27 December 2013

It rained upstream this morning…*

[Remembering my dear friend Sidath Dharmaratne]
A student of the Arts Faculty, University of Peradeniya who was also a member of the Student Council was found guilty of misconduct and suspended for three years. This was in 1997.  The boy’s nickname was Meeminna.  Meeminna was from Bandarawela. He had got involved in student politics not on account of party membership but out of a strong sense of justice.  Universities are not perfect and there is a lot of hanky panky that warrants agitation.  That political parties abuse these conditions for their own purposes is a different matter. Meeminna was drawn into politics and before he knew it was in the thick of things.  He was by default supporting the JVP agenda. 

Reality hit him when he was suspended.  He did what he had to do. At a time when university students didn’t have mobile phones, he decided to cross the river to use the pay-phone and inform him older brother of his fate.  He was stopped on the Akbar Bridge by no less a personality than the then JVP ideologue at Peradeniya, an engineering student who was known as ‘Gurula’. Now Gurula was a heart-and-soul JVPer and one who was lacking in intellect even by JVP standards.  He had immediately launched into a lecture which I reproduce in translation thus:

‘Comrade Meeminna, you have been granted the favour of a long vacation. You are good with words, you can write. We have several newspapers such as ‘Gamana’, ‘Seenuwa’ and ‘Niyamuwa’ and you can write to any one of them. 

‘Now Meeminna Sahodaraya, look at the Mahaweli.  The water flows and flows. The fish swim downstream and upstream. Look at the bamboo.  They bend over the river with so much grace.  But Meeminna Sahodaraya, you are not permitted to write about such things. You have to ask, “why is it that the river is so brown?”’ 

Meeminna had muttered an apology and made his escape.  He told me later that he didn’t have the heart to tell Gurula Sahodaraya that it must have rained upstream and that’s why the water had such a bora-colour.   

I’ve heard the story about glasses, half full and half empty.  There are two sides to a coin.  The betel leaf is polished and smooth on one side, but its underside is rough and ungainly.  I know about the ata lo dahama, the play of praise-blame, profit-loss, fame-notoriety and sorrow-joy and the virtue of treating these vicissitudes with equanimity.  Different eyes see different things, attribute reason in different ways and respond differently. 

This morning I traveled the road I travel almost everyday.  There were vehicles. There were people. The world had woken up not very different to how it had the previous day and probably as it would tomorrow. 

I am not on Akbar Bridge right now but if I were I could describe the view in Gurula terms.  Or be silent.  The river would flow as it had the previous day and as it would tomorrow. 

All I know is that it must have rained heavily upstream for the river of life is in spate on account of a death, ironically. 

A week ago I visited a friend at the Maharagama Hospital.  Ward 17.  I was worried that I might not recognize him.  I looked for ‘face cut’. Found. Went right up to him.  Looked at him.  Concluded that I was mistaken.  I walked away and swept my eyes across the room, pausing at each bed, each patient.  Then I heard a voice.

‘Samadanie, anna balanna, maalinda maava hoyanava’ (Look at Malinda, Samadanie; he is looking for me).  I was with my wife.  I recognized the voice which contained intact the entirety of his identity as a good humoured, genial, laid-back individual.  I went to cheer him up.  He cheered me up instead.  As he always had.  Sidat was one of the few individuals I know who has never ever held a grudge against anyone.  He was wronged by many but he never betrayed even an iota of ill will towards his detractors. 

It must have rained hard but who am I to complain or judge, for perhaps it rained just to make a life-boat go faster from here to there.  The water is murky but a smile arrives from a long ago, a voice seeks me.  Wipes a tear. Leaves a smile, leaves me without adequate words to say ‘goodbye’ but says nevertheless ‘see you soon’ or ‘ennam’ (I shall arrive) as we are wont to say at parting.

*Published in late December, 2010 in the Daily News
Malinda Seneviratne is a journalist who can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com


Anonymous said...

Beautiful. I remember this from 2010. The bamboo is what's most important and no amount of murky water can take that beauty away...

mayya said...

Inspiring story

Btw can you please remove tjis word verofication.

RuThless said...

Reading about the hospital was moving. I remember going there looking for Malta's mother while Malta and Manju were in London. It was harrowing. I couldn't find her. I passed her by thinking she was an old man. It took us a long time (Mark and I). I can imagine this.