Friday, October 9, 2015

The Step Tanks of Point Pedro and People who Act Like Fish

So many details in a day, visual, auditory, olfactory. Clouds, kovils, intense heat, smothering humidity, the blue of the ocean, a found shell, sharp barks of dogs, bicycles whooshing past, scooters with their message, grandparents with a child in tow and a basket of fish. A man with identical twins, a woman putting a bag of fish in another's sack. The fish market thick like flies, bargaining, touching, recording, feeling, looking, holding fish, placing fish, turning fish, arguing over fish. In fact it seemed to me they were acting like fish!

A short walk in early morning and a longer walk after breakfast both ending at the same point. One straight and noisy one meandering and quiet but threatened by clouds that build and build and build. 

The later walk and a few steps from our guesthouse bingo! Behold! A handsome step tank. Unmentioned in guide books. A step back to the ancient. To a landscape forgotten but still lived. These rural precincts, now suburban, each held a kovil. And the kovil held its tank. Did kulams spring where springs once flowed and so became revered spots in a dry but fertile landscape? Who built the tanks? Who cut the stones and placed them?

Who measured and how did they do it? By what prescription did they lay the stones? By what orientation did they trend their micro landscapes?  

The step tanks and their grounds are miraculously pretty. Even the garbage bags inside resemble lotuses. They must still be in use. The first tank we visited had nails stuck at intervals into the rock, vertical. What's tied to these? Floats? Garlands?

With channeled water all over town I could see no inlet or outlet to the tanks. Are they only ground- and rain-fed? 

Their reflecting is a kind of Darshan, gaining spirituality or merit just by looking upon them. They are in turn symmetric and off-center, their natural surroundings part of this pseudo-garden, a mythic filthy paradise, the sparkle of heaven's eye in the murky not murky water. 

Janet asks are they private? Are they public? Are they neither? Are they civic? Religious? All of these? What about their upkeep? 

How many ways can we look at water beyond the scientific? An aesthetic exploration affords one layer. There are landscape considerations, social, structural, religious, ecological, imaginary, imagined, and unimagined. 

In this corner of Sri Lanka more unexpected and surprising. More country more seeing. More transparency more turbidity. More function more fantasy. More details more dread more downpours.  

No comments:

Post a Comment