“From love fond yearning springs for union sweet of minds;
And that the bond of rare excelling friendship binds” - Kural 74
Polgahawela is a small town located forty-five miles north of Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka. It is an important railway junction where the northern and the up country rail routes meet. The town is situated in a beautiful natural environment surrounded by paddy fields. On the eastern side of the town, the hilly areas are covered with tea estates while the western side contains large numbers of coconut Estates. The name implies that coconut Estates surround the area. The town is the meeting place for the major trunk roads from Colombo, Kurunegala and Kegalle. It is also a Railway junction for the rail routes to North and Upcountry. The area is predominantly a Singhalese Buddhist area. The people of Polgahawela are concerned about Sinhala traditions and culture.
Kunawathy, the heroine of this story, was born as the eldest daughter in an average family. Her sister, Seelawathy, was two years younger to Kunawathy. Their father, Gunapala, has worked for twenty years as a Postman in the local post office. Gunapla delivered letters to the entire town as such everyone in the town knew him. Gunapala’s wife, Muthumenike (Menike), worked as a teacher in a primary school. Kunawathy’s parents were highly orthodox, religious minded Buddhists and more concerned about tradition and Singhalese culture. They respected the opinions of their community.
Kunawathy’s appearance and behavioral characteristics were more masculine than feminine. Many people commented on her voice and the manner in which she walked. When she spoke, it was difficult to identify whether her voice was masculine or feminine. Her parents first noticed her different behavior when she was six years old. She liked to play with boys rather than girls. The girls at her school also commented and ridiculed Kunawathy’s manly behavior. In school plays, Kunawathy would always play the part of a male character. If an issue erupts between the male and female students at the school, the girls nominate Kunawathy to deal with the male students. Kunawathy's manly appearance attracted many girls. Some girls told her, “Kuna if you were born a man, we would choose you as our husband.” Kuna never replied to these comments, indicating that it was a privilege for her to be manly; she welcomed their comments.
Kunawathy’s sister, Seelawathy, attained age at eleven before her sister. The parents were worried that Kunawathy did not reach puberty. The people in the village started gossiping about it. Some even advised Kuna’s parents to take Kunawathy to a doctor and find out the reason for the delay in attaining age. As was customary, Kuna’s parents took their daughter’s horoscope and showed it to the village astrologer, Sumanadasa, whose predictions usually come true. Even politicians sought his advice. The villagers trusted him and believed that he possessed yogic power. After analyzing Kunawathy’s horoscope, Gunapala and Muthumenike were shocked to hear Sumanadasa’s predictions.
Sumanadasa said that the person who was born with these planetary positions should have been a male at the time of birth. Because of the karma of her previous birth, she was born as a girl with masculine characteristics. The community will ridicule her. Some unexpected incidents may take place in her life, which will result in tarnishing the name of your family. You will have problems finding her a husband. She will not have happy marriage. She will attain puberty very late.”
“Is there no solution to overcome this?” Kuna’s father asked the astrologer.
“I suggest that you both go to the Maha Vihara and pray on behalf of your daughter. Also, give Dhana (alms giving) in her name and at the same time keep a watch on her activities.”
“How is her life span? Will she have a long life?” Muthumenike asked.
“I do not like to comment on people’s life span. That is my principle. No one can change their destiny other than the gods. Go to the Raja Maha Vihara and pray to Lord Buddha to give your daughter a long life”, the astrologer replied.
“Will she get married?” Muthumenike asked.
“She will get married but…” The astrologer swallowed his words.
At the age of fifteen Kunawathy attained puberty. This event took place four years after her sister Seelawathy attained puberty. When she was studying at the Advance level, she met an attractive girl by the name Mallika from Alawwa, a village, 9 km south of Polgahawela. Mallika was a farmer’s only daughter. She was very studious and good in her studies. She had boundless ambitions in life. She was given a government scholarship to study in a high school where Kunawathy studies.
When Kunawathy saw Mallika for the first time in the class, she had a feeling that she would have met her before. Mallika was given a seat next to Kuna. During the interval, Kuna voluntarily started the conversation with Mallika.
“I am Kunawathy. I am a senior student in this school. I live in Polgahawela.”
“I am glad to meet you, Kuna. My name is Mallika. I am from Alawwa” She shook hands with Kuna. When Mallika’s right-hand palm touched Kuna’s palm, she had a pleasant feeling.
“It is nice to hear that you are from Alawwa village, which is not too far from Polgahawela. I have an aunt living there.”
“Alawwa is a small village. My father may know your aunt. What is her name?”
“She is the wife of Alawwa Postmaster. Her name is Pathamwathy. We call her Pathma aunty.”
“I will ask my father and find out whether he knows her.”
Kuna enjoyed the conversation with Mallika. She liked Mallika’s appearance and the way she spoke in a soft voice. Their first meeting quickly grew into strong friendship between them. It is pure chance that when the school staged the “Romeo Juliet” drama, for fundraising for the school, the teachers selected Kunawathy to be Romeo and Mallika as Juliet in the drama. There acting in the drama gave the impression to the audience as if they were real lovers.
When Mallika joined the school, just because she came from a small village, the students intimidated and started ragging her. Kuna could not tolerate students harassing her friend Mallika. She warned the senior students not to annoy Mallika. She rescued Mallika from ragging by senior students. She also cautioned all students not to harass Mallika in the future. Kuna became the bodyguard for Mallika.
Whenever Kuna had doubts in subjects, she sought the help of Mallika to clarify the doubts. Clearing doubts in subjects was an excuse for Kunawathy and Mallika to meet frequently after school in a classroom. They went on chatting for a long time. The headmistress was observing their behavior. One day their class teacher was shocked to see them embracing each other. She immediately reported the incident to the Headmistress. The Headmistress called up Kuna and Mallika to her office and warned them not to stay after school. But both of them ignored her order.
Kunawathy could not continue the friendship with Mallika as the headmistress called up the parents of Kunawathy and Mallika’s and complained about the friendship between the two girls. Kunawathy’s father was upset when he heard the complaint about his daughter from the Headmistress. He had great confidence his daughter as such did not much care of what the headmistress‘s warning. He thought it was only a friendship like other girls
When Gunapala returned home, he complained to his wife about Kunawathy-Mallika close relationship. Gunapala’s wife reminded him of what the Astrologer told them about two years ago. He and his wife decided that it is high time they stop Kunawathy from going to school. Both of them were worried that the relationship between his daughter and Mallika will become the gossip in the town. He was also worried that his second daughter Seelawathy may get spoiled by the behavior of her sister. When the Post Master called him and inquired about his daughter’s relationship with Mallika, he was more upset.
He called his daughter Kunawathy and told her “Kuna, I understand that Look you are not interested in your studies. Your headmistress complained to me about your indecent behavior in the school with another girl who is studying with you. You are a grown up girl. You have passed your tenth grade. That much of education is enough for you. It is high time that you stay at home and help your mother”. Kunawathy resented her father. She was worried that it is a plan by her parents to cut off her friendship with Mallika.
“Thathe (father) please allow me to complete my advanced level. It will help me to find at least a Teaching job.” Kunawathy gave many excuses to get back to school. Her cunning reply did not work out with her father. Without her parent’s knowledge, she started meeting Mallika in a lonely old building located in a paddy field. The friendships between the two girls look a different dimension. Secretly they started behaving like husband and wife. Mallika got attracted by the soft but masculine behavior of Kunawathy. Kuna enjoyed the touch of Mallika. At times, they could control their emotions and kissed each other. The resentment from the society only brought them closer and closer. The chief priest of the Polgahawela Raja Maha Vihara came to know about the friendship between the two girls. He summoned both of them and advised them that their relation is against the Singhalese culture and the law of the country. It will also be taboo for their families. The society is not approving their friendship. Both the girls were not prepared to listen to the warning given by the elderly chief priest of the temple.
Gunapala and his wife worked out a secret plan to fix a marriage for Kunawathy to Somasiri, the son of Gunapala’s only widowed wealthy sister Vimalawathy. She lives in Kandy with her a son. Somasiri is a soldier in the army. Although Somasiri is a young man with a good physique, his behavior was like that of a woman. He walked like a woman and had a feminine voice. After Kunawathy had stopped going to school, her parents did not want to delay her marriage to Somasiri. One day it was a surprise for Kunawathy when her parents asked her to get ready to go to Vimala auntie’s house in Kandy. She did not know her parents plan. Innocently she asked her mother the reason for the unexpected trip to Kandy.
“Kuna, Your aunt is a wealthy lady. She is anxious to see you and your sister. Few years ago when she visited us for your sister’s age attaining ceremony, for the first time she saw you and your sister. She has no daughters except her son Somasiri. Moreover, she wants to write her last will. She wants to give the ten acres of paddy land in Polgahawela to you and your sister,” Kuna’s mother explained.
“Kuna, you and your sister have never been to Kandy. It is a beautiful city. Kandy is the home of The Temple of Buddha’s Tooth Relic. The Temple is called, “Sri Dalada Maligawa.” There is a beautiful lake built many years ago. The lake has an island in the middle. Peradeniya Botanical Gardens is not too far from central Kandy city. You and your sister can see all the beauties of the hill country capital. We are going to stay there for a week”. Kuna’s father wanted her to know that their trip to Kandy is to see the aunt and sightseeing.
Kuna did not say anything. She knew that once her parents have decided to go to Auntie’s house, it is pointless she objecting to it.
With three days of the arrival of Gunapala’s family in Kandy, Kuna never expected that arrangements are being made by her parents and Vimala aunty for the marriage between her and cousin Somasiri. Heart to heart, from childhood days Kuna never liked Somasiri. She could remember ridiculing his womanly walk. Whether she liked it or not it was forced the marriage with few close relations attending the ceremony. After giving in marriage his daughter to Somasiri, Gunapala and wife were satisfied that they have put a stop to the strange relationship between Kuna and Mallika. They left Kunawathy at her mother-in-law’s house. Gunapala returned with his wife and the other daughter to Polgahawela. He had a feeling that he has done something better to the family and prevented the society talking further about Kuna and Mallika. They never expected that their plan will start misfiring. Vimalawathy complained to her brother about the arrogant behavior of Kuna with her son Somasiri. Their married life was full of frequent quarrels. Kuna refused to sleep with Somasiri in the same room as husband and wife. She could not erase of Mallika from her thoughts. She frequently complained about Somasiri to his mother saying that he is not meeting her demand as a husband in their wife-husband relationship. She wrote a letter to her father stating that her Mother-in-law and Somasiri started ill-treating her because they came to know from a relation of theirs who lives in Polgahawela about Kuna’s friendship with Mallika.
Kunawathy was happy when Somasiri was transferred to Palaly in the Northern Province. She contacted her school friends and inquired about Mallika. They informed her that she entered the University of Peradeniya and following a three-year degree course in Biological science. She was happy to hear that Mallika has come closer to her, and it is pure fate that has brought them closer. She decided to meet her at the University and continue their relationship without her Mother-in-law, husband or parents knowing it. She wrote a letter addressed to her Mother-in-law stating that she is very dissatisfied with the married life with her son Somasiri, and she is leaving home to find a better life. Vimalawathy was in a shock when she saw the note from Kunawathy. She immediately send a telegram to her brother Gunapala and summoned him to come down to Kandy with his wife to find the where about of Kuna and settle the issue.
