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The poem Neruda never wrote



In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Island, film maker Asoka Handagama shares the story behind his latest film- Alborada (The Dawning of the Day) inspired by the celebrated poet Pablo Neruda’s stay here as the Chilean Consul. The film is to be internationally premiered at the 34th edition of the Tokyo International Film Festival opening on October 30.

by Randima Attygalle

It is the year 1929. Young Chilean poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda whose fame preceded him arrives in the British-occupied Ceylon as the Chilean Consul. By then Neruda, had already become an international literary celebrity. His work, Twenty Love Poems and Song of Despair was among the bestselling books of poetry in the 20th century. He was called ‘the poet of the people, the oppressed and the forgotten.’

The activist-Consul arrives in Ceylon, barely 25 and empty-handed except for his memory of the disengaged relationship with his former Burmese lover, Josie Bliss. She was obsessively devoted to Neruda and possessed by an overwhelming jealousy. Neruda who called Josie ‘a love terrorist’ and ‘a species of Burmese Panther’ would document in his memoir: (completed shortly before his death in 1973) ‘Sometimes a light would wake me, a ghost moving on the other side of the mosquito net. It was Josie, flimsily dressed in white, brandishing her long, sharp knife. It was she, walking round and round my bed, for hours at a time, without quite making up her mind to kill me. When you die, she used to say to me, my fears will end.’

While his ‘Bliss’ was turning into a taunting jealousy, Neruda receives a cable from Santiago informing him of his immediate transfer to Ceylon. Welcoming his emancipation from his lover, Neruda settles in a beach-front cottage in Wellawatte and is taken care of by a man servant.

He attempts to bury his memories in the vast tropical shores and takes refuge in an atmosphere of solitude he creates for himself. In his memoir is a chapter dedicated to his stay in Ceylon titled Luminous Solitude where he writes: ‘each morning I was overpowered by the miracle of newly cleansed nature.’

Neruda was soon found in the artistic inner circles of Colombo. He was acquainted with Lionel Wendt and George Keyt. The young Chilean poet had a bevy of female admirers whom he called ‘dusky and golden girls of Boer, English and Dravidian blood.’ They bedded him ‘sportingly, asking for nothing in return,’ as he documents.

The young diplomat was infatuated with a Tamil woman of a low caste who came every day at dawn to clean his outdoor latrine. He found her to be the most beautiful woman he had seen in Ceylon. To win her attention, Neruda left her gifts of fruit or silk on the path leading to the latrine, but she took no notice of them. One day he gripped her by the wrist and stared into her eyes. ‘Unsmiling, she let herself be led away and soon was naked in my bed. Her waist, so very slim, her full hips, the brimming cups of her breasts made her like one of the thousand-year-old sculptures from the south of India. … She kept her eyes wide open all the while, completely unresponsive. She was right to despise me. The experience was never repeated.’

The act became a subject of international scrutiny in later years, even prompting a reassessment of the Nobel Laureate’s merit. Neruda who was celebrated as ‘the greatest poet in the 20th century in any language’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez was even labeled a ‘rapist’. Activists challenged his documentation of ‘she let herself be led away’ as a blatant lie. The decision to rename Chile’s busiest Santiago International Airport after Neruda was met with outrage from human rights activists who argued that the honour was inappropriate for a man who admitted to rape in his own memoirs.

“Although there are many accounts of Neruda’s life portrayed in fiction and film, this part of the story is often carefully left out. Though his poems about love outwardly sound romantic, they hide within them the eroticization and objectification of women and particularly, women of colour,” reflects the film-maker Asoka Handagama whose latest film Alborada (The Dawning of the Day) is an elaboration of Neruda’s controversial sexual assault.

The film which is to hold its world premiere in Tokyo (Oct. 30 – Nov. 8) is a fictionalized account of Neruda’s stay in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) from 1929 to 1931 as the Chilean Consul. The film explores the psychological and the emotional factors behind Neruda’s attraction to a woman bound by her caste: a woman considered to be ‘untouchable’, unknown to her playing a part in a bizarre fantasy that ended in a sexual assault.

