Prologue to the book
"Serendipity: A Photographic Journey through Sri Lanka"
Bilingual edition: English-Spanish
-300 pictures, 146 pages-
Prólogo en inglés del libro
"Serendipity: Un viaje fotográfico por Sri Lanka"
Edición bilingüe: Español-Inglés.
-300 fotografías-146 páginas-.
Since no one is ever too young to die, a few months ago I started to ask myself what my life would be lacking if death were to arrive soon. I didn’t have to look very hard for an answer. After dismissing the dream of floating on the Moon, there was only one idea that returned with insistence: to visit Sri Lanka.
I would have to tell my whole life story in order to explain the impact “the tear of India” has had on me. I have forgotten the precise moment in which the island seduced me forever. I want to say that it was when I was just a kid; watching the beauty pageants, trying to figure out why the contestants coming from Sri Lanka seemed to be the happiest of them all. The name sounded like music: Sri Lanka, ‘the resplendent island’; at the time they had just adopted the new name as a symbol of their independence, after being called Ceylon for many years under colonial rule. Exploring the maps I discovered that it was almost at my antipodes. I asked myself why I was born where I was, why I wasn’t born on the island of the happy people.
Since then, I have been writing Morir en Sri Lanka (To Die in Sri Lanka), a posthumous novel that bears witness to my love for that land. Sri Lanka, Ceilán, Ceylon, Taprobana, Serendib, Palesimunda, is –according to some traditions– the place where the Earthly Paradise once existed. Sri Lanka is a precious stone floating in the Indian Ocean; it is the madness of nature inventing landscapes, and creatures, and aromas. Sri Lanka is the country with the longest uninterrupted written story and the oldest tradition in Engineering. It is, also, one of the most important Buddhist centers of the world. But these things rarely make the news; only the bloodshed seems to exist in the media.
Each one of us has certain words that shape our lives. ‘Serendipity’ is one of mine. It was coined by British writer, Horace Walpole (1717-1797), from The Three Princes of Serendib, an Eastern tale which enjoyed great popularity in Europe. Serendib was the name that the Arabs used to give to Sri Lanka. It was visited by the Arabian Nights hero, Sindbad, during some of his trips to the East. In the tale that inspired Walpole’s word, the princes had been sent by their father to see the world, to gather experiences and learn about human nature, so one day they could be wise and just rulers. The princes had a particular gift for observation. That was what Walpole called ‘Serendipity’, a very rare capacity to be awake to life, a gift so infrequent that it seems supernatural.
My love for Sri Lanka has been blessed with the gift of discovery. When you are looking for something, the world seems to align itself to work in your favor. There was serendipity in my coming across certain books and people that were showing me the way, little by little, to the place on earth that I have always felt would be my resting place. This is how I found references by Pliny the Elder and Cosmas, by John Milton and Cervantes; this is how I found the narratives of the travels of Marco Polo and Sindbad, of Fa Hsien and Ibn Batutta’s pilgrimages; and followed the steps of Leonard Woolf, Lanza del Vasto, Mark Twain, Pablo Neruda and Thomas Merton. There was serendipity also, seventeen years ago, when I met Kashyapa Yapa, the wandering Sinhalese, in Cartagena de Indias.
In March 2012 I finished writing a book for which I rented out my hand and pen. The check came big and without delay. That very same day I purchased the ticket that would take me to the only place I was really interested in visiting. Kashyapa reappeared in my life, like a magician, to give me the keys to the island. One single message to his family and friends opened plenty of doors and hearts. I didn’t go as a tourist, but as one of them that had returned to the island after a long time away from home.
With the trip becoming a reality, my family and friends began to worry. I had been so persistent with the title of my novel, “To Die in Sri Lanka”, that they thought that I would be punished by my own words. But there were good omens and I was brimming with joy. The Moon, Venus and Jupiter aligned in the sky to see me step aboard a beautiful plane with the name of an Arab princess. My heart wanted to jump right out of my chest when the tires touched the island early on the morning of Thursday, March 29.
Now Sri Lanka runs through my veins. There are names that ring out like prayers and bring a smile to my face, and comfort to my heart: Mala, Premal, Praxiteles, Ama, Ranud, Ajith, Kanti, Krishni, Roshan. I traveled with my camera through the ruins of very ancient cities: Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa. I breathed, just as a local would, the remote distinction of Kandy –the last capital of the kingdom–, where a Buddha’s tooth brings together thousands of people. I experienced feelings of ecstasy in front of the engravings in wood and stone, in front of the warmth, the flavors, the smells, the faces, and I myself was a very rare object to those graffito gazes, smiling and curious. One afternoon I ran rushing away from the coast, trying to escape from an imminent tsunami, but invaded by a strange feeling of peace. I felt lost and happy in towns where no one understood a single word of mine and, in spite of that, they blanketed me with love. I found Sunethra, a kindred spirit with whom I shared a friendship which seemed to go back many lives. I climbed castles carved in stone and bathed in rivers of crystalline freshness. I spent an entire night climbing the sacred mountain to see the sun rise right from the spot where my footsteps mixed with those of Adam (or Buddha). I was born again here. Now I can die feeling that my life was complete.