When Gunapala received the Telegram, immediately he knew that since Kuna did not come to Polgahawela from Kandy, she would have gone in search of Mallika. Gunapala first went to the school and in inquired from the headmistress about Mallika. She informed him that Mallika got admitted to the Peradeniya University and continuing a degree course. Kuna’s father did not expect that news from the Headmistress. Although though he wanted to keep his daughter away from Mallika, the fate has brought both of them closer. He inquired from his relations in Polgahawela whether Kuna came to their home. They all gave a negative reply. He immediately went with his wife to Kandy. His sister was furious when she saw Gunapala. She shouted at him.
“Look malli (brother). You did not tell me the truth that Kunawathy had an illegal love affair with a girl who studied with her. It was the gossip in Polgahawela town. An aunt of mine who lives in Polgahawela knows about it. She told me about the affair. If I had known about it before, I would not have agreed to the marriage. I am sure she has gone in search of her lover. If we find her, I will file a divorce case. My son cannot continue to live with such a bad character girl.”
“Accai (elder sister) I thought that after the marriage, Kuna will forget about her girlfriend and live a happy life with your son. But I never dreamt that my daughter will let me down. I am sorry for all what happened”, Gunapala apologized to his sister.
Gunapala’s wife could not say anything. She was more interested in locating her missing daughter so that they could find a final solution to the problem.
“Let us first locate where Kunawathy is. Later we will decide on what action we should take. I too am angry with her “; Gunapala’s wife exhibited her anger on Kunawathy to her Sister-in-law.
“I know where she has gone,” Gunapala said to his sister.
“Where did she go malli (brother)? You said that she did not come to Polgahawela”. Vimalawathy was keen to know where Kunawathy is.
“Where else she would have gone? I am sure that she would have gone to meet her girlfriend Mallika at Peradeniya University. Let us go to the Peradeniya University and make inquiries”. Gunapala was determined to locate Kuna and give her thrashing. All three of them agreed to go to the Peradeniya University in search of Mallika.
Peradeniya is a suburb of Kandy and is few kilometers on the main A1 road to Colombo, west of Kandy city center. The longest Mahaveli River flows through Peradeniya. In Peradeniya, the famous Royal Botanical Gardens and the second largest University in Sri Lanka are located. Its buildings are of mixed colonial and Indian style amongst the lush vegetation of the Sri Lankan hill country. Many lovers who failed in their love affair committed suicide in the Mahaveli River. When Gunapala, his wife, and sister went to the University campus, they saw students rushing in a hurry towards the Banks of the Mahaveli River. Gunapala stopped two students and inquired the reason as to why they all were running
“Ayah (brother). Two lovers have committed suicide. The bodies are lying on the river bank. The Police are inquiring the reason for the death. We understand that one of them who committed suicide is our University first year student”, one student briefly explained the reason as to why they were running.
Gunapala and his wife were quick to suspect that the lovers were Kunawathy and Mallika. All three of them hurriedly rushed to the river bank where there was the big crowd of students. A Sub Inspector and a Policeman were carrying out the investigation. They were questioning the University students.
When Gunapala, his wife Muthumenike and sister Seelawathy went closer to the body and had a closer look at the two bloated bodies. They were shocked to see that that the bodies were that of Kunawathy and Mallika. There were wildflower garlands around their necks. Even after their death both bodies were in an embracing position, proving how much they loved each other.
Gunapala and his wife Muthumenike could not control their emotions. They cried loud saying”Oh Kuna, why did you take this decision. You have brought a disgrace to our family”. Gunapala’s sister Vimalawathy stood there in a shock. A Police officer who saw them crying recognized them immediately as the parents of one of the girls. They went towards them and questioned them
“Are you the parents of one of these girls?”
Pointing out at the body of Kunawathy, Gunapala replied in tears “Yes sir. She is my eldest daughter Kunawathy. She was missing from home for three days. Her husband is a soldier in the Army and now working in Palely Jaffna.”
Pointing out at Vimalawathy the police sub-inspector questioned, “Who is this lady? “ Gunapala replied the officer “She is my sister. She is Kunawathy’s mother in law”.
“I see. Is your daughter married?
"Then what about the other girl? Do you know her as well?”
“Yes, Sir. She is my daughter’s girlfriend from school days. She is from Alawwa. I know her father Piyasena, a farmer. Both our families were totally against the friendship between these two girls”. Gunapala could not stop crying.
“Stop crying. Here is a letter addressed to you all by both the girls. We found the letter in your daughter’s handbag. Lucky that handbag was not carried away by the river stream”. The Police officer gave the letter to Kunawathy’s parents. Gunapala started reading the letter.
My dear Parents, Relations and the residents of Polgahawela village
The relationship between both of us may be a Strange Relationship, but it is a holy one. We loved each other. Our aim was not sex. The society wrongly estimated our relationship. Many of you are Buddhists. If you all believe in rebirth, then our relationship is a continuation of the story of both our previous birth. The first time, when we both met in the school, an attraction that could not be explained existed between us. I had a feeling that we have met before. But we did not know when? The society and the law of the country view our relationship suspiciously at a different angle. So as to break our relationship, Kunwathy was given in marriage to her cousin by her parents. The marriage was without her approval. She never had a happy married life. It is again the fate that brought both of us closer when I got admission to the Peradeniya University. We know that legally we cannot get married. Let God bless us both after our death. We wish that we live as Husband and wife in the next birth. Since you all rejected our relationship, we both decided to commit suicide. There is a humble request from both of us. After our death, please bury our bodies on the banks of the River Mahaweli. In the embrace of this holy river, let our souls rest in peace far away from the hatred and gossip of the society. We wish that you all will fulfill our request.
Kuna – Mallika (Inseparable friends
On a Rainy day
The torrential rain continued without non stop for two days. That was the rainy season and is nothing new to Nuwera eliya town in the up country of Sri Lanka. Nuwereliya means City of Lights among the Singhalese. The legend says that when Hanuman burnt the area where Asoka Trees grew. The area was named Asokavanam in Ramayana. It is supposed to be located near Haggala botanical gardens. The light from the fire fell on the village Nuwereliya. It was the holiday resort for the colonial rulers of Sri Lanka. The reason is that the town had similar climatic condition like England.
The cold breeze too was blowing. It was a gloomy day as such that there was not much of crowd in the bus stand. Many confined to their homes. Jayanthy was waiting for the express bus to Badulla scheduled to arrive at 4.30 pm from Kandy. It takes two hours to reach 32 km distant to Badulla from N’Eliya with only stop in between at Welimada.
There was an old man standing at the bus shelter starring at Jayanthy, who was standing in the shelter with her nine month old baby in one hand and a suitcase on the other hand. As the bus was getting late she was interested to know the time. The old man was wearing a wrist watch and was looking at the time to check arrival time of the bus.
The old man wore a sarong, and a sweater to keep him warm and a comb in his head like many Kandyans do. There was a brown muffler around his neck, typical dress of the Upcountry old people. He had a leather case, the symbol of a businessman. Jayanthy wanted to know the time from the old man. She guessed that he is a Kandyan Singhalese.
“Aiyah. Could you please let me know the time from your wrist watch? It looks as if the bus is getting late.” She politely asked the old man in Singhalese.
“Like me, Nona, are you too waiting for the Badulla bus?” Old man queried in Singhalese.
“ Yes Aiyah. That is why I want to know the time. It is getting late”
He looked at his wrist watch and replied. “Nona it is almost 5.pm. The bus from Kandy should have been here at least by 4.30. I checked at the office. They say that it should arrive half an hour late. It is raining that is why it is getting delayed. The conversation between them was in was in Singhalese. Jayanthy, a Tamil lady, spoke like a typical Singhalese.
“Thank you for letting me for telling me the time. Do you travel frequently to Badulla? Are you from N’Eliya?
“No. I am from Welimada. I have a Bakery business there. Normally I come to Nuwara Eliya on Business. But today I came to meet my friend to finalize a marriage proposal for my only son who is a Captain in the Army”. The old man explained the reason for his visit to N’Eliya. He was proud to announce that his son is in the army as a Captain.
When Jayanthy heard from the old man that his son is a captain in the Army she was upset, but did not want to show out.
“Did you say that your son a Captain in the army? Is he working in the headquarters in Colombo”? Jeyanthy was keen to know more information about his son.
“Yes nona. My son Somasiri got quick promotion for his excellent service in war front in Jaffna. Soldiers respected him and called him Captain Soma. He is a good character man and discipline is important for him. He can speak English fluently. Very soon he is due for promotion as Major”
Jayanthi was shocked to hear the name Somasiri.
“ Aiyah, have you been to Jaffna?”
“Why not? I did have a business in Jaffna before the war. Jaffna people are educated people. There are good colleges in the Town. I owned a restaurant and a bakery near Windsor Theater. Many students from Central college come to my restaurant to eat seeni sambol bun and roast Beef curry.
“If you would have liked Jaffna, then why did you leave the place?”
“ I liked Jaffna because I had good business. People were friendly. I learned to speak Tamil. But when the war started, Muslims were forced to leave the town as they were treated as informers. I thought that it was not safe for a Singhalese to continue business in Jaffna. By the way my name is Piyasena. Every one knew “Piyasena Bakery” in Jaffna. By the way what is your name lady? Are you an up country Tamil?
Jayanthi hesitated for a while and did not want to come out with her full name. When the old man said that he loved Jaffna people, she wanted to speak about her Chundukuli area in Jaffna.
“No, I am not an up country Tamil. I am a Jaffna Tamil. “
“Oh! That is good. What are your name and your father’s name? I may know your father as I supplied bread to many houses in Jaffna. I had many Tamil government servants from Jaffna as friends. Mr. Sundaram from Chundikuli area was working in Jaffna kachcheri and was a good friend of mine I have visited his house several times. Do you know him? The old man became very inquisitive and changed the conversation to Tamil.
Jayanthi was surprised to hear his mother’s uncle’s name. She wanted to be careful in giving information about her. She did not want to come out with her profile. After the rainy day incident that affected her future, she did not want to stay in Jaffna. She knew about the attitude of the Jaffna people. They are good at gossiping and building unwanted stories.
The child helped to divert the subject of discussion by crying. She took out a chocolate from her hand bag and gave it to the baby to stop the cry.
The bus entered the stand stop with a big roar.
Piyasena changed the topic. “OK Ok nona the Badulla bus has come. Better you get in with the child first I will help you to carry your suit case”
“Thanks Aiyah for your help”. She got into the bus with child, followed by Piyasena. Bus was not crowded. She managed to get a comfortable corner seat in the fourth row and placed the suitcase on the upper shelf. The old man Piyasena sat in the vacant seat behind her. He picked up that seat so that he could continue the conversation with her.
After ten minutes, the bus started moving. Along with Jayanthi, her baby and Piyasena, there were only ten people in the bus. Five passengers got in from the Nuwaraeliya.
“You must feeling hungry”, Piyasena took out an apple from his leather case and gave it to her. It is one way to start the conversation.
Jayanthi could not refuse the offer from old man who continued the conversation
“Although I call you Nona, you did not come out with your name. Is here is any reason for not telling me your name?” Piyasena started the conversation.
“I have no special reason Aiyah. My friend Premalatha calls me Jaya. You can also call me by that name. My father passed away long time ago. ”
“I am sorry to hear that. Are you going to Badulla to see your relations?
“Oh no. I am going to meet my friend Premalatha. She is like my sister. She will come to the Bustard to meet me and Malini.”
“Who is Malini? Is that the name of your daughter? Looks like a Singhalese name”.
