The Art, the Magic | Daily News

The Art, the Magic

May you see a hundred springs and many more

Dearest Sybil nanda,

Did you notice the raindrops gliding down the window panes of your car as you arrived at the Lionel Wendt on 31st October 2017? Did you watch the paintings drawn by the drops of water on the glass and smile to yourself as a new story, a new series of pictures took root in your mind? As you got down from the car and walked to the entrance (where friends and family awaited your arrival), did you hear the happy music created by a group of frogs from the bushes on your right and smile even more knowing that inside, on the white walls is a portrait of their kinsman captured expertly by your brush strokes keeping us - your fans and art lovers - entertained?

I hope so. There was no way I could read what was going on in your mind though, as you stepped inside the Lionel Wendt to be kissed and hugged and greeted with wishes of ‘happy birthday.’ But one thing was certain. Your heart was brimming with joy. The sparkle in your eyes and your smile, said it all.

Having grown up reading your books ever so many moons ago in far-off Unawatuna, as a child it never occurred to me that one day I would be calling you ‘nanda’, be a frequent visitor to your quaint writer’s den in Pepiliyana, to listen to your tales of growing up in Gintota, to learn about your current friends who come to have breakfast with you every morning – the squirrels, the bulbuls and the babblers, to sit at your small round-table with the red and white checker cloth and enjoy a biscuit or a banana – (last year I was especially lucky to sit there and taste a piece of your birthday cake which you had saved for me as I could not attend your party). Receiving an invitation not just for me but for my entire family this year, to celebrate “Sybil at 90!” at the Lionel Wendt was the culmination of my dreams, dreams, which once not so long ago, when I made friends with Suttara Puncha and teased my cousin asking her ‘Kechcho akkata gaman mahansida’, I dared not imagine would one day come true.

Proving that most dreams transcend to reality when the time is right, I was lucky enough to go down on my knees and worship you on your 90th birthday, have you hold my hand and smile and say my name in your gentle voice and apologize, ‘We don’t have a chief guest today’. Of course, it was alright not to have a chief guest. Who would want a chief guest when you are there!

It was lovely to have you asking me if I saw your newest paintings - you seemed so eager that all of us saw them. I smiled. It’s true. You are still a child even on the day you turned 90! I left your side then, and walked to the first painting. And as I did so, noticed the colorful personalities who were present - who seem to be vying with your equally colorful paintings for the attention of the lesser mortals like me. Among them I recognized veteran painter S.H Sarath, Prof.Nimal de Silva, Anura de Silva and Givantha Arthasad (who looked like my father’s twin). I saw your daughter Kusala Wettasinghe was in the audience, and your granddaughter as well as your son, Vinod Wettasinghe.

Then I turned towards the paintings and was mesmerized by the vibrant colours, the expressions on the figures, the kaleidoscope of emotions each painting evoked. I laughed out loud when I saw the doleful expression on the face of a man who reclined in a chair while his concerned wife hovered over him. Even though there was no caption for this painting it was easy to see the man was in trouble of some sort, perhaps with his wife. He had on his face the expression of all men when they realize something was amiss.

From laughter to peace and serenity. The paintings depicting the life of the Lord Buddha painted during 2016 – 2017 brought back memories of childhood lessons in Buddhism. Today, six days after I saw them, all I have to do is close my eyes to see them again, the beautiful paintings of Queen Mahamaya’s dream, Prince Siddhartha taking his first steps on the lotus flowers, the sorrow on Channa’s face as he watches his master cut his hair on the night of the great renunciation, and the peaceful look on the faces of the five ascetics as they listen to the Buddha’s first sermon.

Truth be told, I had walked into the Lionel Wendt hoping to meet my childhood buddies again. I hoped to say Hi to Puncha, the mischievous umbrella thief, the overweight Appu and Bappu and the enormous kavum. I did not see them on the walls but – they were there nevertheless on the covers of the books on one side of the room, and so, I was not disappointed. It felt good to say hello to them and then move on to the new paintings, to make new friends.

The weather gods did not permit me to stay until the end of your 90th birthday celebrations, Sybil nanda. But even as the raindrops soaked into me as I left the Lionel Wendt I knew I had lived a chapter in my autobiography (one day should I write it) by being with you on this memorable day.

To borrow the phrase my father wrote in the visitors’ book that day, ‘Jived, Sharad Shatam’. ‘May you see a hundred springs’ and many more.

[email protected] 


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