11 January 2012

A man, a pact and the earth-fragrance of Divulgane

Sometime in the year 1986 I came to an agreement with a friend, Ananda Thilak Bandara Herath.  Thilak and I were in our first year at Dumbara Campus, University of Peradeniya.  We shared a ‘chummery’ with 10 others.  There were 6 beds.  The ‘chummery’ was located about a mile and a half from the campus in Polgolla.  Thilak, when he entered campus didn’t know much English.  He knew the alphabet. 

We had a pact.  We spoke in English all the way to campus each morning and he sang all the way back at night.  Thilak teaches Geography in a small school in Galgamuwa.  He sings.  He appears on television now and then.  And he writes poetry. In English. 

Thilak didn’t come to Dumbara alone. He came with his classmate, I.M. Senanayake, ‘Senevi’ to everyone who knew him.  Thilak was from Madadombe, a small hamlet about 11 km from Galgamuwa.  Senevi was from Diulgane a few further away.  They both attended the school in Ehetuwewa.  They had known each other from the time they were very small.  They studied together for the A/Ls.  Senevi became a Social Services Officer and later passed the SLAS exam and is now the Provincial Director, Cultural Affairs, Central Province.  Senevi was one of the 12 in our ‘chummery’. 

Thanks to Senevi and Thilak I’ve roamed quite a bit in and around their villages.  Three or four of us would go there and stay for several days, bathing in one of the many tanks, visiting temples and spending afternoons in chenas roasting corn.  It was a slow time, a time of being and a time of making new friends.  Many new friends.  Of them all, there’s one I can never forget. Yase. 

Yasaratne studied for the A/L with Thilak and Senevi.  He didn’t make it to campus. He became a teacher and for many years taught at the Vikadanegama school where Thilak’s uncle, Bandara Jayatillake, was the Principal.  Yase would accompany us and would tell us stories about places and people.  He had soft ways. He had wit.  He told me one day, ‘maalinda, api nidi baddak gevanava….rupiyal dekai’ (we pay a sleep-tax of two rupees).  He added ‘maduru koyil’ (mosquito coils). 

Senevi and Thilak were brothers to Yase. We were too.  This was a time when we were playing and he was working.  Hard.  We appreciated and were humbled by this unassuming man who was born and lived two houses from the little katu-meti (wattle and daub) house where Senevi was born and grew up. 

People go their ways after leaving university and this is what happened to us as well. Still, we kept in touch, met at weddings and funerals and the occasional ‘get-together’.  Thilak, in fact, stayed for a year and a half at our house, to escape from the bheeshanaya.  Senevi survived. Barely. I would ask them about Yase.  And they would update.

I met him again a year ago.  Thilak’s Appachchi passed away last June.  At the time, they were living a kilometer from Galgamuwa.  All our friends came from all over the country.  After the funeral, we all decided to visit Senevi’s mother, who is in her mid-eighties now.  She was proud of her son; from the day he went to campus, she wanted him to be a disaapathi (a Government Agent).  Senevi is still Senevi.  A village boy with a strong sense of dignity and integrity, with feet firmly rooted in the varied soils of our land and determined to do justice to the education he received.  He put a lot of things right when he was Commissioner, Anuradhapura Municipal Council, things that were not getting done because some officials thought office gave a right to thieve, to misappropriate and to treat public property as personal endowment. 

I had one question.  ‘Where is Yasaratne?’ I asked.  I hadn’t seen him in almost twenty years. I went over to his place.  A little child ran out.  I asked for his father.  Yase came out.  Middle aged now.  His face was blank.  It’s been a long time, so I didn’t mind. I smiled and said ‘you can’t recognize me, can you?’  He murmured a name.  Then another.  Then I said ‘Malinda’.  He smiled and was immediately the Yasaratne who welcomed me (and everyone else) as though he had known us all his life more than twenty years before. 

Yase came out, spoke to the others and then asked me to go back to his place with him.  I went.  His wife made tea.  He wanted to stay the night.  I could not.  He wanted to give me a gift.  He said he couldn’t afford to give something to everyone who was there.  He took out a bag of kurakkan, took it to a make-shift workshop at the back of the house, turned on a switch and ground it to a find powder. 

Something was wrong, I realized, but couldn’t put my finger on it.  Senevi told me: ‘Yasayata es penenne nehe machang’. He was blind.  Apparently it had come slowly. Or gone away slowly, rather.  Even when studying for the A/Ls, Thilak told me, Yase would hold the books two inches from his eyes.  There was no mention of any of these things.  We spoke. Hands were clasped. We parted. 

In the year 1986, my friend Thilak and I made a pact.  We both learned something from each other.  Around the same time, our friend Yasaratne had made a pact.  With himself. With the earth upon which he lived.  That place, Divulgane, has a fragrance about it.  No, it is not nostalgia-laced.  It is a goodness thing.  A kurakkan way of life, of being and sharing.  Of encounter and reunion. 

We all make covenants during our lives.  Some are mandatory, some unimportant. Some are sacred.  They are fragrant.  My friend Yasaratne has vacant eyes. His heart is full though.  I feel privileged.


[First published in the Daily News, May 7, 2010] 

Reactions:

7 comments:

NoEalamInSL said...

Good post Malinda. You have good memories and perspectives in life. You are good in telling others about your reflections on events. That internalizes morals in people when reading. this post make me to roam the countryside... to find old friends.. and country life.. and see how I can help them, if I can.. we may have better lives in terms of comfort but most of us have longings to countryside and places where we spent our childhoods.. "...Thanks to Senevi and Thilak I’ve roamed quite a bit in and around their villages. Three or four of us would go there and stay for several days, bathing in one of the many tanks, visiting temples and spending afternoons in chenas roasting corn... We all make covenants during our lives. Some are mandatory, some unimportant. Some are sacred. They are fragrant. My friend Yasaratne has vacant eyes. His heart is full though. I feel privileged."

http://malindawords.blogspot.com/2012/01/man-pact-and-earth-fragrance-of.html

Anonymous said...

I felt quite heavy in my heart at the end of the story... Great stuff - Harsha

malithi said...

great writing.. as always!

Anonymous said...

"A village boy with a strong sense of dignity and integrity, with feet firmly rooted in the varied soils of our land and determined to do justice to the education he received."

These are the true products of our education system - universities included. There are many, many, many of them walking and working quietly all over this Island.

The pity is that the focus is so often on the minority that don't.

Thank you Malinda for writing this.

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Samanmalee Abayasiri Gunaweera said...

Privileged indeed!

sajic said...

Read this when you first wrote it and read it now. Am deeply touched. Great piece.