“ Even there are Tamil women with that name” Jeyanthi replied him.
The child turned back at the Old man smiled when she heard her name was mentioned. The child smiled at the old man. Piyasena was taken up by the smile of the child. He stretched his hands towards the child. The child showed interest to go to him.
“Malini, do not trouble people. If you feel sleepy stretch your legs and sleep on my lap”. Malini resented.
“OK nona; let the child come to me. I will look after her. She is like my grand child. I have no grand children. Somasiri is my only son. My family wish that after his marriage he will be blessed with a child. I and my wife are eagerly waiting to have a grand child.
The bus was passing Haggala botanical gardens. She remembered coming to Sita Eliya temple with her parents and visiting the gardens.
“Jaya, I and wife have come several times to this garden with my son when he was a little boy. He was a sportsman. He studied at Trinity College Kandy. He captained the Rugger team and his good physique helped him to get into the army.” Piyasena boasted about his son.
Jayanthi was quite. The rain turned in a down pour. The driver found it difficult to drive. The lightning and the sound of thunder took her memory to the incident that changed her life on a rainy day.
It was the day she was returning home after school walking alone. Jayanthi was an English trained teacher in a school in Jaffna. Before asking for a transfer to Jaffna after her father’s death, she was teaching in Badulla. She met Premalatha and became friendly with her family and bordered in their house in Badulla. Premalatha’s mother who is also a widow treated Jayanthi as her second daughter. When the news about her father’s sudden death due to heart attack she was shocked. She managed to get a transfer and move to Jaffna to support the mother.
Jaffna was facing problems at the peak of the war. It was not safe for women to work. Army had check posts in many junctions and the soldiers were aiming at school girls and pretty women. Unfortunately Jayanthi was an attractive looking lady. Whenever she crossed the check posts there were nasty remarks from soldiers. She did not notice that an officer. Like a hawk was watching her and waiting for an opportunity.
It was on a rainy day. She was returning home after school. The road was deserted. She never expected an army Jeep following her from school. Her sari was soaked in the rain. The jacket was wet and her brazier was partially transparent and could be seen through the wet jacket. She could not hold the umbrella in the heavy blowing. She decided to take cover in a partially damaged building due to bombing until the rain stops. A house of her relation was not too far from the damaged building. That was wrong decision she took without thinking that check post was not too far from that damaged house. Jayanthi wiped the water from her face and prayed to god to protect her. There was sudden lightning followed by the big noise of Thunder. She saw a army Jeep standing in front of the house. It was driven by a single, physically built man. She was shocked to see an officer getting from the Jeep and walking towards her. She did not know what to do. She could shout for help
“Oh pretty lady, what are doing alone in this house where there are no people living. It is not safe here” the officer questioned her in English as he moved towards her.
“Sir, I am taking temporary cover under the rain. Once the rain stops I will leave the place.”
“Oh, your sari is soaked in the rain. As an army officer, my duty is to protect a civilian. Come I will take you safely in my Jeep . I will take you home.”
“No sir. Thank you. I can find my way”
“Don’t be scared about me. I am not going to hurt or kill you. I have sisters like you.” He grabbed her hand and used force to pull her. She could not overcome his animalistic strength. Jayanthi knew that it is the end of her chastity. The officer grabbed her Sari and made her half naked. Her jacket was torn and her brazier was exposed. In the shock she dropped her books and the umbrella and fell on the ground. That animal kissed her in the lips and embraced her. She could recognize his face clearly in the lightning. There was a scar in his cheek. That was the opportunity he was waiting for a chance to rape her whenever she passed the check post. She could not overcome the officer’s arrogance to rape her. She felt her sari being gradually removed followed by the jacket. It is like deer caught by a Tiger.
The rain stopped when she got up from the ground. She did not know what the officer did for her other than stain of blood on her sari.. The jeep disappeared from the parked place. That was the end of her purity as a virgin. She never told any the details of what happened to her on the rainy day. Her friend new about the incident. She was shocked to hear the incident.
“Jaya, I am ashamed to hear that you were raped by an army officer and that too he is a Singhalese. Now that she has enjoyed you he will wait for another chance. Better you come to Badulla. I will to get you a transfer to my school as I know the principal well and the school is looking for an English teacher. You can stay with me. We will send a complaint about your case to a Human right Organization”
Jayanthy decided that is the best option to move out rather than staying in Jaffna. If the media comes to know about it, publicity may be given and will affect her future, mother and relations.
The bus reached Welimada. The bus conductor made an announcement saying that the Bus will not continue its journey to Badulla as the road is blocked beyond Badulla due to earth slip. Jayanthi was up set when she heard the announcement. Piyasena advised Jayanthi not to worry about the overnight stay. She could easily stay in their house and he will ensure that message is passed on to her friend Premalatha. Since he and his wife are the only occupants in the house there is no problem for Jayanthi to stay overnight. She could proceed to Badulla the next day morning once the road is cleared. She could not refuse his advice, if not she may have to stay that night in a lodge, which may not be safe.
When they reached Piyasena’s home they heard the people crying and a crowd gathered in the house. Piyasena’s wife handed over a telegram to the husband and started crying at the top of her voice. “Captain Somasiri was killed at the Elephant pass battle front. Please contact HQ immediately” Contact telephone number was also given in the telegram. Piyasena could not speak as he was in a shock.
“Aiyah, what is the problem?” Jayanthi asked the old man. He gave the telegram to her. “Please read it. I have lost my son.” Piyasena cried like a child.
She read the telegram to find out the reason why Piyasena was crying.
Piyasena pointed at the enlarged photograph of an Army officer in Uniform hanging on the wall.
“Jaya that is my only son Somasiri . He has left us for good. The telegram from Headquarters says he is killed in the Elephant pass battle front. See, I have returned after finalizing next month a marriage for him, before that he has left us.” Piyasena could not stop crying.
In the commotion Malini too started crying without knowing the problem. Jayanthi was quick to identify the army officer in the photo. A scar in the neck was visible in the photo. Oh god it is that rascal who raped me on a rainy day and ruined my future. It looks like a god’s punishment for him. What Premalatha’s mother mentioned has come true? He has paid for his sins. Like me who knows how many women he would have raped when he was in charge in Jaffna. Their curses too would have impacted. “For a good hearted person like Piyasena aiyah, god has given a bad character rascal as a son. It is the fate that has brought me to this house to confirm who the culprit is. I should leave the house as soon as possible, she thought to herself.
“Aiyah. I am sorry to see you in this situation. It is not good for me to stay any longer in your house. You will be busy with his funeral arrangements .Premalatha’s aunty, a teacher at Welimada Maha Vidyalaya lives in Welimada. I will go to her house with Malini and stay overnight. I will inquire and find the location.
Piyasena could give a reply to her request. He only shook his head indicating that it is OK. Jayanthi walked out of the house with the baby and suitcase. Before leaving the house she turned back and had a hard look at the Somasiri’s’ photo in the wall. She was hesitating to say “May your soul rest be in peace”. She thought that how can Somasiri’s soul be in peace when so many souls he ruined are living not in peace. He is a not a true Buddhist”
It was snowing heavily. A few days were left for Christmas. I was enjoying a sip of Scotch on the rocks and watching Discovery channel on T.V. My wife walked into the sitting room after preparing the dinner for the family. She looked at the clock that showed 5.30 in the evening. With a grimaceshe turned towards me. It showed that she did not like me having a second drink. Black label bottle was a quarter empty. She quietly took the bottle and disappeared into her room. I ignored her action as I was reluctant to start a fight just then. She returned after a few seconds.
“Appah, do you know the time now? She addresses me ‘Appah’, which means father in Tamil. The wife never addresses the husband by name in Tamil families and that is part of our culture although it has changed among the younger families. The younger wives call their husband by name now. My daughter Malathy is our only child. Until Malathy’s seventh year, she had her primary education back in our home land, Sri Lanka, and from then on started calling me “Appah” .
” I saw you looking at the clock. Why are you asking me for the time?” I asked smiling.
“Appah this is not the time to joke.” She came and sat opposite me. I took my glass of scotch from the table fearing that she may take that too, away.
“Now what is your problem Mano?” I sipped the drink and got ready to confront her.
“My problem is our daughter’s problem. You have no control over her. She is not listening to me either. She is in her teens. Next year she will enter the University. She is our only child. We have come from a Tamil culture and we should preserve it. Many parents don’t care for the behavior of their children. But we do care for her”. She lectured to me.
“So do you mean to say that Malathy is not adhering to our culture in Canada?”
“Appah, twelve years ago we moved to Canada from Sri Lanka for the safety of our daughter and our family. When she came to Canada she was an innocent girl and knew our traditions and was very religious. But now, I feel that she is moving away from our traditions and culture. We both are from well respected families in Jaffna. My grandfather was an Udaiyar. The whole village knows about Uddaiyar Vallavu. I want my daughter to think about our roots.”
“Look Mano. Without beating about the bush and talking about your past, come direct to the subject. What are you trying to say?
“Appah, Malathy’s friends have warned me several times that she is very friendly with an East African boy named Gabriel. This boy is in her school Musical group . “
“So what is the problem? Canada is a multi cultural country. There are many ethnic communities. Our Malathy cannot live a secluded life in school by being friendly with the children of our community. That will not help her to understand the feelings and culture of children from other communities. I know that Malathy is in the school musical group. You know that she has some talent for playing instruments. That is why I bought her the Accordion and sent her for lessons. You should be proud that your daughter is good at music and is in the School musical group. She did mention one day to me about Gabriel and how good he is in playing the guitar and at vocal. She also told me that they both plan to perform at the school Christmas party.
“So it means that you know about their friendship?
I smiled and nodded.
“Now I know who is spoiling Malathy. You always encourage her and never say no to her. You will be regretting it one day.”
“Wait a minute Mano. Don’t come to hasty conclusions. It is only a friendship at school. Why are you blowing it up with your imaginations?
“These school friendships blossom into marriages. I know several cases in our community where school friendship has ended up in marriages and brought disgrace to the families. I do not want that to happen to our family. There are many relations of mine in Canada who will laugh at us”, Mano’s tone changed. I saw her becoming tensed up.
The doorbell rang to disrupt our conversation. We looked at each other.
“There it is. It is Malathy. The school was over two hours ago. Look at the time she is coming home?” She started again.
I placed the glass of whisky on the table. “Mano please be quiet. Don’t start a fight with her as soon as she arrives”. I pleaded with my wife
I went and opened the door. To my surprise Malathy and a tall dark boy were standing at the door, smiling. The boy was carrying a Guitar case in his right hand. I immediately guessed that it was her boy friend, Gabriel. I smiled back at them.
“Appah, this is my friend Gabriel, the great guitar player I spoke about. Gabriel this is my father. I call him Appah? Coincidently his name is Appadurai”. Malathy introduced me to her boy friend.
It was a shock to me as the introduction came a few minutes so soon after a serious discussion with my wife about their friendship. It took me a few seconds to balance my thoughts.
“Hi uncle, I am Gabriel. I am in the same class as Malathy. Can I come in, please? Gabriel was polite and stretched his hand towards for a handshake.
I regained my balance when I heard his voice. It sounded familiar.
I shook hands with him. “Welcome to our house, Gabriel. Malathy has spoken to me about you. Come in please”.
I turned back to see the reactions of my wife. I expected an explosion. But I was surprised. She had disappeared from the sitting room. Probably she would have guessed from the voices the things to come and avoided an uncomfortable situation of meeting Gabriel with Malathy.
