There are some moments in life you lucidly remember, when the gears of cause and action in a chaotic universe turn, something clicks into place, and your life changes forever. If you are lucky—like I was—the changes it brings about can be good and profound.

Somewhere in late ’90s I was a teenager trying to traverse self-expression, while trying to balance creative life and …life. It was not a fight I felt was going my way. In one such humid evening, I found myself sitting in the main hall of our school with a few friends, watching a ‘stage drama’—which is what a traveling theater production is called locally—named “ගුරු තරුව”.

Looking back, I remember the play was introduced as a semi-documentary, with a plot vaguely similar to Dead Poets Society. While the plot was straight forward with a sprinkling of sociopolitical commentary, the play was a celebration of literature, arts, folk songs, etc. through and through. It was full of songs, dance, and recitals referring to works ranging from local folk songs, classical poems to translations of Chief Seattle’s speech, and foreign literature.

The punch came, with a subtle happy ambiance music. A character of a student recited a passage from a masterful translation of Konstantin Paustovsky’s “The Golden Rose”.

“ගෙවෙන සෑම නිමේෂයක්, නොසිතා බිණූ වදනක්, හෙලූ බැල්මක්, නොදැනෙන සේ ගැහෙන මිනිස් හද ගැස්මක්, පොප්ලර් ගසකින් පතිත වන මටලු රේණුවක්, ගෙදිගු විලෙක දිලිසෙන තරු කිරණ කණිකාවක්, මේ සියල්ලම රන් සුණු ය. ලේඛකයින් වන අපි චිරාත් කාලයක් යටි හිතෙන් මෙවැනි අනන්ත අප්‍රමාණ රන් සුණු අවුලමු. අවුලා දිනෙක ඒවා ගෙන එකට තලා අපගේම රන් රෝස මලක් නිමවනතෙක් තැන්පත්කොට තබාගෙන සිටිමු. ඒ රන් රෝස මල කථාන්තරයක්, නවකථාවක්, හෝ නැතහොත් කවක් විය හැකි ය. සාහිත ශ්‍රොතස උපදින්නේ මේ අගය නොමිණිය හැකි රන් සුණුවලිනි.”

In other words, of all the places I could be that time and day, I got to experience an actor read from the script of a play written by playwright/master actor Jayalath Manorathna, paraphrasing a passage from a book by poet/writer Ariyawansha Ranaweera, which was itself a translation of a book by writer Konstantin Paustovsky, which in turn was referring to a journal entry of an unnamed writer who heard the story of a Paris dust sweeper named Jean Erneste Chamette from a jeweler.

By experiencing that recital, I was deeply moved. At the time, I did not know what that book was, but I immediately wanted it in my life. Until I found the book, all I had to go with was the few words I recalled. Luckily, the play was semi-documentary and mentioned what the book was. Following that day, I frequented bookshops until I found a copy of that book, ultimately by chance, and the rest is my personal history.

For those who do not read Sinhala, here is the paraphrasing from the original writing:

“Every minute, every chance word and glance, every thought—profound or flippant—the imperceptible beat of the human heart, and, by the same token, the fluff dropping from the poplar, the starlight gleaming in a pool—all are grains of gold dust. Over the years, we writers subconsciously collect millions of these tiny grains and keep them stored away until they form a mould out of which we shape our own particular golden rose—a story, novel, or poem. From these precious particles a stream of literature is born.”

To say the least, this was the instance that set me firmly in the path of literature and writing. I used to write before, but this was the confluence that set me on my current path in terms of art/literature. It all came about thanks to Mr. Jayalath Manorathna. Mr. Manorathna had made his golden rose and it did bring about happiness to me.

 


 

I am not going to repeat what had already been said about him and what will be said in the coming days—more eloquently and by far more eminent people. I do not have to remind Sri Lankans that he was one of the finest actors our country ever produced.

This note is very personal. I aim to be humble. To me, Jayalath Manorathna was a great teacher (“ගුරු තරුව”) that I never had. If there is nothing else, I want to tell that there is at least one life he influenced for the better through his art.

I do, in fact know that I am not the only one. A couple of those friends I mentioned in the beginning actually called me today. One called me in the morning to break the news and share the sorrow. Mr. Manorathna was a celebrity, and we have never met him in person. But, the news of his passing felt like if someone we knew well had gone far away, never to come back. Another friend just finished a long phone call where we were reminiscing about old times and that particular show of the play.

I could go on, but what more can I say? Mr. Manorathna has left, he will not be back. I feel profoundly of the utter finality of his passing. I can only be thankful that I, in this immense chaotic span of space and time, got to experience his work and enjoy them. This too, shall shine among my grains of gold dust.