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A self-indulgent rationale

I found when I was continuing with the series on ‘Travels with Kithsiri’ that the material I had with me on this new computer ran out suddenly, and I will only be able to resume the series when I am back in Colombo, perhaps only when my old computer is restored to me.

I wondered then as to whether I should worry about continuing with posts of this blog, for I realize that very few people look at it. But, apart from the fact that these posts help with the books about memory that I keep producing in these days of coronavirus, I would also like to fulfil the commitment I made to myself when restrictions began. This was to provide reading material of different sorts in the two Facebook pages I was responsible for, as well as my two blogs. And while clearly the world now seems ready to move on, I feel it would be good discipline to continue with this endeavor for the first thousand days of coronavirus. Assuming things are clearly better then, I will relax, but until that day, let me enter once more unto the breach, with a new series. But, having failed to post yesterday, since I woke on a houseboat where there was no internet, I thought I would for the next week or two confine this post to every other day.

Over half a century ago, when I was learning French, I read a collection of stories published by Penguin which carried the original French text in parallel with an English one. This was supposed to help students of the language but I cannot recall spending much time on trying to translate without looking at the English and then using it to check if I had understood.

I had not thought about the book for years until I came across a copy in Roshanara and wondered whether that was the copy I had read all those years ago. But it clearly was not, for its publication date was 1975 and the price was given in decimal currency, so what I had read before going to Oxford was an earlier edition.

Though I had not thought about the book for years, I did have the fondest of memories about the first story in the collection, by Alain Robbe-Grillet, which I thought the epitome of what a tone poem should be. But looking up what the term refers to, I find it is used rather about music, such as for instance Debussy’s ‘Afternoon of a Faun’. And when talking about prose, the term used in a prose poem, whereas to me what Robbe-Grillet produced in this short story, ‘La Plage’, ‘ The Beach’, was of a genre which I saw too in Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Waves’ and which I tried in those distant days of childhood to reproduce. One such effort was published in the College Magazine, and though no one I think understood what I was trying to do, my efforts at this stage were sanctified since I had just got an Open Exhibition to Oxford at the age of 16. This seemed incredible to my peers and the authorities, and it still seems incredible to me, not that I do not think I deserved it, but because it seems to me now sheer effrontery to have tried.

What I thought was a tone poem in prose was something that used language rhythmically, often with repetition that reinforced a description, to create a scene not necessarily of beauty but of memorability. The prose had to be rhythmical, which is something I have always thought important, and which perhaps led to what I feel is the most telling comment even about serious political papers I wrote, that they were always elegant.

The first picture here is of Alain Robbe-Grillet, but the next is a taste of what this series will really be about, sunrise over the lake behind the first hotel I stayed in Alephuza, an instance of where the new name is more melodious than the old one, Aleppey.

Rajiva Wijesinha

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