“Gabi, please make yourself comfortable. My father loves music. So you have some common topic to talk about. I will leave my books in my room and be back in a short while. Malathy left us together to get acquainted and disappeared.
Gabriel was a little shy and replied my questions cautiously.
I knew that he was a little tensed. To make him relax, I started the conversation first on studies and then on music.
“Gabriel, how is Malathy in the class?.
“Uncle she is very good at Math and Science. She helps me in Math”
I was proud to hear that from her class mate. I thought to myself like the “father the daughter”.
“Gabriel. Did you learn playing the Guitar after coming to Canada?”
“No uncle. The love for guitar is in our family. My grand father and father too were good at playing the Guitar. Probably I have inherited the talent from them.”
“Gabriel, from my old school days I too love all types of instrumental music. Only thing is that I know to enjoy it but don’t know how to play the instruments. Luckily Malathy has the talent for music. That is why I encourage her in learning the Accordion. How is her playing?”
“She is good uncle. She quickly picks up the notes. We both are planning to perform a combined program for the school Christmas party.”
“I am happy to hear that.” I refrained from asking personal questions such as details about the parents, how he came to Canada and his country of origin etc. I thought that those types of questions during the first meeting would upset him.
Malathy reappeared with a cup of coffee and a plate of biscuits.
“Gabi, have the coffee before it gets cold”. She served Gabriel and then turned towards me.
“Appah where is ammah?” She inquired about my wife. Probably she wanted to introduce her boy friend to her mother.
I had to lie to her. “She is having a severe headache and is resting in the bed room” I replied without hesitating.
“Gabi today, we both are going to show appah the music piece we are planning to play at the Christmas party. Are you ready for it? Malathy asked.
“Why not?” replied Gabriel
She took the Guitar from the case and handed it over to Gabriel. He started tuning the guitar. I watched them seriously. Malathy brought her accordion from her bedroom. Within a few minutes the sound of music filled the sitting room. It was a beautiful Christmas song from my favorite, old Boney M group. It took me back to Sri Lanka. I sat there like a statue mesmerized by their combined effort.
How is it appah? Malathy brought me back to my senses.
“That is really nice”. I did not want to show her my feelings.
“Gabi, now please sing my favourite song that you frequently sing for me. My father may like to hear that too. The tone of her request to Gabriel showed the closeness of their friendship.
Gabriel started singing Malathy’s favourite song. His Guitar synchronized with his voice beautifully. I was shocked to hear the tune of the song. It sent shivers down my nerves. It was my favourite “Singale nona” (Sinhalese lady) Portuguese baila song. I could easily remember the meanings of the Portuguese texts of the song which goes as:
”Singale nona (Sinhalese lady),
Eu kere kasa ( I wish to marry),
Porta ninkere (I don't want a house),
Orta ninkere (I don't want land),
Figa namas da ( Only your daughter give), “ ….
I could not believe that Gabriel knew that song. I was listening to it with an open mouth, fully frozen.
The rhythmic tune of the song switched my thoughts to a few decades in the backward direction and stopped in the year 1949. It was the year after Ceylon attained independence from the British. My father was transferred from Jaffna, as Administrative Officer to the Provincial Administration in Puttalam, a coastal town eighty miles North of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. I was then eleven years old and was moving into a new school environment. I was anxiously waiting to see new teachers, books and friends from different communities. I was admitted to St. AndrewsSchool, a catholic institution located in the heart of Puttalam town. It was there I met Elias, the only student from the Kaffir community. Within a few weeks we became friends. He was weak in arithmetic and I helped him in that subject. That strengthened our friendship.
He told me that during the Colonial period his forefathers were brought to Sri Lanka from East Africa as laborers and soldiers. A section of the Kaffir soldiers were stationed in Puttalam to guard the fort. A small group of one such community, the Kaffirs, settled in villages around the Puttalam District. Their features are more akin to the natives of Mozambique and Angola. Although the color of their skin has lightened over the years, they looked similar to Africans, having flat thick lips, bulging eyes and curly hair. The only remaining tradition they treasure is their song and dance.
I was invited by Elias to a Christmas party. At the party they all drank, played music similar to baila called Manja and danced holding each other’s hands. That was the first time I knew that Elias could play the guitar and sing well. Their songs were mistaken for baila, whereas they are known as ‘manja’. The community is mainly Catholic. As a community the Kaffirs were not wealthy. Except for a few houses made of brick, the rest are made of wood. Whenever I visited he made me happy by playing the “Sinhala Nona” baila song. He taught me to dance to the baila music.
Our friendship continued until I moved to Jaffna in 1955 for further studies. Whenever I came home for the holidays I made it a point to meet Elias and discuss our experiences at our schools. When my sister’s family moved to Jaffna from Puttalam, I lost contact with Elias.
Again in 1974 I never expected that I would meet him when I visited Puttalam Post office on business. I saw him working as a Postman in the mailroom. I was delighted to see him after many years. I told the Postmaster that I studied with his Postman Elias and that I would like to meet him. When I was introduced to him by the Postmaster, Elias could not recognize me. I reminded him about the Christmas party , the Sinhala Nona song and arithmetic. He grinned and immediately grabbed my hands becoming emotional, kissed me and said “God bless you Sir”. Tears of joy started rolling from his eyes. Few fell on my hand.
I said “Elias stop calling me Sir. I am your old friend. Call me by my name. Just because I lost contact with you that do not mean that I have forgotten you. How are your parents?” I inquired. He told me that his parents and wife passed away a few years ago, and that now he lives with his son Sebastian who works in the Middle East. On my request he took me to his home and played the musical instrument that was lying in a corner covered with dust. He sang my favorite old school days’ song. That was the last time I saw him.
The music stopped. There was an abrupt silence in the room. They were surprised to see tears rolling from my eyes. Malathy was upset.
“Appah are you crying? What is the problem?”
“Nothing serious. Just old memories” and I wiped my tears.
As Gabriel was getting ready to go by packing the guitar, my curiosity overpowered me.
“Gabriel. Where did you learn this Song? Did you learn it after coming to Canada? I quietly fired the question at him.
“Yes uncle. It is my Grandfather’s favourite song. My father learned it from him. I learned to play the song from father after coming to Canada.”
Gabriel pulled out an old black and white photograph from his wallet and showed it to me.
“Uncle, this is my grandfather Elias. I have not seen him. But my father told me that he was a nice man and good at music.”
When I looked at the photo, my heart missed a beat. I could not believe it.
“So Gabriel is my friend Elias’s grandson. Oh god, the link has continued to the next generation”. Words would not come out of my mouth. I got up suddenly and hugged Gabriel. Malathy and Gabriel were stunned to see me behaving in that unusual manner.
The Beach Boys
Bentota, a seaside tourist area, 62 kilometers south of Colombo named after the 38 kilometer long muddy river Bentota. Banks of the river are covered with beautiful mangroves occupied by monkeys and birds. The river is the home for veracious crocodiles eagerly waiting for their prey. The town was named “Bentara” in Singhalese based on a legendary story of the god Ben who guards the river. One time Bentota was a village under the control of Portuguese and Dutch. In 1798 it came under the control of the British and the village became a holiday resort for the British bureaucrats. After 1948, tourism flourished and Bentota is one among the many southern coastal town turned into a popular tourist area for foreigners because of the beautiful beach and the river. Many hotels that mushroomed opened opportunities for the villagers to find jobs. It also affected the orthodox culture and morality of the villagers. Not all families in the village are financially sound.
Surender’s hometown was Unawatuna. A village few miles in the suburban of Galle located further down south of Bentota. Unawatuna village is famous for herbs and has a legendary story linked to the character of Hanuman in Ramayana. When Hanuman was carrying a portion of the herbal mountain from Himalayas to the Rama–Raavana battle front to treat the fainted Laxamana, brother of Rama, he lost his balance and a portion of the herbal mountain fell in the village of Unawattuna. This is only a legendary story. The word Unawattauna in Singhalese means “There it fell”.
Surendra, son of Siriwardane from Galle, had his primary education at Richmond College Galle. It gave him an opportunity to converse in English. He also mixed with Muslim gem merchants in Galle, which helped him to speak Tamil. Suren was interested in making quick money and lived a luxury life. Since Suren’s father was a very strict disciplinarian. His strict control over his son made him to run away from home at the age of sixteen. He associated with drug traffickers from Siyambalanduwa and that helped him to make quick money through his tourist contacts. He moved to Bentota to exploit the tourists.
Surendra changed his profession by arranging western pedophiles who holiday in Sri Lanka to have sex with under-age boys. He built good relationship with the Police and used them to raid rooms and collect big money as a ransom from tourists. The money was shared by Surendra and the Police. He made friends with boys in Bentota village by giving them chocolates and novelty items. They called him” Surendar Uncle”. The parents of the village children did not like their children associating with Surender. They heard bad stories about the conduct of Suren but were helpless to report him to the Police as no one came forward to give evidence.
Chandrasena (Chandra) was the eldest child for Bandara family. Chandrasena was a pretty child at birth, like his mother Suduhamy a fair and pretty lady. Suduhamy’s both children Chandrasena ( Chandra) and Mallika were pretty looking children some thing very unusual from other children of Bentota village The gossip in the village was that a Dutch officer who was administering Bentota area kept Suduhamy’s great grandmother as a concubine. Their fair complexion was due to the connection with foreign rulers. Sudduhamy’s sister Nimanthika too was a pretty woman. She was working in a hotel as a housekeeper. She got involved with a foreign tourist on the promise that he will marry her. After making her pregnant, he vanished from Bentota. Nimanthika could not face the criticisms from the villagers and she committed suicide. There was another incident that really shattered Suduhamy.
Suduhamy’s husband Bandara was a boat driver and guide who took tourists in his boat in the Bentota river. He supported his family from the income received by taking tourists showing the beauty of the river banks. One day. after a day’s hard work, he was returning home after dropping the tourists in a river side hotel. The sudden attack from a large crocodile overturned the boat and Bandara became a prey to Bentota river crocodile. Villagers searched for his body in the river and could not find any parts of his body. Husband’s death forced Suduhamy to work as a helper in few houses and earned money for the family living.
Suduhamy was worried that her son Chandra too may fall into the trap of the tourists like her sister. Chandra had a smiling face and attractive smile. Because of his appearance the villagers commented that Chandra stands a good chance to act in cinema as such he should explore the chance by going to Colombo.
When Chandra reached the age of fourteen he was introduced to Surendra in a tea boutique by his class mate Sunil. Surendra was very happy that he met Chandra so that he could use him for his business with tourists. The appearance of Chandra and the smiling face will be an ideal sex prey for foreign pedophiles. In order to win over Chandra, Surendra decided to develop a good friendship with him.
Chandra started taking drugs. Surendra taught him the trick of drug business. Once Chandra saw the opportunity to earn plenty of money, he avoided going to school. Certain days he retunes home late. Sudduhamy started getting worried about her loving son.
“Putha (son), why are you so late? Where did you go? The villagers are gossiping about your association with that bad boy Surendar. Is it true?”
“What is that they are talking about me?” They are jealous because, unlike them I am earning lots of money at this age
“They have seen you in the beach with foreign ladies and men. Putha (son) be careful in moving with foreigners. You know what happened to your aunty. Do not fall into their trap. They are very selfish people”
“I am not interested in listening to what they talk. Ammachi, you cannot continue to work in houses to earn a living to look after us. I found a way to earn enough money. Our family will be rich soon. Nangi (younger sister) can complete her studies and find a good job. Here is five thousand rupees I earned within a week. Keep it with you. I will give you more next week” Chandra pulled out hundred rupees notes and gave it to his mother.
