Midweek Review

SUDO SUDU: Immortal love
The Classic of poet-monk Kayes

by Premil Ratnayake
Kayes was the first Sinhala poet in the turbulent war years to experiment with the modern Sinhala verse of that romantic Colombo Period and evolve a new medium which injected spoken-Sinhala, the simple idiom and phraseology of the village, into rhythmic verse, a sort of prose-poem. Taking the risk of being castigated a practitioner of vers libre and anti-prosodic, he nevertheless produced, as a result of the experiment, the classic poem ‘Sudo Sudu’, a tale of immortal love which evoked the pathos of a Greek tragedy though not negative.

‘Sudo Sudu’ is not nada, nothingness, or a negative tragedy. The lover dies but the love does not die. The love continues to live in the woman and the other man of the woman. The man who first loved and conquered leaves them and dies but not before he has seen them in love and blessed them inwardly, gratified in his own heart. This is immortal love if there is such a thing at all. Kayes wrote "Sudo Sudu" when he was a monk, Venerable Kalalelle Ananda Sagara. His initials, K.A.S., he conjoined and gave himself the pseudonym, ‘Kayes’. The pen-name itself reflects the creative and poetic genius of the writer. Before he gets down to the storytelling in ‘Sudo Sudu’, Kayes makes the pithy but insightful comment: The artist is the creator of beautiful things; to reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.. Kayes hides in his robes and tells his story in the most dramatically fluid and lucid manner, using commonly used language while barely maintaining the metre. He succeeds in his effort to be "disguised": it would have been utterly prosaic and unaesthetic had he signed ‘Sudo Sudu’ under Ven. Kalalelle Ananda Sagara Thera. He had authored many other literary works—not poems—under his clerical name that are not well known. Kayes produced few other books of poetry but "Sudo Sudu’ is indisputably his major work.

History is full of artefacts whose creators are unknown. It was held by some historians that the anonymity of those artists was self-imposed. Historians and other art critics maintain that like Kayes notes, the artists wished to remain "concealed" behind their work. Krishnamurti was one who favoured anonymity in work of art perhaps because his sageness demanded that man must be selfless to attain supreme knowledge or wisdom. Here selflessness is regarded to mean the renunciation of the "I" and therefore the artist who creates a work of beautiful art should only expose the art and melt into oblivion. You cannot help but argue there is some self-deprivation in this philosophy which a true artist might not accept. The artist has turned out something beautiful, he has done it, why should he not say he has done it and sign it? If there is a self-denial involved why should he display his work of art at all? Would it not be better for him to keep his creation inside him unexposed or unexpressed like his ‘self?’ Michelangelo ran into trouble once because he had not signed a piece of marble he had sculpted. There were other sculptors in Florence who laid claims on the extraordinary work. Michelangelo was distressed when he heard it. He quickly went over to the marble and put his name on it.

An artist would not be averse to claim his work if it were original, unless there are other compelling circumstances to remain anonymous. Perhaps in the early days kings, royals or even Popes may have brought extreme pressure on artists to refrain from signing the work. There had been monarchs or stately lords who forced artists to paint or sculpt for their own glory and make them immortal. There have been no publicised instances where kings of that kind had put their names on to work done by others. But this piracy has been practised atrociously in contemporary literature. Many men of power, wealth and influence have published works of literature done by shadow-writers under their authorship.

Kalalelle Ananda Sagara hid himself behind Kayes when he produced ‘Sudo Sudu’. Kayes was only a pseudonym that served the poet well in his production. The poet-monk was not seeking anonymity. ‘Sudo Sudu’ would be regarded by generations to come as the work of Kayes—not Kalalaile Ananda Sagara. Sudo Sudu’s romance is both complex and tragic. The story moves around only three characters—the love triangle which is a historical repetition, as it were, of the inevitable doom of love—in a fictitious village named Katuroda. The first verse of the book, describing the little hamlet and its environs, is a classic. Two men, one rich and the other poor, are in love with the same village damsel who is also poor. They grow up together in the village playing together and the girl, Heen Menike adores them both. When the boys, Adiri, the poor one, and Bandara, the rich one, fight over her, Heen Menike settles the dispute promising to be wife to both: "Don’t you both belong to me?" The boys seem satisfied with the girl’s answer.

Their love for her is so great and intense, even abnormal, that they do not resent her loving both of them at the same time. There is no possessive love so we have to regard that love as something that transcends human nature, its foibles and limitations and rises above human frailties of jealousy, selfishness and passion. A kind of divine love. It may not be plausible in a love that is exclusively sex-oriented. Whatever the romantics might say to the contrary, sex is the basic element of love between man and woman. It would be preposterous to suggest that there can be sexless love.

