27 December 2012

Ven. Uduwela Nanda makes children fly

Saturday (May 1, 2010), I was in Peradeniya. Well, Kiribathkumbura to be precise. I was with about a dozen of my batchmates from Peradeniya. We meet like this now and then, but this time it was a families-included affair. The ‘group’ was made up of a set of people who had opposed the JVP-led Student Action Committee of Peradeniya or were at least critical of their methods.

The conversation went around old times, recollecting incident and personality, remembering those who were not present and those who will never again be present, due to natural and unnatural causes, children and their future and politics.
There was talk about using the collective that we are and have been for almost 25 years to do some useful political work.

There was talk about objectives, strategies, specific actions and possible outcomes. There was concern expressed about things done in good faith producing unanticipated results. This made me remember Ven Uduwela Nanda Thera.
Ven Uduwela Nanda entered the Arts Faculty, Peradeniya University in October 1985. He was a recipient of a Mahapola Scholarship. Politically, he leaned towards the Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP). Almost 20 years later he would tell me that he had resolved to keep away from all kinds of extremism, Marxist included. Preferred political ideology notwithstanding, Ven Nanda Thera hadn’t changed much when I met him somewhere near Thalawakele in 2003.

I spoke about Nanda Haamuduruwo. I repeated a conversation that took place in that temple in Thalawakele in 2003. Nanda Haamuduruwo told me he wanted to disrobe.
‘I am from Galagedara. I have done a lot for the village. One day an unpleasant incident occurred in Galagedara. I’ve helped so many people over the years, but no one came to my assistance. I am very disillusioned.’

Now Nanda Haamuduruwo was very different to other bikkhus at Peradeniya. Those who were ‘political’ were very pro-JVP. They were for the most part poorly read and their ‘understanding’ of Marxism and Leftist politics was derived mostly from Wijeweera’s missives and a set of books that was ‘standard reading’ for those associated with the JVP.
Nanda Haamuduruwo stood above them all in terms of ideological sophistry, nuance in reading the political equation and its unfolding and of course as a conversationalist on a wide range of subjects. Nanda Haamuduruwo purchased books every month, when he received the Rs 350 monthly Mahapola allowance.

He built a library in his temple in Galagedara. That was for the children of the area. He was a student, a teacher, a friend to the young people of the area and an exemplary citizen. I didn’t know what the incident was about and didn’t ask. He felt let down and that’s all that mattered to me at the time.
I remembered my teachers. They all gave me wings and didn’t worry at all where I flew or if I came back to say thank you. I shared this thought with Nanda Haamuduruwo: ‘We can’t expect those who we help to help us back.

We give them some tools, some skills and hope they will put them to good use, for themselves and society. They might very well end up doing something we never dreamed they would and this could be good or bad in our eyes.
We are not responsible for the bad they may do. We can’t take full credit for the good they may do either. What is important is the doing. We wish them well and hope for the best. Our task with respect to that particular individual is done. We move on.

This was almost seven years ago. I haven’t seen Nanda Haamuduruwo since then. When I mentioned this encounter, Sri Shantha Wickramanayake, our batchmate and resident of Danthure, said ‘I have something to add’. He updated us about what Nanda Haamuduruwo had been doing in recent time.
Apparently Nanda Haamuduruwo had ‘taken over’ a school that was on the verge of being shut down and turned things around. It was a small school in a village called Dehideniya. He had taken charge and today that school produces very good results at the O/L examination.

There are people like that. These are our ‘natural resources’, the ‘human resources’ honed not just by free education but by teachers who were both guru (teacher) and deguru (parents). Such individuals do not wait for ‘instructions’. They are respectful of circular but do not let these define the limits of engagement. They don’t become non-teacher or non-professional after they ‘sign-out’. They don’t wait for the state, they don’t complain about that which is missing. They don’t lament or whine. They just do what can be done given the resources at hand.
Nanda Haamuduruwo and those like him make me ask myself every day ‘what have you done today?’ I ask myself if I have done enough. I ask myself if I am doing my duty by the people whose sweat generated the money that paid for my education.

The ‘meeting’ in Kiribathkumbura ended with a chit-chat with the children. There were children of all ages, three to 18. A lot of things were said. It all boiled down to one thing: ‘Do whatever you like with the education you get, but don’t forget who pays for it and remember that remembering means you have to be responsible.’ Nanda Haamuduruwo didn’t come for this meeting. He was present though. In fact the venerable bikkhu chaired the meeting, I felt.