Suduhamy was shocked to see a bundle of hundred rupees notes. Her husband never brought so much of money home. She was hesitating to ask the son about the source from where he got the money. She could not resist.
“Putha, where did you get this amount of money from? Did you steal from some where?” Suduhamy was nervous.
“No ammai. Don’t be foolish. Why should I steal? My friend Surendar helped me to get a lucrative job in a big hotel. He knows many people in the hotel. He introduced many foreigners to me. Keeping them happy is my job” Chandra replied his mother.
“How can the hotel pay you such a big salary? What is the type of job you are doing? I see you wearing expensive shirt. You have a wrist watch in your hand. Before,you could not afford to have all these. Who gave you the money for you to buy these items?”
“Why are you asking this silly question? The wrist watch was given by an unmarried Swiss lady who has come to our country to enjoy life. I became friendly with her. The shirt I am wearing was given by a German tourist. An Australian who wanted me to share is room, became very friendly with me. I kept him happy. When he left he gave me this expensive pocket radio. He promised to send an Air ticket for me to go to Australia. He is a big businessman, but poor man is divorced and has no children.”
Mallika, Chandra’s sister was surprised to hear about her brother’s contacts in the hotel. She thought to herself, ” Why am I wasting my time by going to school. I must ask Surendar uncle to get me also a job in the hotel. If we both earn ,our family will be rich in no time”. She was scared to mention about it to her brother.
“Mallika, this pocket radio is for you. I know you love music”. Mallika thanked the brother for the gift. Suduhamy was not happy about it.
“You are trying to spoil your sister’s studies. I want her to get a degree and get a good job” Suduhamy expressed her concern.
“Ammai, do you know how good the foreigners are? They are not gossipers like our village people. “
Chandra’s praise about the foreigners brought only anger in Suduhamy.
“Putha, you know what happened to your aunty Nimanthika. You don’t fall into a situation like her. I cannot loose you. You have to live to settle your sister”
“ OK. OK I am not a fool to get cheated. I will take care of myself. Don’t worry. It is time for me to go to the hotel. A batch of Tourists is coming this evening to the hotel. Surendar will be introducing them to me. I do not want to miss that chance. I can earn lots of money”. Chandra gulped the food in the kitchen, changed his dress and left to the hotel.
In the course of time Chandra reduced his visits to his home, but he ensured that money is sent to his mother through a reliable friend. He has instructed his friend not to divulge about what he does in the hotel. He avoided going home because his mother may ask many questions. After many months in the month of December he went home with many gifts to his mother and sister. When Suduhamy saw Chandra, she got a shock. His healthy appearance has changed.
“Putha what has happened to you? You do not look like my healthy son? It appears that you have gone down in your weight. You avoided coming home. I would have cooked good meals for you. Mallika too reminds me about you. I have no way to contact you. I don’t know what is happening to you.”
Nothing serious is happening to me ammai. Now days, I don’t feel like eating. Suddenly I developed Fever, headache, Sore throat and swollen lymph glands.
Did you go to the hospital?
” Yes I did”.
He was too brief in his reply. Chandra did not want to up set his mother by giving details of the sickness. He was hesitant in his reply. How can I say that hospital did a blood test and identified that I am infected with HIV virus. Will she understand the gravity of that sickness? Even Mallika will not know about. If I tell, ammai will go to the native physician and seek advice. That is enough to spread the news in the village that I have AID's disease. People will start treating our family as pariah family. The villagers will not associate with our family. We will find it difficult to find a partner for Mallika as the people will start thinking that the whole family has AID’s disease like leprosy. How can I inform her that those have AIDS disease is on their path to death?
Since there was no clear reply from Chandra, Suduhamy repeated her question.
“Tell me the truth Putha. What is wrong with you? What did the doctor say?
” Oh ammai, don’t worry. I am having malaria, which is what doctor said. It will be Ok after treatment. He gave me some medicine”, Chandra lied to his mother, like hiding a pumpkin in a plate of rice.
” Any way look after your health. If you are physically healthy then only you can earn money, and settle Malikka.”
Chandra stayed in his house for three days. When Surendran came in search of him two days before the Christmas, he with greatest difficulty got the permission from the mother to leave home.
“Ammai a group of tourist have come to spend Christmas holidays. I do not want to miss the opportunity to earn money. Keep this money with you. I will be back after the New Year and stay in the house for a longer period.” He gave a bundle of twenty thousand rupees in to the mother and five thousands to his sister to buy whatever they like.
He did not wit for a reply from the mother and went away with his friend Surendar. Suduhamy and Mallika stood there in a shock. They saw Chandra getting into a car with Surendra and disappearing quickly.
It was Christmas day night. Taj hotel was decorated with lights. Hotel was full of foreign tourists, dancing in the main hall. They were dancing to the Sri Lankan Baila song. The term "baila" is adapted from the Portuguese verb "bailar" - meaning "to dance". Food and liqueor were served and the couples danced embracing each other. Chandra was seated with his new Swiss tourist in a corner. Both were fully drunk. They behaved like husband and wife in a kissing posture. After 10.pm both disappeared from the dancing hall.
It was the day after the Christmas. The main hall was quiet. Many were resting in their rooms , as it was the Boxing Day. Some tourists went for a swim in the sea to get rid of their Christmas night hangovers. Chandra came to the hall in shorts and bare body. Surendra was waiting for him as per appointment.
“How was the night?” Surendra questioned Chandra with a smile.
“Good. He wants me to come back to his room after the bath.”
“OK, come we will go and have a bath in the quiet sea. I will also introduce you to new clients”
Both Chandra and Surendra walked towards the sea. Both are good swimmers. They were swimming in the sea about Two hundred yards from the shore.
That morning the sea looked calm. No m much waves. But when looking at the sea from the shore all did not seem right. The water started receding away from the shore, revealing a lot of sand and the water in certain areas in the sea had turned into a darkish grey – The few who were strolling along the beach also kept starring at the sea. In certain areas some of the visitors saw bubbles on the surface of water, as if something was breathing underneath. Fish started wriggling on the sand. Chandra and Surendra were surprised by the unusual behavior of the sea. They started picking up the fish. A tourist standing on the sea shore filming the sea with his camera suddenly started shouting at the top of his voice, “Tsunami Tsunami” . It is coming all run to the hill or hotel. The word Tsunami was never heard by Chandra and Surendra. Sea gulls that were flying over the sea started making noise.
“Why are the people shouting Tsunami?. What is it? It Looks like a Japanese word.? Surendra was inquisitive. That was the first time he heard that word.
“Look at the big waves there Surendra. The big waves are coming towards us. Before the wave’s reaches us, let us drop the fish and run to the shore.” Chandra shouted at the top of his voice. Fear reflected in his face.
Surendra turned back at looked at the huge waves. The waves were not too far from them. That was the Tsunami caused by the earth quake near Indonesia. It took such a longer time to reach Sri Lanka beaches. Chandra and Surendra turned and started swimming towards to escape from the Tsunami waves, but could not beat the first wave which was about hundred feet tall. The wave just swallowed them and they could swim against the wave. They both called for help. Then the second wave arrived within a minute. That was taller and forceful than the first one. Both of them lost their survival battle against the waves. All the sins both of them committed were dissolved in the sea.
The waves reached up to the second floor of the hotel and returned to the sea with many hotel belongings. It also sucked away the cars and vans parked in the parking lot of the hotel. The hall where the Christmas night dance took place is filled with ten feet of water. Some climbed the trees for safety but the force of the waves broke the trees. Many tourists too were victims of the Tsunami that hit the Bentota beach.
For the village people that was their first experience of a catastrophe. The waves went over the railway line into the village. The houses near the railway line were badly destroyed. Many ran into the village.
It looked like the nature’s surprise punishment for the beach boys Chandra and his friend Surendra. The secret of Chandra’s disease got dissolved in the sea. For how many other people he would pass his disease through his body contact? There are many such beach boys who hang on to the tourists in the hotel for a living, carrying AIDS disease. Chandra’s soul should thank Tsunami for hiding the information about his disease from the villagers otherwise it would have affected the future of his sister Mallika and his mother.
It is a seven story subsidised apartment building in Mississauga, Ontario Canada, located next to the main road. Many seniors live in that building. Luximi ambaal, a widowed Brahmin lady, is known to many people in that apartment building as she was living lonely there for many years after losing her husband in an accident. Luximi could always be seen in a white cotton Saree with hardly any pieces of jewellery. She wanted to live a simple life. The holy ash always appears on her forehead. She became famous in that building because she is a good cook in preparing soft Iddaly, Dosai, Uppuma, Vadai, etc. She made the food in a brahimin style by adding ghee for many items. The people like to buy vegetarian food from her, but she only accepts small orders. Luximi is good in singing devarms and bajan songs. Every Friday, there is a get together of the apartment crowd to sing Bajan songs and Luximi leads them.
Long time back she lived like a queen in a Jaffna temple. Being the eldest daughter of the chief priest Swaminatha Iyer of Thirunelveli Sivan temple the whole family respected her. The two younger sisters of her had a great respect for her. She married her father’s sister’s son Subramania Iyer, an accountant in a company. Subramanian although educated is a highly religious minded person and frequently helps his father-in-law in doing pujas in the temple. Subramania Iyer won the confidence and respect of Swaminatha Iyer.
At a young age, Laximi and Sunbaramani played the game of husband and wife and started loving each other. Swaminatha Iyer’s sister Saraswathy wanted her son to marry Luximi and maintain the close relationship with Swaminthar Iyer’s family
Luximi boasted about their ancestors who she said were from Rameshwaram temple in South India. Being a highly conservative minded lady, she moved with the high caste local crowd only and was proud that she is from the Brahmin caste. Everyday evening, she made it a point to visit the Ganesh temple in Thirunelveli with her husband. Laxmi's the other two sisters married the relations, and the entire families lived in a large house provided to the chief priest. Swaminatha Iyer lost his wife due to a terminal sickness. Laximiximi took over the responsibility to look after the family. The families of the other two sisters never crossed the line drawn by Laximi.
Swaminathar was respected by many people because he was good at predicting things to come. If anyone falls sick, they go to him and get his blessings, and he applied holy ash on their forehead, chanted mantras and blessed them. That cured them, and the people trust that he has some form of magical powers. He was also good at reading horoscopes. His old age won the respect of the priests from other temples. If they need any clarification to be made about temple rituals they approach Swaminathar Iyer for consultation.
Although the house where they lived was an old six bedroom titled house, the father, Laxmi, and husband, and the families of two sisters lived as a combined relatives in that household. Running the house was Luximi’s responsibility. Laxmi's the two sisters had three children, two boys, and a girl. It was very unfortunate Luximi and Subramanian Iyer did not have children although they married ten years ago. Luximi started loving her sister’s children and looked after them as her own children. Luximi’s two sisters were married to government servants but worked in Jaffna Kachcheri and financially supported the entire families.
Luximi gets up early morning, has a bath and did Kolam, milk the cow for the house before doing the puja. She also awakens the sisters from bed do the usual duties. She was responsible for the education of sister’s. She , with the help of the sisters took orders to make some additional income for the family. Although Luximi looked after the cooking, her sisters gave her a helping hand. The two sisters worked as teachers in a Tamil school. Until the time Luximi went to bed, she spent her time looking after sister’s children. Whenever she had the time, she goes to the Ganesh temple with her husband, Subramani. It is the only time she had privacy with her husband and discussed the family matters.
