so many other books also have similar quotes. Hazel and Augustus speak about something similar in The Fault in our Stars. Pudge too, in Looking for Alaska, speaks of someday remember only having forgotten. So it's not something new or never thought of before. But today, reading those words that Naoko says hit me more than ever before. Something about remembering that Miss Saeki said something very similar.

And I wondered then, if that's the purpose of life; do we spend our lives making sure we are remembered?

Look at graves. What purpose do they serve? I mean, why do we insist on having our names carved on stone so that our final place of rest is declared as ours? Don't we leave a tombstone behind or a rotting body behind because we don't want to be forgotten just yet? Why can't we all settle with ashes that get blown away? Why can't we leave this world without leaving behind something of us to remind others that we existed?

When we write about our experiences and thoughts and opinions, it could be because we don't want to forget them. But when we publish them... Then it's about other people. Sure, I write because I love writing. I share what I write because I hope that maybe someone out there will see what I'm trying to say. But I also want to be remembered. I want someone to come across my blog or Twitter account or tumblr and remember me.

And I don't want people to forget. Isn't that why I share posts on Facebook or send people 'hi, what's up?' sort of messages? Don't we all have this need to be remembered? Or at least, to not be forgotten?

What's sad isn't wanting this. It's not something we should be ashamed of. Being remembered or knowing someone remembers you makes you feel happy. So it's okay to admit that you don't want to be forgotten. Like Naoko and Miss Saeki, I too would want certain people to remember me. Maybe not for the same reasons as they did, but it would be nice if people remember me and my existence. I may not insist on being remembered by someday having a grave or tombstone but I do hope my words continue to exist somewhere, and for people to remember me through them at least.

What's sad is that we forget. We forget people and we forget memories. We constantly forgets things, not just because they aren't of any importance but because... we simply forget. And this is okay too. You can't except anyone to remember you forever. At some point, they will forget you, even for a moment.

Recently, I was thinking about my batch mates in school. It has been only four years since we left school. And yet, there are a few names I can't remember. Some I remember simply because we are friends on Facebook. It's been only four years but sometimes I struggle to remember if I ever spoke with certain people and what my friends used to be like in school.

And I've forgotten people I met in the last three years too. I can't remember them or the moments we spent together. I don't remember those memories.

I don't remember books I've read and sometimes, even if I know I have read the book, I can't remember what happens.

It's easy to forget. It's also inevitable. Just as much as people want to be remembered, they also forget. That's just how life is, but sometimes it's something we can't accept. And so we hate ourselves and other people for not remembering, for forgetting.

But what's most important is that we never demand to be remembered. And that we never promise to remember someone or something forever. Because... we should never demand for or promise the impossible.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

What parents often forget...

I don't have parents who have given me a key to the house and don't ask me where I'm going and don't care what time I get back at (they have given me a key to the house though, but I don't know where it is). I don't have parents who are okay with me coming home whenever I feel like it. I don't have parents who let me do whatever I want, come home a mess and think it's okay because it means I'm independent.

But I also don't have parents who demand to know all my friends and their phone numbers. I don't have parents who don't let me talk or meet boys or go on overnight trips. I don't have parents who go through my phone and check who I talk to. I don't have parents who force me to do something I don't like.

I love my parents. I love that they aren't strict but they still maintain parent-status and don't try to be my best buddies! Most people who see my tattoos ask me, "How did you get your parents' permission?" and they are usually surprised to hear my mother held my hand during my first tattoo. I'm glad my parents didn't force me study science or maths or even commerce. I'm glad that they supported me when I chose arts, especially when society considers arts as Plan Z. I'm glad they didn't force me to spend hours and hours studying or didn't look so disappointed when I didn't get as good results as cousins or friends. In fact, they didn't even ask what results other people got. I'm glad they let me work for a newspaper when so many others said I can find a 'better' job and I'm glad they are letting me take a year off just so I can travel and explore the world and life. I love my parents.

But there are parents that I don't like. They aren't my parents but they are my friends' parents. I remember this article written by a monk. In it, he says that parents need to give their children the freedom to make their own mistakes. We learn from our mistakes.

When parents tell us 'don't drink' or 'don't smoke' or 'pass exams' the message gets to us more if they tell us why we shouldn't drink or smoke or fail exams. And these reasons are often embedded in their own experiences. For instance, I would be willing to listen to my parents if they tell me how much they struggled in life because they didn't pass exams well and how much more they could be if they hadn't thrown away certain opportunities than if they just tell me I should study harder.

But just like they can tell us their stories and show us the way in life, we need to have our own stories. Someday, when my daughter tells me about the first boy to break her heart, I don't want to tell her that there are plenty of fish in the sea. Instead, I want to tell her about the first boy to break my heart and how I got through it and how important heartbreak can be. I need to have my own stories to tell and so it's important that my parents let me have my own experiences and memories.

My parents understand this... at least to a certain extent. But there are so many parents who don't understand this at all. They had their fun when they were our age but now, they won't let their children live life. Often, their reason is that they know what kids our age do. And it's true. We will experiment and see what it's like to be young, wild and free. We will make our mistakes. We will most probably break all those rules our parents put down for us.

