Chaminda and I arrived at Monkey’s Tale in Batticaloa late last Tuesday afternoon. We took the train from Colombo sweltering across the country toward an uncertain assignation on the east coast. The gate was chained and locked when the tuktuk from the train station dropped us. It was overcast and drizzling. We sat on our bags curbside at Monkey’s Tale considering options. In twenty years of roaming the Garden Path, this had never happened before, especially not in beloved Batti. Always a first never a last, they say. Lucky Kula’s house is near by on Pioneer Road. Kula is artist-in-tuition emeritus of the Monkey’s Tale Centre and an eminence hereabouts. We will get a key from him but first I scribble some proverbs that occurred en passage crossing the country.
a temple without a priest
soon crumbles to ruin
nothing colder than the dead
ashes of a distant past
you can only swat
one fly at a time
dreams kill surer
before darkness brings defeat
dream another dream
Kula stands smiling by his gate under the banyan tree, small boys cricketing about in the dusty roadside pitch. He keeps a key to Monkey’s Tale even though his duties as pusari (temple priest) are no longer required. I’m sure he will do what he must to keep the world turning via telepathic transmission through his art. The entire dream of the Garden now hangs suspended in uncertainty like the blowup globe of the world that used to swing from the timeless mango tree in front of the center, graced anew each day with a fresh garland of hibiscus blossoms.
“Where’s the old world, Kula?” I ask.
“In the closet,” he says.
“May I see?”
He takes me to the back storage room and produces a deflated balloon, the beautiful blue world that once bobbed proudly in the mango breeze, now a shrivelled, forsaken and forlorn sack.
“Slow leak,” says. Kula “Couldn’t keep it up. No big bang. No earth-shattering explosion. Just an invisible leak somewhere we couldn’t find.” He shrugs and smiles
“But didn’t we buy a spare world a while ago to replace this one in the event of just such a catastrophe? Where’s that?”
He gestures to a corner shelf above the closet. There in the gloom, a bit grimy but otherwise serviceable, a spare globe, fully inflated, ready to go.
Chaminda and I baptize the new world that night and set it swinging in the cradle. Next morning he paints the cradle black and I dress the baby with scarlet hibiscus blossoms bejeweled with dew. This world, unlike the old one, is transparent. Now that we can see through it maybe we can see it through.
Batticaloa, Sri Lanka
July 8 / 2015