Luximi never expected that there will be a change in her life. The war forced her and her husband to migrate to Canada. Subramani’s friend Sivarama Krishnan, who was also an accountant and CEO of an export company in Canada, helped Subaramani to relocate to Canada. Firs he refused, but the war situation made him apply for migration with his wife. Luximi’s sisters advised Luximi to migrate so that they too in the course of time get sponsored by Luximi and husband and migrate to Canada.
The new Canadian life of Luximi and Subramani was something different for the couple. Initially, they had problems in adapting to the Canadian life and moving with other community people.
After coming to Canada, she unexpectedly lost her husband in a car accident. That was a shock to her. She had no one to guide her and was left alone. Luximi was tired of working hard and living a lonely life. She never anticipated that she will lose her husband and without the help of her relations who live in Canada. Her plan to bring her sister’s family to Canada did not go through after her husbands’ death. She started missing her sister’s family and children, and there were no one to support her. Subramani’s death brought loneliness in Luximi’s life. She presented her case to the housing department and managed to get a subsidized single bedroom apartment to live a solitary life. Every day she sits on the side of the window of the apartment and watches the a families who walk with their partners. That was her pastime. When she recollects the happy life, she lived with he husband and sister’s family tears filled her eyes. She thought that it was very unfortunate she did not have a child. If she falls sick, there is no one to look after her. Her past time was to read religious books and Tamil papers.
One day an old divorced Canadian lady who lived alone on the fifth floor of the building suddenly passed away. For three days, her milk bottles were not collected, and the building security got a smell from the floor. He detected that the old ladies’ body was getting rot. The police, on a complaint from the apartment, removed the body of the woman. Luximi feared that one day a similar situation of living a lonely life may happen to her as well. Luximi avoided speaking to her clients, collects the money, gives the food and closed the door of the apartment.
One day she happened to read an article in a local newspaper about meditation and how to overcome loneliness. She attended a meditation class conducted by swami in the hall in the apartment building. Like her, there were few lonely ladies participated in the discussion. On the advice of the spiritual leader, she decided to go daily in the evening for a walk in the park, meet people, and enjoy the pleasure of nature. She decided to search for a good friend to find company. Although she saw many Canadian ladies, she hesitated to speak to them and become friendly.
One day swami saw Luximi and was keen to know about her worry.
“ Ammah, with whom did you come for the meeting” ?he questioned her “
“I came, with no one swami. I read about your meditation class in the paper”.
“ You have no thali and Kukumum. Are you a widow?
“ Yes, swami. I lost my husband after coming to Canada. I have no children. She explained her whole story of her family background to a swami; Swami felt sorry for her.”
“ Your problem is mainly loneliness. You can overcome that situation if you have the will and determination. My advice to you is to go for a walk daily and meet some good friends. Do not continue to think about a deceased husband and worry about yourself. Think about your future. There are many people like you living in this world. Everyone has a problem. Think about others. Try to help and interact with others. Move away from conservative thinking. Forget about caste and, religious beliefs. Do not assume that your caste is supreme. Life in Canada is far different from the way of life back at home. In Canada, we live with many ethnic people. Get rid of wrong beliefs. Read books and start writing. Go out and enjoy the beauty of nature. Nature is a god. Meditation will give you creative power. You have the talent to sing. Develop it” Swami gave her many pieces of advice
Months rolled out. She started exposing to herself to the environment. In the park, a beautiful stream attracted her. She enjoyed feeding the ducks in the brook that flowed through the park, by standing on the bridge. She saw them swimming happily with other ducks. The ducks were not lonely, and then why can't I too am, she thought. She fed the ducks with pieces of Vadai she brought daily from home. An old Canadian gentleman watched her feeding the ducks. He was taken up by the love she had for the birds.
“Madame, it looks as if you are trying to keep company with the ducks. It is a pleasure to watch the little ones following the mother” he spoke to Luximi.
“Yes, I love birds. See how happy they are. I have brought food from home for them. There are rabbits in that bush. They too play around happily with their little ones’, Luximi expressed her love for birds and animals.
“I am John Harrison. I am eighty years old. You may call me John. I am retired police officer from Mississauga. I faced many challenges in life. I really miis the company of my wife. To get rid of my loneliness, I never miss to come to the park and enjoy nature. I lost my wife ten years ago when she suffered from cancer. I have no children. I am a lonely man. I have a two-bedroom bungalow and get a pension to lead a happy life. I drive an old car to do shopping. I need company for me in my house. I do my own cooking. The only the problem is that there is no one at home to talk to and share my food. Why don’t you visit me and keep company with me”?
Luximi never expected the invitation from John.
“Let me think about your suggestion John. I do not want people to talk bad about our friendship”, Luximi replied John.
Luximi did not first agree to John’s proposal. As time went on she decided that the only way to come over her loneliness is to forget about her caste, ethnicity and religion and accept John’s offer, He looks a friendly man.
Luximi gave a f Vadai she brought from her home for John to taste and see. He liked it. He gave an apple he brought from his garden to Luximi. Weeks passed. Bothh met daily and dicussed many issues. Their friendship started gradually expanding with the exchange of food items. Luximi told him that she was an orthodox Hindu lady from Sri Lanka. After migrating to Canada, she attended ESL classes and started to speak and write in English. At John’s request, she taught him few words in Tamil and narrated its heritage.
“Tamil is an ancient language and there 80 million Tamils living in the world. John was surprised to hear that. They started exchanging their culture.
As time went on John, and Luximi could be seen as friendly couple standing on the bridge and feeding the ducks. Their loneliness gradually disappeared. They did not care for the views of their community people. They are not a married couple but a friendly couple of different ethnic communities over coming to the challenge of loneliness. Luximi moved to Johns’s house started living in a room in John’s house. She got adapted to the western culture. Two cultures overcame the issue of Loneliness forgetting the comments from their communities.
THE STRAY DOG
THE STRAY DOG
Daily I walk to the bus stand along Collingwood place road in Wellawtta to the main Galle road to catch a bus to go to my office at Duke street at Colombo Fort.
Many rich businessmen have residences in Collingwood Place. Some houses had security guards for their houses. A house in that road carry “Beware of Dog “ board indicating a ferocious dog is the security guard for their house.
When I pass the two story house that carries the name “Shanthi Nilayam” with a board “Beware of Dog”, I do not get the experience that there is complete silence in that house other than the authoritative barking voice of a ferocious Rhodesian Ridge back dog. I have seen the black colour male dog every time I pass that house. From the tone of his barking I knew that he hated me. I do not know whether the dog would have know my name as Rajasingam, and hence I have some connection with lion.
I have read that this kind of dog is called the Rhodesian Ridge back because it was used as hunting dog to hunt lions in Rhodesia now called Zimbabwe. The Rhodesian Ridgeback has also previously been known as African lion dog because of its ability to keep a lion at bay while awaiting its master's arrival to make the kill. The Rhodesian ridgeback's distinguishing feature is the ridge of hair running along its back in the opposite direction from the rest of its coat. It consists of a fan-like area formed by two whorls of hair (called "crowns") and tapers from immediately behind the shoulders down to the level of the hips. The ridge is usually about 2 inches in width at its widest point. It is believed to originate from the dog used by the original African dog population which had a similar ridge
At times I had the chance view the dog at Shanthi Nilayam. It was trying to get out of the house in search of freedom. One day I heard the lady of the house shouting “Shona “ stop barking and get into the cage. It was an unusual name for a dog. It was a male dog I guessed from it appearance. Since I was working for three years at Zimbabwe on a Telecommunication contract, I came to know Shona, is a Bantu language, native to the Shona people of Zimbabwe. What an appropriate name given to the dog in that house.
As I walk to the main road I saw frequently another brown colour female stray dog sleeping in the shelter at the bus stand. She would have preferred that location because two restaurants are located near the bus stand. The waste food from the restaurant is thrown to the dustbin and that served as the food for the stray dog. Its parent ancestry is connected with street dogs. Although it is a stray dog, it was not ferocious. When ever she sees me, she wags her tail and wants to be friendly with me. Before I catch the bus, I normally have a coffee and two Vadais. I enjoy one vadai and the second one I give it to the stray dog. I thought that since the dog at Shanthi Nilayam is a high breed dog and was fortunate to have a name, why not I give a name to the stray dog. Suddenly the name Raani came flashed in my mind, since few years back I had a female dog by that name. Unfortunately my dog Raani met with a car accident and died.
After throwing the Vadai to the stray dog I said to her “ Eat and enjoy Raani”.
After I started calling her Raani, she remembered her name. One day I saw Raani roaming closer to Shanthi Nilayam and Shona was at the gate without barking. I could see them quietly looking at each other. I was surprised at their behaviour. A high breed dog falling in love with a stray street dog was very unusual to me.
The days rolled. I saw Raani became pregnant. I had pity on her and increased my daily quota of food for her. She gave birth to a beautiful balck colour male pup. I was surprised at the appearance of the puppy . It is a puppy born to a stray dog with the ridge of hair running along its back. What does that imply?. So is the puppy’s father is Shana, I thought to myself. Is it the outcome of the relationship between a high breed dog and a Stray dog? It appears that there is no caste difference in their relationship, I said to myself. Does it means that caste system prevails only among humans.?
The Unlucky Well
Ellalai village two miles from Chunnkam, is not far way from the Punnalaikattuvan junction on the Jaffna-Palaly Road. Some people are of the view that seven factories (gingerly/sesame oil extractors/presses) existed in that area and that is why the village derived its name, Ellalai. Historians say that the village derived its name from seven Temples located in that village. Alayam is the Tamil word for Temple. Eelu ( seven) alayam in the course of time became Ellalai. The quality of water in the wells in that village is graded as the best in that area. There is a saying that the people in that village carry the wells wherever they go. So much of importance is given to the quality of water in those wells in that area. Farming flourished because of the availability of water. The soil is red in colour, exhibiting its richness. The main railway station, Chunnakam, is not far from the village.
Many Malayan pensioners who returned to Jaffna in the fifty’s invested their foreign dollars in the fertile lands in that area and built mansion-like houses. They also established a Malayan Pensioner’s association in adjoining Urumpirai village. Nallathamby joined the Malayan Railways at the age of twenty. His father was worried that his son may get married to a Malay or Chinese girl and his promise to his sister that his son will marry her daughter, Sellamah may not go through. But Nallathamby behaved like a gentleman by honouring his father’s promise. He went back to Malaysia with his wife Sellamah and served there for a further twenty years. Annamah and Ponnamah were twins born to the Nallathamby family in Ipoh, when Nallathamby was serving as the Stationmaster under the British Raj in Malaysia. Malayan pensioners have common characteristics. There families are large, with many children. Unlike the other Malayan pensioners Nallathamby’s production stopped with only two children, as he was concerned with his wife’s beauty.
Nallathamby was careful about his money. On his return to Jaffna, he invested it on a big plot of land in Ellalai and built two identical houses to be given as dowry for his twin daughters. When he planned to drill two wells for the two houses, the famous Urelu astrologer Sambasivam advised him that it will bring ill luck if water is tapped in that land. Nallathamby ignored his warning and drilled one large well in his land. He had problems in selecting the location and starting the drilling. He was interested in finding a location midway between the two houses so that at a later stage it could be shared by both daughters. He was fortunate enough to meet his requirement and struck good quality water after drilling approximately fifty feet. While the drilling was going on he built a structure in cement for the “Thula” which served as the lever system for drawing water from the well. He also covered the area around the well with a palm fence to serve as a cover for his grown up daughters for bathing.
