‘Barrelscapes: War, 2006’
I wasn’t supposed to be there and I knew it. But his son had recently been killed and he had left the camp and no one was looking after his hut. And I wanted to see whether he had left any candy. Of course, he didn’t really seem to be the kind who would have candy around, and, if he did, it would probably be old and sour, like he had always struck me and my friends. But I was alone and bored, and there was the window to his hut standing open, where the snake plant in the kitchen had grown too large and gnarled to close it anymore. Everyone said he had been in the camp for longer than anyone else, and evidently he had brought the snake plant with him when he arrived. Some nights we could hear him curse the plant, angered at what its size meant about the amount of time that he been forced to spend here, homeless and dispossessed.
Actually, he was no more homeless than the rest of us. And, having been among the first to arrive, he had been able to secure a prime spot for his hut, with a clump of bamboo giving him all the privacy he wanted. Taking advantage of just that seclusion, in I crept, through his window and over his snake plant, almost impaling myself on its sharp leaves. And there he was, pale and gaunt. As it turns out, he wasn’t gone at all, but merely in a self-imposed state of furious, solitary mourning – a pent-up rage that he quickly unleashed on my abrupt appearance.
Even after he finished shouting he still wouldn’t let me go. My punishment would be, he intoned ominously, to organise his jars, and then down he dragged me into a tiny root cellar carved out behind his hut. There, on shelf after shelf shoved into the soft earth, was row upon row of glass jars, of various sizes and bearing a spectrum of age-induced grime. “These contain water from every river I ever crossed before I came here,” he told me, glaring fiercely through his spectacles. “Now, with my son gone, there is no reason for me to stay in this place. As soon as you’re finished putting these in order, I will leave here and retrace the steps that I took in my earlier life, my real life. I will respect neither borders nor diktats that had not been in place the last time I visited those riversides. I will return the water in each of these jars to the flows from which I took it, and then I will go home.”
This is part of a regular series of Himal’s commentary on work by the Sri Lankan artist Chandraguptha Thenuwara. This installation is part of the larger ‘Barrelscapes’ series.