A fan of Neruda’s poetry, Handagama found the poet’s mixed element of art and controversy a tempting subject for a film script. The script which was inspired by Neruda’s Memoirs is a fruit of 10 years of research on the poet. Handagama left his position as a Deputy Governor of the Central Bank three years before his formal retirement age to complete what he calls his ‘dream film.’

A rebel himself with his cinematic expression, Handagama intrepidly unearths the famed poet’s often interred infamous chapter in what he calls an ‘ironic act.’ “It is ironic that an Asian film-maker, coming from a so called restrained cultural landscape is throwing light on Neruda’s sexual antics when all the while Western cinema makers and fiction writers chose to leave them out in the exposition of him,” smiles Handagama.

Reference to Neruda’s Burmese lover Josie Bliss in his poetry is plenty although she is widely regarded as a figment of the poet’s imagination, notes the film maker. “The depiction of her as a perceived threat, a desire and barbarity in his poem Widower’s Tango, combined with his confession show Neruda’s complicated relationship with women and race.” However, no poem of Neruda’s alludes to the ‘untouchable woman’ by whom he was smitten, despite being described as the ‘most beautiful Ceylonese woman’ or one resembling a ‘thousand-year-old sculpture’ from South India. Handagama’s tagline for his film, The poem Neruda never wrote validates this exclusion. It is also an allegorical reminder of the poet’s element which many tended to discount.

Alborada reinvents the rustic west coast of the island Neruda saw in the 1930s. This was no easy task says its creator. “We had to recreate Wellawatta of his time and this was not possible within Colombo due to the changing skyline. We set it up in Nonagama and in Ranminithenna Tele-Cinema Village.”

Lending a cinematic interpretation to an isolated incident at home which is unfamiliar to the authentic Sri Lankan film print, Alborada is to be a refreshing new experience for the local audience. The film also hopes to spur a public discourse, says its director. Starring Spanish actor Luis J Romero as Neruda and French actress Anne Solene Hatte as Josie, the dialogues are in English with Sinhala and Tamil subtitles. The film also debuts several artistes. The main cast comprises Rithika Kodithuwakku (Tamil woman), Malcolm Machado (Neruda’s man servant), Dominic Keller (Lionel Wendt), Nimaya Harris (Patsy), Thusitha Laknath, Kaushalya Mendis, Samantha Balasuriya, Kasun Perera and Kanchana Nandani. Edited by Ravindra Guruge, the film is produced by H.D. Premasiri.

The Tokyo International Film Festival (TokyoIFF) which will feature Alborada is among the invited films for its ‘international competition’ which is the highlight of the festival. Multi-award winning French screen and stage actress Isabelle Huppert will chair the competition jury. This year’s theme of TokyoIFF is ‘Crossing Borders’. “There are plenty of international film festivals today. But only 14 of them are regarded as ‘A-Grade film festivals. TokyoIFF is one of them and the only Asian festival to get this recognition so far,” remarks Handagama. This year’s festival will be opened with the world premiere of Clint Eastwood’s latest film Cry Macho.

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Define your style with cargo pants



You are unlikely to miss someone wearing cargo pants in a crowd of people. Cargo pants are loose or baggy pants with several large pockets originally designed for outdoor activities and rough work routines.During the World War era, military uniforms were needed to allow soldiers to carry more personal belongings and amour, hence the need for an outfit with a lot of deep pockets, ‘cargo’ pants.

The pockets at the side of the pants are what distinguish them from other pants as well as the quick-drying synthetic cotton material.

Other names include cargo trousers, combat pants or combat trousers. They come in different sizes and shapes. The mantra of wearing these pants is ‘as long as the waist fits, the rest does not matter’.

However, there are several types including jogger pants, which like any other cargo pants contain numerous pockets, but some of these pockets are just decorative, not functional.

Slim-fit cargo pants are designed to be fitting and are tapered at the ankle, while EMT ones are loose since they are designed for comfort and durability.

