In Kandy town, along the main street (Dalada Veediya), there was a single Maara tree standing on the pavement of the right hand side leading towards the Queen’s Hotel. Unlike the pavement on the other side, this tree — an evergreen, familiar sight in the vicinity of Bake House, and Old Bank Of Ceylon — was the only specimen of greenery along the whole street. This Maara tree was also known as the tree by which the “Maara Man” of Kandy used to sit. “Maara Man” is the fond name by which Bevis Manathunga — or, Bevis —, artiste, conversationalist and peace loving nice human being, is known in and about Kandy town.
Bevis is a familiar sight on almost all days as he would occupy the side of the road and get on with his trade — talking to the many friends he has made over the years on music, politics, day-to-day developments etc. In an age where, in Colombo, the Ministry of Urban Development is busy putting up trees, the maara tree of Dalada Veediya was cut down a few weeks ago. According to sources who insisted on anonymity (most probably because they were of a lesser trade, and were politically less empowered) the tree was cut by the municipality to satisfy the whim of two big time businessmen of the street. An unconfirmed theory is that part of the branches of the tree were first cut down to satisfy the said businessmen, and were cut in such a way that the fall of the tree was inevitable.
Those who know the score know that Bevis has been fighting hard for
years to save the tree from being cut down and the street artiste / guitarist’s anger was at boiling point even as he spoke to me about the loss, a few days after the “defeat”. For those who don’t know Bevis Manathunga, he is an artiste and a guitarist / singer who treads an alternative path, living the life of a “public artiste” in the optimum sense. Bevis has over the years performed at numerous concerts — including his famous “Dhonkaaraya” (The Echo) — and is well marked for his promotion of peace and harmony through his music, in a time where those elements were begging to be acknowledged in Lankan society (not that things are any better today).
However, with the maara tree gone, what we see is a contemporary replay of that age-old trajectory, where “progress” buys over “nature”; and where “big business” steamrolls the aesthetic impulses of life.