Shyamalee Mahibalan is an educator, dabbled in freelance journalism and worked in the advertising industry – but she has always been a poet, through and through.
Her book, ‘Fluid Like Water’, makes the reader see the subject Shyamalee is writing about in a new way. Hew verses and fresh and eye-opening. They are also compact and intense. A favourite quote from her book, would be from her poem, ‘Roots’:
Mom, you’re a Sinhalese
And a Muslim
Dad is a Tamil
And a Hindu
What am I?
Discovering that her roots
Are spread far and wide
And her branches
The compactness of her poem lets it ‘spread far and wide’, just like the author’s discovery of her roots. A good poem doesn’t waste words; it uses them sparingly and meaningfully.
Shyamalee has the knack of capturing a certain moment, or memory, like a ‘word photograph’. In one quick reading, a poem can give us a reminder of how life used to be, growing up as a school-goer in Sri Lanka, or the boundless enthusiasm and hope of a teenager, sitting for her O’Levels, trying desperately to change the world, or the three lined verse that instantly leads you to find the magic in the mundane, like the staccato percussion of the woman chopping vegetables on a wooden chopping board!
A good poem is a photograph, capturing the most forgettable and the most unforgettable moments in our lives; and Shyamalee Mahibalan’s collection in ‘Fluid Like Water’ is exactly that.
This is not Shyamalee’s first journey in writing. Her first ever poem, ‘Nation In Flames’, was written in 1989 for the Aqui Journalist magazine and Eardley Peiris, the veteran broadcaster, was her mentor.
At the time Shyamalee’s dream was to become a journalist and the Journalism programme at Aquinas in the late eighties had some inspiring writers and poets. From her course director, the late Reggie Michael, to editor of the magazine and a prolific writer, Nicola Simmons, the class was filled with immense talent.
She later joined Ceylinco Advertising as a trainee to be mentored by the late Eardley Peiris. Shyamalee continued in the field of advertising and later, media, working under some of the giants in the ad industry, like Lilamani Benson, Shantha Saparamadu, Sandya Salgado and so many other trail blazers.
Eventually, Shyamalee left the country to Canada in 1999. After her kids were born, she dabbled as a freelance journalist. Shyamalee went on to published her first book of poems in 2004 as tribute to war victims as by then she had witnessed so much violence in the island of Sri Lanka – a theme that resonated across almost all the poems in her book.
Eventually, in 2008, she moved to Singapore and this where she took up an interest and learned Haiku – a style of Japanese poetry, and considered one of the most difficult in the world, for, as simple a form as haiku can be, writing strong, engaging and memorable haiku is actually very difficult.
Shyamalee comments that Singapore is where she grew as a person along with her children. It was the place that she met her ‘tribe’ and found her purpose. She began working with children across different schools and realised there is so much she could do in Sri Lanka
Singapore certainly left an influence on our poet Shyamalee. Her second book, ‘Fluid Like Water’, was written during her many walks across Singapore.
Shyamalee is now back in Sri Lanka after fourteen years and runs her own school, Creative Thinkers, which is a Singaporean partner school. It also happens to be Sri Lanka’s first Reggio Emilia inspired school that focuses on Creativity, STEAM and Critical Thinking.
Shyamalee Mahibalan is an inspiring poet as well as an insiring personality. Let me leave you with one more line from her book, ‘Fluid Like Water’, from her poem, ‘Meaning of Love:
‘There are moments when words speak to your soul…’
And dotted throughout Shyamalee’s lines are many such moments.