Other types include tactical, denim, hiking and high-end cargo pants.

Gents can achieve a casual official look with a polo shirt and slim-fit cargo pants. The other types match well with a t-shirt, fitting or oversized, and can give a ‘hot’ casual outfit.

In Kenya, the prices vary depending on where you want to buy your clothes. If you are ordering them locally from Kenyan online sites, be ready to part with Sh1,500 to Sh2,500.Cargo pants have made major comeback among the fashion conscious.

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Life style

Corridors of Time : Artistic narratives of Heritage and Nature



Royden Gibbs and Dillai Joseph Rodrigo inspire a spirit of conservation to aid efforts of WNPS.

Experience the captivating beauty of Sri Lanka’s heritage and nature through the exquisite fine art of Royden Gibbs and Dillai Joseph Rodrigo in the upcoming exhibition, “Corridors of Time.” This remarkable showcase promises to transport art enthusiasts on a journey through time, archaeology, architecture, history, human form and culture, with an exploration of the intricate narratives that bind heritage and nature in this enchanting island nation.

The “Corridors of Time” exhibition will be held at the Harold Peiris Gallery, located in the heart of Colombo. The grand opening is scheduled for 2nd November 2023, and the exhibition will run until 5th November 2023. Art enthusiasts, collectors, and anyone with an appreciation for the beauty of Sri Lanka and its cultural heritage are encouraged to attend. Visitors will have the opportunity to engage with Royden Gibbs and Dillai Joseph Rodrigo, gaining insights into their creative processes and the inspirations behind their exhibits.

The “Corridors of Time” exhibition is a collaboration between two visionary artists, Royden Gibbs and Dillai Joseph Rodrigo. This unique partnership brings together their distinctive artistic styles, blending contemporary interpretations with deep-rooted Sri Lankan traditions. Their artistry harmoniously converges to depict the rich tapestry of Sri Lanka’s heritage and the awe-inspiring beauty of its natural landscapes.

Royden Gibbs, a Sri Lankan artist, exhibited locally and internationally and is celebrated for his mastery of intricate details and subject matter, showcases his profound connection to Sri Lanka’s cultural heritage in this exhibition. Through his paintings, Royden captures the essence of ancient temples, historical sites, and traditional rituals, inviting viewers to delve into the heart of Sri Lanka’s past.

This one-of-a-kind exhibition will showcase Royden Gibbs finest, unseen works. He is renowned as one of Sri Lanka’s top watercolorists, who also works in diverse mediums, receiving well-deserved awards and recognition.

Several structures painted by Royden have regrettably ceased to exist at present. These artworks hold significant historical value, and their recognition has been duly acknowledged by the esteemed institution, the Post Graduate Institute of Archaeology. Royden’s use of watercolour and acrylic brings vibrancy, drawing inspiration from light. Capturing essence, this shift expands the creative palette.

Dillai ‘s ethos fosters a renewed connection with nature, beautifully conveyed through her paintings, which inspire a profound love for the natural world. Her bold use of colours and innovative techniques breathe life into her work. Dillai discovers the extraordinary in everyday scenes, employing palette knives and textures to emphasise and exaggerate her unique perspective.

“Art has the power to evoke emotions, provoke thoughts, and inspire action,” says Royden Gibbs. “Through ”Corridors of Time”, we hope to ignite a sense of pride and responsibility among our audience, urging them to protect the cultural and natural treasures that make Sri Lanka so extraordinary.” Each piece tells a story, inviting viewers to embark on a journey of discovery.

“We believe that art should not only be admired but also understood,” says Dillai. “Through our conversations with visitors, we hope to foster a deeper connection between our art and the stories we aim to tell.”

Fifty percent of proceeds from the exhibition will be dedicated towards conservation efforts driven by The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS), the third oldest non-governmental organisation of its kind in the world, and the oldest conservation body in Sri Lanka. With a heritage spanning over 129 years, the WNPS is deeply intertwined with the rich natural history of this captivating island nation and continues to work alongside communities to safeguard the unmatched beauty and diversity it offers even today.