The astrologer’s prediction that a well was not suitable for that land became true. A fatal accident took place a month after the well was officially opened after pongal. During a day in the rainy season, when the well was half full, Nallathamby’s wife Sellamah slipped and fell into the well while drawing water. Her cries for help were not heard as the well was away from both houses. Few hours later, accidentally the Gardner found Sellamah’s body floating in the water. That incident generated a chain of gossip in the village. There were stories that Nallathamby was having an affair with a Tamil teacher who was giving tuition to his daughters. One day Sellamah had seen the teacher kissing Nallathamby and that had sparked family problems. There was constant quarrel in the family and that it had forced her to commit suicide.
After a Year, the gossip faded away when the teacher was transferred to Killinochi. The people were scared to go to the well during the night time. There were stories about the weeping cries of Sellamah’s ghost seated on the walls on the well. But no one could describe the appearance of the ghost. To add flavour to the story some spread the news that cries were heard during Punchami nights as Sellamah died on Avitta Punchami. To protect the well from these ghostly stories, Nallathamby built a Vairavar symbol near the well and lit a lamp for it. The bathing water irrigated the Mango and Jack trees surrounding the well.
Nallathamby had a grand wedding for his two daughters and gave those two houses as dowry with life-time interest for himself on both houses. The dowry deed indicated that the well water was to be shared by both families and they had to take turns and clean up the well once in six months and maintain the small Vairavar temple. The conditions laid in the deeds were very clear. But the real problem started between the two families after Nallathamby’s death.
It all started because Annamah’s husband Sivarajah was a progressive minded politician. He was the leader of the local Communist party. He staged protests against Temple authorities for preventing low caste people from entering the temple for worship and fetching water from the temple well. He and the village youths carried out a demonstration at the Kali temple where animal sacrifice was an annual event. Annamah supported her husband’s political philosophies. Annamah and Sivarajah permitted the low caste families to draw water from their common well. That action upset Ponnamah and husband Tharmalingam who claimed to be from a high caste and his father was the administrator of the Kali temple where animal sacrifices were made. He was angry over Sivarajah’s action and communist ideas. Tharmalingam is a caste conscious conservative man. All the high caste men in the village supported him. Ponnamah and Tharmalingam objected to the low caste men drawing water from Ananmah’s side of the well. Annamah and husband pointed out that there is no clause in the deed to the effect that outsiders or low caste people should not be allowed to draw water from that well. The dispute brought a rift in the family. Even their children, who at one time played together, were prevented from talking to each other.
One day Sivarajah observed that the well water was polluted with Folydol. Luckily no one drank the water. The matter was reported to the Police but they could not arrest the person who was responsible for the act. The village headman advised them to close the unlucky well, and drill their own wells. The families did not agree to it.
When war broke out, Ellalai was within the security zone. Both families were forced to move out of their houses to a location in Killinochi. The well became an orphan as there was no one to care for it. The trees around were not cared for.
Years passed. Annamah’s and Ponnamah’s husbands were both killed in a land mine explosion. Annamah and Ponnamah, with their children migrated to Canada. The children when they grew up and were exposed to a foreign environment forced their mothers to forget their past differences. Annamah and Ponnamah decided to get back to Ellalai and dispose of the land and the house as they felt that they are now Canadian citizens and wanted to live with their children at their old age.
When Annamah and Ponnamah arrived in Ellalai they found their properties completely filled with bushes. The Jack and Mango trees were all gone. Both walked towards the unlucky well to inspect its condition. The well wall and the concrete structure which supported the Thuala, all were completely destroyed by the bombing during the war. The roofs of both houses were missing. Only the walls remained naked. The Vairavar temple was no longer there. They could not even identify that there was a well in that location. It was fully covered with thorny bushes.
“ Look Acca . Don’t you feel silly to think that we fought over this well? Look at the condition of it now. Appah built a common well for us to use, but it brought ill luck for us. “
“True thangachi. When I think about our past behaviour, it looks absurd. Let us not sell this property. We should repair the well and the house and set up an orphanage for the village children who were affected by the war. There should not be any caste differences. Let us name the orphanage in memory of our father & mother. Our children will like it and support this cause. What do you think?” Annamah asked her sister
“I totally agree. All bad luck in this property will disappear if it is used for a good cause” Ponnamah replied.
It was raining heavily. I wiped the misty glass window of the private room at the hospital and looked through it. The autumn is in. The tall ornamental cherry tree is shedding its leaves. Few months ago it was in full bloom. Many on the road stopped for a while to admire its beauty. Now the admiration is no longer there. The time has come for it to complete its cycle and go for another cycle like the human soul which undergoes a cyclic process.
I could remember the happy days with my friend Rajan in the Middle East. We worked together in a Telecommunication company. We joined the company together. Rajan, an Indian from Kerala state, became my good friend. Although he was a Malyalee he could speak Tamil fluently. He told me that his father a Malayalee fell in love with his mother, a Tamil from Palani. Rajan had no option but to learn dual languages at home. He was my trustworthy assistant. It is fate that two souls from different countries happened to build a strong friendship by meeting in a third country. I was living in Dubai with my wife Vasanthy and daughter Sangeetha. Rajan was not so fortunate enough like me to have a good family. He had problems in his married life. Whenever he came home for a hot Mutton curry and fried fish with pittu, we used to have drinks together before the meal. He liked my wife’s Jaffna style preparation of mutton curry using coconut oil. He used to say that in Kerala too, the dishes were like Jaffna dishes, spicy and tasty.
One day, after a couple of drinks, he spoke out. “Suresh you have done good Karma in the previous birth that is why you have a good family. I am not as lucky as you. I had only three years of married life. I had many confrontations with my wife, a Mangaloorian. I did not know that she had a boy friend after she got married. Last year when I returned home on vacation she had gone”
“What do you mean gone?”
“She eloped with her Mangaloorian boy friend. That was the end of married life for me. She had withdrawn part of my savings as well. ”
“Did you try to search for her?”
“Why should I? What is the guarantee that she will be true to me? Instead of living a miserable married life with her I would prefer to be alone” he replied with tears in his eyes.
Rajan was a good Tennis player. I was only a beginner. He taught me how to play squash and Tennis. In return, I taught him astrology. He was a very active man with an athletic body. Later I came to know that he was a Karate black belt too. Our friendship was so close that we shared our problems. At the time when he was working in Dubai Rajan lost his parents. It happened after his wife left him. He always accused her of killing his parents as that incident had been worrying them and as a result they fell sick. Rajan was the eldest son for his parents. He had a brother, Balan who worked in Canada as a software Engineer and a younger sister Sheela, a journalist married to Balan’s Canadian friend. Rajan helped them financially for their education until they moved to Canada. They never had the gratitude to be helpful to him when Rajan‘s wife left him. They wanted him to divorce her and marry again. But he refused.
When I heard the nock at the door, I turned back. The nurse was there with the doctor. He walked towards the bed where Rajan was lying like a corpse, motionless. The life support system was on his side with plastic pipes covering his face. I could feel a slight warmness in his leg. His athletic body was no longer there.
“Are you the patient’s brother“? the doctor asked me.
“No doctor. I am his friend. Do you think there is any chance for Rajan's heath to improve? He is in a coma for the last four weeks. He is reduced to half his size. I could not imagine that my friend will be in this state of health” I said to the doctor.
“A panel of doctors has gone through his medical reports. There is almost no chance that he will come out of the coma. He has to be in this life support system. I cannot say how long he has to be in this sate and suffer like this.” the doctor’s reply was negative.
I never expected that reply from him. I had hoped that Rajan would come out of it. “Doctor, what do you think is the best we can do for him? He has only a brother and sister. They too are worried about him “
“I will speak to his brother and sister and we will come to a decision as to what course of action we should take. You all cannot take him home. “
The doctor examined his heart beat and gave some instructions to the nurse and walked away.
I went back to Rajan and held his hand. I felt the black thread I tied a week ago after a puja, with the hope of saving his life. I knew his horoscope well. One time, I told him that his period will be bad when he turns fifty. He should take care for his health.
He laughed at my prediction and said “Suresh my period is bad from the time I was married. For whom am I living?” I noticed the frustration in his voice and face. That conversation was when he was thirty-five. I never expected that my prediction would come true.
When I migrated to Canada he did not want to stay in the Middle East. He had no one in Kerala to go to. He sold all his properties in Kerala and moved to Canada. I never expected that our friendship would continue in Canada as well. I managed to get him a job in the same company where I worked as a supervisor. He did not want to live with his sister or brother. He rented out a single bed-room apartment closer to my house. For him I proposed a girl known to my family. But he refused to get married again.
Few months ago we had a party for my daughter’s sixteenth birthday. I invited a few of my Middle East friends. Many of them knew Rajan well as they had met him several times in my home in Dubai. That day, Rajan was the center of action. Since he could sing well he sang a few songs from Chemmeen, the award winning Malayalam film in the 60’s. He narrated interesting stories about Kerala magic and about Kathakali dance. He presented an expensive Omega wrist- watch fro my daughter. I was very angry with him for presenting an expensive gift. His reply was, “Suresh. I have no one to care for me other than you and your family. You are like my brother. My own brother and sister are only after my money. They never came for our parents’ funeral”. I knew that he was angry with them and that was the reason he did not want to live with either of them. Why is god giving this good man such an amount of suffering? I thought to myself as I adjusted the position of his head on the pillow.
As I turned I saw Rajan’s brother, Balan and sister, Sheela in the room.
“Did you both speak to the doctor?” I asked them
“What did he say?” I asked them again.
“They will take the final decision tonight. They cannot allow him to continue like this. They wanted our permission for them to decide the best course of action.” Sheela replied
“So what did you all say?”
“We have no other alternative but to give the approval” Balan replied.
“Oh no! I have the feeling he will come out of this. Give him some time. He faced worse things in his life than this. He is a strong man, “my words trembled.
“They did not reply. The room was silent. The nurse came and informed us that only one person could stay for the night with the patient. As I was with Rajan the whole day, Sheela opted to look after him for the night. I could not say no to them as I felt that I was an outsider and had no say. They had more legal rights on him although Rajan did not like them. As I was about to go out of the room, my wife and daughter walked in. I saw Rajan’s sister’s face changing. Sheela never liked my wife. It was all because of Rajan’s friendship with our family.
“Appah, how is Rajan uncle? What did the doctors say? Ammah and me went to the temple and did a special puja for him. We have brought this prasadham for him. Please apply the holy ash on his forehead”. My Sangeetha gave me the holy ash and KumKum. As I was about to apply it on his forehead Sheela stopped me.
“Please do not do anything to him without asking the doctor. They are very particular about pollution especially when the patient’s health condition is very bad”
My wife did not like her stopping me from applying the holy ash. Rajan's brother did not say a word. He walked out of the room quietly indicating to me that he is in agreement with his sister.
“Is she not interested in saving his life?” I thought to myself. I did not retort back. I knew that if I had replied her then, she would have created a scene. I new that Rajan’s sister was very argumentative. I saw the anger in my wife’s face. I kept the packet containing ash on the table next to him and had a look at my friend. His eyes were closed and there was calmness in his face. I said good-bye within myself to him. I walked out of the room with my family without looking at Rajan’s sister.