Adiri, the hard-working farmer is now married to Heen Menike. They co-produce a son but tragically the child is blind. But this misfortune does not diminish their love for each other and their child. Kayes turns out some poignant poetry describing the child’s quaint dark world in his conversation with the grieving mother. It is superlative poetry: "Oh, mother, I can smell the sweet smell of the flowers but I cannot see them. I feel warmth around me but I cannot see what they call light".

Meanwhile Bandara who lost his love to Adiri lives, like the artist, lost in the background. He is not resentful, not envious or chagrined, and you are allowed to conjecture he is brooding over his love, like a sadhu meditating. Then Adiri goes down with malaria. He cannot work the field any more. But he knows he cannot just sulk at home. He must do something to sustain his wife and child. It was war time and he joins the army. They send him to Singapore. Adiri seems to be gone indefinitely. He seems to melt away too. Years roll by but there is no news of Adiri. In the village there is talk that Adiri is dead. Bandara is aware that Adiri is not around to look after his family. He enters their lives quite surreptitiously at first, showering love on the poor blind child. After some time he makes his desire known to make Heen Menike his wife. Bandara’s love was always alive. It is as if he should by some unconscious human duty now step in and rescue his friend’s family in which was his immortal love. He tells Heen Menike to take her own time to decide. She decides after some more years have elapsed. They marry and she goes with her child to live in her new husband’s affluent home. Yes, Heen Menike predicted right. She became wife to both her child lovers.

Then suddenly, Adiri turns up. He returns to the village unannounced, almost stealthily. He learns what has happened to his family and he is grateful and indeed happy that his old friend and rival-in-love Bandara is looking after them. There is no acrimony. Adiri is then struck down again with disease. He is languishing in a hut awaiting death.

Kayes’ sketching of Adiri’s last haunting dialogue with death is memorable. Death whispers in his ear. "Oh, lover. I was with you always. I waited with you wherever you went, wherever you slept. Now do embrace me." Adiri answers. "Oh, Death, I have done nothing to you, except ill treat you. Are you cross with me? Before I could come to you, you have come to me, the ingrate." Adiri dies. His love lives in the tomb built in front of Bandara’s house. Heen Menike, Bandara and the blind child worship it every evening.

‘Sudo Sudu’ has no direct English equivalent. It is a lyrical term employed in the Sinhala language which typifies a Sinhala cultural nuance. Indirectly put into English it means sublimely pure, ideal, something perfect, immaculate. The reference here is to the great love that enveloped Adiri, Bandara and Heen Menike.

Kayes, when he was still Ven. Kalalelle Ananda Sagara, taught at Ananda College shortly after the war years. Despite his clerical garb he was a stern teacher, a martinet. He took both English and Sinhala lessons. To his Sinhala class he prescribed two of his poetry books, "Mal Hami" and "Kalakanniya." They were read aloud in the class by the students and the reverend monk, who though in yellow robe had the gait of an English gentleman in tuxedo (in the English class he insisted on the British accent and diction), explained the verses very lucidly breaking into English. The students seemed avidly interested in the modern Sinhala verse simply articulated by Kayes. Nobody knew who Kayes really was. For a moment the students did not seem to be too curious about the poet’s identity. Kayes was just an author like any other. Ironically he never prescribed ‘Sudo Sudu’ for the class. Even at Ananda then, Victorian mores prevailed with English, given a place of pride, and, perhaps Ananda Sagara Hamuduruwo thought that a love story like in ‘Sudo Sudu’ was too vulnerable and would have courted the displeasure of pedantic teachers and purists at school and also outraged conservative parents. But some students by now fired by Kayes’s poetry were reading ‘Sudo Sudu’ outside the class room, almost stealthily. It was inevitable that they soon stumbled on the identity of the monk-poet. Sagara Hamuduruwo never unmasked himself, maintaining the concealment of the artist. There was also a certain aesthetic aura in that anonymity. But finally the students, the Kayes fans, confronted him. The self-effacing monk just smiled indulgently. There was no yes or no.

Kayes was a radical with Leftist leanings but he kept his political views to himself as a very private affair. In those orthodox days it was blasphemous for a teacher to dabble in politics. Kayes regularly contributed his poems, more esoteric and philosophically contemplative now, in total contrast to the simple and light verses in ‘Sudo Sudu’ to the monthly magazine of poetry, Dedunna edited by poet P. B. Alwis Perera. Kayes and Alwis Perera were intimate friends. They brought out a book of poetry written together—correspondence between Kayes and Sarojini (Alwis Perera’s pen-name ).

Kayes left Ananda and gave up his robes and took to active politics of the Left. He took the lay name Sagara Palansuriya. He joined Phillip Gunawardena. In the landmark general election of 1956 Kayes contested and won the Horana seat as a candidate of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, the coalition led by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and Phillip Gunawardena.