“Art is universal; it transcends the power of the written word and serve as a powerful medium that drives conservation. We are confident that these outstanding portrayals of our natural world will communicate the importance of conserving these vibrant and life-giving resources and help us create new avenues to protect them for the posterity of future generations,” stated Jehan CanagaRetna, the President of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society.

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Whipping up the best cakes in town!



It’s the creative aspect of cake making that attracted me to the cake world. I have always enjoyed being creative and liked using my hands to make things said Buddika Sri Nissanka Fernando

She is known for her commitment to high quality cakes with innovative designs and ethically sourced ingredients . Her cakes are also renowned for their pretty designs that are elegant and understated with an emphasis on skilled craftsmanship and most importantly luxuriously delicious. Dedication to perfection, good taste and understanding of what people want and the skills to translate tingredients to sugar are her trademark.

Q Tell us about your background and why you started ?

A I come from a family where cooking and baking have always been a big part of our lives. My father inspired my love for baking, and we often spent quality time experimenting with new dishes and perfecting our baking skills. This passion eventually led me to start my own journey in the world of cake making.

Q What is your area of speciality?

A My specialty lies in creating custom-designed cakes for special occasions, especially weddings. I love the challenge of turning a couple’s vision into a delicious and visually stunning cake that adds a magical touch to their celebration.

Q Where did you get your inspiration and idea from?

A My inspiration primarily comes from my family, especially my father, who instilled in me a deep appreciation for the art of baking. Additionally, I draw inspiration from nature, art, and current trends in the culinary world, which help me come up with unique cake designs and flavours.


Q What do you find the most challenging aspects of cake making?

A The most challenging aspect of cake making, in my opinion, is achieving perfection in both taste and aesthetics. Balancing the flavours and textures while creating intricate designs can be quite demanding, but it’s also what makes the art of cake-making so rewarding.

Q Which cake is your favourite and/or your preference?

A It’s tough to pick a favourite because each and every cake I create holds a special place in my heart. However, if I had to choose, I’d say I have a soft spot for classic vanilla bean sponge cakes with fresh fruit fillings. They’re timeless and universally loved.

Q How has your journey been since then until now?

A My journey in cake making has been incredibly fulfilling. I started as a hobby and gradually turned my passion into a profession. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of creating cakes for numerous weddings and special events, and the positive feedback from my clients has been a driving force in my career.

Q What is the hardest thing about being a cake maker?

A The most challenging aspect of being a cake maker is managing the pressure that comes with creating something so significant for someone’s special day. The expectations are high, and any mishaps can be devastating. It’s a constant quest for perfection.

Q How do you stay up to date with the latest trends?

A To follow trends with the latest cake trends, I follow industry blogs and social media accounts, and network with fellow cake artistes. I also experiment with new flavours and designs to keep my skills fresh and innovative.

Q Cakes for weddings? What are your preferences for the magical making?

A When it comes to creating wedding cakes, I prefer to work closely with the couple to understand their vision and style. I love incorporating personal touches into the cake design, such as elements from their love story or cultural traditions. It’s all about making their day truly magical and memorable.

Q Any cake disaster stories?

A One memorable cake disaster story involved creating a multi-tiered cake for an outdoor wedding on a scorching hot day. Despite our best efforts, the room temperature soared, causing the cake tiers to shift and the fondant to droop. It was a frantic race to rescue the cake, and we had to do some last-minute repairs. Thankfully, it all worked out in the end, but it was a nerve-wracking experience.

Q What are new wedding cake trends that you have seen in 2023 in terms of cake designs and flavours?

A In 2023, we’ve seen a trend toward minimalist and elegant cake designs with a focus on natural elements like floral and botanical motifs. Couples are opting for unique flavour combinations, such as vanilla, and lemon, and experimenting with more exotic flavours like passion fruit. There’s also a growing interest in eco-friendly and sustainable cake decorations and packaging to align with the overall theme of environmentally conscious weddings.

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