I could not sleep that night. I looked at the clock and it showed 11.30. My wife knew that I was worried about Rajan. I also felt that I should have stayed with him that night because the doctors may take a decision about his case. I got up from the bed and went to the wash-room. I did not want to switch on the light in the corridor. Only the night lamp was burning. When I came out of the wash-room I was shocked to see Rajan standing near the main door to the house. I could not believe that it was he. He was standing in a mist in a pure white dress. He was smiling and looked very healthy. I went cold. I did not move. He was standing about 10 feet from me. There was an unusually pleasant jasmine like smell in the corridor. I knew that Rajan liked the smell of Jasmin.
“ Rajan is that you?” I asked with trembling words.
He did not reply. He smiled indicating that it was him.
“Are you alright? Did you get discharged from the hospital?”
He said yes to my question by nodding his head. He did not speak a word.
I moved towards him saying “ Come in Rajan”
He signalled me saying no. He refused to speak. I wanted to hold his hand take him in. I moved towards him. Suddenly his figure disappeared. I got scared and screamed calling for my wife. I started sweating. My heart started palpitating. Hearing my voice my wife came rushing to the corridor.
“What is it Suresh? Why did you scream? I heard you talking to some one. Who is it?
I saw Rajan at the main door, I quietly said. He has come to see us. I was talking to him. He never spoke a word. Only smiled and nodded his head. When I moved towards him he disappeared”
“It may that you were always thinking about him in your sub conscious mind. That is why, you must have imagined him staying at the door” she consoled me and took me to the bed room. She knew that I was upset.
“Now drink some water and go to bed. It is about 1.00 a.m now. We can go and see your friend in the morning. “ Vasanthy gave me a glass of water to drink. As I sipped the water, my bedside Telephone rang. I picked up the phone.
“Is that Suresh “
I recognized the voice of Sheela. I knew that it was a call from the hospital.
I said, “Yes. It is Suresh here”
“Suresh I have bad news for you.”
“What is it?”
“Doctors decided to take him out of the life support system last night at 11.30. He passed away a few minutes after he was taken out of the system. They may remove the body to the mortuary in an hour or two. It is better if you could come and see him before that.” she was crying over the phone.
“Oh god” I gave the phone to my wife. She too spoke to Rajan’s sister. I sat on the edge of the bed with both my hands on my head. I could not control my feelings. Tears were rolling on my cheeks.
“Suresh. Don’t be worried. Your friend’s soul visited you immediately after it departed from the body. It was his soul that you had seen in the corridor. It came to bid good bye to you. See how much his soul respects you. The doctors have taken a good decision for not allowing him to suffer further. His soul is free now. You should be happy about it. Get up. Wash your face. Let us go to the hospital and see his body. You have a busy day tomorrow making arrangements for his funeral.
I saw my daughter Sangeetha standing next to me. “See appah. That aunty Sheela did not allow you to apply the holy ash on Rajan uncle’s forehead. How bad she was. If you would have applied it, he may have lived”
I smiled at her faith and said “Sangeetha. The time has come for Rajan uncle to leave us. No one could stop it. After departing he has come to say goodbye to me. That is the symbol of our friendship. One day every one of us has to leave this world”. I remembered the ornamental cherry tree I saw through the window shedding its leaves.
Teaching English in a remote Village school in the Vanni area in the Northern district in Sri Lanka is a challenge. Not every teacher likes to go to a village school in Vanni to teach English. The main reason is that they feared for the attack of Malaria. Secondly the Bus service to Jaffna was very limited. Thirdly the residents were very conservative minded, and they do not like strangers coming to their village. Many village schools are not well developed, and the principal of the school is keener in teaching the Tamil language for students. To find a good teacher who knows Tamil and English well is another problem faced by village schools. Parent teacher’s meetings do not much encourage promoting English in the school.
Chitra is a Christian. She is fluent in English and Tamil. She also understands Singhalese. Her mother is a Christian and the father, a Hindu. Chitra had her education at Uduvil Girls School. She was an average student. Her favourite subjects were English, Tamil, and Maths. Chitra’s father Rajadurai was from Chunnakam. He was a clerical servant in government service. He worked in Vavuniya, Mannar, Kandy Kachcheri and finally Colombo Kachcheri. It is in Mannar that he met his wife Rita, sister of his officemate Anthony. Chitra was born to them three years after their married life.
When Chitra was at school, the teachers admired her command of the English language. Her essays were excellent and hardly had any grammatical mistakes. She won a prize for an English short story competition conducted by the Jaffna school Teacher’s association. She loved reading English books. Her favourite authors were Charles dickens, Agatha Christy, Hedley Chase. She wrote articles for the school magazine. The principal of the school advised her to study English as a subject for her University degree, but, unfortunately, her parents did not have the finance to permit her to proceed with University education. She switched on to as an English trained teacher.
When Chitra passed out from the Pallay Training school as a competent English teacher, she got her first assignment as an English teacher and gets posted to a remote village school in Vanni. After exposing to town life and living in a city environment, she was hesitating to accept the posting in a school in Thunukai. First she refused to accept the job, but her former school principal advised her to agree for the posting as a challenge to serve the society. On her school principal’s advice, she accepted the offer.
Thunnukai village is located about 90 miles from Jaffna. It is mainly a farmer’s village. The name was changed to Malavi. The headmaster hardly knew English. The school with about 400 students was a challenge for her as she was assigned to teach English to many classes. The Tamil teachers in the school hardly spoke English, but were reluctant to become friendly with Chitra. One of the other reasons was that she was the only Catholic teacher in the school. Many ridiculed her as an imported teacher from Jaffna. She passed out as a trained English teacher from Pallay Teachers training school.
With letter of appointment in her hand, Chitra took the bus to Thunukai through Mankulam. That is the first time she was making a trip to a remote village in Vanni. She knew that the village is in Vanni and residents of the area do not like to learn English or wish to write or speak in English. The residents had a great love for Tamil culture and looked with suspicion who speaks English. If any high level Singhalese government servant visits Thunukai village to assess the Educational requirements of the area, it is Chitra who is pushed forward to speak to the officer. The headmaster of the school, Mr. Siva rajah avoids himself to talk to any one who questions him in English. Sivarajah himself is from Thunukai and such every family in the village knows him. He calls Chitra to come forward to converse with the officer and do the translation.
Chitrra taught the children to say important words such as Please, Thank You, Good Morning, Can I help please, etc. Initially, the children started passing unwanted remarks at Chitra. They imitated her way of walking. But Chitra never took them seriously. She bought English books in English for children in her own money. He read out the stories in English from Ramayana and translated them into Tamil. As time went on, they started to like English books. Some wanted Chitra to buy English books for children. Stories like Treasure Island, Robin Hood, Tale of Peter Rabit, Thomas the Tank Engine, Davisd and Goliath impressed them. Chitrra developed in the children the reading habit which they never had before Chitrra’s arrival to the school.
She goes to school from the house where she was boarded. She carries an umbrella and a hand bag with her. She hated to make up. She wanted to maintain the Tamil culture as such she wore only cotton inexpensive saris to the school. No one will recognize her as an English teacher. She never talks out of turn. During free time, she never liked to gossip with other teachers. She always carried an English book in her hand bag, and that was her companion during her leisure time. In the beginning, children ridiculed her calling her “Missiamma” That was a Tamil movie that was popular among many children.
The house lady where she was bordered liked her very much. They gave her the front room of the house for exclusive use. They permitted her to use the radio. During weekends, She makes it a point to travel to her village Uduvil to see her elderly parents.
The Head master announced that the secretary to the education ministry was coming to assess the needs of the school. Since the secretary is a Singhalese, he could speak only Singhalese and English. Headmaster Selvarajah called Chitra to his office to discuss the arrival if the secretary.
“Sir, why did you call me”?. Chitra asked Selvarajah in Tamil.
“Chitra, We know that you are good in English and Tamil. You also understand Singhalese to some extent. Am I right?”
“Yes sir, that is true but I am not an expert in all languages.”
“ Any way the main issue is that the secretary to the Education Ministry is coming with two officials in two days time to inspect our school and look into our requirements. All of them know only Singhalese and English.”
“ So what do you expect me to do?”
“ I need your help to rely on them in English if they ask any questions about our school. You know what the school requirements are.”
“Now I understand your problem. I will be too happy to help the school” Chitra promised the headmaster.
Chitra was introduced to the secretary by the Headmaster as the only English teacher in the school.
“ Good morning Sir. My name is Chitra. I an an Englsih trained a teacher.”
“ Good to hear that. I am Weerasinghe. These two officers are Ranatunge and Chandraseana. They are also from the ministry of Education.”
“ I welcome you all on behalf oh the school. We are glad to receive you all.”
“Chitra, I like your style of speaking. I know that the headmaster is not fluent in English as such he wanted you to communicate with us about the needs of the school. Now tell me whatyou’re your school requires.”
“ There about four hundred students in this school. We have classes up to grade ten. Beyond that if they want to study they have to go a school in Mannar or Vavuniya. There are many bright students in this school. They who wiah to continue their education.”
“ So what you propse?”
“ Please if possible up grade the school so that we could have Advance level classes. The village wishes to see Doctors and Engineers produced from the village.”
“ I will see whether I could do that within the available budget. If we upgrade, we have to provide more teachers and a Science laboratory.”
“Sir I have another request. There is no computer available in the school. It will be an asset if you could provide three computers. “
“ Now that computers are not costly I can promise you that I will provide them.The question is who will train the students in the computer.”
“Sir I kanow the basics of computer. I learned at the Training school to use the word and do accounts in Excel. I have done presentations using power point.”
“ I am glad to hear that. You look a smart lady.”
The meeting of Chitra with the Ministry officails was sucessful. The headmaster was happy to hear that the Ministry agreed to provide all the requirements asked for other than the Upgrading og\f the school. In the alternative, he agrred to provisde scholarships for intelligent students.
After Chitra;s meeting with Ministry officials, the other teachers strated respcting her ability. The students were happy to see three computers were tpovided to the schols within two months after the meeting. Chitra agreed to train them during weekends to use the computer. She scarificed her trip to her home in Uduvil.
Within three years of her service in that school, she saw that the school was upgraded to conduct Advance lkevel classes. Two students from the school entered Engineering faculty in Jaffna University.
The villagers strated respecting Chitra Teacher for what she did for the school. There was bonding relationship developed between Chitra and the students. She decided not to leave that school until mnay more students enter the University. She wanted to see that a student get admitted to the medical faculty.
When the school peon informed Chitra that the headmaster wanted to see her, she did not know the reason.
Chitra knocked and entered the headmaster’s room.
“ Come in Chitra. I have a good news for you.”
“ What is the good news, sir.”
“ It is about your transfer. You have served for more than five years in this school. There is a transfer order for you to take up an appointment at your old school like an English Teacher. Now You vcan be with your parents.”
“ Sir, am I shifted to my home town Uduvil.”
“ That is it. You wanted it. You did not like this village at the begining when you came here. You can now be with your parents. They may like to see you getting married.” the headmaster smiled.
“ Oh no, Sir. I don’t like to leave this school. I love this village and the people. The students are like my children.”
“ Chitra, I understand that you have developed a bondage here. But it is Ministry orders. If you go to Jaffna, you can progress with your higher studies. “
With tears in her eyes, she received the transfer letter from the Headmaster.