But our parents need to trust us and themselves. My parents did a good job raising us. They taught us values and what's right and wrong. They made sure we understood responsibility and our duties. They taught us the value of money. And if they know they did a good job, they don't need to worry about us. They will know that no matter what we do in life, we will always know our limits. They need to trust us. And trust their parenting methods too.

I'm in my early twenties. I have, so far, lived a safe life. I don't take risks and I'm not very adventurous. But this year... I have plans. I want to travel and I want to know what life is. I want to discover myself. I want to forget the rules for a while. And with freedom comes risk and danger. So I'll need my parents to trust me and let me make my own mistakes. I'll need them to understand. And I need them to know that they don't have to worry about me, because they are pretty good parents.

Parents aren't just people who brought you to this world. They aren't just the people who provide food and shelter to you. They are people who love you and care for you. And they are people you love and depend on. But here's the key to having parents who will trust you. You need to always be honest with them. I know parents who go through their kids' phones or social networking accounts. I know parents who don't allow their kids to go out with friends, especially with friends of the opposite sex. And sometimes, not always though, this is because the parents don't trust their children.

Trust is a funny thing. You need to be trustworthy, you need to trust in others but you also need reasons to trust and be trusted. If my parents find out I've lied to them, especially about important things, I can't expect them to trust me. But likewise, I can't trust my parents if they react to honesty by imprisoning me. Trust needs to be mutual. And without trust, relationships of any kind can easily fall apart.

Children need to love their parents. They need to trust their parents. They shouldn't be scared of their parents. They shouldn't feel like prisoners of their parents.
Parents need to love their children. They need to trust their children. They need to be understanding and accepting. They shouldn't mistake fear for love or respect.

And what's most important is that children and parents need to give each other reasons to be loved and trusted.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Christmas cards and the little things in life

Christmas, for me, is all about kindness and small gestures that can give another a reason to smile. Christmas, for me, is about love and happiness and togetherness. I've always loved making cards and sending them to people I love. I've always loved the process of deciding what gifts to buy and how to wrap them.

This year, I was heading towards Christmas with a heavy heart and mind. I was lost in life and feeling quite purpose-less. So I asked my friends on Twitter and Facebook to send me their address if they would like a Christmas card. To be completely honest, this wasn't to make other people happy. It was because I needed my life to be something. I needed to keep myself busy.

So I made the cards and card-making is always fun. I made sure each card was different from the rest and made envelopes in various colors. People I had met, people I hadn't met, people I speak to a lot, people I rarely speak to; it didn't matter who was getting the card. All that mattered was that making them, deciding who got which and spending a long and hot hour in the post office pasting stamps, made me feel alive again.

I felt like shouting at the world, "look at me! I'm alive and I have something to do. I'm not wasting my days sleeping! All these people have given me a reason to be alive and do something that makes me happy!"

I expected the Christmas card project to result in a messy table, bits and pieces of paper everywhere and glitter that seemed to be glued to my skin. I expected hours spent deciding who got the cards and writing addresses on envelopes.

What I didn't expect was how happy the entire project made me feel. How happy I felt buying Christmas stamps and pasting them. How happy I felt when I heard them land at the bottom of the postbox.

But most of all, I didn't expect the happiness I felt when others received the cards. I honestly didn't think that such a simple gesture could spread so much happiness. I mean, it doesn't take long to make a card. And these weren't big cards. Yet, they were enough to make people smile.

Something else I didn't expect out of this whole card-making and card-sending deal was receiving cards from people. At no point did I ask for cards in return, but some did ask for my address. And whether they were store-bought or handmade, they made me feel like I used to as a kid, the morning of Christmas, running to the Christmas tree. Whenever I heard the postman ringing the bell, I just couldn't stop myself from checking the postbox, expecting mail.

Because in those envelopes were love and I was happy that Christmas 2015 didn't end up being a time I wasn't looking forward to. I'm so glad people gave me a reason to smile.

Sometimes we ignore the little things in life. We aim too high. We want fireworks and unicorns and rainbows. We want to spend bags of cash because it makes us feel like we have done enough. That we've done something.

And it's good to spend a lot. The five thousand that is easily spent at a good restaurant will help a poor family so much. The bags of clothes, books or dry rations given to them will be the best gift they ever receive. A dansala will feed so many hungry people. Huge or expensive gifts wrapped beautifully will make your family happy.

But so will something small. So will a packet of lunch for a hungry beggar. You can still make a poor child happy by giving her some stickers or some pencils. You can make small gifts for your family. And cards... You can always send someone a card and receive the best gift; knowing you've made someone happy.

This Christmas, I was broke. I had very little money and I just knew it won't be as fun or great as Christmas usually is. But I managed to make the most of it. And at the end of the day, it didn't matter that the gifts under the tree were small or that my room was a mess of colored paper, cardboard, glitter, glue and ribbon. None of it mattered because I was happy and I knew that I had, in someway, made other people happy too.

That's the best gift, isn't it? Happiness, with no strings attached. Happiness that will consume you fully. Happiness that you can spread among each other. Happiness.