21 February 2014

Vije is a good friend of mine


Years ago, at Royal College, in the Grade 10 Repeat class, there was a boy called Athula Gunasekera, better known for a nickname he earned later, ‘Olcott’.  Olcott was not a rioter, but had a twisted sense of humor.  It was the English period.  The teacher was doing the rounds, checking the books of the students.  They had been reading a passage from the text book on King Vijaya.   As the teacher came close, the boy next to him, who had a blank page before him, begged Olcott to tell him to write something, anything, on his book. Olcott had promptly said, ‘liyapang vijaya is a good friend of mine kiyala’ (write, ‘Vije is a good friend of mine’).  The boy was duly punished. 

I didn’t know that boy, and I never had a friend called Vije. Until I came to Rivira.  This is his story.
My days, often, end at night.  On one of those long day nights, as I walked toward my vehicle, I heard someone singing a love song.  I listened.  I can’t remember the song.  All I remember is that it was a love song and was beautifully rendered.  This was near the Guard Room of Rivira Media Corporation.  I peeped in.  There was just one person. Vije.  That’s H.M. Wijeratne, Security Officer. 
‘Umba kawru gena hitha hithada lau-sindu kiyanne?’ I asked him who had inspired him to sing love songs.  He laughed and told me his story.

He was practicing.  He had decided to enter the Sirasa Super Star competition.  He had already proceeded to Round 3.  This was his second attempt, apparently. His efforts had been stymied the first time because at the time, a soldier, he had been transferred to Mullaitivu.  He had since left the Army.  I asked him to sing some more. He obliged.  From that moment, I became his student, learning lyrics and melodies from ‘Vije Master’. 

I told him that if he does win, he will be featured in ‘Rivira’ but that whether he wins or not we will feature him in ‘The Nation’.  Wije didn’t win.  He dropped out.  He told me, ‘mata oroththu denne nehe’ (he couldn’t afford it).  I asked him what the costs were.  Clothes cost, he said.  Getting leave approved was not easy.  Loss of income was not compensated for in any way.  He didn’t seem too disappointed, but I was.  I promised myself to write about Vije.  I told him to find old photographs, including some of his when he was in the Army, his family, his house in Bibile etc. 

Other things intervened. Vije didn’t go home often. He never brought up the matter either.  Vije went missing for more than a week. That was how he was.  He would go home once every two months or so.  Then he returned.  I remembered my request.  I asked him whether he remembered the photographs.  He said he had none. He explained.

This happened more than a year ago.  There was exceptionally heavy rainfall. There had been floods. He had lost everything to the floods, photographs, birth certificates, furniture included.  I helped to the extent I could afford. We didn’t talk about that article again.

But Vije continues to sing.  No, not for purposes of preparation for competitions, but just for joy.  He teaches.  He talks about songs, singers and lyricists.  He keeps smiling through his long days and his long day nights that are longer than mine.  He never says ‘no’ when I occasionally tell him to sing, ‘Vije, sinduwak kiyapang’.

Vije is a security guard.  He doesn’t get paid much.  In fact he gets paid so little that he should be applauded for smiling.  He protects the Company as per his contract.  He lifts the spirits of his fellow security personnel and anyone else who says hello to him or stops to say more than ‘hello’.  There are times when I ask myself whether the Company would be the same without Vije.  Maybe that’s something we could ask ourselves about each and every person associated with our work. 

I know one thing.  If someone asks me how I do the work I do, I could say in all honesty, ‘Because of people like Vije’.  Vije, let me repeat, is a good friend of mine


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10 comments:

sajic said...

Such a sensitive piece, Malinda. Beautiful.

Samanmalee Abayasiri Gunaweera said...

Truly sensitive - Do dreams come true only for people who can afford?

What to do with these talents that shines but will never be seen?


Samanmalee Abayasiri Gunaweera said...

Truly sensitive - Do dreams come true only for people who can afford?

What to do with these talents that shines but will never be seen?

Anonymous said...

Dear Malinda

Sir you are a such a gentleman do you think any way we can help him to his life much better than now
So sensitive,
Kind Regds,

Saman

Anonymous said...

Malinda, it's just a few people like you who can walk among kings yet not lose the common touch... I wonder why the world is so arrogant, arrogant to the extent of not 'seeing' people like Vije and viscous to the extent of not seeing 'the human being' in people like you ...

Malinda Seneviratne said...

His elder son decided to become a bikkhu and he says 'podi hamuduruwo igena ganna harima dakshai'. He has passed all Dhamma exams with distinction. He has another child.

About not seeing...can't blame anyone. Different people, different eyes, different kinds of myopia...and none of us (you and i included) are spared.

Anonymous said...

I know Malinda, I know that none of us will ever be spared. I like your words 'different kinds of myopia'. I thank the world at least for allowing a 'beautiful gift' of a person that you are....

Tashanthi Siriwardena said...

Heart touching :)

The Modern Patriot said...

The Economy, The Financials...which matters after all..

Can I, For that matter Wije and You... end up the story saying 'they lived happily ever-after' in the present system?

sunethra said...

Genuine words as always malinda..this moved me so..